John Johnston was the son
of John Johnston and Dorothea Proudfoot, and was born on the 22d
January, 1781, in the Parish of Balmaghie, Gallowayshire, Scotland. He
died on the 18th April, 1851, at his residence, No. 7 Washington Square,
New York City.
His family in Scotland
must have been a large one, as in his will, dated the 9th May, 1832, and
recorded in the New York County Surrogates Office on the 22d April,
1851, he mentions after his own children, his father and step-mother in
Great Britain; his brothers, William, Robert and Samuel; his sisters,
Agnes and Margaret, and a nephew, John Taylor Sherman.
John Johnston came from
Scotland in 1804 at twenty-two years of age and became a bookkeeper in
the counting house of Messrs. J. Lenox and W. Maitland. After serving
this well-known firm faithfully for nine years, he decided to launch out
for himself, and in March, 1813, formed with James Boorman the
mercantile firm of Boorman & Johnston.
The enterprise and energy
of these two partners soon built up a thriving importing and exporting
business at No. 57 South Street, and the firm took an important position
in the commercial community. Their first transactions were in selling
Scotch goods, and afterward they extended their trading to tobacco from
Virginia, and wines imported from Madeira and Italy. They also had large
dealings in iron, receiving many cargoes from England and Sweden. Their
iron warehouse was in later years removed to No. 119 Greenwich Street,
and in the year 1828 Adam Norrie became a member of the firm.
Mr. Johnston originally
resided at No. 16 Greenwich Street, but later built the house, No. 7
Washington Square, where he lived until his death. He frequently went
abroad on business trips, but was finally so crippled with gout that he
gave up all active business life and was confined to his home.
He became a member of
Saint Andrews Society on the 30th November, 1811; acted as Manager from
1819-1823; as Second Vice President from 1823-1827; as First
Vice-President from 1827-1828, and as President, 1831-1832. He
generously named the Society for a legacv of one thousand dollars in his
will as a token of his interest in the charitable work, and the amount
was placed in the Permanent Fund.
His personal character is
admirably summed up by the Reverend Doctor McElroy, his Pastor, as
A man of sound and
well-balanced mind. If less remarkable than some for those brilliant and
striking qualities which dazzle and oft-times mislead, he was more
remarkable than most for those better qualities which invite confidence
and elicit respect, and all his mental powers were expanded and
influenced by extensive reading and habits of reflection. He was a man
amiable and cheerful in temper, a happy spirit who always met you with a
smile; and the happiness he felt himself he was anxious to impart to
others. No man even of the humblest walk in life could approach him
without feeling the kindness of his disposition. He was a man of
unbending and incorrupt-able integritygoverned by moral principle in
all the transactions of life. Extensively engaged in mercantile pursuits
for nearly half a century, his probity and honor have been unimpeached,
and unimpeachable ; and he has gone from among us with the veneration of
many, and the unfeigned respect of all who knew him. He was naturally a
generous man, and for the gratification of this disposition Providence
gave him ample means. Forming a business connection of a singularly
propitious character, he was eminently successful, and as riches
increased he did not set his heart upon them but devoted them to their
true usesemployed them as became a man of intelligent benevolence and
warm-hearted piety. His benefactions were large; his charities were
open-hearted and open-handed, embracing in their sphere the temporal
necessities of his fellow-creatures, the promotion of the cause of
education and learning, and every object of Christian benevolence.'
He married on the 2d
September, 1817, at New York City, Margaret Taylor, daughter of John
Taylor and Margaret Scott, and had issue: (1) John Taylor, horn 8th
April, 1820: (2) James Boorman, born 30th December, 1822: (3) Margaret
Taylor, born 23d November, 1825.
His portrait is
reproduced from an oil painting by Rembrandt Peale, now in the
possession of his granddaughter, Mrs. Robert W. DeForrest.