Colonel John Johnston 1775-1861
John Johnston was born on March 25, 1775 near Ballyshannon in the North of Ireland. His early years were in the ancient town of Carlisle until his father emigrated to Pennsylvania when he was eleven. Not much is know about his early schooling, but he entered the mercantile business at an early age, first in Kentucky and then in Pennsylvania. He was not only a contemporary of Daniel Boone, but was an honorary pallbearer when the remains of Boone and his wife were reinterned in Kentucky from Missouri. He was also honored with a conspicuous place in the funeral procession of General Washington’s commemorative of his life and death, in the city of Philadelphia, in the winter of 1799 and 1800.
Before he was 17, Johnston drove an army supply wagon in support of General Wayne to Pittsburgh. By late October of 1793, he followed General Wayne into winter quarters at Fort Greenville. This was his first taste of the frontier. During the next few years, he held various positions until on July 1, 1802, John Johnston was appointed Factor at Fort Wayne. On July 12, 1802 Johnston and Rachel Robinson eloped from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and were married by the Reverend Peter Muhlenberg on July 15. She was born in Philadelphia on July 12, 1785, and it is believed she was the daughter of Abraham and Roxanna Robinson. There are many rumors as to why they eloped, one may be that her parents objected because of her tender age. The other possibility is that the bride’s parents objected because the groom’s job was out in the Indian Country at a distance of several hundred miles.
Johnston remained at Fort Wayne until he moved to Upper Piqua with his family in 1811. Early in 1812, this was made a government agency, and at the breaking out of the war, all the neutral tribes were removed to this point and placed under his supervision.
Johnston was a great influence to these Native Americans. He attended all the councils held at Piqua between the tribes and the government commissioners, and was listened to by the Native Americans with more reverence and interest than were the commissioners. In August of 1812, the northern Indians under the influence of Tecumseh laid siege to Fort Wayne. Johnston, knew the danger this posed to the post, so he asked for volunteers to bring the women and children from Fort Wayne to Piqua. The Shawnee chief, Captain Logan, who was living at Upper Piqua at this time, responded to his friend’s request, and with a small band of selected Indians, brought the women and children to safety.
Between 1812 and 1814, Johnston build his brick home on what is called Johnston’s Prairie, just above a large spring. This site was for several weeks General Harrison’s frontier headquarters. The house and the old barn are still standing as a testament to this great man.
He was one of Piqua’s early township trustees; was instrumental in erecting the first subscription school and Methodist church at Upper Piqua in 1816 after giving the land to the church. Later, he was a canal commissioner and was instrumental in forwarding the canal project to the satisfaction of the Piqua merchants. The course of the canal channel through Dayton was left almost entirely to his judgment, and the extension north was for a time under his personal supervision.
Through the following years, he continued to look out for the welfare of the Native Americans. From the records that remain, it appears his final duty for the government was in 1842 when Johnston arranged a treaty with the Indians at Upper Sandusky by which these last tribes were removed to the west. This was two years after his wife died at their home at Upper Piqua. This bereavement is blamed for his leaving his home at Upper Piqua. He lived a few years with his daughter Margaret in Cincinnati until she died in June 1849 of Cholera. He then made his home with his daughter, Julia (Mrs. Jefferson Patterson) near Dayton. The deaths of his two sons, Captain Abraham Johnston at the battle of San Pasquale, Ca., in 1846, and Stephen in the Navy in 1848 was a severe blow.
In visiting Upper Piqua in May of 1855, he wrote: “I have spent two weeks this day at a place once so dear to me, and now made so desolate by the hand of death. Much of my time has been spent in the cemetery among the monuments of my dear mother, brothers, wife and children. I go back to Dayton this day and may never return here again until some surviving friend may bring my remains here to be deposited by the side of my beloved wife, Rachel.”
In the winter of 1860-61, Johnston was in Washington. He was tracing claims against the government for supplies he had furnished to Indians after he had been succeeded by another agent. Here he died on Feb 18, 1861, still in the service of his friends.
His remains were brought to Piqua, and on February 22nd, were interred in the family lot at the Upper Piqua cemetery with well deserved honors, lying beside his beloved Rachel.
John Johnston’s father, Stephen, emigrated from the north of Ireland in 1786 with his brothers John and Francis at the close of the American Revolution and settled in Shearman’s valley (then the county of Cumberland) Pennsylvania. John’s paternal ancestors came from Scotland into Ireland with the Protestant King William, and being officers, were rewarded with estates near Eniskillen, in the county of Fernamagh. John’s maternal Ancestors, named Bernard, were of the Huguenots, who fled from France for conscience sake, and took refuge in Ireland. Several of his blood relations, both by father and mother, fought bled and died under Washington in the glorious contest for Independence.