John Johnston was born on March 25th, 1775 in County Fermanagh, Ireland. He came to America at age 11 and settled in Pennsylvania, where he remained until the age of 16 when he entered the mercantile trade and began to transport supplies to the various forts on the frontier. During these journies he first 'laid eyes' on the land known as Upper Piqua, near the Great Miami river in present day Piqua, Ohio. He 'determined' to have it for his own, and kept this promise to himself some 12 years later when, in 1804, he purchased the land. At the time Johnston was serving as an Indian Factor for the US Government, operating a trading post in Fort Wayne in the Indian Territory (now Fort Wayne, IN). Later Johnston became the Federal Indian Agent at the fort. He continued to serve in Indiana until 1811, when he retired to his beloved Upper Piqua farm to become a 'gentleman farmer'.
John Johnston's days of peace and quiet were short. Less than a year after he and his growing family moved into the Upper Piqua farm, in June of 1812, war broke out. The US government needed someone in Ohio with experience with both Indians and soldiers to act as their agent, and Johnston was the perfect candidate. John Johnston became the Indian Agent for the Shawnee in 1812, and for the Wyandot and Seneca tribes in 1816. He also handled the Lenape or Delaware during this time. Johnston's role in Ohio during the War of 1812 was crucial. By the strength of his character he earned the trust of the various Indian tribes, and this trust allowed him to keep the peace during this turbulent time.
After the war ended, the Upper Piqua agency continued until 1829. At that time there wa a change of administration in Washington. As Andrew Jackson's Democrats took charge, those - like John Johnston - who were of the Whig party lost their jobs. By 1830 the Upper Piqua Indian Agency had ended, though Native Americans continued for years to come to the farm for aid and the company of their old friend.
John Johnston had many other interests, including farming, education, and the advancement of the state of Ohio, Miami County in particular. In 1825 he became one of Ohio's Canal Commissioners, and was responsible along with the others on the commission for choosing the route the Miami & Erie Canal would take through Ohio. He was on the traveling board of West Point Military Academy, and was one of the founding members of Kenyon College. Johnston was also a president and contributing member of the Cincinnati Historical and Philosophical Society.
A short biography of John Johnston would not be complete without mention of his family, the care and maintenance of which played a large part in his life. His wife, Rachel Robinson, was from Philadelphia. Her mother, a Quakeress, objected to 17 year old Rachel's choice of a man who not only espoused the Episcopalian faith, but was a captain of militia headed for a post at a military fort. The couple eloped in 1802 and began their life together by making an 850 mile journey through Indian territory to Fort Wayne. Their first child, Stephen, was born in August of 1803 at the fort. The last, James Adams, was born in 1830 on the Upper Piqua farm. In total, the Johnstons had 15 children, 14 of whom lived until adulthood.
John Johnston died in February of 1861, one month before the Civil War broke out. His life of nearly 86 year spans the history of the United States. Born in the year of Lexington and Concord, he met George Washington as a young man while residing in Philadelphia, served as a US Factor and Indian Agent under Presidents Jefferson through John Quincy Adams, and when he died in Washington City (present day Washington DC), Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. John Johnston's life and the site at Upper Piqua represent America at its best.
From the excavations at 1740s Pickawillany, through the westward expansion, to the encampments of the Civil War, you can find it all at the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency.
John Johnston 1802 - Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society John Johnston 1850s
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