CAPE FEAR RIVER JOHNSTON/JOHNSON
Ref.- THE CAPE FEAR RIVER JOHNSONS, by Charles Ben Eulen
Johnson, M.D., privately printed in 1907, in Champaign, IL. The part
of the Cape Fear River that is of interest to this family is the part
that runs through NW Bladen County.
Dr. Johnson, in his research, concluded that the earliest
representative of this family was named Samuel. I do not understand
why. All of the existing records of Bladen Co., the deeds, positively
state that William was the father of Charles, (ancestor of Dr.
Johnson), Charles was the brother of Samuel who was the brother of
James and when James died intestate, Samuel was his heir.
C.F.R. says there is a tradition that due to some political
mis-adventure, Samuel had to flee the British Isles. There is a
tradition that he was related to a Cole family in Dublin and that he
may have changed his name, and also that he may have been a Scot.
Johnston is a good Scottish name. James is said to have made some
sort of public service trip to the British Isles just after the
Revolution and his father said that he might meet his close relations,
the Coles, in Dublin. Just because he were related to the Coles does
not mean that he might have been a Cole himself. Nothing on these has
These must be considered as only traditions, not facts. I am
somewhat wary of them because we can prove that Dr, Johnson changed
some records. I wonder what else he might have altered. He removed
the "T" in every instance he found it in records of William, James,
Samuel and Charles. I guess he did not like to have a "t" in the
name. I wish it had been left in. It is easier to research
Johnstons. A researcher should not alter a record to suit his
preconceived notions. He should copy a record just as it is found and
then discuss what he disagrees with. So these are family traditions
that Dr. Johnson reported and must be carefully researched.
I have more than 20 pages of references that will not be listed
here. I will furnish them to those who can prove this is their
William received land grants in Bladen Co. in 1750 and 1752. I
don't know the locations. They are not listed in the deed index of
Bladen Co. and are not mentioned in the estate settlement sales. In
1754, Cumberland Co. was cut from Bladen and I wonder if the grants
could have been in what became Cumberland Co. I have spent only one
day in the Cumberland Courthouse and did not find anything on William.
He was in the area that remained Bladen Co. William's later
transactions were in the White Oak Swamp which is just south of the
Cumberland Co. line. The family seems to have had or possibly
maintained connections with persons in Cumberland over the years.
That was where the major part of the Scottish settlements were. In
1798, Charles bought land in Dickson Co., TN, from John Dickson of
Cumberland Co. In 1807, Samuel sold most of his Bladen holdings to
John Dickson. Dickson and Charles, both went to Dickson Co. and are
found in the court records in and after 1804 as citizens performing
public duties. Dickson apparently went back and forth between NC and
TN. Cumberland records of 1820 say he died intestate. Records of
William may exist in the Scottish settlement.
The land sales settling the estate of John Dickson form the best
genealogical record of the Johnstons that anyone could wish for. That
John Dickson did go back and forth from N. C. to Tenn. is shown by his
deeds and other records. In N.C. in 1798 he sold a farm in Dickson
Co. to Charles. In Dec. 1805, he was selected as a juror of Dickson
Co. for the March Term 1806. In May 1807 he bought the remaining
lands of Samuel in Bladen Co. He died intestate in Cumberland Co. in
1820. It is possible that Charles went back and forth also but Dr.
Johnson stated that he did not.
William JOHNSTON b.  [only for research purposes], d. c. 1786
Bladen Co., NC, m. Sallie Bigford (ref. C.F.R.) and the tradition
claims his name probably was Samuel. I believe this is just confusion
with his son Samuel. He is not in the 1788 tax list nor the 1790
census. Deeds state that William was the father of Charles who was
the brother of Samuel and Samuel was the brother of James. Benjamin
seems to have died in the Revolution before he acquired any land in
his name. William was a farmer owning land scattered north of
Elizabethtown, Bladen Co. He continued to receive land grants through
1784 and was in the tax book in 1784, but not that of 1788. His sons,
Samuel and Charles, were in the tax book of 1788. In 1786 there began
a series of sheriff's auctions and sales of his lands that continued
until 1788. I think this was part of settling his estate and paying
his debts. He seemed to have enough land to cover any debt.
The earliest record I have found in Bladen Co., NC, is on the 7th of
April 1750 where at a Council meeting, petitions for warrants of land
for 100 acres in Bladen Co., were granted. Ref. NORTH CAROLINA
COLONIAL RECORDS, V. 4, p. 1039. He next received a 100 acre grant,
#635, in Bladen Co. on 23 Feb 1752. Ref. same, Book 2, p. 98. Or is
this 1752 record just the recording of the 1750 grant?
In New Hanover Co., just down stream from Bladen, there are several
deeds of a William Johnston and several of a Jeremiah Bigford in the
1750s and 1760s. Persons entering NC in this area would come into the
port of New Brunswick. This is on the north side of the present town
of South Port. If William entered this area, he would have come in
there. It became a thriving port before 1725. It was so destroyed by
British naval guns during the Revolution that it was never
successfully inhabited again. Finally they gave up and established a
port at Wilmington. New Brunswick is now a Rev. War monument.
The New Hanover deeds are later than the land grants of 1750 and
1752. Possibly William was buying lands wherever it was profitable.
There are not enough Williams in the area in 1770-1790 tax lists and
census to make all of these different men. Jeremiah Bigford was in
the same area buying land. If Jeremiah had a daughter, Sally, it
would have been easy for William to meet her and marry here 1750-1752.
William's oldest son James was b. about 1753.
William's four sons all fought in the Revolution. I wonder if any
of them were at New Brunswick during the shelling? The dirt walls
around New Brunswick are still visible as are some of the shell holes.
In 1761 and 1762 William Johnston was named as a party in two law
suits. In the second he was said to be a wheelwright.
[The original ledger is in the State Archives in Raleigh. I paid to
have it microfilmed and own a copy.]
Bladen Co., N.C., Execution Docket, Inferior Court 1761-1762
Executions Returnable to November Inferior Court at Bladen 1761
#9 John Cheney vs. Wm. Johnston Name of bail-Jno. Turner to pay
clerk 11 shillings 3 pence
atty 7 " 6 "
18 " 9 "
Executions Returnable to May Inferior Court at Bladen 1762
#12 Wm. Clemm vs. Wm. Johnston wheelwright
Judgement & execution decided at debt cost
fees clk 11 . 6 Satisfaction for costs
__ _ Costs pd. J.B.
1 . 9 . 6 (1 pound, 9 shillings, 6 pence)
William must have been making money in his profession as he bought
640 acres in Bladen Co. from Samuel Carman for 100 pounds proclamation
money on Aug. 25, 1772. He also bought land from 1779 on, with the
last being in 1784.
There is a 1763 tax list of Bladen Co. but no William or Samuel is
listed. Only a Robert, Jno., Lazerus and Thos. Johnston. No
Johnsons, Also listed are a Jeremiah Bigford, Stephen and Thos.
Freeman. According to the traditions in CFR, these might be related.
He was listed in Bladen Co. Tax Lists of 1781 and 1784. He is not
on the list of 1788. In 1781 the list is of persons exempted from
paying the specisie (sp) tax for that year. William Johnston - 999 L.
In 1784 William Johnson (no "t") was given as being in Capt. Johnson's
District and having 270 acres and one white pole.
When he died is not known but certainly between the time he last
bought land on Nov. 7, 1784 and 1787 when one of his tracts of land
was sold to Charles by sheriff's sale. Charles sold it to Samuel in
1798 and when Samuel sold it to John Dickson in 1807, it is stated
that Charles bought it at an execution against the ESTATE of William
in 1787. Several tracts of land belonging to William were sold by
sheriff's sale starting in May 1786 and lasting into 1788. There is
problem with the deed that shows William selling land in Sept. 1786 to
his son Samuel. In Feb. 1788, the sheriff seized this land in a suit
against William and Samuel and was able to sell it. What happened?
Was William sick or too old to work and not able to pay his bills and
so land was sold to pay his debts? Then in Sept. did he sell land to
Samuel to try to keep some of it in the family? If so, then it
failed. The courthouse in Elizabethtown burned twice before 1900 with
the deeds being the only records held within the county that did
survive. Even some of those show signs of fire as a few have scorched
pages and edges.
The deeds of Bladen Co. form the best genealogical record for the
Johnston family anyone could ever hope to find. One deed states that
William Johnston bought land from Samuel Carman in 1772, that it was
sold at a sheriff's sale in 1787 to his son Charles who sold it to his
brother Samuel in 1798. Another deed was to a land grant to James
Johnston who died intestate with his brother Samuel being his heir.
Samuel sold both of these in 1807 to John Dickson of Cumberland Co.
This gives three of William's sons with their relationships.
Subscribing witnesses to the deed of Samuel Carmen in 1772 to
William Johnston were James Johnson and Elizabeth Johnson. I wonder
if this is the same James that bought and sold several tracts of land
between 1771 and 1775, and if he might be a brother of William?
William's son James would be about 19 at the time and too young to be
a legal witness.
Subscribing witnesses to the deed of Charles and Mary Johnston in
1798 to Samuel Johnston were William Bigford and Martha Houston.
William is likely the son and heir of Jeremiah Bigford. As William
(Samuel) is said to have m. a Sallie Bigford, might William be her
brother? Charles m. Mary Houston and so might not his mother-in-law
have witnessed one of her daughter's and her husband's deeds?
1 James JOHNSTON b. c. 1753, d. c. 1784-5. He is in the tax books of
1781 and 1784 but not 1788, m. Rachel (PLUMMER) McMASTER, widow of
Rev. War veteran William McMASTER. James died intestate and
without children. His brother Samuel was his heir and in 1807 sold
a tract of land he inherited from James.
He served in the Rev. War in the N.C. Line. CFR states that he "is
said to have attained the rank of Captain, some accounts say major."
I think this applies to another person, the James who was a Capt. at
King's Mountain is known to have died in 1805. Another James
Johnston, a private, was issued Voucher #91, p. 195 and repeated on
p. 228 of the DAR book. I believe this is our James, as Samuel,
Charles, and Benjamin are listed further down on the same pages.
He is listed in the 1781 tax book with 724 L. In the 1784 list, he
has 1340 acres and one white pole. I have found deeds for only 940
acres and several of these are recopied in other vols. Some deeds
were probably lost in the fires. The only land purchases I could
find for James were land grants from the State of NC. Recopying
errors confuse the situation. Land Grant #865 is shown dated 1782
in Book #25, p. XLVII and XLVIII and in 1784 in Book #1, p. 47. You
have to go by the complete description of the property to know which
is being discussed. I don't know which was copied first. These
were copied long ago from earlier records and all in the same
writing and ink. One grant #526 even has the date of 1789. James
is not listed in any other record after the 1784 tax list. He is
not in the 1790 census.
CFR says James had a store in Elizabethtown and having occasion to
visit Wilmington to purchase goods, he caught yellow fever from
which he died.
James and Rachel had no children. One tract of land he owned was
sold in 1807 by his brother Samuel, who is stated to be his heir, as
he died intestate. His wife Rachel was not one of his heirs. She
was not incompetent as she was able to sign a quit claim in 1798,
and another in 1807, before she moved from NC. Did NC law at that
time not let a widow inherit land?
Rachel (PLUMMER) McMASTER JOHNSON
Except for the references in CFR to Rachel, there are only two NC
records I could find for her. First, on 4 Sep 1798, Rachael Johnson
and her brothers Aaron and Jno. Plummer, and her sister Sarah
Lansdell, signed a quit claim to give up all shares of the personal
property which Joseph Plummer had received from his wife that was
part of her father's estate. Their mother's and grandfather's names
are not given. Second, Rachel Johnston quit claimed on 5 May 1807
all her right, title, and interest in her portion of the estate of
her deceased brother, Zechoriah Plummer, "in consideration of divers
causes me herewith into moving." This was a standard legal
statement and really tells us nothing.
Although it may not be provable, I think the following references
are to the above Rachel. I think that Samuel was taking care of his
sister-in-law Rachel and the following court records resulted from
Court Minutes, Dickson Co., TN, July Term, 1816.
Ordered that Rachel Johnson, a poor person of the county be allowed
$15 out of monies in the County treasury not otherwise appropriated,
1/2 at the end of 6 months, the other half at the end of 12 months
to be drawn by self.
Court Minutes Oct. Term 1816 - same wording as above.
Court Minutes July Term 1817 - 8 July - ordered that Rachel Johnson,
a poor person of this county be allowed the sum of fifteen dollars,
one half at the end of six months and the other half at the end of
12 months to be drawn by her self out of any monies in the County
Treasury not otherwise appropriated.
She is not mentioned again in the Court Minutes. The reason I
think that this is our Rachel is that in Dec. 1817 our Rachel went
to Bond Co., IL, with the Charles Johnson family and is buried
there. Samuel may have been taking care of her but he died
sometime after March 25, 1816, the date he signed his will. Maybe
he died before the July Court Term in 1816 when Rachel began
receiving county monies for her welfare.
These court references may only be coincidental and Samuel's death
may be only coincidental. I do not know when the Volentines came
to TN. C.F.R. states they, as well as Charles, came in 1801. I
know that Samuel and Rachel did not come until 1807. I have not
checked the Volentine deeds in Bladen Co. to see when they sold
out. I know Charles was selling and registering land in Bladen
Co. in June 1802. So C.F.R. is incorrect there. Rachel's
daughter m. Hardy Volentine and they lived in Dickson Co. Why
would Rachel be living with Samuel or why would she be "a poor
person of the county", and be receiving county money, if her
daughter lived there? The Volentines were not poor in Dickson Co.
2 Samuel JOHNSTON b. 1755 Bladen Co., d. between Mar and probably Jul
1816 Dickson Co., TN, m. Mary (Polly) FREEMAN. She was living in
Jan 1817 when her husband's will was filed in court. CFR says
Samuel's family moved to AL.
Samuel's will is #13, one of the earliest on file in Dickson Co.,
TN. They let me copy it. It is very brittle and must be handled
very carefully. It is dated 25 Mar 1816, proved 7 Jan 1817,
recorded 25 Jan 1817, Will Book A, Dickson Co. I have not been able
to find the probate records on his estate.
He was a soldier in the Revolution and received at least 2 vouchers
for his services, #151 and #262. He is listed as Pvt. in the
Continental Line of NC. There are other Samuel JOHNSTON records
that might or might not be his.
He first appeared in the Bladen deeds when he received a land grant
on 23 Oct 1782 and last when he sold what remained of his lands to
John DICKSON of Cumberland Co., NC on 23 May 1807. Deeds of 1807
say he was the heir of his brother James. No mention is made of
Rachel, the widow of James.
He was listed in the tax lists of 1781, 1784 and 1788. In 1781 he
had a valuation of 131 L. In 1784 he possessed 1280 acres with one
white pole and one black pole. The 1788 list of taxable property in
Capt. Johnson's Dist. in the 2nd Dist. of Bladen Co., he still had
1280 acres and 1 pole.
In spite of the statement in CFR that he left Bladen Co. in 1801,
Samuel continued to buy and sell land until he sold the last to John
DICKSON of Cumberland Co. in 1807. With his brother having
preceeded him and being established in Dickson Co., it would a
reasonable place for him to go. When he left NC, he should have had
quite a sum of money from his land sales. CFR says he bought quite
a large tract in Humphreys Co. but the title was faulty. If so, he
probably lost most of what he brought from NC. All he had in his
will for his heirs was 50 acres, 1 slave, some hogs, cattle and 2
The Dickson Co. Court Minute books are missing from the March Term
1807 through the Jan. Term 1812. This may prevent us from ever
knowing just when he arrived. He first appears in the extant Court
Minutes of the Jan. Term 1813 where he was appointed juror as Samuel
JOHNSTON along with Benjamin VOLENTINE for the April Term 1813. He
was not selected in the April Term for the next term. Benjamin was
"excused for reasons" that were not given. In July 1813, Samuel
JOHNSTON was a juror for many cases. In Jan. 1814 he was summoned
as Samuel JOHNSON for the next term. The next two years of minutes
are missing. He is next mentioned when his will is filed on 7 Jan
in the Jan. Term 1817. "The last will and testament of Samuel
JOHNSON, deceased, was this day produced in open court and proven by
the oathes of William GIVEN and John EPPERSON and ordered to be
received and recorded." This is the last time he is mentioned. The
minutes were checked until 1826 and no appointment of executor or
final settlement was found. No minute books were missing for this
period. The only persons mentioned by name in his will were his
wife, Polly, and sons, William, Dunkin, and James. It fortunate
that the minute books are not missing for the term when his will was
[Continued in Part 2]
Back to JOHNSON DIGGINGS Home page.
Chester R. Johnson / Fort Worth, TX / email@example.com