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