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History of the St Andrew's Society of the State of New York
Biographies: John Johnston

Twentieth President

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 Surrogate’s 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 Andrew’s 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 follows:

“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 integrity—governed 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 uses—employed 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.

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