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Benjamin Johnston


Posted By: Fran Hunt, Volunteer
Date: 10/3/2001 at 22:16:47

From the Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties – 1890
Benjamin Johnston, an attorney at law of Keosauqua, is a native born Hawkeye, his birth having occurred in Van Buren County on March 9, 1845. The family is of Scotch origin and was founded in America By Benjamin Johnston, Sr. the grandfather of our subject, who with his family crossed the Atlantic and settled in Petersburg Virginia. He died soon afterward and thus left to his widow the care and support of four children, two sons and two daughters, namely: James, Jane, John and Margaret. Mrs. Johnston with commendable enterprise, labored for her family, and kept them all together. Not wishing to rear them under the influence of slavery she removed to Luzerne County Pennsylvania where the remainder of her life was spent. She was a woman of more than ordinary ability and won the respect and love of all who knew her.
James Johnston, a member of her family and the father of our subject, was born in Scotland, March 17, 1816, and in his youth accompanied his parents to America. He acquired such education as was afforded by a night school of the neighborhood, having to walk three miles to and from the schoolhouse, but he became a well informed man, gaining through observation and experience a practical knowledge which could have been acquired in no other way. He possessed much genius as a mechanic and could accomplish almost any task in that line. On October 6, 1842, in Pennsylvania, he married Miss Sarah Brown, daughter of Hugh Brown and a sister of Judge Alex and John G. Brown, cashier of the Mannings Bank. In 1842 they came to Iowa locating in Keosauqua, where in company with his father-in-law Mr. Johnston erected the first steam mill in the county. His knowledge of the business was so efficient that while in St Louis purchasing the machinery for their mill he was offered the job of superintend of a large machine shop in that city, the wages being $1,200 per annum, a large amount at that day. He had asked permission to do a piece of work for himself in their shop and his ready understanding of the same and evident knowledge of the business led to the offer before mentioned. He did not accept, however, but returned to Keosauqua where he began operations for himself. His death occurred soon afterwards however, the final summons coming in October 1845. In opposition to the other members of the family, who were all Whigs, he supported the Democratic Party.
Benjamin Johnston was the only child of James and Sarah Johnston. He acquired his education in the common schools and under the direction of Rev. Dr. Lane, but on the breaking out of the late war he laid aside his text books and responded to the country’s call for troops, enlisting in Company E Fifteenth Iowa Infantry, on October 14, 1861. The regiment was mustered in at Keokuk Iowa, where it remained until March 18m, 1862, when it was sent o Benton Barracks and equipped. The first engagement in which the forces participated was the battle of Pittsburg Landing. This was followed by the siege of Corinth and other engagements and at the battle of Iuka they were in the skirmish line but did not engage in the fight proper. They afterwards returned to Corinth, taking part in the hard fought battle, which occurred at that place, and later proceeded on the Grant campaign until the supplies were cut off when they returned to Memphis Tennessee. They participated in the siege of Vicksburg and spent the remainder of the summer in the city. The following December he and many of his comrades veteranized, and later he was commissioned First Lieutenant in the Sixty-seventh United States Colored Infantry. Throughout his entire service Mr. Johnston proved a faithful and stalwart soldier who was not afraid to perform his duty, but quietly and promptly discharged every task devolving upon him. On August 14, 1865 at his own request he was discharged.
On his return from the south Mr. Johnston secured a position as salesman in a drug house, after which he went upon the road as a commercial traveler. The summer of 1874, he spent in Kansas but the grasshoppers proved such a plague that the same fall he retuned and once more obtained a position as salesman. In 1875, he again traveled on the road, after which he embarked in the drug business for himself, continuing operations in that line for eighteen months. He began preparation for his present business in 1877, reading law under the direction of Judge Robert Sloan and the following April was admitted to the bar, since which time he has been in active practice.
Mr. Johnston was married in Keosauqua in 1867, the lady being Miss Annie R., daughter of A.J. Purviance. Six children have been born unto them—Maggie, who is a graduate of the high school of Keosauqua, and of the School of Photography, of Des Moines; James a telegraph operator; Mary, Ella, Sarah and Donald, who are still with their parents.
Socially Mr. Johnston is a Mason, an Odd Fellow and a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. He takes great interest in civic societies and has held important offices in the various lodges to which he belongs. In 1886 he was elected County Attorney of Van Buren County, serving two years. In his political affiliations he is a stanch Republican, frequently serving as delegate to county and state conventions and has been a member of the State Central Committee. He does all in his power to advance the interests of the party and secure its success, yet has never sought political preferment for himself. By those who know him Mr. Johnston is held in high esteem, which he will merits for he has lived a worthy, upright life, is a good citizen, an able lawyer, and more than all, a trusted friend in whom one can place implicit confidence.
I am not related, and am only copying this for the information of those who might find this person in their family.


Van Buren Biographies maintained by Rich Lowe.
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