The Gentle Johnstons By RJK for MJD

The Gentle Johnstons
By RJK for MJD
Our Gentle Johnstons


The Johnstons, along with many other families of Scottish heritage, include in their history legends of their forefathers and their associations with royalty. One such legend reveals that Sir William Wallace, one of Scotland’s first popular heroes was brought up in the home of a Johnston.


The seat of the Johnston Clan is Lockerby, near the center of the district of Annandale, in Scotland, and family honors include the Marquisate of Annandale; Earldoms of Annandale, Hartfell and Beth; Viscounts of Annandale; Baronies of Lockwood, Lochben, Maffatdale, Evandale, Bath and Derrvent; and the Baroneteties of Caskieben, Hackness and Gilford.


The Johnstons, as vassals of the Bruces (The first Lords of Annandale) wore for their arms, a silver shield with a black saltire and a red chief. The next Lords of Annandale were the Randolphs, and theJohnstons, in order to show their allegiance to their new masters, put three gold cushions on the red chief of their shields. When they were raised to peerage, their arms were confirmed and were officially described as “Argent (silver colored) with a Saltire Sable (black diagonal cross) on a Chief Gules (red).”


A legend explaining the way the Johnston crest was awarded cites that when the King of England tried to make the King of Scotland acknowledge Scotland to be a tributary of England, Robert Bruce, then Earl of Carick, opposed the scheme. The King of England, learning of Bruce’s opposition, laid a plot to kill him. Then the King of Scotland sent the chief of the Johnstons to Bruce with a warning. He did not wish to write to Bruce, so he sent a spur with a bird’s wing tied to it. Bruce understood the message and fled into hiding. When he became King of Scotland, he conferred the Crest of the “Winged Spur” upon the Johnston messenger.


The Johnston motto is “Nunguam Non Parratus” (never unready). This motto is appropriate; as yet another legend cites that when the Chief of the Clan called his men together, he would ask, “Men of Annandale, are you ready?” The answer was always, “Aye, ready.”


The Johnston in Scotland were often referred to as the “Gentle Johnstons” and in a border ballad, entitled “The Lads of Wamphray”, we find the Gallird, after stealing Sim Critchton’s “Wisdon dun”, calling an invitation:


Now Simmy, Simmy of the side,

Come out and see a Johnston ride.

Here’s to the bonniest horse in a nith side,

And a Gentle Johnston aboon his hide.


Annadale, the part of Scotland from which the Johnstons came, and the Johnston name, were memorialized by Sir Walter Scott in his “Fair Maid of Perth”, when he introduces chapter 8, page 64, Volume II, of the Waverly Novels with lines from an old ballad, reading as follows:


Within the bounds of Annandale,

The gentle Johnstons ride,

They have been there a thousand years,

And a thousand more they’ll bide.


Johnstons have also had a place in American history. Governors of North Carolina with the name Johnston, all immigrants from Scotland were” Gov. Gabriel Johnston, born about 1700 in Scotland and governor of North Carolina from 1734-1752; Governor Samuel Johnston born near Dundee, Scotland in 1733, was governor of North Carolina in 1787, (he signed many of the Land Grants of the first Tennessee settlers).  Governor Joseph Forney Johnston, governor of Alabama from 1896 – 1900 was from the North Carolina branch of the Johnstons.


Many Johnstons served in the Revolutionary War and in the War Between the States. There were four Johnston generals in the Confederate Army, all of them spelled with a “t” – Brigadier General George D. Johnston, Lieutenant General Albert Sidney Johnston, Lieutenant General Joseph Eggleston Johnston and Brigadier General Robert D. Johnston, the brother of Governor Joseph Forney Johnston.


Our particular family was well represented in the causes fro freedom in America. Sixteen fount in the Revolution, five were killed. Seventeen known members of our family were Civil War, seven of which lost their lives. During the Revolution, our family provided three colonels and several lesser offices. At least one served with General George Washington; one was awarded a sword by Lafayette for outstanding service. Two are said to have fought at King’s Mountain – one from Tennessee and one from South Carolina. At least three were in the Battle of Cowpens; two were killed by Tories the next day. One was hung by order of the English Tarleton after the Battle of Blackstocks. Two fought with General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812; one died from injuries in the war. One was raised in the home of Andrew Jackson, after the war.


The war efforts and/or political services of at least nine have been memorialized in the history of the states from which they served.


Our family has provided two state senators; one was a delegate of the North Carolina State Convention to ratify the United States Constitution in 1788.



(Written by Maxine Johnston Douglas in 1994. I only corrected typos and a couple of grammatical errors. Hey… what can else can you expect from an English major… 🙂   )

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