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.