- General Washington Johnston
- By George R. Wilson
- Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 123-153
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General Washington Johnston
By George R. Wilson.
(Written for the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society)
General Washington Johnston, Thomas Polke, Thomas Montgomery, Richard Palmer, and Ephraim Jourdan were the commissioners appointed by the legislature of Indiana, on December 20th, 1817, to meet at the house of William McDonald, on the second Monday in February, 1818, to organize Dubois county. General Johnston was chairman of that commission, and it is in the nature of a belated tribute of respect to the chairman of that commission that this sketch is written by one who has his home and kindred in Dubois county.
General Washington Johnston was born November 10th, 1776, in Culpepper county, Virginia, near where George Washington had lived many years. He came to Vincennes, Northwest territory, in 1793. He was the first postmaster of Vincennes (1800), the first lawyer in Vincennes, the organizer of the Knox County Bar Association, a member of the first territorial legislature (elected April 2nd, 1810) a member of the first board of trustees of Vincennes university, adjutant-general of Indiana territory, three times chairman of the borough of Vincennes, twice president judge of the court, a member of the state legislature for several terms, and during the seventh session was speaker of the house of representatives. His name is on the muster roll of Tippecanoe. General W. Johnston's name is connected with the publication of early Indiana Territorial laws. He was auditor of Indiana territory, and its treasurer when it became a state. He brought Masonry into it and put slavery out. He organized Vincennes Lodge No. 1, F. and A. M., March 13th, 1809. He was chairman of the committee which organized the Masonic Grand Lodge of Indiana, and was its deputy grand master for two years. In 1825, General Johnston was highly spoken of for lieutenant-governor of Indiana.
Johnston came from the Old Dominion—the land of sunrise and the mother of presidents. When Johnston left the old Virginia he practically left the world for the wilderness; like the sun he had to climb the Alleghany mountains before he could shine in the valley of the Wabash. As we look back over the span of a century—and—a—third, we may safely say, Johnston stands the test of time. He was a mighty worker by the dim lamps of the olden times. It seems he had the wisdom to understand, and the foresight to provide. To—day the works of this man speak to us across the century; he was a man of enterprise who got ahead, and kept ahead, of the crowd. His was the vision, the mission, the ability, and the achievement; it is left to us to gather up a record of his work. Through the passing twilight of bygone years we see Johnston on his way to Vincennes. John, the Baptist, with his long locks and in his rough coat of camel's hair, eating locusts and wild honey, could not have looked more daring or romantic than some of the travelers Johnston must have met on his way to Vincennes, in 1793. There was the flavor of a delicious bit of Scotch brogue in the way he pronounced his words. He was just a good man, with no grievances to avenge, no ambitions to gratify, and no selfish interests to serve. There were humor and easy good nature in his speeches, yet patriotism was in every line. He lived in an age that is dead and gone, but as we study Johnston's achievements, memories come again out of the past. These are the landmarks of General Johnston's career. They do not tell all, but they will do for a general introduction.
Johnston displayed high efficiency in many separate fields of human activity. He was always on the alert in doing practical, useful, and constructive things. He was an honest man, a good citizen, and a good American. He was a good lawyer, a fine scholar, and a prominent territorial statesman. His life was rounded out ably, creditably, and honorably in all these lines; however, the three outstanding features of General Johnston's life were, the abolishment of slavery in Indiana, the education of the general public therein, and the introduction of Masonry into Indiana territory.
The writer became interested in General Johnston for three practical reasons; (1) because he helped to organize Dubois county at Fort McDonald; (2) because he brought Masonry to Indiana; and (3) because he took a bold stand on the slavery question. For these reasons, in our rambles through the pages of pioneer history we kept his name in view. He who writes a sketch of a pioneer must dig up much forgotten lore; however, it is not difficult to read Johnston's title clear, even through the dreary lapse of fading years.
It is not possible clearly to understand a man, or to write satisfactorily his record of achievements, without giving his environments, and saying something of the men with whom he had to deal and of the days in which he lived. Time and space almost forbid doing so in Johnston's case, so this paper can serve only as a general introduction to an interesting and unusual character in early Indiana history. General Johnston's nativity and the date of his birth show clearly after whom he was named. It was not George Washington, but General Washington. The name, General Washington Johnston, carried with it a military dignity that was not naturally a part of the man himself. Early travelers who passed through Vincennes experienced disappointment due to the civil appearance of General Johnston, and at least one made mention of it in his communications back home. General Johnston was a man of letters; he was not a military man, in the usual sense of the word, though the "t" in his name indicates that he came from stock that could put up a good fight when necessary. And, General Johnston did; he fought slavery in its final analysis, and introduced Masonry into Vincennes in the very face of its French inhabitants and their faith, and the personal inclinations of General William Henry Harrison, by far the most prominent man at Vincennes. General Harrison was a strong character, a capable and honest man. He entertained strong views on public questions and clung to them consistently. He began the second war with England, at Tippecanoe; he never committed an error in his military movements, or lost a battle. Let it be plainly understood now and here that any laurel wreath we may try to place upon the brow of General Johnston is justly his and not made at the expense of any other man or men. General Johnston spoke the courtly language of an earlier day, and the local courts had so much confidence in his honor and uprightness as a man and lawyer that they permitted him to address a French jury in the language it could easily understand. It is unusual for any foreign language to be used in an American court. General Johnston was a thorough French scholar and a successful lawyer, but no one seems to know how or when he acquired his versatile qualifications, except that he studied law in Louisville in the office of Maj. John Harrison, the husband of Mary Ann Johnston, General W. Johnston's eldest sister. Maj. Harrison was a grandson of Charles Harrison, who was a brother of Benj. Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and father of Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison. By marriage Gen. W. Johnston and Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison ran into the same family.
In 1793, when General Johnston was seventeen years of age, he rode into Vincennes from Virginia, probably over the old Buffalo Trail, to find a habitation and a home and to make for himself a name in local history. The young man at once found a welcome, for it was soon discovered that he had wisdom, even in his youth. It appears that he must have been of that sturdy stock that gained wisdom through self—education. No known records, in Culpepper county, Virginia, nor at Vincennes reveal the source of his education, knowledge, and wisdom.1
In speaking about early American pioneers in Southern Indiana, here is one well worthy of the name. When General Johnston found his way to Fort Vincent, save for the old Buffalo Trail, southern Indiana was almost a trackless forest from Louisville to Vincennes. There were but few squatters’ cabins from one settlement to the other. The famous old trail had lost its herds of buffaloes three years before in the un-usually
- 1Esarey, Harrison, Volume I, 317.
That General Johnston undertook a pioneer's job when he came to Vincennes, in 1793, is better understood when you can see Vincennes as it was at that time. Dr. Logan Esarey, a high authority on Western History, gives this pen picture of Vincennes as Johnston found it in 1793,—
Of all the years of hardship none was worse than 1793, the year when Johnston came to Vincennes. Hostile Indians ranged the frontier from Pittsburgh to Prairie du Chien. No man's home was safe. The bones of over six hundred men of St. Clair's army lay scattered about the scene of defeat—wherever wild animals had left them. Wayne's army was beating about in the swamps of the Maumee and a day of prayer was set aside for its success. Wayne's last report, October 23, 1793, stated that he was held up near the scene of St. Clair's defeat and would be compelled to spend the winter there. Colonel Hamtramck and the first regiment which had furnished protection to Vincennes was with Wayne and would not return. Nearly all the experienced Indian fighters along the border were either serving with the regulars or with the militia under Scott. Even in central Kentucky the settlers were not safe.
Louisville had perhaps seventy houses, log cabins. In 1796, it took Volney three days by what he called "forced marches" to ride from Louisville to Vincennes—then generally known as Fort Vincent. There were here then about fifty houses, each surrounded by a yard or garden so that the town looked somewhat like a present neighborhood of gardeners. The streets were paths leading from house to house or to the main road which ended at the tavern by the ferry. A small stockade fort built by driving stakes about six feet high stood where the north edge of the town met the river at Fort Knox. The inhabitants were about evenly divided—French and Americans. Only a few of the French spoke English and none of the Americans spoke French. The French were hunters, the Americans, as a rule, traders. Just the previous year, 1792, the government had given each French family four hundred acres of land and all was excitement and turmoil over locating and surveying this land. The law courts and the land commissioners were busy the next twenty years in adjusting these claims. The nearest neighbors to Vincennes were Louisville, Kaskaskia, and New Orleans.
Years ago, the writer scanned all the files of the Western Sun, page by page, and line by line, for any information pertaining to Dubois county and some other subjects in which he had an historical interest. He did the same with many official records and printed histories. It was then he found very many unusually favorable items concerning General Johnston. Johnston was conspicuous in practically all civic enterprises in and about Vincennes. He seemed to be constantly engaged in public duties of one kind or another. The public kept him busy with public affairs. Among the distinguished men of his time he had few equals in all that went to make up the typical American pioneer citizen. General Johnston and General Harrison were great personal friends, though General Johnston was a sincere Mason while Harrison was anti-Masonic, and in the late thirties, after General Johnston's death, Harrison was nominated for the presidency on the anti-Masonic ticket, but he was elected as a Whig. General Johnston was the orator of the day when Vincennes welcomed home General Harrison and his victorious troops after the battle of Tippecanoe.
On November 18th, 1811, the territorial legislature adopted a resolution as follows:
Resolved, therefore, that the members of the legislative council and house of representatives will wait upon his excellency, Governor Harrison, as he returns to Vincennes, and, in their own names, and in those of their constituents, welcome him home; and that General W. Johnston be, and he is hereby appointed, a committee to make the same known to the governor, at the head of the army, should unforeseen circumstances not prevent.2
This was carried out with much dignity in the exchange of official letters between General Johnston and General Harrison, under dates of November 19th and December 7th, 1811,
- 2Cockrum, Pioneer History, 271; Dillon, History of Indiana, 473; Esarey, Harrison, Volume I, 632, 636, 659.
In 1811, when the Indians were angry, in paint and feathers, and November was in its mellowing brown, Johnston's name was on the muster roll as a private in Harrison's Tippecanoe army. The army passed through the indigo fields eighteen miles north of Vincennes on the We—a trail. On the morning of November 7th, it was in camp on the field of Tippecanoe when silently, in the darkest hour after midnight the Indians approached stealthily as the tread of forest creatures, but to the marked time of dry deer—hoof—signals. When the Indian rifles cracked they knew not their victims. Then came the call of the Harrison bugle and the roll of the drum, and the awful grandeur of battle was on. When the night was far spent, and the gray streak of light dawned in the east, the sky seemed to pale before the horrors of the scene and the red baptism of carnage. The men of Harrison's army who lived after the battle of Tippecanoe saw another sunrise of freedom and the dawn of a better day. Well could a dying schoolmaster of Kentucky say "Tell them this is history." Before that army left the valley of the Tippecanoe there were winter barrenness and desolation at the Indian village, and the power of Tecumseh was broken. Indeed the army was entitled to a glorious reception at Vincennes, and General Johnston could describe the fight and read its influence upon the destiny of the American republic, as well and doubtless better, than any of the other pioneers, because he knew just how to use complimentary and dignified attributes, how to use forcible English, and last, but not least, because he himself played a worthy part in the Tippecanoe campaign. He was a member of Capt. Benjamin Parke's Light Dragoons, under command of Colonel Joseph HamiltonDaviess, of the Indiana Militia, from September 21st to November 19th, 1811, and was promoted from the ranks to lieutenant and quartermaster, October 30th, 1811.3 On February 3rd, 1813, General Gibson recommended to the secretary of war that General W.
- 3Muster Roll of Tippecanoe; Cockrum, Pioner History, 240, 294, 295; Esarey, Harrison, Volume II, 350; Beard, Battle of Tippecanoe, 103; Captain Pirtle, Battle of Tippecanoe, 123.
General W. Johnston was speaker of the territorial legislature that petitoned congress for statehood for Indiana.4
General Johnston, as speaker of the house of representatives of Indiana territory, signed a resolution, in 1809, asking the president to re—appoint General Harrison, governor of Indiana territory. Johnston was of much assistance to General Harrison in all Indian matters. On July 21st, 1811, Johnston addressed the citizens of Vincennes on the approaching conflict with Tecumseh.5
General Johnston was a citizen of Vincennes years before General Harrison came to Indiana. After General Harrison came to Vincennes, almost any one from Virginia received from him a very hospitable reception. It has been surmised that there was a "Virginia cabal" at Vincennes, for men from Virginia filled many territorial appointive positions. Because the diplomacy of General Johnston balanced the impulsiveness of General Harrison, the two formed a lasting and useful friendship. General Johnston was a man of deep religious convictions, spiritual incentives that won his battle against slavery in Indiana. When General Johnston represented Knox county in the legislature he usually voted as a representative of his people and not as an individual. Harrison sided with the French on the slavery question, perhaps in return for their services to General Clark.6 Before Indiana became a state there were two hundred and thirty—seven colored people in Indiana; of this number eight were in Dubois county. At one time negroes were listed for taxation in Indaina along with horses, mules and cattle. This is shown by the assessor's blanks of that day. In 1812, negroes were quoted on the Louisville market at four hundred dollars each.7
- 4Esarey, Harrison, Volume II, 730.
- 5Western Sun, November 4, 1809; Esarey, Harrison, Volume I, 391, 487, 489, 541.
- 6Montgomery, Life of Harrison, 308—9—10—11—12, and 325.
- 7Early Travels in Indiana, 29.
In early French times nearly all slaves at Vincennes were French or Indian slaves. The old church records there contain frequent mention of births, baptisms, and deaths of panis, or slaves. It was a local requirement that slaves were to be baptised and taught the Catholic faith, at Vincennes, but it is the negro slave that commanded the principal attention of General Johnston. At one time a majority of the people in Indiana territory desired the introduction of slavery.8
It should be borne in mind that there was nothing secret or clandestine about slave—holding in the Wabash counties of what are now the states of Indiana and Illinois. It was the common opinion that the constitution of 1816 had no effect on pre—existent slavery. Identured negroes and other slaves were advertised and sold publicly,9 and it is hardly necessary to say that this would not have occurred, for lack of purchasers, if there had been any serious question as to the titles to them. The custom continued with so little interruption that in the cenus of 1820, there were still reported one hundred and ninety slaves in Indiana—only forty—seven less than there were in 1810. One hundred and eight of these were held in Knox county, thirty in Gibson, eleven in Posey, ten in Vanderburg, and the remainder scattered in Owen, Perry, Pike, Scott, Sullivan, Spencer, and Warrick. In the other twenty—four counties no slaves were reported.10
The people about Vincennes were inclined to favor slavery, while in the other parts of Indiana it met with much opposition. This slavery question appears prominently in General Johnston's career. He had a colored slave named Mary Clark, who had bound herself to Johnston by an indenture dated October 24, 1816, to serve him for twenty years. After one of the hardest fought legal battles of pioneer days, she was discharged from her servitude. This was practically the death of slavery in Indiana, five years after the constitution of 1816. Slaves were considered convenient, and for that reason they were called "voluntary servants," by an agreement with them in writing, in which they "worked out their freedom." Their
- 8Dunn, Indiana, 322.
- 9Western Sun, October 12, 1816, February 8, 1817; September 6, 1817; June 27, 1819, and October 15, 1819.
- 10Dunn, Indiana, 434, 435.
In 1804, General W. Johnston (with General Harrison and John Johnson) signed the bonds of two colored servants or slaves, known at Vincennes as "George" and "Peggy." A suit was instituted by the two colored people against their owner. "George" became an indentured servant for eleven years to General Harrison. "Peggy" became free.11
A local census of Vincennes, taken by order of the board of trustees in 1830, shows thirty—two slaves then held at that point, twelve males and twenty females—a few more than there were in all Indiana in 1800.12
For commercial reasons, and perhaps personal reasons, some pioneers opposed the advancement of the territory into a higher grade of civil government. The advance forward was favored by Colonel Vigo, John Rice Jones, Henry Hurst (who was clerk of the territorial court), John Johnson, and General W. Johnston.
General W. Johnston represented a pro—slavery constituency, and often voted its wishes, but he afterwards declared he was always morally opposed to the introduction of slavery in Indiana. His report against slavery is a model state document. Here is the picture. The territorial legislature was in session at Vincennes, the center of Indiana slavery; petitions were presented for and against continuing slavery; they were numerous and demanded attention. A territorial position had to be taken; the speaker had named Johnston, Messinger, a skilled professional surveyor, and Decker, a prominent pioneer official, to consider these petitons and make a report; the French were favorable to slavery, and General Harrison was their friend; a congressional race was on and Johnston wished to be a delegate to congress, yet he felt that by the report
- 11Dunn, Indiana, 313; Executive Journal, April 6, 1804; Territorial Court Docket, September Term, 1804, and September Term, 1808, page 337; Esarey, Harrison, Volume I, 95.
- 12Cauthorn, Vincennes, 23.
Johnston begins his report on Indiana slavery, which could easily be made an oration, with a short history of our deliverance from British intolerance, and then says our independence is utterly unknown to any other government; but, an unfortunate circumstance darkens the cheering prospect in every state, more especially in the southern section of the Union, where an oppressed race portends serious evils. After saying slavery once existed in every state, he says those states which could do so without danger abolished slavery altogether; and those having so many slaves that it would be dangerous to give them liberty, at one time enacted laws for the protection of slaves, leading gradually up to emancipation; then he cites Virginia's provision in the donation of the Northwestern Territory.
- (a) He takes up the Indiana law permitting slaves to be brought into Indiana and says the sixty—day—clause, allowing an Indiana negro to take his choice of working out his freedom or being taken back to a slave state and sold, is simply down right slavery.
- (b) He declares what is morally wrong can never be made right by expediency.
- (c) He holds Indiana should be free because more people from the densely populated portions of the middle and Eastern states would come to Indiana than would or could come from slave states.
- (d) He declares the hand of freedom can best lay the foundation of Indiana's future and prosperity, and calls attention to the industry and animation found in the superior agriculture, mills, bridges, roads, canals, etc., in free states, and claims the exertion of a free man with his spirit and soul in his work is never equalled by the faint efforts of a meek and depressed slave.
- (e) He says the industrious will flock where industry is honorable and honored, and that the man of an independent spirit would come where equity reigns and where no proud nabob can cast on him a look of contempt.
- (f) He holds that influence of slavery depresses the morals of the slave owners and stunts their finer feelings of humanity, to the serious loss of whites as well as of blacks.
- (g) He could not understand why Indiana should grade itself with Algiers and Morocco at the very time, "England, sordid England," was blushing at the practice of slavery, and repeated the expression "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
- (h) "That power is right" he holds to be a dangerous doctrine, and that unlimited domain in the slave holder would beget in him a spirit of haughtiness and pride productive of a proportionable habit of servility and despondence in those who possess no negroes, equally inimical to our institutions.
- (i) He holds the free white mechanic and laboring man might be afraid to vote against the sentiments of the lord of many slaves.
- (j) Last, but not least, he calls attention to the fact that should Indiana permit slavery to continue within its limits slavery would be established from the gulf to the lakes, and the great and mighty west would have an unknown and uncertain future, etc.
We do not attempt to give a complete review of Johnston's report. It should be borne in mind that it was written before Abraham Lincoln was born, before our second war with England, and twenty—two years before the Webster—Hayne debate; that it is so full of fundamentals, broad visions, and historical knowledge and foresight, that it easily ranks as one of the greatest historical documents ever penned in the Mississippi valley, and deserves a high rank among the greatest productions of American statesmanship. As a matter of state pride it should be read and understood by every Hoosier in the land. After the report was made the bill that brought it about was read three times, passed, and the friends of slavery never recovered from the shock. It killed slavery in Indiana territory by preventing it from crossing the Ohio.13 He who says nothing good originated in southern Indiana, knows not the history of southern Indiana.
In considering Johnston's report on the slavery question, the Hon. Mason J. Niblack, of Vincennes, says:
Johnston was a member of the territorial legislature in 1808 as he had been in 1807. This body in 1808 was about equally divided between the pros and cons. At least it was supposed to be at the beginning of the session. An unusual number of petitions were filed at this session with rather more against slavery than heretofore. These petitions were all referred to a committee, of which General Washington Johnston was chairman, for report.
Johnston had been considered a pro—slavery man.
It was not long before a report came in and this was written by Johnston himself. He read the report before the body and took the strongest grounds possible against slavery. The report was a masterly one and it must have been delivered in a very eloquent and forceful manner because after it was read and before the body adjourned the report was unanimously adopted.
This proved to be a heavy blow to the pro—slavery citizens. In fact it proved to be the death blow, for the question was never presented again in any official capacity and congress never had another chance to comply with a request from the territory of Indiana for the adoption of slavery on any of its soil. The proslavery men continued to be proslavery men and their hopes were that when the territory was admitted as a state, slavery would then be adopted. But their numbers grew relatively fewer and fewer and when the constitution for the state was adopted little or no attention was given to the subject of slavery.
Ever after the adoption of Johnston's famous report the free air of the North Atlantic states was permitted to blow over the free soil of Indiana to all the great states of the west that were added to our country and slavery was confined to the comparatively few states of the south.14
At this day when it seems fashionable to belittle Thomas Jefferson at all opportunities, we commend to the people of Indiana the consideration of how much of the great anti-slavery report of General W. Johnston, and the revolution of sentiment connected with it, may be justly attributed to the influence of the words of Thomas Jefferson.15
- 13Dunn, Indiana, 371; Dillon, Indiana, 435; Western Sun, December 17, 1808.
- 14Western Sun, December 17, 1808.
- 15Dunn, Indiana, 444,
The report of General Johnston against slavery will always be regarded as the greatest piece of statesmanship in his career, and well it might be. Indeed few statesmen anywhere have as much to their credit. It will always redound to the glory of the pioneer and formative days of Indiana territory.
Indigo was cultivated north of the Ohio river since the middle of the eighteenth century, and though it produced only two cutings a year, it was a profitable product of pioneer days. Indiana tobacco, raised at Vincennes, was considered equal to the best product of Virginia. The culture of these two products had an important bearing on the passage of the Ordinance of 1787. The clause respecting slavery was agreed to by southern members (in congress) for the purpose of preventing tobacco and indigo from being cultivated, or made, on the northwest side of the Ohio, as well as for several political reasons. Indigo and tobacco, like all other crops the preparation of which for the market required attention during the entire year, gave the most profitable employment to slave labor, and it was supposed that free labor could not compete with slave labor in their production. In addition to this, the unhealthfulness of indigo culture and preparation was considered sufficient to prevent free labor from engaging in it at all. Cotton was also cultivated in southern Indiana. All three were products best produced by colored people. Those who wished to produce cotton, tobacco, and indigo went into slave territory; those living in slave territory, and opposed to slavery, moved to the free side of the Ohio.
It may not be a flight of the imagination to say, "Commerce rules the world." It was commerce that led Columbus to America; it was commerce that took Magellan around the Horn of South America, the ships of Europe beyond the Cape of Good Hope, and that built the Panama Canal. Commerce fought practically all wars, for, after all, it is the largest single ingredient in human patriotism. It may be, patriotism like charity covers a great amount of evil; at any rate, strange things have been done under the guise of patriotism—but not all of them led to evil. Here we have Virginia, a slave state giving us free soil northwest of the Ohio, and southern members of congress, voting for it. Why? —to shut off northern production of cotton, tobacco, and indigo. Do you see the commerce? It is a pretty and acceptable picture, but it took General Washington Johnston to keep it clear and untarnished in Indiana.
On June 2nd, 1807, General W. Johnston entered one hundred and forty—one acres, at the Houghton bridge, just east of Mount Pleasant, in Martin county. It is a tract of very good land, and, no doubt, he had in mind a ferry landing, and its nearness to the county seat of Martin county. The proposed rock pike of early days, from Louisville to Vincennes, crossed White river at the Johnston purchase. He also entered land at Newburg from which there is a magnificient view of the Ohio, and made several other entries in different localities in southern Indiana.
In 1817, auctioneers were required to have a license, General W. Johnston was a licensed auctioneer of Knox, Sullivan, and Daviess counties. These are little items but they show one strange law of pioneer days, and the various things a pioneer lawyer had to do to earn a living.
In 1807, William McDonald's post office was Vincennes, for on October 1st, 1807, General W. Johnston, the postmaster, published his quarterly list of unclaimed letters. In this list there were two unclaimed letters for William McDonald, of Dubois county. This is also a small item but it shows the long trip of forty miles McDonald had to make for mail, and then pay the postage of from ten to tweny—five cents per letter after he got there.16
A hundred years ago a man was generally known politically by the name of the man whose principles he supported. That being true, it is not easy to understand General Johnston's attitude in 1823, unless, in the broader sense, that he favored a western man. In 1823, General W. Johnston announced for Clay and Jackson for the presidency. He said his politics were and always had been Republican. At that time the word "Republican" did not have the meaning it now has. It should be considered as it was understood in 1823.
General Johnston was a man of fine education. His knowledge of history was extensive and he seemed to have been
- 16Western Sun, October 3, 1807.
Education was a subject that Johnston brought to the front with force. He believed in public education, and the fraternal order he brought to Indiana had much to do with the creation of free public schools. For that forethought many of us owe a debt of gratitude to General Johnston.
It may have been some dim shadow of the pioneers showing the future, or it may have been their charity for mankind-whatever the cause, they favored free public schools where learning could be obtained without price, and be equally open to all.
The pioneers of Indiana began early to provide for the education of its young men and women. In 1806, an act was passed by the Territorial Assembly incorporating Vincennes University. It was approved by Governor William Henry Harrison, November 29th, 1806. The act carried this introduction:
Whereas, the independence, happiness, and energy of every republic depends (under the influence of the destinies of Heaven) upon the wisdom, virtue, talents, and energy of its citizens and rulers.
And whereas, science, literature, and the liberal arts contribute in an eminent degree, to improve those qualities and acquirements.
And, whereas, learning hath ever been found the ablest advocate of genuine liberty, the best supporter of rational religion, and the source of the only solid and imperishable glory, which nations can acquire.
And, forasmuch, as literature and philosophy furnish the most useful and pleasing occupations, improving and varying the enjoyments of prosperity, affording relief under the pressure of misfortune, and hope and consolation in the hour of death, and considering that in a commonwealth, where the humblest citizen may be elected to the highest public office, and to reject, is retained, and secured to the citizens, the knowledge which is requisite for a magistrate and elector, should be widely diffused.
After these words the act begins with Section I, etc. It names as the first board of trustees, William Henry Harrison, John Gibson, Thomas T. Davis, Henry Vanderburgh, Waller Taylor, Benjamin Parke, Peter Jones, James Johnson, John Badolett, John Rice Jones, George Wallace, William Bulitt, Elias McNamee, Henry Hurst, General Washington Johnston, Francis Vigo, Jacob Kuykendall, Samuel McKee, Nathaniel Ewing, George Leach, Luke Decker, Samuel Gwathmey, and John Johnson. Congress appropriated twenty—three—thousand-and—forty acres toward its support. Here was a great opportunity for Vincennes to become a college town. The act provided for a grammar school, a lottery by which to raise an amount, not exceeding twenty—thousand dollars, a course of study, etc. No lottery can be authorized nor can the sale of lottery tickets be allowed under section VIII, of article XV, of our present constitution, but in 1806, it was lawful to hold lotteries.
The act reads very Johnstonian, and General Johnston, up to his death, continued to fight for the rights and benefits that evidently belonged to Vincennes University, but which it lost, at last, when most needed. It seems it was due to some unseen but powerful influence that Vincennes did not grow into a great university town in pioneer days. It would be interesting to know the hidden reason. Perhaps in 1806, the environments in and about Vincennes were not conducive to public education; at any rate, the main trend of advanced English education ran east of Vincennes, on the line of the present Monon railroad. There is no evidence that General Johnston ever desired to take the cross from any church or to reduce the attendance at any other school. Upon any enterprise in which he entered he was always sincerely hopeful of being truly helpful.
General Johnston never forgot his dignity and aristocratic training. In his early days he often appended the word "gentleman" after signing his name. Occasionally he wrote following his name "In propria persona," meaning of course, "In person; himself." He was a noted orator and lawyer in his day and generation. He could melt a jury into tears or bring it up to a state of frenzy. Perhaps the first effort to issue a law book of any kind in Indiana, at private expense, was made by General Johnston, in 1817. He called his work a Compend of Acts 1807—1817. This volume is very rare now. One book would bring more today than Johnston received for his entire edition in 1817. General Johnston served as a typical pioneer professional man, one of the kind of men who organized counties and created states a hundred years ago.
In 1808, a resolution was passed by the Legislative Council and House of Representatives, of Indiana territory, authorizing John Rice Jones and General Washington Johnston to contract for printing four hundred copies of the Territorial Laws of the Session of 1808 at Vincennes, in Louisiana or Kentucky. This is very conclusive evidence that there were lines of business connections between early Indiana and New Orleans.
Murat W. Hopkins, Esq., a well known Indianapolis attorney, has many law books that were used by General Johnston, including the first one dated 1808, and printed by Elihu Stout, at Vincennes. It contains forty—five pages and a printed index of five pages. It is certified to by General W. Johnston and John Rice Jones, committee, November, 1808. After this book was printed General Johnston added in his own handwriting (and probably for his own use only) a "Table of Contents." A reproduction of the last two pages is submitted herewith. Partly legendary and partly historical, the narrative is often related that the paper contained in this book was carried on horseback along the old Buffalo Trail from Georgetown, Kentucky, through Floyd, Harrison, Orange, Dubois, Pike and Knox counties, to Vincennes. The Masonic date, June, 5809, refers to June, 1809.
General W. Johnston practiced law at Princeton and at Evansville, and may have resided at these two cities for a short time in 1819 and 1820. The records and documents in the Vanderburg courthouse show that in the winter of 1819 and 1820, he acted as deputy clerk of Vanderburg county, covering about four months, and under the administration
There seems to be no complete record available stating who were the members of the territorial legislatures, between 1805 and 1815; however, it is known that the following men were connected with a session in 1808: John Rice Jones, president; Shadrach Bond, Jr., and George Fisher. In the House of Representatives were Jesse B. Thomas, speaker, of Dearborn county; General W. Johnston and Luke Decker, of Knox county; William Biggs and John Messinger, of St. Clair county, Illinois; and Rice Jones, of Randolph county. Evidently Jones and Johnston were the leading legal lights of that session.17
General Johnston's family Bible used for nearly a century by Vincennes Lodge No. 1, F. and A. M., but now preserved in a fire—proof vault, at Vincennes, bears evidence of General Johnston's deep religious convictions, in marginal notes in his handwriting. In the ancient Apocrypha such phrases are written in ink: "Not doctrinal, but good admonition," "No semblance to truth," "The prayer of Manasses, King of Judah, is the prayer of a parasitical spirit," "The second book of Maccabees is false and wicked," etc.
The family record in this Bible shows that General Johnston was twice married, first to Josette Trombley, of Detroit, who died September 8th, 1816. On January 7th, 1817, he married Mrs. Elizabeth Beckes. His second wife was a widow of the Hon. William Clarke Harvey and of Capt. Parmenas Beckes, sheriff of Knox county, killed in a duel fought in Illinois across the river from Vincennes, July 15th, 1813. There were eight children in General Johnston's family, — Anne Chew, (Daniel) William Harrison, Benjamin Gray, Robert New, Jane Dorothy, General Parmenas Beckes, Celestine Sophia and Gabriel Floyd.
Several of the law books from General Johnston's library are to be found in Indiana. His signatures as made with a
- 17Esarey, Harrison, Volume I, 230, 313, 317.
General Johnston practiced law until the day of his death, October 26, 1833. There are on record many instances of deference accorded him by his fellow citizens, which go to prove that he was an orator of unusual ability. He often rendered legal services for Major T. Dubois, after whom Dubois county was named.
We are not holding a brief for Masonry, nor a trowel for Masons; it is not necessary; but, in going through many old records and newspapers it is found that General Washington Johnston's name is frequently mentioned in connection with Masonry, a subject not always looked upon with favor; but since it is so closely interwoven into Johnston's life, it can not be omitted, unless you want Hamlet with Hamlet left out. Vincennes had been settled by Frenchmen of a faith not very friendly to Masonry, and for that reason the proposed organization of a Masonic lodge there was not favorably received. Nevertheless Johnston said, "Let there be light; and there was light."18 These are eight sublime words expressing a command and a report that the command had been obeyed. On March 13th, 1809, after many previous attempts, General Johnston succeeded in organizing what is now known as Vincennes Lodge No. I. It has many relics to prove General Johnston's worthiness as one of the craft—his own family Bible, used by the Lodge for a century, being one highly valued. The lodge also has an original jewel worn by General Johnston as an officer of the lodge. The Vincennes lodge was organized under a dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. General Johnston was also responsible for the organization of the Grand Lodge of Indiana, December 3rd, 1817. The Grand Lodge of Indiana Masons was chartered by the Indiana Legislature.19 General Johnston was elected deputy grand master and it is a tradition that he purposely stayed away from the meeting in order to avoid election to the highest office in the gift of Blue Lodge Masonry. Modesty and self-effacement may have been responsible for his contentment with minor positions. His papers were more striking than his personal appearance. In October, 1923, the Masons of Indiana, dedicated a massive granite monument at a cost of $1,000 to the memory of General W. Johnston, at his grave in the old section of the Greenlawn cemetery at Vincennes. It is a belated tribute to a man of notable public service, but it will serve a noble purpose, while the services of the day and the publicity given General Johnston upon that occasion will forever help to keep his memory green.
On the west side and on the south side of the base of the General Johnston monument are bronze tablets that tell of
- 18Genesis, 1—3.
- 19Acts of 1821, Chapter 39.
PEN SKETCH OF THE GRANITE MONUMENT THE MASONS ERECTED AT THE GRAVE OF GENERAL WASHINGTON JOHNSON, IN OCTOBER, 1923. IT IS OF GRANITE AND 25 FEET HIGH.
ERECTED A. D. 1923, A. L. 5923,
THE GRAND LODGE, F. AND A. M. INDIANA,
AND VINCENNES LODGE NO. 1, F. AND
IN GRATEFUL RECOGNITION
OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICES OF
GENERAL WASHINGTON JOHNSTON
TO FREE MASONRY
AND THE STATE. The west tablet bears these words:
GENERAL WASHINGTON JOHNSTON,
BORN NOVEMBER 10, 1776;
DIED OCTOBER 26, 1833;
FATHER OF MASONRY
IN INDIANA TERRITORY;
CREATOR OF VINCENNES LODGE NO. 1, F. AND
A. M. MARCH 13, 1809;
GRAND LODGE F. AND A. M. INDIANA DECEMBER 3, 1817.
Vincennes played well her part on the day this monument was dedicated. Among other things one of the Vincennes papers said:
Echoing from the grave the days when men and women in flesh and blood were building with their minds and hands the foundation on which now stands a mighty empire within a nation, carved out of the old Northwest Territory, Masons of Vincennes Lodge No. 1, among the first in all the states of the old Northwest, and of Indiana, paid homage to the memory of General Washington Johnston, the founder of both lodges, and dedicated to him in everlasting memorial a granite shaft commemorating the works of a just and upright man and a worthy Mason, Thursday afternoon, October 25, 1923, at Greenlawn Cemetery.
General Washington Johnston was among the empire builders. His life and the lives of his contemporaries were spent in hewing out of savagery and wilderness the Indiana and the states of the old Northwest as we know them today. Thoughts of the time of his day and of ours as they were recounted at the ceremonies yesterday afternoon caused conflicting thoughts to rise concerning the passing of time. Dr. Logan Esarey, commissioned to represent the Grand Lodge of Indiana at the event, summed this thought in his address on the times of General Washington Johnston when he said that the accomplishments of one hundred years in our land might be more marked than those of a thousand years in the old countries.
Johnston saw the very beginning of our nation. He came to Vincennes when the capital of the Northwest Territory was in Marietta, Ohio; he saw the beginning of Indiana territory. He saw the creation of Indiana into a sovereign state in this American Union.
In all his works, those of a true statesman, his modesty and self-effacement stand out most conspicuously today. Records and legends reveal him as one who walked in his station before God and man as a just and upright citizen, doing well the works which were his to do and achieving accomplishments worthy of everlasting fame.
When General Johnston's monument was dedicated, the Hon. Mason J. Niblack, Past Grand Master of Indiana, who had made a particular study of General Johnston's life and the history of Vincennes in his period, delivered an address full of historic information. Mr. Niblack said:
General Johnston came to Vincennes at the age of seventeen. It is not known how he came, but he probably came through Kentucky. It appears that he always had a close acquaintance with Louisville. Records of his career show that he was an able scholar and possessed a rare literary style. His public papers could well be taken as a model of clearness and forcefulness. Gen. Johnston wrote the first legal book in Indiana, The Justices’ and Constables’ Guide. It has undergone many revisions and comes down to the present day under the name of McDonald's Treatise.
Mr. Niblack further said:
After Vincennes Lodge was established General Johnston was frequently called upon to deliver Masonic addresses on days of Masonic celebrations. As many as five of these addresses were published in the Western Sun, at the times they were delivered. These addresses are interesting and certainly well worth reading. They show the culture and refinement of Johnston's mind. They are full of Masonic learning and information and they actually sparkle with Masonic lore.
In reporting the ceremonies of the day Johnston's monument was dedicated, a Vincennes paper said:
One day less than ninety years after he laid down his labors in death, Masons of Indiana and Vincennes marched in solemn procession to the graveside of G. W. Johnston to do honor to his memory. Seeing the solemn procession enter the old cemetery where lay the bones of men, women, and children who wrote their chapters in the ever continuing story of Vincennes, signed their names and passed it on to other writers to add their brief bit before the soil reclaimed them, some such fleeting thought as "life is not entirely in vain" unconsciously entered the onlooker's mind.
The paper also said:
Participants in the ceremonies perhaps felt no more solemn moment than when General Washington Johnston's maternal grandson, Alfred W. Harris, of Louisville, Ky., himself a distinguished Mason and a past Grand Master of Kentuck arose to unveil the granite monument erected to Johnston's memory by Vincennes Lodge No. 1, and the Grand Lodge of Indiana. Stepping to the edge of the platform, erect and steady, voice clear and far—reaching, although it trembled slightly with the burden of years he said, "As man and Mason, nearing my eighty—second year, this is the most honored moment of my life." Walking down the path from the platform to the monument, accompanied by grand officers of the day, the Knight Templars with drawn swords, the venerable Mason slowly unwound the covering revealing to the light the granite shaft which will forever after call to the minds of men the exemplary life and deeds of so great and good a man as the one in whose memory it was erected, his grandfather.
There yet live at Vincennes, George W. Johnston and Frank Johnston, paternal grandsons of General Johnston. The location of General Johnston's grave was preserved by the thoughtfulness of a grandson in planting a maple tree at its head and the sexton cutting "G. W. J." on a small stone and placing it at the grave.
Col. Joseph HamiltonDaviess, Grand Master Mason of Kentucky, a friend of Alexander Hamilton, and the official who prosecuted Aaron Burr, in Kentucky, for treason, assisted General Johnston in the creation of Vincennes Lodge, Daviess fell at Tippecanoe, and was given a Masonic burial, on that Indiana battlefield.20. General Johnston was made a Mason by Abraham Lodge, No. 8, at Louisville about 1807. He petitioned for membership in 1806. In 1813, General Johnston lived in Louisville, and served as Master of Abraham Lodge, No. 8. One of his children was born in Louisville.
20Bsarey, Harrison, Volume I, 559 to 682.
General Johnston lived at a time in American history that tried men's souls. In his splendid address at Vincennes, October 25th, 1923, Dr. Logan Esarey described General Johnston's span of life in these words:
The period from 1776 to 1833, the span of life of the man we honor today, more than any other equal period in history, marks the rise of the common man. Our government is staked on the virtue and intelligence of the masses. For the first time in history this class of society found itself free for action. The west is and always has been the home of the common man, aristocracies of religion, of culture and politics were discarded as useless baggage when the mountains were crossed. There may have been Irish, Scotch, Germans, French and English; there may have been Puritans and Cavaliers; servants, freemen and even a few nobles in the west. It is peculiarly appropriate that Masons should celebrate this event since no institution represents this emancipation of the common man better than Masonry, none, that I know, quite so well.
General Johnston's fraternal order made itself felt in the early annals of Indiana. It did well its part in shaping the destinies of the young state. In support of this statement, the names of a few early Masons will suffice. A line of pioneers they are, such as Johnston, our subject; Judge Vanderburgh, a Revolutionary officer, a jurist, and a territorial official; Capt. Robert Buntin, another Revolutionary hero and Indian messenger; Thomas Randolph, a descendent of the Indian Princess Pocahontas,21 a brilliant son of a brilliant family, a hero of Tippecanoe, and an accomplished scholar; United States Senator Waller Taylor, another hero of Tippecanoe and pioneer statesman; Major William Prince, an Indian guide, a sheriff, a congressman, and friend of General Harrison; Gen. Robert M. Evans, whose name Evansville bears; General John Gibson, a friend of Chief Logan, and to whom that Indian warrior addressed his famous Indian classic, "And who is there to mourn for Logan?"; Col. Joseph HamiltonDaviess, that typical fighting Kentuckian, a gentleman, a hero of Tippecanoe, a classical scholar, and a renowned orator; Col. White, another hero of Tippecanoe and pioneer character; Alexander Buckner, honored as Indiana's first Grand Master; Col. Joseph Bartholomew, a hero of Tippecanoe; Major Davis Floyd, an Indian mesenger
- 21 Esarey, Harrison, Volume I, 320.
On tradition's pages it is said Tecumseh was a Mason, but it does not appear that he was ever recognized as such at Vincennes; however, there were many Masons among Indian chiefs, raised to the third degree in British army lodges. They did not get their degrees at Vincennes, and never saw the three lights of masonry in the Vincennes lodge. After all there is a quaint and dreamy beauty about the life of Tecumseh, and history cannot help but bow in reverence for the stand he took, and the record he, and others like him, made. We must not forget to pay our tribute of respect and lay a wreath at the shrine of any man who fights for his race even though he be an Indian. Since the sunrise of Hoosier history few men connected with it has a more romantic history than Tecumseh.
Johnston was the northeast cornerstone of Indiana Masonry. As before stated Masonry did not meet with a friendly welcome, in the meridian height and glory of the day at old Vincennes; but, in time, its lights threw a ray even unto the remote corners of the territory, and Johnston's fraternal order, free soil, and free education, became legacies for future generations. Johnston was for free soil. Somehow he must have felt that from deep in the midst of time and all along the difficult road which mankind has trod, in joy and pain, in achievements and sacrifice, the cry for liberty has always gone up to a fair heaven. It was heard even in old Virginia and it could not have been misunderstood, and was not misunderstood by Thomas Jefferson and others like him, even if they did live in Dixie. This is shown by the fact that before the Civil war a few colored children from the south, and several from Indiana were educated at an institution near Hanover in the same class room with whites. On the cornerstone of a school building at the Franklin Masonic Home are these words:
EDUCATION, MASONRY'S BEST LEGACY TO HER CHILDREN
A. D. 1923.
This cornerstone shows that we are now living in the light of a new day, and in the spirit of a progressive age.
As you read these lines, no doubt, you have said to yourself, "What was there back of General W. Johnston? Somewhere along the line his ancestors must have been real men and women." We are indebted to Alfred W. Harris, Esq., of Louisville, Kentucky, a maternal grandson of General Johnston, for the following genealogy of the Johnston family. It gives a complete and decisive answer to your questions. The genealogy was compiled by Prof. William Preston Johnston, eldest son of General Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederate general who fell at Shiloh, and his wife Henrietta Preston Johnston. Prof. Johnston was professor of History in Washington and Lee University, and later professor of history in Tulane University. He also wrote a Life of Albert Sidney Johnston. The genealogy follows:
The genealogy follows:
"The beginning was Lord James Johnston, II Earl of Annadale, Scotland; next in line was Lord William Johnston, III Earl and I Marquis of Annandale, Scotland, 1691. Lord William Johnston married Sophia Fairholm, of Craigie Hall, in the county of Sterling, and had two sons, James Johnston, heir and afterwards II Marquis of Annandale; and Lord William Johnston, Jr. who as the result of a duel fought September 4, 1721, in which he severely wounded his opponent, came to America, being then twenty—six years of age. He settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1722. There Lord William Johnston, Jr., married Anne Chew, (after whom General W. Johnston named one daughter). Two sons were born to Lord William Johnston, Jr., and Anne Chew, and they were named Archibald Johnston and Benjamin Johnston. Benjamin Johnston was the father of General Washington Johnston, and herein lies the reason why General Johnston often used the word "gentleman" after his name.
In the Vincennes Gazette of November 9, 1833, appeared this obituary signed "S", —an unusually long obituary for Johnston's day and generation:
Departed this life on the 26th ult. Gen. W. Johnston, Esq., in the 59th year of his age. He was born in Culpepper county, Va., and came to this borough in 1794. He was one of the very oldest immigrants to this part of the country. The writer of this paragraph (which is far too short and imperfect adequately to detail his merits) does not design to eulogize him now, for "flattery" cannot "soothe the dull cold ear of death," but to pay a just tribute of respect to departed worth. As a lawyer he stood deservedly high. His reading in his profession was varied and deep, and he used the advantages which he possessed for the advancement of the interest of his clients’ justice. He filled many honorable offices with credit to himself and usefulness to the people. As a legislator he was discriminating, industrious, intelligent, and dignified. As a president judge he preserved the sanctity of the "ermine," and was equally impregnable to flattery and intimidation. As a magistrate he was enlightened and faithful to his trust. And, in the various relations of a Christian citizen, husband and father, he was not surpassed. He was one of that noble and gallant band that presented a fearless front to the murderous tomahawk and deadly rifle on the well contested and bloody field of Tippecanoe. His death has left a blank in our society which will not readily be filled. He was buried with Masonic honors and the large concourse of citizens that followed his remains to the grave, proclaimed the respect entertained for his memory. S.
Johnston certainly has three bright jewels in his diadem, and they are all free—Free Soil, Freemasonry and Free Public Education. All were put here when their uses were questioned, not only in the wilderness of southern Indiana, but in many other places. History tells us Free Soil and Free Schools were not wanted in Virginia, Johnston's old home; while in Johnston's day, Masons in many parts of the United States were referred to as "Morgan Killers." The evidences of years, the mellowing influences of time, and the grace and culture of the day, show beyond a reasonable doubt, that the work and the influence of General Johnston have not been in vain and that they will be with us always. "So mote it be."
Jasper, Indiana, January 1, 1924.