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John Johnston (1762–1828) was a wealthy and successful British fur trader for the North West Company at Sault Ste. Marie before the War of 1812, and a leader in the Michigan Territory. He never became a US citizen. He married Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Woman of the Green Glade), daughter of Waubojeeg (White Fisher), prominent Ojibwe war chief and civil leader from what is now northern Wisconsin. The Johnstons were leaders in both the Euro-American and Ojibwa communities. His life was markedly disrupted by the War of 1812, and demonstrated the changes of the period.

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Early life fur trade

John Johnston (1762-1828), was born in Belfast, Ireland to an upper-class Scots-Irish family.[1] John Johnston held in his own right the estate of Craige, near Coleraine in County Londonderry. His father was a civil engineer who planned and built the Belfast Water Works. During John Johnston's youth, his mother's brother was Attorney General of Ireland.[2]

As a young man, Johnston emigrated in 1792 to Canada for its opportunities. He had letters of introduction to Lord Dorchester, Governor of the colony. Through him he met leaders in society, including the magnates of the recently formed North West Company in Montreal.[2] The fur trade looked like a good opportunity to make a profit. Johnston planned to be a "wintering partner", one who traded with Native Americans at the post on the frontier. He purchased trade goods in Montreal to take with him.

Marriage

Johnston went to Sault Ste. Marie, a journey which then took several weeks, where he settled on the south side of the river. There Johnston met Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Woman of the Green Glade), daughter of Waubojeeg (White Fisher), a prominent Ojibwe war chief and civil leader from what is now northern Wisconsin. Johnston fell madly in love with the Chief Waubojeeg's daughter, but the Chief was skeptical of white men and initially refused when Johnston asked for his daughter to be married to him, saying: "White Man, I have noticed your behaviour, it has been correct; but, White Man, your colour is deceitful. Of you, may I expect better things? You say you are going to Montreal; go, and if you return I shall be satisfied of your sincerity and will give you my daughter."[3] Eventually they were married, and Ozhaguscodaywayquay would also be known as Susan Johnston.[1] Like Johnston, most fur traders were Europeans of social standing and together with the upper class Ojibwa women they married, they formed the upper tier of a two-class frontier society. "Kinship and ties of affinity proved more than merely useful to the traders. They were both a source of power and a necessity if one was to achieve success in the trade."[4] Johnston was considered the first permanent European-American settler there.[5]

The Johnstons' cedar log house on Water Street in Sault Ste. Marie was built in 1796 in a French colonial style.[6] When their eldest daughter Jane married Henry Schoolcraft, the Johnstons built an addition for them to live in. Some years later, the Schoolcrafts built their own house in the village. The addition is the only remaining part of the Johnston house, one of the featured historic houses in the city.[7]

Although the south side of the river became United States territory in 1797, Johnston never bothered to become a citizen. The border was a fluid area. In those years, Native Americans had separate status and were not considered United States citizens. For the people at Sault Ste. Marie after 1797, there was little change in their daily lives or relations with the Ojibwa, except as they received more American explorers.[4]

Career

As a young man, Johnston was thrilled at the opportunity he saw with the North West Company. He was impressed by the partners he met and their refined lives. When formed in 1787, the company had 23 partners and 2000 employees: "Agents, factors, clerks, guides, interpreters, and voyageurs."[8]

Over the years Johnston became successful himself, with fur trading and relations with the Ojibwa enhanced by Susan's family ties to the Ojibwa community. The Johnstons were known as a refined and cultured family, leaders in both the Ojibwa and Euro-American communities who maintained a wide range of relations.[1][9]

As part of their culture of building relationships, the Johnstons welcomed to their home an array of significant players in the region, including surveyors, explorers, traders, governmental officials, trappers and political leaders. With his wife and her family's help, Johnston developed a broad knowledge of both the Ojibwa ways and the Great Lakes region. He played an integral role in developing the Michigan frontier and was appointed a Justice of the Peace.[9]

Sault Ste. Marie was a community with a mix of fur traders, most of whom had Native American wives; Ojibwa natives, some of high status; and workers who were Métis, Europeans, and Native Americans. Structures were both permanent and temporary, featuring warehouses for furs, scattered housing and Indian wigwams, and sheds for boats.[4] Many of the Ojibwa stayed in the area for fishing more than for the settlement.

Increasing economic tensions between Great Britain and the US affected the fur trade. In 1806 US changes to the Jay Treaty of 1794 restricted British fur traders to operating in Canada. Both they and the Ojibwa wished to return to the previous arrangement, which allowed free passage across the border for trade by nationals of both countries and by the Indians.

During the War of 1812, Johnston's longstanding British affiliations led him to assist the British. After a direct appeal from the garrison at Michilimackinac, Johnston supplied about 100 of his men and took two batteaux for their relief in 1814. When an American force failed to intercept him, it went on to Sault Ste. Marie, where it burned the North West Company warehouses on both sides of the St. Mary's River, causing substantial losses to Johnston and the Company. The troops also raided his house, called Johnson Hall, stripping it, the library and furnishings, and burning it down. (Johnston's wife and children fled into the woods when the soldiers arrived.) Johnston never became a U.S. citizen.

The Johnstons' oldest son Louis (also appears as Lewis) was a lieutenant in the British Navy and served on the Queen Charlotte during the War of 1812. He was captured by Commodore Oliver Perry during the battle on Lake Erie. His treatment by the Americans while he was held prisoner at Cincinnati, Ohio turned him against living under their rule.[5][8]

After the war, Johnston made a direct appeal to Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan to have the restriction against his trading in the interior lifted because of his other services to the region, but to no avail. He suffered financially from his losses and reduced trading, and was never able to rebuild his former wealth. Although he applied to the British government for compensation for his losses, no payment was made. Believing he was too old to remove to Canada, he stayed in Sault Ste. Marie. In 1821 Johnston served as a Commissioner during negotiations to end the rivalry between the North West and Hudson's Bay companies and helped achieve their merger.[10]

Still worried about potential British agitation of Native Americans along the border, in 1822 the US government built and staffed Fort Brady at Sault Ste. Marie. With the fort and troops, other American settlers started to come into the area in greater number. The culture of Sault Ste. Marie changed markedly. Johnston and others who had earlier formed and dominated the community were passed by as the newcomers banded together. The presence of military troops formalized the role of government. The Americans were reluctant to become involved with the French, Ojibwe or Métis, and disdained most of the existing society.[10]

Family

The Johnstons had eight children, most of whom were American by birth. They educated them in English, Ojibwe and French. Johnston had a large library filled with English classical authors, including poets, which his children used for their literary education.[11] The parents took care to educate their children in both cultures, and expected them to have opportunities in society equivalent to their standing. Many fur traders sent their children to Montreal for school.[4]

The Johnstons' eldest daughter Jane married Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in 1822 as Indian agent for the US government. He was to establish formal relationships with the Native Americans. He became noted as an ethnographer and writer about Native American life, but despite his marriage and interests, remained outside Native American life as contrasted to the fur trader John Johnston.[4]

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft was inducted in 2008 into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her own contributions to literature and history. She is recognized as the first Native American literary writer and poet. A major collection of her work was published in 2007.[1]

The second daughter Eliza never married. The next two married well. The third daughter married Archdeacon MacMurray, of Niagara, who worked as a missionary with tribes along Lake Superior. Maria, the youngest daughter, married James Laurence Schoolcraft, a younger brother of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.[8]

The Anglo-American settlement and rule over Sault Ste. Marie and Michigan after the War of 1812 changed the culture markedly within a generation. It particularly disadvantaged the mixed-race men, even upperclass sons such as the Johnstons. The Americans had some disdain for the children of mixed marriages; in addition, they were suspicious of Catholics and French speakers. They often did not take the time to discern the layers of northern Michigan society, but lumped all those together who had preceded them in Sault Ste. Marie and other communities.[4]

As noted above, the oldest son Lewis stayed in Canada after the War of 1812.[12]

Because of Johnston's resistance to becoming a citizen of the US, his second son George was shut out of the fur trade as the Americans exerted more control.[4] George Johnston worked for Henry Schoolcraft in various roles for the US Indian Agency during the 1820s. [5]

After Johnston's death, Susan Johnston and their son William managed the sugaring and fishing business. The youngest son John McDougall Johnston settled on Sugar Island (an island along the St. Mary's River) across from Canada. He was later the last official US Indian Agent in the area.[5]

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d Robert Dale Parker, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, accessed 11 Dec 2008
  2. ^ a b William Kingsford, C.E., "John Johnston, of Sault Ste. Marie: A Passage in Canadian History", in G. Mercer Adam, Canadian Monthly and National Review, pp.1-9 Toronto: Rose-Belford Publishing Co., 1881, accessed 23 Dec 2008
  3. ^ Penny Petrone, First People, First Voices, University of Toronto Press: 1984, p. 27
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Robert E. Bieder, "Sault Ste. Marie and the War of 1812:A World Turned Upside Down in the Old Northwest", Indiana Magazine of History, XCV (Mar 1999), accessed 13 Dec 2008
  5. ^ a b c d Mary M. June, "British Period - Sault Ste. Marie Timeline and History", Bayliss Public Library, 2000, accessed 13 Dec 2008
  6. ^ "John Johnston Home", Sault Ste. Marie, accessed 13 Dec 2008
  7. ^ "Historic Structures", Sault-Sainte-Marie, accessed 13 Dec 2008
  8. ^ a b c William Kingsford, "John Johnston, of Sault Ste. Marie: A Passage in Canadian History", in G. Mercer Adam, Canadian Monthly and National Review, p.3, Vol. 7, 1881 Jul-Dec, Toronto: Rose-Belford Publishing Co., 1881, accessed 23 Dec 2008
  9. ^ a b William Kingsford, "John Johnston, of Sault Ste. Marie: A Passage in Canadian History", in G. Mercer Adam, Canadian Monthly and National Review, pp.4-6, Vol. 7, 1881 Jul-Dec, Toronto: Rose-Belford Publishing Co., 1881, accessed 23 Dec 2008
  10. ^ a b Robert E. Bieder, "Sault Ste. Marie and the War of 1812:A World Turned Upside Down in the Old Northwest", Indiana Magazine of History, XCV (Mar 1999), p.10, accessed 13 Dec 2008
  11. ^ Margaret Noori, "Bicultural Before There Was a Word For It", Women's Review of Books, 2008, Wellesley Centers for Women, accessed 12 Dec 2008
  12. ^ William Kingsford, "John Johnston, of Sault Ste. Marie: A Passage in Canadian History", in G. Mercer Adam, Canadian Monthly and National Review, p.8, Vol. 7, 1881 Jul-Dec, Toronto: Rose-Belford Publishing Co., 1881, accessed 23 Dec 2008

References

  • Robert Dale Parker, ed., The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007

External links

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