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