Where Was Peter Johnston (c1720-c1794) in 1775? – 52 Ancestors #355

Working with my cousin, Greg Simkins, we’ve proven that we share common ancestors in the article DNA Shows Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips Are My Relatives, But Are They My Ancestors?.

In the weeks since I wrote that article, I’ve been digging, and digging, and digging. By now, I’m about halfway to China, I’m sure.

Let’s start in the middle, at the most important part, because if I can ELIMINATE Peter Johnson as my ancestor, Dorcas Johnson’s parent, then I don’t really need to reconstruct all of Peter Johnson’s life. Right?

Conversely, I’d love to confirm him as my ancestor.

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus and other ways) has been attributed as one of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips’ children, but the source of that information has always been murky. Maybe murky isn’t the right word. Absent would be more accurate.

What we do know is that Dorcas or Darcus Johnson married Jacob Dobkins in Shenandoah County, Virginia in 1775.

We also know that Margaret Johnson, also attributed as a daughter of Peter Johnston and his wife married Jacob’s brother, Evan Dobkins on January 30, 1775 in the same location.

Dunmore County was formed in 1772, then renamed Shenandoah in 1778. Dunmore County records are now Shenandoah County records.

Of course, the Revolutionary War occurred during this timeframe – and that’s evident looking at the marriage records. 1775 looks to be nearly complete, at least through early October. Records end at that point, with nothing in 1776. Five marriages are recorded in 1777, then one in 1782. People didn’t stop getting married. The records are missing.

I was hoping to find another Johnson or Johnston who married during this timeframe, but no cigar on this one.

It’s worth noting that the Shenandoah County index on Ancestry is incomplete and does NOT list the Johnston/Dobkins marriages while the transcribed records in the same book, if you read page by page, do.

Tax Records

I located an obscure tax list for the rent rolls for Dunmore County, VA from 1774-1776.

Part of that tax list had been published, so I joined an organization simply to access those lists in their past journals. Unfortunately, the excepts were only for the families of interest to a specific researcher, not the entire tax list.

I contacted the Library of Virginia who referred me elsewhere.

I discovered that the Huntington Library in San Marino, California owns those original tax lists as part of the Robert Alonzo Brock Collection, Fairfax Family Northern Neck Proprietary papers, 1675-1843, Series V. Personal papers collection, Accession 41008, Reel 4624.

I contacted the Huntington library and was told the tax lists have not been transcribed, but are microfilmed. I was welcome to come in and read them in person.

That’s not an option. I cannot visit in person, and my local library does not participate in interlibrary loan. I reached out to nearby colleges and universities where I was also told that “no one has microfilm readers anymore.”

The helpful Huntington librarian informed me that they have a digitization option if the records can be safely handled. I requested a quote, paid the bill, and a few weeks later, received the digitized records.

I was SO VERY EXCITED. Would I find Peter Johnston living beside or near the Dobkins family? Or maybe a different Johnston family?

Hmmm, no Johnston, Johnson or anything similar.

Worse yet, NO DOBKINS or anything similar either.

This is NOT a full tax list. It’s probably just a list for one district. And not the right district either.

Clearly, it does NOT include the area where John Dobkins, Jacob and Evan’s father, lived.

What other records exist that might show us if Peter Johnston, or some other Johnston, lived in Dunmore/Shenandoah County, or even a neighboring county?

Where did Jacob and Evan Dobkins parents live? Did they live near a county border? Should I also be looking in an adjacent county for Johnston/Johnson males?

I’m getting desperate.

What’s Next?

I found a book, Life Along Holman’s Creek by Rev. J. Floyd Wine written in 1982, and of course, out of print.

John Dobkins had a land grant on or near Holman’s Creek, so I thought this book might include something about both John Dobkins and, if I’m lucky, Peter Johnston.

Sure enough, I found John Dobkins right on Holman’s Creek.

Now we’re cooking with gas. I started reading every grant individually. Of course, this map of land grants probably doesn’t include more than the first sale, if that. Any subsequent sale after the land was originally applied for through a warrant or granted via patent would have been recorded. Sometimes the sale occurred between those two steps.

I discovered something alright, but not at ALL what I expected.


Those neighbors names look really familiar. Zirkle. Where did I see that before?

Wait!!!! What????


These are my MOTHER’S SIDE Miller line relatives from Pennsylvania and Maryland. Living right next to my father’s ancestor, John Dobkins.


I knew that there had been oral history of the Garbers and Wine’s along with my ancestor’s son, Lodowick Miller moving to Shenandoah County after their land was confiscated in Maryland for being unwilling to fight in the Revolution. Their Brethren pietist religion forbade taking up arms.

Here they are, neighboring John Dobkins in Shenandoah County.

Good Heavens. What a mess I have.

Ummm, The Alternate Glass is Full View

Now, however, for the good news. The mitochondrial DNA of my ancestor Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena tracks back through matches to the Zircle/Circle family and perhaps to the Myer(s) family. The Circle family is listed right with several Millers. Notice Henry Myer with more Zirkle/Circles.

I may have just accidentally hit the motherlode and now “all I have to do” is track these families back to either Frederick County, MD or York Co., PA around 1750 AND see if I can find a Magdalena among the proper families. This is a LOT more difficult than it seems because many Brethren families didn’t file wills or deeds with county clerks.

I need to spend time unraveling this knot, but today, I’m searching for Johnston. Johnston – not Miller/Garber/Myer/Zirkle/Wine. We find one Jacob Stutzman too, and the Stutzman family is closely allied with the Millers. In fact, the original Johann Michael Miller immigrant was half brothers with Jacob Stutzman.

Ironically, this means I’m related to the author whose ancestors are probably buried in the Wine Cemetery right on Holman’s Greek. Lodowich Mueller/Miller settled in Shenandoah County about the time of the Revolution. His daughter, Susannah married Michael Wine whose family had also migrated from the Frederick County, Maryland area.

Fortunately, the book has a lovely index, and there is NOT ONE SINGLE JOHNSTON or similar surname.

Struck out AGAIN!

Chancery Suits

Would I be lucky enough for Peter Johnston or any Johnston from Shenandoah County to be listed in a chancery suit? The Virginia State Library provides a chancery index, but I found no evidence of any Johnston other than a 1799 suit in which one George Oakley states that he bought a track of land in “Gooney Run” from George Johnston “some considerable time ago,” but he does not say when. John Turner is the defendant who also apparently encroached onto Oakley’s land. The G in Gooney may not be a G.

This does not seem relevant.

Land Grants

I was not able to find any Northern Neck land grants for Peter Johnston. Nearby grants would be reflected on the Wine map, and they are not.

Deeds and Court Notes

I still have my fingers crossed for either deeds or court notes.

I used Family Search’s wiki and catalog, here.

I found that Family Search has digitized Shenandoah County Deed Books A, B, C and D from 1772-1784. There are no Johnson or Johnston deeds.

I reviewed the next four years, just in case.

In 1787, William Johnson Jr and Bryan Johnson served as witnesses.

The court records don’t seem to exist for this timeframe.

I’m really striking out.

What’s left?

What Else is Available?

Four separate books have been written about the Johnson family.

The book, Johnson Records – With Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons by Helen Clark Biedel was copyrighted in 1955.

This book quotes from earlier books and focuses on the records of the author’s line.

I took copious notes, but found myself terribly frustrated.

I was hoping to discover why Dorcas Johnson and her sister, Margaret were attributed to Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips.

That information was omitted.

Much of what was reported just didn’t make sense. Sources provided conflicting information, but Helen copiously reported it all for the reader to digest. She couldn’t figure it out either.

Excavating the Box

I’ve been unpacking boxes in my office and putting things away.

In a file folder labeled Johnson, I discovered another book. Actually, it’s a copy of a portion of a book that I found at the Allen County Public Library. They have an awesome family history book collection.

The Johnson Gathering , The Family History of Peter Johnson (c1720-c1796), Allegheny Co., PA by Eric E. Johnson was published in 2001.

Eric wrote a wonderful book, carefully analyzing earlier works and adding his own research as well. Better yet, it’s fully footnoted and sourced.

Eric divided the work into three parts. I’ll quote relevant information from each, while adding my own work.

Peter Johnston’s Early Years

We don’t know where Peter was born, but on April 26, 1742, he received a 100-acre land warrant in Hopewell Township, Lancaster County, PA, the part that became Cumberland County in 1750 and then Antrim Township in Franklin County in 1784.

Peter’s land was located in Robert Crunchton’s settlement, between Crunchton’s property and the temporary dividing line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. When Petre’s land was surveyed, it was actually 152 acres with the southern border on the temporary line. He and wife Mary sold this land warrant in August 1769 to James Cross.

Both signed with their marks. I’m incredibly grateful to Eric for not only finding his signature on several original documents, but comparing it to assure that this was the same man in various locations. He consistently signed with his mark, which the county clerks faithfully drew in each book when the documents were recorded.

I converted the temporary state line information obtained from the Royal Court in England from 39 degrees, 43 minutes and 18 second into latitude to locate the temporary state line. Of course, we don’t know the exact longitude location on that line for Peter’s land, but if it’s exactly dead center south of Greencastle, it’s located at the red pin, below.

Antrim township runs along the state line from the red arrow at right to the red arrow at left, a total of approximately 5 miles.

Remember that I mentioned that the Dobkins family is found beside the Miller family, including Lodowick in Shenandoah County, Virginia? The Miller land in Frederick County, MD is located in and near the red square.

If Peter were at least 22 years old when he applied for his original land in 1742, that places his birth in 1720 or earlier. I’d say it is more likely that he was closer to 30, which would place his birth about 1712, more or less. We can safely say that Peter was born sometimes between 1710 and 1720, but no later than 1721.

Two of the other Johnson books state that he was born about 1735 and arrived from Scotland. He clearly did not apply for land at the age of 7. One of the other books states his birth location was either Holland or Sweden.

More on this later.

In 1745, Peter also applied for 500 acres of land in Washington County, MD, the portion that would become Frederick County, Maryland. For reference purposes, there are 640 acres in a square mile so Peter owned just over that much – a total of 652 acres between both parcels.

This land was obtained from Thomas Cresap, and was literally ON the temporary state line, which means it was involved in that long-standing boundary dispute aptly named Cresap’s War.

Peter’s land, named “Johnson’s Desire” in Frederick County was surveyed and stated to be “about 5 miles from where the line crosses Conegocheeg.”

Fortunately, we know exactly where the line crosses Conococheague Creek because that’s the left line of Antrim Township at the red arrow, above.

Using Google Map’s scale, approximately 5 miles is almost exactly on this small branch of Marsh Run, above.

This appears to be the old state line, named State Line Road.

This area is lush farmland today. The red dot is where the tip of the spring is located. All farms needed fresh water.

Peter’s land probably encompassed a total of about 650 acres, more than a square mile, approximately the area shown above. It could have been shifted slightly north including the State Line Road, but one thing is certain. There was at least one, if not two working farms which are likely still working farms today, perhaps even with some of the same buildings. If not, the houses and barns are likely located in the same location as the originals. The heart of a farm doesn’t change.

A view of one farm looking south driving along State Line Road, with the mountains in the background.

This very old barn at the bend in the road might well have been Peter’s, or one of his neighbors. Note the vintage home in the background.

Below, from Reidtown Road in Maryland, looking north across what was assuredly Peter’s land.

I don’t know where, exactly, but Peter’s land bordered the old state line, the larger portion found in Maryland.

On the map above, State Line road is marked with red arrows at top.

There are several large farms that could have been Peter’s original land, and eventually, his son Richard’s.

These farms were and still are owned by German Brethren families. Even today, the nearby Hollowell Church is Brethren.

In 1756-1757, Peter was living in Pennsylvania, according to the tax debt book of Washington County. His land was west of the South Mountains, which fits this location perfectly.

After 1757, he moved across the border to Maryland and in 1766, sold a small part of this land to Abraham Gantsinger without his wife’s signature. In 1770, he, with wife Mary, sold land to Henry Stalb and recorded the deed to James Cross.

Eric suggests that Mary Polly Philips may have died and Peter remarried during this time to another Mary. That’s certainly possible, but I’ve also seen lots of wives accidentally omitted from deed records.

Another reason may have been that Mary had taken refuge elsewhere during the French and Indian War. Yes, Peter Johnson was living in the middle of a war.

The French and Indian War

These photos look peaceful and idyllic today, but this area wasn’t always this way.

There is a good possibility that Peter was a member of the local militia during the French and Indian War between 1753 and 1763.

In Franklin County, PA, there was a blockade called “Cross’s Fort” that was attacked by Indians in July and August of 1757. In the book about this war by Louis Waddel, it states that the fort was ‘located on the Conococheague (River), probably in Franklin County There may been a connection between Peter and this fort. Peter sold his land to James Cross in 1769. This James Cross may be related to the Cross’s who built the fort. If so, his mother was a Miller. You can read more about Cross’s Fort and the war with the Indians, here.

Beginning in 1755, Frederick County was literally abandoned. Everyone found someplace to go. I wrote about these events in the article about Magdalena Miller, here – start with the section titled “New Life in Frederick County, Maryland”.

Often, the fleeing families went “back” to wherever than had come from, seeking refuge with relatives. Sometimes the local ministers shepherded the women and children while the men remained to guard the farms – until they simply could no longer do so.

Where did the Johnston family go during this time? If they were married about the time Peter received his first land grant in 1742, their eldest child would have been coming of age during this time and they would have had a household full of children to keep safe. Furthermore, Mary was till giving birth in 1765, so would have been pregnant and having babies someplace in exile.

Philip Jacob Miller and his family lived near Maugansville, just a few miles from Peter Johnson. Note that Peter Johnson’s migration path paralleled the Millers to Bedford County, then to Shenandoah as well.

Many who remained in the Cumberland and Frederick County area were scalped in 1756. Frederick County was entirely abandoned in 1757 and 1758. Many residents returned slowly, not at all certain that the area was safe again. Most had to rebuild everything from scratch.

By 1763, Pontiac’s War began and once again, Frederick County and the surrounding area was abandoned, at least into 1764.

Pontiac’s War ended in 1768 and the western frontier opened. Some people returned, settled on their existing lands, and rebuilt, but many either returned slowly, or not at all. If one had to rebuild, did they want to rebuild there or someplace on the new frontier? The years between 1753 and 1769 had been hell on the frontier. Why not try someplace new.

Antrim Township

Taxes are a wonderful thing. Because the land in Pennsylvania actually belonged to William Penn, settlers received warrants which meant they could live on the land and improve it, eventually would receive a patent, but had to pay yearly rent/tax to the proprietor. Often those tax lists still exist.

Eric tells us that Peter Johnson is found on the Antrim Township tax list between 1751 and 1770, nearly 20 years, with a few missing.

  • 1751
  • 1753
  • 1762-66
  • 1768-69
  • 1770

His name is spelled variously as Jonston and Johnston.

The years where Peter is absent could be due to the fact that the family had evacuated, or, the lists may not exist at all. Those absentee years line up exactly with the French and Indian War evacuations.

If Peter was born about 1710, he would have been nearing 60 by 1770. If born in 1720, he would have been 50. Not a young man anymore. Most men of that age simply want to farm their existing land, not clear new land on the frontier. Clearing land is backbreaking, dangerous work.

The tax lists of 1762-1769, except for 1763, show Peter with 100 acres of land. 1763 shows him with 150. The 1769 list indicates that he cleared half of his land, so 50 acres, tree by tree. He sold his land in 1769 and in 1770, has only a horse and a cow.

Beginning in 1768, his son Richard begins paying taxes separately, suggesting that Richard is perhaps 25 years old, more or less, and likely the eldest son and married. This suggests he was probably married by 1767.

If Richard was born in 1743, that correlates nicely with Peter’s land grant in 1742.

In 1769, Richard’s name is spelled as Derrick and in 1770, he has a warrant of his own for 70 acres.

Solomon’s Bible Records

The Bible of Peter’s son, Solomon either still exists or did exist when one of the earlier books was being written.

That Bible record gives Solomon’s birth location as “near Greencastle, PA” which is indeed in Antrim Township of present-day Franklin County.

Eric tells us that it’s Solomon’s Bible records that provide a list of the names of the children of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, including Mary’s name. I’ve added summary information for each child.

  • James Johnson – Born in 1752, married Elizabeth Lindsey in 1783, moved to Harrison, then Knox County, Indiana, and died in Lawrence County, Illinois in 1826. He was a private in the Revolutionary War, serving with his brother Richard in Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County, PA.
  • Polly Johnson – nothing known
  • Dorcas Johnson – My ancestor, born about 1748, married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 and moved to Tennessee.
  • Rebecca Johnson born about 1755. One book reports that she married John Stephens/Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia. One John Stephens served with her brother Richard in the Revolutionary War.
  • Rachel Johnson – May have married a John Dobbins (Dobkins) and moved to Knox County, Indiana by 1807.
  • Derie (Derrick, Deverick, Darrick, Richard) Johnson – Born in 1746, moved to Jefferson County, Ohio in 1801 on land purchased from a John Johnson of Washington Co., PA. The deeds states that Richard is from the same location. (Note that earlier researchers have speculated that Derie is short for Derrick, the Dutch name for Richard.) His will was probated in April of 1818. He married first to Dorcas Dungan around 1764 but before 1768, probably either in Pennsylvania or wherever the family sheltered during Pontiac’s War. She died after having one known child, Polly. Richard married in 1774 to Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County.
  • Solomon Johnson – Born in January of 1765 near Greencastle, PA, was married to Fanny Warne in 1790 in Allegheny County by the Presbyterian minister and remained on Peter’s land in Allegheny Co, PA until his death in 1843. Solomon did exactly what his father did – deeded his land to two sons before his death. Solomon and his wife are both buried at Round Hill Cemetery. Solomon visited his brother in Ohio at least twice. Solomon named one of his children after his sister, Dorcas who was living near Bull’s Gap, Tennessee, and she named a son Solomon.

I hope they had letters, because it’s doubtful Dorocas and Solomon ever saw each other again.

It was a very long, treacherous, mountainous way from Bull’s Gap to Allegheny County. They obviously loved one another. Dorcas was the oldest female and Solomon, her baby brother some 17 years younger. She likely took care of him as a child, especially if their mother did die.

The Mystery Solved!

Eric found Peter and Mary’s children’s names in two separate books, although the second only shows children Richard, Solomon and Mary. Mary is not found in the first book. However, Polly, a common nickname for Mary, is.

So, we’ve FINALLY solved the mystery of where the information about Dorcas arose. Now we know the source of why Dorcas was attributed to Peter – and it’s a Bible record. I do wish we had a copy of the actual Bible record itself, but this will suffice.

Eric goes on to report from the earlier sources that Dorcas married Reuben Dobbins and Rachel married another Dobbins whose name may have been John. He doesn’t know where they went or what happened to these daughters, but I do.

This information is partially accurate.

Dorcas married Jacob Dobkins in 1775.

Margaret married Evan Dobkins in 1775.

But what about Rachel? What other Dobkins boys were available?

Reuben Dobkins married Elizabeth or Polly Holman whose father was Capt. Jacob Holman of Holman’s Creek fame.

John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman, Polly’s sister.

Of course, that doesn’t mean either of those men couldn’t have married twice, or that the info I have about their wives is accurate.

Eric stated that nothing more is known of Dorcas, Rachel or Mary.

Mary may be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. Eric suggested that perhaps Mary was Richard’s daughter, Polly, the child of his first wife. Richard didn’t remarry (that we know of) for several years, and it’s certainly possible that Peter and Mary raised this grandchild.

It’s also possible that yet another daughter, Rachel, married another Dobkins brother.

The Revolutionary War Years

This is where Peter’s life gets quite interesting. It’s obviously critical to discover where Peter was in 1775 when his daughters were marrying in Dunmore County. Those girls certainly weren’t traveling alone. They wouldn’t have been before the war, but they assuredly were not during a conflict.

We know their two brothers served in Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County, PA, but where was Peter and where was his family?

Peter sold the last of his land in Maryland in 1770 and disappears, resurfacing in Bedford County, PA in 1772 as a single freeman, which I find rather odd. I should probably mention that several Brethren families from Frederick County also went to Bedford County, including…you guessed it…the Millers.

As an interesting tidbit, one of the older family histories reported that Peter’s wife, Mary only spoke Dutch. “Dutch” could have been German, meaning “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Of course, that would also mean that Peter had to have a command of the language she spoke. Or this could be nothing more than a myth, but Peter’s settlement among and movements with the German families needs to be taken into consideration. Of course, that could be nothing more than local influence. People talked and shared concerns and information.

In 1773, Peter is listed in Rostraver Township which was at that time, all of southwest Pennsylvania. He is listed as an “inmate” which doesn’t mean what we think of today. In that time and place, according to Eric, an inmate was “a boarder or renter of land whose personal property is taxable.” In other words, he was probably renting a farm and trying the area out before purchasing. He would likely have stayed at least one growing season. He obviously left, because his daughters married in 1775 in Shenandoah (then Dunmore) County, VA.

Part of Rostraver Township became Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County in 1788 where Peter eventually settled.

Peter is absent in the official records for an entire decade, then we find him again in 1783 and 1786 in Rotsraver Township, then located in Westmoreland County.

The “Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families” states that Peter spent the Revolutionary War years in Virginia, but provides no additional information. Eric says there was circumstantial evidence that he was in Virginia, but doesn’t say what that evidence is.

One of the Johnson books that Eric utilized stated that Peter came from Winchester, which is found in Frederick County, VA, which Eric suggests is accurate, in part because it’s the head of Braddock’s Road that led to Fort Pitt that would one day become Pittsburg. Peter’s Allegheny County property was in this vicinity, just a few miles south of the end of Braddock’s Road. Braddock’s Road may have passed as close as two miles away, near Round Hill, following an Indian trail.

Frederick County, VA, is about 50 miles from Holman’s Creek where John Dobkins lived, and this part of Shenandoah County was at one time Frederick County. Note that Frederick Co., MD is not the same as or connected to Frederick County, VA.

One item reported by Eric that may or may not be relevant is a Frederick County, VA deed from one Richard and Percilla Johnson in 1773 which mentions their son, Peter. We have no idea if this is the same Peter. I don’t have a copy of this deed and I can’t find anything online about this couple. Our Peter would have been between 53 and 63 in 1773.

Of course, we have Dorcas and Margaret marrying the two Dobkins boys in Shenandoah County in 1775, then some Peter appears again in Cumberland County, PA in 1778, taking an oath of allegiance.

Is this the same Peter?

Was Peter going back and forth between Virginia and Pennsylvania?

In 1777, all Cumberland County males between the ages of 18 and 53 were drafted to serve in the local militia units to protect the residents from Indian attack. If Peter were born in 1710, he would have been 67 by that time. If he were born in 1720, he would have been 57.

Later, a Peter Johnson is reported in the militia in Cumberland County. It’s difficult to believe this is our Peter, because we know that by 1773, Peter was in Bedford County and by 1775, in Shenandoah County, VA with his family. I have to wonder if there is another Peter Johnson we don’t know about. Our Peter does not have a reported son by the name of Peter.

Eric suggests that Peter’s first wife, Mary died between Solomon’s birth in January of 1765 and the deed without her name in April of 1766.

The 1783 tax record for Westmoreland County shows Peter and one other person. Most of Peter’s children would have been grown by this time, except perhaps for Solomon who was born in 1765 and would have been 18. This tax list was supposed to determine the number of people in a household, so it should have been complete.

Did the Johnston and Dobkins Families Know Each Other?

I’m still looking for some connection between the Johnston and Dobkins families.

These families clearly came into contact with each other. Is there any indication that they knew each other before, or even after, 1775?


In the Augusta County, VA will book, one William Hill wrote his will January 27, 1748 and died a few months later. His wife’s name was Mary and she was the executor along with Thomas Moore. The witnesses were John Dobikin and Isaac Johnson who both proved the will on May 17, 1749.

John Dobikin is another spelling for John Dobkins, the father of the Dobkins boys.

But who was Isaac Johnson?

Did these men know each other. Were they related, either to each other or the Hill family?

This may or may not be significant. Remember that name, Isaac Johnson, because you’ll see it again later.

Later Years

Peter secured a land warrant for his Rostraver Township land in 1786 when it was still a part of Westmoreland County. It was surveyed in 1787 by which time it was in Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County.

Peter’s neighbor, Joseph Warne, whose daughter married Solomon Johnson, settled on his land in 1769 and obtained a Virginia title. Joseph had to have it resurveyed and the title reissued by Pennsylvania after the border dispute was settled in 1780. Yes, Peter Johnston moved to yet another location with a border dispute. In fact, it was the very same border dispute, just the westward end. The entire border dispute was eventually settled when the Mason-Dixon line was surveyed. 

In 1788, Joseph Warner’s patent states that the land to his west, which would have been Peter’s land, was vacant.

However, the survey map clearly shows Johnston’s land, Johnston spelled with the t.

Where was Peter Johnston living or was the Warner survey in error?

Peter’s land warrant states that he had to pay interest from 1780, which definitively places him on this specific piece of land by that time. 1780 was also the date at which a land dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia involving this land was resolved and Pennsylvania became the taxing authority.

The 1790 census shows one Andrew Johnston (page 1), who isn’t known to be related and a William Johnson as well. We find Solomon Johnson with 1 male under 16, 1 male over 15, and one female. His name is written beside the Applegate family which tells us Solomon is living in the homeplace. Peter’s granddaughter, Polly Johnson through son Richard Johnson married Garrett Wall Applegate.

We know that Peter’s son, Richard Johnston was still living there, or at least owned land in 1790, even though he does not appear in the census.

Recorder’s office, Allegheny Co., Pa., Vol. 2, p. 222: 4-18-1790 Peter Johnston, Allegheny Co., Elizabeth Twp., Yeoman, to Solomon Johnston 133 A. “drain of Monongahela River in Elizabeth Twp., Allegheny Co., adjoining lands of Joseph Beckett, Richard Johnston, William Applegate, and heirs of Joseph Warne. Deed to said Peter 5-28-1787 City of Philadelphia. To Solomon, his ” junior son” with ” the fatherly love and affection which he hath and doth bear ” for Solomon and 5 shillings. Peter reserves use for life. Witnessed Joseph Beckett, Lucy Beckett, James Clendenin. Recorded 9-18-1790.

On 4-24-1790 Peter Johnston appeared to acknowledge writing and receipt of money.

In 1791, Richard purchased the 224 acres of land of Thomas Applegate immediately adjacent his father. Maybe that’s where he had been living all along.

On November 25, 1798, Peter’s land patent for 152.75 acres on a branch of the Monongahela River called Waggoner’s run was issued to his youngest son, Solomon. Peter had deeded this land, called “Peace” to Solomon on April 18, 1790 which was recorded exactly 5 months later. The deed states that Peter has possession for the balance of his life, although he would be unlikely to be able to work the land. Solomon couldn’t sell the land until after Peter’s death. By this time, Peter would have been at least 70 years old if he was born in 1720 and approaching 80 if born in 1710.

Perhaps after living in two areas contested by two states, and moving back and forth several times, Peter had finally found his peaceful place and named it thus.

In 1798, Solomon is taxed as the owner of a two-story house, 22X26 with 7 windows and 84 lights. Lights would be candles, but that’s a lot of candles.

This is a very large house for this timeframe. This was likely 8 11×13 rooms, or maybe just 6 with one large room downstairs. That would explain the 7 windows. One room would clearly be the kitchen. The upstairs rooms would have been bedrooms, or at least the bedrooms for the children.

This home was very likely built by Peter and likely where he died as well. A visit to the courthouse would probably allow us to bring those deeds forward in time and trace the exact land, but I can do a fairly good job using the old plat map plus Google Maps today.

Let’s take a drive.

Peter Johnson’s “Peace”

Forward Township is located just south of Pittsburg, bordered by the Monongahela River on the north, west, and south sides.

This is a rough estimate, of course, based on the original survey and the land today. The contours of the river help immensely, as do the streams.

The road south of Peter’s land parallels the river, and the land on the north side of that road rises away from the river. In other words, Peter’s land would not flood.

The small roads that border Peter’s land on the east and west are upon treed ridges.

Rostosky Ridge Road probably travels over a small piece of Peter’s land or at least abuts it on the west and the same for Sunnyside Hollow Road on the east.

I “drove” up both hoping to get a view of the cleared land that Peter, then Solomon would have farmed.

Of course, in Peter’s day, no road existed, and the entire area he had to clear was original growth forest.

I’m fairly certain this was adjacent Peter’s land

The right turn onto unpaved Country Lane which leads to two houses continues to rise. Those two houses were assuredly on Peter’s land.

The next turn, on the right side, rises too, but it’s at least paved.

However, the paved road appears to facilitate trucks, perhaps, while the unpaved road just leads to homes.

In this view, the first dirt “Country Lane” leads to the barns and house. The second paved road, at left, leads to what looks like a surface mining operation of some sort.

At least part of Sunnyside Hollow Road appears to have actually been on Peter’s land when comparing the terrain map with the land grant map, looking at streams and watercourses.

The little creek on the east is today called Sunfish Run. Peter’s warrant mentions Waggoner’s Run, which is not reflected on any current map, but appears to be present-day Sunfish Run. Most smaller springs would have been unnamed or just known as “Peter’s spring.” Fresh water and a good spring was critical in selecting a homesite. The house was not located far from the head of the spring so that the water was always fresh and clean.

Peter’s land was sheltered by the rapid rise beside the Monongahela River and by the forest. His land had freshwater streams, was relatively flat, clearable, and farmable. Indeed, we can see the assets that would have attracted the family to settle here.

This little bridge on Sunnyside Hollow Road correlates with the small stream on Peter’s land. Below this bridge, guardrails protect the left side of the road from a steep drop, but above, the land again rises to the left.

I can’t help but wonder where Peter’s house was located on this land.

Was it roughly where the houses are today?

They look to be somewhat centered on his land.

This zoomed in view shows the present-day property lines. Peter’s original survey lines are still clearly visible.

Click to enlarge images.

Here’s the north portion of Peter’s survey lands

And here’s the south part.

This indicates that a portion of the large branch stream that runs west to east and connects with Sunfish Run was indeed owned by Peter, which means his land extended further north than I thought. Maybe that was Waggoner’s Run.

Now that we know exactly where Peter’s lands laid on Sunnyside Hollow Road, let’s start on his boundary and drive up the road.

You can see the stream running along the road, at right.

This curve is the point where Peter’s land stopped and the stream crossed what is now the road, and runs along the left side of the road to the Monongahela. Peter owned a strip of land on the east side as well.

Was Peter’s land carved in the unusual shape it was in order to provide Peter with this intersection of streams?

I don’t know what crops Peter grew, but today, sunflowers are widely grown in the region, with sunflower fields located just a mile or so north of Peter’s land.

In other places, driving the roads near Peter’s land, the farms look like any other farms – plowed fields and bales of hay.

This panoramic view from a high point a mile or so further north overlooks Peter’s land and those hills in the distance.

Did Peter ever stand on his land overlooking the Monongahela and think about those years living near Holman’s Creek back in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 200 miles and a lifetime distant? Did he wonder about his two daughters who had married there, then moved on to Tennessee with their new husbands. Did he regret that he had moved to Virginia, even for that short time because his daughters were forever gone?

They weren’t the only ones of course. Eventually, all of his children, except Solomon would set out for the west-ward-moving frontier. By selling his land to Solomon, Peter delayed the inevitable by one generation. Eventually, all of Solomon’s children would leave Pennsylvania behind.

Peter’s Death

Peter’s patent was transferred to Solomon on November 25, 1796, which is the date associated with Peter’s death. However, I’m not convinced he didn’t die before the census in 1790 since he retained right to the land in the deed.

He signed the deed on April 24, 1790 but as of the census day, August 2, 1790, he is not recorded as living with Solomon.

One of the earlier family histories states that both Peter and Mary were buried in the now-sprawling Round Hill Cemetery in nearby Elizabeth Township.

If this is accurate, then clearly Mary did not die in Cumberland County, PA between 1765 and 1766.

I don’t know if this burial location is speculation based on the assumption that Peter was from Scotland or Scots-Irish, or if it was based on something more. Round Hill is a Presbyterian Cemetery established in 1786. Several members of the Warne (Warner) family are buried there and it’s likely that Solomon Johnson is as well. Joseph Warne was one of the church founders, as well as Peter Johnson’s neighbor. Round Hill may have been the only available church to attend conveniently, and as one of my cousins once said, many attended the “church of convenience” as opposed to their preferred denomination which may have been absent where they lived.

The Round Hill Cemetery is about 5 miles from where Peter lived in Elizabeth Township. The Warne family lived between Peter and the church.

The reverend was the pastor from Cecil County, Maryland.

Peter’s Older Brother?

Peter Johnson reportedly had an older brother, James Johnson, Sheriff of Cumberland County.

The Johnson Records states that Peter came to this country with an older brother named James who was the Sheriff of Cumberland County. The Cumberland County tax lists up to 1765 show a James Johnston living in Antrim Township which is where Peter lived, but not near Peter – 4 or 5 miles as the crow flies.

They are the only two Johnston’s listed in this township. James died in 1765 and after this date the sons of James and Peter begin to appear in the tax returns.

Another source book, Your Ancestors, states that James was born in Rising Sun, Maryland and married first to Elizabeth Finley in 1732, then Elizabeth Brown in 1740. They lived near Shady Grove, about 3 miles east of Greencastle, while Peter lived on the border with Maryland.

A third source states that Elizabeth Finley, born Brown, married Major James Johnston of Annandale, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

James made a will in1764 and died in 1765, noting his wife and children:

  • James
  • Thomas
  • John
  • Robert
  • Mary
  • Elizabeth
  • Martha

Several works indicate that James came to America in 1735 from County Antrim, Ireland.

This could have something to do with the 1735 date attributed orally to Peter Johnston’s arrival.

James Johnston was reported to be born before 1710 in Scotland. He received a warrant in 1737 for 400 acres in Hopewell Twp., Lancaster Co., PA in an area that would become Antrim Township in Franklin County.

Three of his sons served in the Revolutionary War and are buried in the family cemetery at Shady Grove.

There is also speculation that James was actually the father of Peter, not his brother. We don’t know when James was born, but he died 30 years before Peter.

If he was Peter’s father, then clearly, Elizabeth whom he married in 1740/41 is not Peter’s mother.

A Y-DNA test of male Johnston/Johnson descendants of both of these lines would confirm or refute that these two men shared a common lineage.

Peter’s Origins

Peter settled in two areas that were populated by both the Scots, specifically Scots-Irish, and Germans. Both of these groups of people were utilized as a barrier on the frontier between the English planters and the Indians. Both the Germans and the Scots-Irish came later than the English and were hungry for both religious freedom and land.

In his will, Peter refers to his son, Solomon, as his “junior son” which is a Scottish term for any son not the first-born. At the time he wrote his will, two of his sons were living with or near him, and Solomon was the junior son of the two.

Of course, there are also reports that Peter is buried in the Round Hill Presbyterian Cemetery, also providing a Scots-Irish or Scottish hint.

The reports of Peter’s origins vary widely. One source reported that he was born in 1735 in Scotland, which cannot be accurate given that his first land grant was in 1742 and his eldest son, Richard, is found in tax records in Cumberland County beginning in 1768.

Another source reports that Peter Janson immigrated in 1753. It’s true that one Peter Janson did immigrate in 1753, but again, this man cannot be our Peter Johnston because our Peter had land dealings in 1742, 11 years before Peter Janson arrived in Philadelphia.

The same source that correctly reported that Peter had spent the Rev War years in Virginia also tells us he was born in Scotland.

Eric pointed out that Peter sold his land in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1769, the same year that the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was opened for settlement.

Eric provided the origin stories attributed to each of his sources in detail, in his book.

His sources are:

  1. The Biographical and Genealogical History of the Chapman-Johnson-Walace-Palmer family
  2. The Johnson Records with Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons
  3. The Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families
  4. A Genealogy of the Warne Family in America
  5. Solomon Johnson’s Bible Records
Source 1 2 3 4 5
Birth year 1735
Birth location Scotland Scotland Swedish or Dutch
Additional Info Pure Scottish but with Dutch noble lineage, has tartan Born in Amsterdam, Holland Peter is grandfather of Pres. Andrew Johnson
Settlement Settled in Swedish area of Wilmington, Delaware
Locations Lived in Head of Elk, MD and Winchester, VA Solomon born near Greencastle, PA
Surname Johnstone Janson, Jansem, Jonson Iensing or Iensen*
Wife Polly Polly Could not speak English when they married
Children Solomon, Derie, Polly, James, Rachel, Rebecca, Dorcas Richard, Solomon, Mary Solomon was their son Solomon son of Peter Johnson and Mary Philips
Family Older brother James
Military Served in Rev War
Immigration 1753 on the ship Richard from Rotterdam

*Early capital letters I and J were interchangeable.

Eric suggests that the author of the Chapman-Johnson book conflated the Lindsay and Johnson family oral histories regarding nobility.

It appears that the women who provided information to the author of the Johnson Records book conflated multiple Peter Johnsons, given that our Peter Johnson did not serve in the Revolutionary War. That book focused on son, Solomon.

The 1735 birth year and 1753 immigration date appear to be a conflation of multiple different Peter Johnsons, one of whom was from New York.

The report that Peter served in the Revolutionary War is much easier to understand, because another Peter did serve from Middlesex Township of Cumberland County.

Of course, I have to ask, who was that Peter?

Eric found nothing to connect James Johns(t)on in Cumberland County with Peter Johns(t)on. If they were brothers, I did find it unusual that Peter did not witness James’ 1764 will, nor did they seem to be connected or live close together.

However, Peter did name a child James, but James did not name a son Peter.

Eric states that James who died in 1765 was a descendant of the Johnson family of Annandale, Scotland who did have links to nobility.

Eric reports from the Book, Mother Cumberland, that the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania was nearly 100% Scotch or Scots-Irish in the 1740s and 1750s, so assuming that Peter was a part of that community was natural. However, that generalization isn’t true about Antrim Township, nor across the border in Frederick County, Maryland where many German families lived.

Eric concludes that Peter probably came from Cecil County, Maryland which was originally a part of New Sweden and later, New Netherlands before being taken over by the English. Dutch, Swedes, Finns and English settled there during the 1600s and early 1700s. Head of Elk is now Elkton, Maryland. This would also have been a safe place to seek refuge during the French and Indian War along with Pontiac’s War.

Eric points out that people surrounding Peter came from Cecil County. Peter’s son, Richard married Elizabeth Nash in 1774 who was from Cecil County. His first wife was Dorcas Dungan who he married between 1764 and 1767, during a time when the family would have been seeking refuge from Pontiac’s War someplace. There are Dungan’s found in Cecil County. One of Richard’s daughters also married into a Cecil County family. Perhaps even more compelling, though, is that the Rev. James Finley, the minister of the Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Allegheny County was from Cecil County.

Other families associated with Peter were from Cecil County, including: Allison, Caldwell, Crawford, Hicks, Phillips, Scott, Smith, and Thompson.

In Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County, many families originated in New Jersey which explains the nickname of “Jersey Settlement.” Many Dutch settled in New Jersey.

Dutch, Swedes and Finns

Eric’s research revealed that Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish families adopted the Johnson surname after the English took over New Amsterdam and New Sweden from the Dutch. All three of those countries used patronymics where Johnson would literally mean the son of John. In each generation, the surname would change to reflect the father’s given name. Peter Johnson’s son, Richard, would be named Richard Peterson in a patronymic system.

So while Johnson does sound English or Scottish, it was also a very common patronymic.

Eric reports that 6 Swedish or Finish families from New Sweden in Delaware adopted the Johnson name and two settled in Cecil County, Maryland. Three German families also utilized the Johnson surname. Dutch families from western Connecticut, New York and New Jersey did the same.

Richard Johnson, known as Dirk or Derrick died in Lancaster County in 1767, but no children are mentioned in his will. The family traditions of that family match the family traditions of Peter’s son, Richard.

The Dutch Cornelius Johnson settled in Frederick County, Maryland about 1750 after leaving New York and New Jersey.

Matthias Jonsson Hutt died in Salem County, New Jersey. Two of his sons, Oliver and Henry settled at Head of Elk, Cecil County, Maryland. Oliver had a son, Peter, born on May 31, 1720.

Of course, we can’t forget about Richard and Priscilla Johnson who were found in Frederick County, VA and mentioned a son named Peter in 1773.

A Peter Johnson and wife, Mary Ashcraft of Washington County, Maryland also had a son, Peter, but nothing more is known.

Who are Peter’s parents, and where did he come from before Lancaster County in 1742?

The DNA Story

As it turns out, DNA does indeed answer these questions – or at least points us in the right direction.

Peter’s descendants were scattered to the winds, their history forgotten. They would only be reunited again some 200+ years later by autosomal DNA.

However, it is Y DNA that provides the missing information about Peter’s ancestors. Autosomal DNA was critical in reuniting us, but can only do so much and stops short of what we need to unveil Peter’s ancestors and where they came from.

We need that elusive lynchpin puzzle piece.

What was Peter Johnston’s heritage? Where did his family come from? What do you think?

I’m not quite finished with this research, but I’ll answer this burning question in an article soon. Stay tuned!


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14 thoughts on “Where Was Peter Johnston (c1720-c1794) in 1775? – 52 Ancestors #355

  1. You wrote: “One item reported by Eric that may or may not be relevant is a Frederick County, VA deed from one Richard and Percilla Johnson in 1773 which mentions their son, Peter…. I don’t have a copy of this deed…”

    Most volumes of the Amelia Gilreath abstracts for both Frederick & Shenandoah counties are on-line via the Family Search catalog. This 1773 deed for Richard & Priscilla Johnson is on pg. 100 of Vol. 5, of Gilreath’s Frederick Co deed abstracts – Deed Books 15 & 16, 1771-1775 –
    Book 16, p. 125 [original book] – 8 April 1773
    [Lease] Between the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Fairfax of County of
    Frederick [to] Richard Johnson of the same County….

    Also Vol. 6 mentions Richard Johnson, on pg. 157 and pg. 209, in the Courts Martial section, dating from years 1755 and 1760.

  2. from “oldhouseonline.com”: light A pane of glass or compartment of a window, usually expressed in terms of the number of panes per sash, as in 12 over 6 (12 lights in top sash, 6 lights in bottom). (so the term lights does not refer to candles).
    “In 1745, Peter also applied for 500 acres of land in Washington County, MD, the portion that would become Frederick County, Maryland.” (this is backward – Frederick County was established in 1745 from Prince Georges County, while Washington County was established in 1776 from Frederick County).

  3. I was struck by a couple of things I have worked on, at least a little, in the past. One is near the beginning of your article, the “Life along Holman’s Creek” section. The other is closer the end, when you cite Eric E. Johnson’s references to the Swedes, Finns and Dutch in Cecil County, MD.

    The Holman’s Creek area is somewhat familiar to me because the second farm downstream of your person of interest (John Dobkins) belonged to my ancestor Peter Cortner (Görtner, and several other spellings). That farm still has one house dating from the 1750 era of the Lord Fairfax grants in the area. Its largest room was used as a Dunkard (Old German Baptist Brethren) place of worship, so the website of the present owner (born a Ms. Zirkle) may interest you. https://shenandoahvalleysimmentals.com/history.html

    I’d just add to what’s there, that those 1749-50 Fairfax grants are in many cases a dozen or more years later than the actual settlement of the grantee, particularly Germans who had been imported (usually, from Pennsylvania) under the terms of Jost Hite’s grant. The land in question was granted first, and surveyed later, and nobody really knew where the Fairfax line might turn out to be. Peter Cortner was on his land at least by 1737 when he signed a petition for a ferry; probably, as one of Hite’s importees, in about 1733-35.

    Turning to the topic of possible Swedish or Finnish background of the Johnsons who interest you: in 1984 I was responsible for a modest exhibition and its catalog, funded by an NEH grant for projects commemorating the 350th anniversary of Maryland’s founding in 1634. The catalog title is “From northern shore: the Swedish and Finnish presence in colonial Maryland.” Like the exhibit, it has eight sub-categories, each with three or four relevant documents, pictures or flat objects. Panel four is captioned, “The first settlers of Elkton, Maryland, formerly known as the Swedes’ Town, were three Finns.” Their Anglicized names were Peter Olleston Slubey, Benjamin Poulson, and Simon Johnson. They had received fifty acres each as compensation for having built a mill for George Talbot, between 1678 and 1687.

  4. As a Garrett Applegate and Mary Johnson descendant, I look forward to your next article on Peter Johnson.

  5. I find this so interesting because I can’t reliably get north of my ancestor Rev. James Johnston 1783-1870, born in Somerset, PA. We have a bit of pesky Finnish DNA according to tests that I can’t account for. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Contact me via e-mail. I have some information I think relevant to Peter Johnston’s family in Maryland. I happened upon a Kentucky deed with names for two of his sons and “Johnson’s Delight” in Maryland. I have researched the Johnston families for over 40 years. I have two ancestral lines that I’ve traced from eastern PA to Allegheny County, PA and another line through the Shenandoah valley (Holmans Creek) to Rowan County, NC. I suspect the two lines share a common ancestry. Regards, Kevin Johnston

      • I suspect I am. My 3rd great grandfather was John G. Johnson, born around 1810. He married Elizabeth Keener and raised a family in Harrison County, West Virginia. They relocated to Keokuk County, Iowa in the mid 1850s and passed away there. They have been my brick wall for many years. Thanks to DNA, I think I am a descendant through Peter’s son Peter and his son Abraham. But I’m still researching. When I added Abraham as John’s father, over 25 DNA matches popped up. This is on Ancestry. So I’m contemplating what this means. I’m not sure if this is confirmation of an actual relationship or just confirmation that 25 people have Abraham in their trees.

        One thing that does fit is that Ancestry seems to think I’m 46% Scottish. I have found one line that comes from Scotland, but nothing to substantiate 46%. If the Johnsons did come from Scotland, that would help explain my ethnicity.

        Thank you for sharing your information and research.

        • Don’t use ethnicity as a factor. They were Swedish or Finnish. What those matches on ThruLines mean is that you match those people who also have Abraham as an ancestor in their tree.

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