John Johnston was an Indian agent near Piqua during the War of 1812. His service was so important the British sought his death.
Johnston was born on March 25, 1775, in Ballyshannon, North Ireland to a Scottish father and a French Huguenot mother. He came to America at the age of 11, accompanied by a priest and a family friend. The immigrant group settled at Carlisle, Penn.
In 1786, Johnston’s parents (Stephen and Elizabeth), four brothers, and one sister joined him in Pennsylvania.
At age 16 Johnston worked for Judge John Creigh selling merchandize. Through this work he met soldiers who told him about the west. Their tales captured Johnson’s interest so when Creigh took supplies to General Anthony Wayne’s troops, Johnson went with him.
After serving for a time as a wagoner for General Wayne, Johnston returned to Pennsylvania and worked as a law clerk.
On July 15, 1802, 27-year-old Johnston eloped with Rachel Robinson age 16. The new couple headed west to Fort Wayne (now in Indiana). President Thomas Jefferson assigned Johnston as an Indian Agent in Fort Wayne. His job was to work as a trader with the local Indians and to discourage their trade with the British.
The Johnston’s had 15 children, 14 of whom lived to adulthood. Their oldest children were the first white children born in Fort Wayne.
In 1811 Johnston retired as an agent and moved his family to land he had purchased in 1804 close to Piqua. There he built a brick house near a large spring on a site named Johnston’s Prairie. A year later the War of 1812 occurred and a new Indian agency was established near Piqua. Johnston was appointed the agent.
About 6,000 neutral Native Americans were moved to his area and Johnston worked to keep them friendly to the United States. His role was so crucial several British assassination plans to eliminate him were hatched but thwarted by his American Indian friends.
Johnston remained an agent until 1829, a total of 31 years of service. The 1900 Biographical History of Miami County says, “His administration was noted by … integrity … honesty … humane and judicious policy … and his fidelity to the government.”
In 1829 he again retired and settled on his farm.
Johnston made other important contributions to society; he was: a canal commissioner, one of the founders of Kenyon College, on the board of trustees of Miami University, and a member of the board at West Point.
Johnston’s wife died on July 24, 1840, and was buried at the farm.
He then moved to Cincinnati and lived with a daughter. At her death he moved to Dayton and lived with another daughter, Mrs. Jefferson Patterson.
Johnston died on February 18, 1861, while in Washington, D.C. His body was brought back to Piqua and buried by his wife at the farm.
The Johnston Farm & Indian Agency near Piqua is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society.
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