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