March 2, 2024 at 4:39 a.m.

Colonel James Johnston

Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Colonel James Johnston

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

As we are off to the polls to elect new officials, I thought it would be fitting to remember one of our first elected officials in Lincoln County. Colonel James Johnston was born in 1742 in Scotland. His father Henry Johnston emigrated to North Carolina to escape civil and religious conflicts in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Johnston and his wife arrived in the New World and settled along the Catawba River. They had two children, James and Mary. Tradition speaks of the wife of Henry Johnston as dying comparatively young. In the absence of family records, we are left to infer Col. Johnston grew up receiving as good an education as his own limited means and the opportunities of societies then afforded.

James Johnston fought as a colonel in the Patriot militia during the American Revolution. He became well-known in what was then Tryon County as a militia captain and by serving on juries. He was elected to the Provincial Congress in 1776. He appears to have entered military service sometime around 1775 when he participated in the Snow Campaign. He was given the rank of Captain by then-Colonel William Graham and was sent off to an area known as the “Ninety-Six” District in northwestern South Carolina to fight a large number of Tories led by Fletcher and Cunningham. After successful engagements against the Tory forces at Ninety-Six, Colonel Graham received news that General Griffith Rutherford had requested a large number of infantry and cavalry units from Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Tyron counties to subdue Cherokee Indians that were killing civilians on frontier settlements. Colonel Graham, along with Captain Johnston, fought in General Rutherford’s campaign to weaken the power of the Cherokee before they could combine with the British. The Tryon County Regiment was disbanded on February 8, 1779, and split into the Lincoln County Regiment and Rutherford County Regiment.

After the success of this campaign, Captain Johnston was promoted to the rank of Colonel and was given a number of expeditions to the southern border of North Carolina including an expedition along the Pacolet River. Following expeditions in North Carolina and South Carolina, General Rutherford placed Colonel Johnston under the command of Colonel Francis Locke near Mountain Creek, North Carolina. In June of 1780 in advance of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, Johnston distinguished himself when he was selected to cross enemy lines to deliver a message to General Rutherford from Colonel Locke containing information about strategy for the upcoming battle.

Johnston has also been credited in a number of works with a keen mind for strategy which he is said to have employed at the Battle of Kings Mountain. In the battle of Kings Mountain, he led the rear guard, as one of ten captains. This rear guard consisted of about 90 men under his command. He was called into the battle within the first 20 minutes. He and his fellow captains had a complete victory over the British and Tory forces. However, historians have disputed this story based on a lack of firsthand reports from others who were at Kings Mountain. Yet his alleged participation at Kings Mountain was memorialized with the inclusion of his name on the Monument at Kings Mountain National Military Park in Blacksburg, South Carolina.

James married his wife, Jane Ewart, several years before the American Revolution and they settled in Tryon County, North Carolina. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Colonel James Johnston also purchased a sizeable piece of land on the Catawba River. After the split of his home county of Tryon into Lincoln and Rutherford counties, Johnston was elected to the legislature as the first senator from Lincoln County between 1780 and 1782 and reportedly acted as a disbursing agent for the Western Division. He was also a representative at the Convention of 1788. In the few years leading up to his death, Colonel Johnston served as the Ruling Elder of his Presbyterian Church* and appears to have been a highly regarded member of the community.

*Though known to be a Presbyterian, there are some discrepancies regarding his church membership. The nearby Presbyterian Churches were Unity and Goshen Presbyterian Churches. It is possible and very likely that he attended all of them at some point. His sister Mary married Moses Scott who settled near the Goshen Church. Both Robert Ewart, who was his father-in-law and for whom his son was named, and Captain John Reid who was a Senator with Johnston and his granddaughter Mary married Johnson’s son Robert, attended and were buried at Unity Presbyterian Church.

In 1782, Johnston built Oak Grove which sits on what is now just over the Lincoln County line in Gaston County in the unincorporated area called Lucia near the Catawba River. His family was in good company there. Peter Forney’s Mount Welcome was less than 4 miles away and Andrew Carpenter’s homeplace was not quite three miles away. James’ son William was a physician who married Nancy Forney at Mt. Welcome, General Peter Forney's homestead. His son Robert Ewart Johnston married Mary Reid in 1807 and became a state senator for Lincoln County in 1810-1811 and again in 1817-1818. His daughter, Sarah, married Dr. Benjamin Johnson of Virginia.

Jane died in 1795 at Oak Grove. Ten years later almost to the day, James also passed away at Oak Grove and was buried in a private cemetery at Oak Grove. When Gaston County was created from Lincoln County, Colonel Johnston's homestead on the Catawba fell in Gaston County. The building was demolished in the 1950s.


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