Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rachel P. Johnston, Sihouette of a Sister 1816 - ?

Rachel P. Johnston, the sixth daughter of John and Rachel Johnston, was born on November 24, 1816 at Upper Piqua, OH. She is often paired in family letters and information with her sister, Rebecca, who was the next child born.

Little is known of Rachel in either life or death. From the few extant family letters that mention her, she seems from a young life to have preferred the city to the country life, once telling her brother Robinson that she wished 'between whiles that some stray person like yourself would drop in on us to gladden our hearts, and enliven our solitude.' Often in the Johnstons' time period, a grown and married daughter would return to the family home to act as a housekeeper if the need arose. It seems this is what Rachel did on at least this one occasion, as she had married William A. Reynolds May 25, 1836 at her childhood home and they residedat the time, in Cincinnati. Though it is to be assumed Rachel had children, we have no sure record of the family's descent. An online search did reveal an 1850 entry in Hamilton Co., OH for a Rachel and William A. Reynolds. If this is the Johnstons' daughter, her children at the time were: Mary 13, Elizabeth 11, Rebecca 9, James 7 and Kate, age 5. As these are the names of Rachel's siblings, the connection is likely.

Often in a family there is a lost child. For the Johnstons, it seems this was destined to be Rachel's role.

Rachel Johnston Reynolds died in Springfield, OH, date unknown.
John Johnston’s Memorandum Book 1832, starting May 14th
Rachel commenced board at Sage’s and going to school to Miss Bercaw’s.

John Johnston to Abraham Robinson Johnston, Upper Piqua, Ohio, Saturday March 28th, 1835
Your sister Rachel is still in Cincinnati. We look for her daily.

Stephen Johnston to John Johnston, Louisville KY, June 7th, 1843
Sister Rachel came to see us on Sunday last on her way to St. Louis, she having arrived thus far on her journey in safety. We were gratified to learn from her that your health has been for the last winter and spring more than usually good. The coffee pot and tumblers which you have sent us by her will be valued more highly than a present of greater intrinsic value and particularly to myself will they be dear as objects to awaken another time of boyhood’s home, and early days of happiness to bring to my remembrance...

Rachel Reynolds to AR Johnston Piqua, June 2nd, 1844
As far as here on the homestead we have been spending our spring season in the quietest way you could possibly imagine. John has been ploughing and planting, Rosanna milking and making butter, and raising chicks, turkeys and etc., and wishing between whiles that some stray person like yourself would drop in on us to gladden our hearts, and enliven our solitude.

Stephen Johnston to John Johnston, Louisville KY Dec. 4th 1842
I wish to be remembered in the most affectionately manner to Sister (sic) Rachel.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Abraham Robinson Johnston - Soldier, Scholar and Favorite Son

Abraham Robinson Johnston was born to John Johnston and Rachel Hoping Robinson Johnston May 23rd of 1815. Robinson - as the family called him - was the second son of 5 boys, and as such was close to his elder brother, Stephen, in spite of the fact that 12 years separated them. When Robinson was only 5 years old, Stephen left to join the Navy. In a way this made him another 'first' son.

Robinson, more than any of the other boys, reflected his father's personality and interests, and seems from existing letters to have been the closest to him. Signed most often 'your affectionate' son, his letters are almost always addressed to 'my dear father'.

If one takes the letters of John Johnston's family and tries to piece their lives together - there is precious little info about the children in what is available from 1800 to 1840 - one comes away with an impression of a very well-educated, intelligent and humorous family, not immensely wealthy, but comfortable. A shift in political fortunes changed this to some extent, costing John Johnston his federal job and altering Robinson's life forever. John Johnston lost his job as Indian Agent due to the election of Andrew Jackson, and at that point Robinson was pulled from Miami Oxford University in Ohio where he was studying, and sent to West Point. The education at the military academy was free and from what his father said, that was a matter of some importance.

Apparently Robinson's first months at West Point were not spectacular. In February of 1831 his father received a letter telling him that "Cadet A. R. Johnston of the 4th class consisting of 87 members is 74 in Mathematics, 82 (in) French, ..He has committed 40 offences during these months 98 in demerit." In response to this John wrote to Robinson saying: "I do not of course well understand the above but you will, and whatever may have been amiss on your part for the late 6 months, you will have it in your power in future to rectify your experience there and your own good sense will point out your future course. In the present situation and resources of the family, the main dependence for money matters being cut off, makes it a measure of no little advantage to get one of the Boys supported and educated at the publick (sic) expense..... May you, my son, prove to be everything that I wish you, and in your maturer years be ranked among the Publick men, the Patriots and Sages of your Country." Robinson must have heeded his father's advice. By the end of his time at the Academy he had risen in rank to 23rd in a class of 61 and the Engineering Dept. informed his father that Robinson's conduct was 'exceptional'. He graduated July 1st, 1835 and was promoted in the army to the rank of Bvt. Second Lieut., Ist Dragoons.

Robinson had a distinguished military career spanning a little over 10 years, cut short by his tragic death at San Pasqual, CA in 1846. During the course of that 10 years he served at most of the forts in the West including Forts Gibson, Washita, Wayne and Leavenworth. Trained as were all the young men at West Point, he was a skilled engineer and his talents were put to use mapping and exploring - as well as policing - the wide open ranges of the American West. At one time he served with Captain Nathan Boone, Daniel Boone's son.

In 1846 Robinson was promoted to captain and made aide de camp to General Stephen Watts Kearney, who was placed in charge of the Army of the West during the Mexican War. The soldiers under Kearney traveled over 2000 miles, many of them on foot, from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to just outside of San Diego. CA. At the bottom of a ridge, at an Indian village called San Pasqual, they encountered a band of Californios, and by the time the fighting was over 18 officers and men lay dead - including Robinson Johnston. General Kearney had put him in charge of the first assault of 12 dragoons and he was felled within seconds with a bullet to the head.

Stephen Johnston to John Johnston, May 31st, 1847 Norfolk, VA, Naval hospital

The melancholy intelligence of my poor brother’s death has only been conferred to me since my arrival at this place. My brother, to whom I was so much attached, how deeply do I feel his loss. I have tried in looking over the various accounts of that unfortunate expedition, to find some balm to my feelings, and I am gratified to say I found it in the official report of General Kearney. (sic) He says that Brother, with twelve dragoons, made a furious charge upon the line of the Enemy and in that met his untimely death. There was no dodging danger, everything was high-toned, chivalrous and becoming a Soldier. All this was like himself and precisely what he told me he would do were he to ever engage in battle with men in ranks. That he went off like a gallant soldier should certain be a source of melancholy satisfaction to his relatives who mourn his fate.

Robinson was 31 years old. He had become engaged to a young woman from New York by the name of Kate Cotheal shortly before he left for California. From what records remain, Kate never married. Letters seem to indicate that Robinson suspected he would die in California. He told a half-dozen people at least that he did not expect to return.

John Johnston to Mary McLean July 26, 1852

The information which you related about poor Robinson has reached me from other sources that he had a presentiment strongly impressed upon his mind that he never was to return from that campaign. He told the same to Major Cummings, his wife and daughters, at Fort Leavenworth.

As a last note, the image above may well be Robinson Johnston. When a comparison is made to his sister, Elizabeth's, portrait, there is a striking resemblance. At the least, it is a drawing done by Robinson and, as such, representative of him. The image is courtesy of Kenneth Woodward of the Woodward Museum in Ramona, CA.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mary Johnston McLean, An Enduring Spirit 1813-1877

Mary Johnston was born on November 28, 1813 at Upper Piqua, OH. She was the second of John Johnston's daughters to be born in their new home. At the time, the Johnstons were still living in their log house and the War of 1812 was in full swing, making the frontier a dangerous place for a new mother and child. In spite of this, Rachel Johnston refused to leave her husband's side and remained in the log house that rested within a stockade wall of 10 foot logs. In a letter to the merchant, Henry Brown, in Dayton, written October 1813, John Johnston says 'there is reason to believe we shall not again be interrupted by Indian Hostilities in this quarter'. So it seems Mary arrived just as fear and terror were ebbing in the west, though the eastern portion of the US had another year or more of warfare to endure.

Mary seems to have been the dutiful child. She spent her young years making her brothers’ and sisters’ clothes, aiding her mother in readying the house for winter, and teaching her siblings in a home school setting after their father lost his government job. She married Milton McLean June 10, 1834 at the Upper Piqua farm. In a letter dated January of 1834, John Johnston tells his daughter Julia Patterson, 'I have an indistinct recollection of Mr. Milton McLean. Know nothing of him except by hearsay. I suppose he is what may be called a promising young man without any property. I once heard Elizabeth speak well of him. I do not intend interposing any obstacles if the matter is agreeable to the others, knowing as I do from my own experience and extensive observation on the case of others that in our country everything depends on a good character and good habits united to an unwavering determination and fixed purpose to get ahead in the world, and that without these qualities all the wealth we may posses will soon leave us, all our rich men in Ohio are self-made men.'

The title of this post is 'an enduring spirit'. It seems Milton McLean never quite 'made it' as a self-made man. Johnston family letters seem to indicate Mary was often in ill health, and her financial state is a concern. Often, later in his life, John Johnston sent her money, and her children fabric and clothing. In one letter to her sister, Mary refers to her own family as ‘poor folks’. Apparently, she and Milton struggled with finances for most of their married life.

** I would like to thank one of Mary's descendants, George Hibben, for sending me the following. It adds something to the story and gives a 'picture' of Milton McLean.

The information comes from "The McLeans of East St. Louis," by Josephine Boylan, published in The Illinois Journal of Commerce, May 1936, pages 15-32. The article echoes John Johnston's thoughts about what he hoped Mary's husband would be. "The members of the St. Louis bar paid the highest honors to his [Milton] memory, saying that 'he ranked with the first young men of the West in view of talent, integrity and all the virtues.'" Milton died July 2, 1855.

Mary Johnston McLean died February 2, 1877, Cincinnati, OH, at the age of 63.

John Johnston to his children, Columbus January 22, 1833
I am glad to find that you are all so attentive to the school. It is a very great advantage that you have a sister capable of teaching you. Be obedient to her and learn all that you can…. I am glad school-keeping has proved so agreeable to Mary’s feelings and hope it may not prove too irksome an employment.

Rachel Johnston to Julia Patterson, Upper Piqua October 1, 1833
It is not in my power to send Mary at present. I may send after a while. I am in great want of Mary. I do not think I can do without her any longer and would rather let her go down and stay with you a while after we have got the house cleaned and the children’s clothes made for the winter.

Mary Johnston McLean to Rachel Johnston, March 14th, pre1841
When I wrote you again I did expect to be able to tell you the babe’s name, but I am sorry to say she is not named yet…. You know what constant attention a young infant requires…the babe grows and seems very healthy now so I suppose my time has not been altogether lost, as far as sewing I have done nothing at all which does not suit – poor folks you know.

John Johnston to Mary McLean, Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio, July 26, 1852
I am glad my dear child that your health is so (much) improved by your trip into that high healthy country. You must always remember that it is your duty for the sake of your children to bear up against the trials and inconveniences of this life, to take care of your health and do the best you can under all circumstances. You have had many and severe trials and hard as your lot has been, there are thousands in the world, and many of them born to brighter prospects, worse off than you are. Therefore cheer up and do not suffer any of these adverse circumstances to overcome you. Trust God and He will strengthen you and cause all these things in the end to work for your good. He often permits us to be tried for our present and eternal welfare

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Julia Johnston Patterson, Matriarch 1811-1897

Julia Johnston was born August 16, 1811 at Upper Piqua, OH. She was the first of the Johnston children to be born in the new brick house. Julia, the fourth girl in the family, tended toward a melancholy disposition and had, as her father put it, ‘no taste for a farmer’s life’. She escaped the farm by marrying Jefferson Patterson of Dayton, Ohio on February 26, 1833 in a lavish ceremony that brought chefs to the Piqua farmhouse. The newlyweds lived at the Rubicon Farm in Dayton, part of which is now the Patterson Homestead. Two of Julia’s sons, John Henry and Frank Patterson, were the founders of National Cash Register or NCR in Dayton.

Julia was asked, as an older woman, to write her memories of the Upper Piqua farm. Thanks to her doing so, we have wonderful anecdotes about her grandmother taking care of the children's pet deer (after it had broken its ankle while stealing a sip of milk in the springhouse), and about the Johnston children baking poundcake, feeding the chickens and - once in a while - turning their mother's hair prematurely gray by finding Indian scalps hidden in a blockhouse.

Julia johnston Patterson died May 29, 1897 at age 85 about a month after suffering a broken hip. She was one of Ohio's last remaining pioneers.

Julia Johnston to Jefferson Patterson – Piqua July 1, 1833

I arose this morning in rather low spirits from some cause or other, I scarcely know what, but thought it would go off as it usually does in the course of an hour and then I would write to you, but I have waited until this evening and still my spirits are below par.

John Johnston to Jefferson Patterson, Upper Piqua, Sept. 6, 1833

There is nothing more unprofitable in this country than carrying a farm entirely by hired labour , and in point of vexation and want of comfort there is nothing to be compared to it, it is a continual scene of uneasiness. If you value your own comfort and happiness and that of your wife, have nothing to do with such things. She has no taste for a farmer’s life, and although raised on a farm, she knows nothing of the duties belonging to the station.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rosanna Johnston, 1809 - 1844, A simple gift

John and Rachel Johnston's fourth child, Rosanna, was born at Fort Wayne in the Indian Territory on July 2nd, 1809. Named after her maternal grandmother, Rosanna Robinson, the Johnston's third daughter was disabled. Her 1844 obituary states ‘the deceased had been as child of affliction from infancy’. There is no record of what ‘affliction’ Rosanna suffered, but one could assume her disibility came as a result of a common childhood illnesss such as measles. Rosanna was not so severely disabled as to be prevented from traveling and entering into other activities with her sisters, but there seemed to be no thought that she would ever marry or live anywhere other than with her family. Toward the end of her life Rosanna suffered epileptic fits. She died suddenly at home on August 11, 1844. She was 35.

John Johnston to AR Johnston, Columbus, Ohio Feb’y 3, 1831

Rosanna and John has not been well lately. The former has been disturbed with a kind of fits.

John Johnston to Jefferson Patterson Tuesday August 13, 1844

She done almost all the milking, churning, scrubbing, etc. My poor good tender-hearted child.


After leaving you on Monday and proceeding about 5 miles this side of Dayton, I met a messenger going in pursuit of me, with the melancholy intelligence that my poor afflicted child, Rosanna, was dead. She went to bed as usual on Sunday night and was found lifeless in her bed in the morning. I suppose she must have perished in one of those spasmodic fits to which she has been of late years subject. God for wise and holy purposes has doubtless taken her from the trouble to come. Ever since the death of her dear and most excellent mother, she has led a life of misery. No one to look to her wants and watch over her imperfections.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Hello Bloggers! My name is Diana and I work in the museum at the Piqua Historical Area, home of the Johnston Farm. I have been here for about 4 years and have learned a lot from many different resources. I will endeavor to keep you up to date about the various events, people, and random things that happen here, and hopefully entertain you as well. (Also, if you would like to add anything, say write about how fabulous your visit to the museum or house was, or how cool the mules are, feel free to add a comment.)

First, and this is a little late in coming, we had a totally awesome spring school season! We had almost 2500 students from all over western Ohio (and even Indiana!) visit our site. We enjoyed having them visit and hope they had fun and (hopefully) learned something new!

What do they learn about while here? Well, they learn about 1800s pioneer life by visiting and touring the home of John Johnston, Indian Agent, Canal Commissioner, and gentleman Farmer. They come down to the museum and learn about Ohio’s Native Americans and their first contact with European Traders, including a little bit about the first shopping mall in Ohio, Pickawillany. And last but not least, the students learn about the building and impact of the Miami and Erie Canal on the development of Ohio, and even get to RIDE ON A REPLICA CANAL BOAT!!! Is that beyond cool or what?

Teachers, if this sounds like something you would be interested in experiencing, or if you would like more information, please call 773-2522 or 800-752-2619. We still have some open spots for fall 2009 and spring 2010!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life on an Indian Agency July event report

This season we introduced a new July event, Life on an Indian Agency. Everyone who attended had a great time learning just what it took to operate a United States Indian Agency in the early to mid-1800s. John Johnston's tenure as an agent ran from 1802 until 1828. Johnston's job made him put on many hats - Native Americans were contacted, worked and treated with, traded with, as well as simply cared for on an agency. Treaties were worked on and completed, negotiations undertaken, but there were simpler everyday tasks to perform as well - Native men and their families were cared for, fed, and given a safe haven in times of need. At one time, during the War of 1812, the members of the Delaware Nation - counting in the hundreds - were brought to Johnston's agency to be cared for on their trek to their new home in the west. As might be expected, the local inhabitants of the nearby city of Piqua were not too happy. They even went so far as to petition the governor of Ohio to have the natives removed.

The event this weekend touched on many of these things. Jim Johnson of Troy, a member of the Shamanic Institute, represented the native aspect. Set up in the Indian Agency office, Jim spoke of native beliefs and customs while helping anyone who wanted to, to make a medicine bag. Sycamore Springs Clothiers, owner and operated by Beverly Smith and Kitty Thompson, represented the trade end of the business. Johnston carried many items on his land for trade. John Heater and Sheri Barhorst were on hand to demonstrate European and Native weaving. Nancy Weatherhead worked on the lucette, creating a knotted cord as Mrs. Johnston and her daughters would have done.

The day's special feature was a talk given by Robert Bowman on the Johnston's son, Abraham Robinson Johnston. Known to the family as Robinson, he was killed during the pivotal battle of the western campaign of the Mexican War, dying in 1846 at the Battle of San Pasqual. Bob used a powerpoint presentation to showcase the all too brief life and death of John Johnston's second son. Also in attendance that day were Richard Rozevink and David Bennett representing the agency during the War of 1812, when General William Henry Harrison was encamped at Upper Piqua before going to free Fort Wayne (IN) from the seige laid to it by the British and opposing Indians.

This event will repeat in the 2010 season with a special first person presentation of John Johnston's mother, Elizabeth Bernard Johnston. Elizabeth will speak of what it was like for the family to live in an agency house and to deal with the danger brought to it by the war.

Mark your calendars!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Elizabeth Johnston Jones 1807 -1878, Queen of the Queen City

On September 22, 1807 Elizabeth Johnston was born in blockhouse #1, Fort Wayne, IN. At the time Fort Wayne was still, literally, a fort. She would have come into the world when her father John was US Factor to the Indians. Her earliest years would have been spent in the company of her brother Stephen, for her sister, Rebecca, died approximately 6 months before she was born. This made Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of the family. As such, as a young girl and teen, she seems to have been the little 'mommy' to her younger siblings. Elizabeth's existing letters reveal a woman who cares deeply for her extended family and is concerned about the proper order of things. These traits epitomized her adult life as the wife of John D. Jones of Cincinnati, one of the Queen City's premiere merchants.

Elizabeth was married on her sixteenth birthday to John Davies Jones, ten years her senior, in the Upper Piqua farmhouse September 22, 1823. While marriage near this age was not unusual in the early 1800s, she was still a very young bride. The household she kept in Cincinnati would have taken all of her young attention and energy to manage. Elizabeth and her husband supported the city’s many charitable organizations, including founding an institution for orphans, and their children were involved in the bank and railroad industries, several serving as presidents of major companies. Three of her sons served the Union side in the War Between the States. Col. William Graham Jones was killed in action at the Battle of Chickamagua, TN

Living in Cincinnati, the family was subject to the frequent outbreaks of cholera common to the time. The losses - which included three daughters lost in a period of less than two years -seem to have left Elizabeth's physical strength fragile. Her brother Stephen expresses concern for her in several of his extant letters, wishing she could avail herself of the 'sulfurous waters' in order to heal. As eldest surviving child of John Johnston, she served as her father’s executor. Elizabeth died November 19, 1878, at the age of 71 and is buried in Cincinnati.

Catharine Johnston Holtzbecher to A. R. Johnston, Cincinnati Sept. 23rd, 1840

My dear Brother,
I wrote you some time since if you had no objection I would take the money after paying your debts and purchase some articles for sister Margaret. I waited until yesterday for answer and decided not to wait any longer as I was going to Piqua. Supposing you would be glad to do anything for her in your power I purchased a handsome shawl and breast pin enclosing our dear mother’s hair for her and some other small articles she had need of. Write to me soon and tell me if I have done what is proper. Good bye and believe me your affectionate sister.
Elizabeth Jones
AR Johnston

John Johnston to AR Johnston, Columbus Ohio Dec. 20, 1834

Elizabeth had the great misfortune to loose her only daughter and namesake by the cholera somewhere about the beginning of the last month. Being the third child she has buried her health since has been bad, but the last account she was recovering from the effects of her trouble.

Stephen Johnston to John Johnston July 19th, 1847

I was desirous that Sister Elizabeth should have joined us. I believe that these baths, with the use of the Sulfurous waters afterwards, would have done her great service.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rebecca Johnston I, 1805-1807, the lost child

Last month, I ended my post on Stephen Johnston by stating that his sister, Elizabeth, would be the focus of the second post in the series on the Johnston children. In doing so, I did disservice to the Johnston's second child, a little girl who lived less than three years. In the annals of history, this is but a heartbeat - if that. Still, Rebecca was once a living, breathing, laughing and loving child and as such, deserves to be remembered.

And so, here is the story of Rebecca Johnston I.

John and Rachel Johnston's second child, Rebecca, was born September 03, 1805 at Fort Wayne in the Indian Territory (present day Fort Wayne, IN). Like her sister, Elizabeth, it can be assumed that Rebecca was born in the safety of one of the fort's blockhouses, though this is not known for certain. Of all the Johnstons' children we know the least about Rebecca. According to the family Bible, she died April 26th, 1807 at the tender age of 2 years, 7 months and 23 days. Fort Wayne, like any far-flung frontier outpost, was filled with sickness, or what were known as 'billious' fevers. In a letter dated 1804, John Johnston states that ‘for twelve months I had it with scarcely any interruption, every summer it is looked for as regular as the season comes. Nothing but my poverty and the circumstances of the Secretary of War having placed me here would have induced me to continue at this place on account of its unhealthiness.’ Another letter of the same time relates that his wife, Rachel, has also been ill. Most likely, the baby, Rebecca, died of one of these fevers.

When one studies the past, it quickly becomes apparent that the death of a child was not an uncommon thing. In fact, it was to be expected. The average for the era the Johnstons lived in was that half of a family's children would die under the age of six. So did that make the loss any easier to accept than it is today? A letter of John Johnston's recently found and transcribed seems to answer that question. It is written to his daughter, Mary Reynolds, and dated 1852. After speaking of the recent burial of her brothers Robinson and Stephen, and of her younger sister, Margaret (all of whom died within three years of each other in the 1840s), John states: 'All my loved dead are there now in one enclosure, except that dear child who died at Fort Wayne 50 years ago, and which I once endeavored in vain to recover, the War of 1812 having obliterated all localities.' Fifty years had passed, but John Johnston still regretted having to leave Rebecca behind.

There is a marker in the family cemetery with Rebecca's name on it. In this way, John Johnston made certain his eldest daughter, brief as her life was, would never be forgotten.

Next time: Elizabeth Johnston Jones

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stephen Johnston, Son of the Sea 1803-1848 by Marla Fair

Our series on the children of John and Rachel Johnston begins with their eldest son, Stephen.

Stephen Johnston was born April 02, 1803 in Fort Wayne, IN during the time his father, John, served as United States Factor to the Indians. At the time, the Johnstons lived in the Factor's House near the fort, which was a two story building. The family occupied the upper level. Cooks, interpreters and Indians occupied the lower floor. It is likely Stephen was born in one of the fort's blockhouses as his sister, Elizabeth, was years later, though we have no proof of this. Fort Wayne at the time was a typical frontier post replete with natives, soldiers, traders and trappers and it may have been deemed safer for a woman to give birth within the fort itself. Fort Wayne Gateway of the West 1802 – 1813: Garrison Orderly Books Indian Agency Account Books, 1927 , is filled with references to court-martialed officers, brawls, and duels being fought in the streets. It must have been an exciting if dangerous world for a young boy to grow up in.

Stephen Johnston was 8 years old at the time the family move to the farm at Upper Piqua. During the years Piqua served as the Indian Agency for the Shawnee and several other tribes, John Johnston was often gone for weeks, even months at a time. Stephen, as eldest son, would have had to grow up quickly and to shoulder adult responsibilites at a young age. This may explain why he entered the navy - his chosen career - at a much older date than most.

Stephen Johnston left home in 1823 at the age of 20 to join the United States Navy. His early years as a midshipman found him patrolling America's coasts. In 1830, just before being promoted to lieutenant, he took a trip to Russia. In 1838 Stephen Johnston and Elizabeth Clark Anderson were married in Louisville, KY. Elizabeth Clark Anderson was the great-niece of George Rogers Clark. A short time later the couple were parted when Stephen’s naval career resumed.

For the next few years, Stephen was stationed in the states and had some hopes of obtaining a position that would keep him permanently on land. According to a letter written by his father, John, these hopes were futile. The men of the family were committed Whigs, John remarked, and, as such, out of favor with those in power. Shortly after this, Stephen recieved orders to report to sea for what would prove to be his final voyage.

Stephen Johnston was appointed First Lieutenant of the ship Columbus, the flagship of the East India Squadron, under the command of Commodore Biddle. From 1846 to 1848 the Columbus traveled to China and Japan and was instrumental in beginning trade with both nations. Some time during this voyage, Stephen took ill. The nature of his illness is unknown, though the symptoms mimicked tuberculosis. Stephen was sent to the Sulphur Springs in Virginia in hopes of improving his health, but his condition continued to disintegrate and he died in Louisville Kentucky in 1848 at the age of 45.

Stephen and his wife had three daughters. Nell died in infancy. Hebe and Elizabeth (known as Lily) both lived and married.

Stephen Johnston to John Johnston, May 10, 1833

Partly owing to my time being much employed, and partly to our sailing sooner than I had expected, I did not write you from Norfolk. All the ladies is (sic) seasick which circumstances does not make them more beautiful or interesting. I like the ladies on shore everywhere but at sea, with my will, not one ever should get afloat.

Stephen Johnston to AR Johnston, Brooklyn, May 2, 1841

We this morning received the letter which I send you now bringing the melancholy intelligence of the death of our Poor sister Rebecca at a time when her hopes and wishes for the future were excited to the highest degree…. In a few short months we as a family have been called upon to mourn the departure of two of our nearest relatives, a melancholy event that has not taken place in the same circle for the thirty three years proceeding…. Within the range of my knowledge I do not now recollect an instance when a family had been so highly favoured by kind Providence by the absence of death among its members as our own.

Next installment: Elizabeth Johnston Jones, Cincinnati royalty

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Baker's Dozen and Then Some by Marla F. Fair

John Johnston was a prolific man. He was well known for his excellent handwriting and keen mind, for his involvement in politics, for his strong sense of justice and caring work with Native Americans. He was also a leader in the Episcopalian church, a member of the Free and Accepted Order of Masons, and an innovative farmer. But he was prolific in one thing more than in any other -

And that was in having children!

John Johnston and his wife, Rachel Hoping Robinson Johnston were married for 38 years. During that time they had 15 children, and there was not one set of twins or triplets among them. They were born from 1803 to 1830. That averages out to one new baby approximately every eighteen months for nearly 30 years! Though such an accomplishment is not unheard of today (look at the so-called Octo-mom), in the Johnstons' time it was done without benefit of fertility drugs and was, in reality, somewhat commonplace. What was uncommon was that fourteen out of the fifteen Johnston children lived to adulthood. The average at the time was that one-half of a family's children would die under the age of six. With the exception of one small girl who died while the family lived at Fort Wayne in the Indian Territory, all of the Johnston children lived to reach maturity.

Among the Johnstons' boys were officers of the army and navy, a farmer, several merchants and an artist. Their girls were mothers and matriarchs of well-established families. While some never left Ohio, the other children’s lives took them to such far flung places as California, Japan and Russia. Their eldest son Stephen traveled over 30,000 miles to the China sea, while their second son, Abraham Robinson, took part in one of the longest marches ever undertaken by the US Army, traveling on horseback and foot approximately 2000 miles from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to a point near present day San Diego, CA.

Over the next few months a series exploring the lives of each of the Johnston children will post to the blog. As author, I will look at each child in turn, going from eldest to youngest, employing quotes and photos where they are available. The story of the Johnston children is the story of America in her 'teens'. The American Revolution is over. The Civil War is decades away. What America is concerned with is learning how to stand on her own feet and walk proudly into adulthood.

Just like the Johnston kids.

Coming soon: Stephen Johnston, 1803-1848, Son of the Sea

Photos of John and Rachel Johnston are from the collection of the Ohio Historical Society

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Piqua Historical Area and Johnston Farm celebrates two thousand years of Ohio's rich history from prehistoric Indians to Ohio's canal era. The focal point of the peaceful 200-acre park is John Johnston--farmer, public official, and United States Indian Agent for western Ohio from 1812 to 1829. Here Johnston's numerous contributions to the growth of early Ohio and settlement of frontier America are presented in a truly unique and beautiful setting. Today, visitors enjoy the home and farm of this most extraordinary man much as it appeared in 1829.

Preserved and furnished structures include Johnston's two-story mixed Dutch Colonial/Georgian style farmhouse, a unique two-story spring house, and a cider house. Costumed interpreters and craft demonstrators provide farm tours and display activities in the summer kitchen and fruit kiln areas. A mammoth double-penned log barn, constructed in 1808, is reputed to be the oldest and largest of its type in Ohio, and is still in use on the grounds. Nearby a ring-shaped mound earthwork discovered and preserved by Johnston was constructed by people of the Adena culture over 2,000 years ago.

Not far from Johnston's farm is a modern museum, which was constructed to resemble the blockhouse style of Fort Piqua, General Anthony Wayne's 18th century supply post. In 2001 the museum was renovated with updated exhibits that trace the story of the Eastern Woodland Indians of Ohio and the newly acquired Pickawillany site. Artifacts from Ohio's canal era are also on exhibit. Restroom facilities, snacks, and a gift shop are located in the museum. The patio portion of the museum building allows visitors the opportunity to view a restored mile-long section of the Miami and Erie Canal, which extended the length of Ohio from Toledo to Cincinnati. An array of outdoor interpretive panels explore Johnston's later role as a state canal commissioner and provide an introduction to how canals helped in the development and expansion of frontier Ohio.

Afterwards, guests may enjoy a ride aboard the General Harrison of Piqua, a replica 70 foot-long mixed cargo canal boat often used for transportation of passengers and cargo in the 19th century. Costumed guides direct the mule-drawn boat to provide an authentic and memorable experience for all.

The Piqua Historical Area State Memorial was established as Ohio's 47th state historic site in 1965. The Johnston farm and Miami & Erie Canal areas were formally opened on 3 September 1972, with the dedication of the museum facility following on 20 May 1973. Today the site is administered through the Ohio Historical Society's Site Operations Department.

For site hours and 2009 events check out the righthand sidebar on the Johnston Farm Ohio blog.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Welcome to Johnston Farm

In a letter dated Monday February 16, 1846, John Johnston wrote to his son-in-law Jefferson Patterson stating, "I long for the spring when I can go abroad in the open air...."

I think we can all identify with that.

The staff at the Piqua Historical Area and Johnston Farm is looking forward to the upcoming 2009 season. We hope you will come and visit, and enjoy all the site has to offer. This blog will be the place to find out what is happening at our site. Within the next few weeks we will be posting our hours and a list of our 2009 events. Look for thoughts from the site manager and blog entries from our staff on topics ranging from ancient mounds to just how a lady dyed her hair in 1828. There will be posts regarding John Johnston and his family, as well as his dealings with the Indians. And we might even throw in a few recipes for dishes that would have brought all 15 Johnston children running to the supper table.

Anyone feel like a nice dish of pickled beef?

History is a precious thing. It teaches us about the past, but also about our present selves and the future. For both adults and children, it provides a way to put current events in perspective. We are all aware of the country's current economic woes. This site, like other historic sites all across America, is facing hard times. So are the wonderful people who support and visit us. At the moment, the future looks anything but promising. But did you know that this is not the first (or the second or third) time America has faced such a challenge? History shows us there is hope.

The following are John Johnston's words from January of 1840, written to his son, Robinson:

The time, as it is called, is becoming more and more critical. The produce of our farms no longer yields us an equivalent for our labour. There is no money. No confidence. Every kind of business is prostrate. Credit blasted. The very foundations of society is unsettled by the unwise and wicked legislation of ignorant and incompetent men. Here in Ohio our condition is most deplorable. The banks which possess all the available capital of the state are unable to loan a dollar to anyone. The credit of the state is annihilated. The progress of our canal and roads must be stopped. The most fearful prospect is before us. No man can tell how, when or where relief is to come from. Such is the effect of ignorance, presumption and folly being set up to rule.

John Johnston lived to see a brighter day and to take that walk in the open air. So will we.