John Johnston was my 5th great grandfather. I have only recently begun to research him as part of my pandemic project of breaking down brick walls. I know that he was born in Pennsylvania, and that his father was most likely also named John Johnston. This first John Johnston was in the Nashville area by around 1786. I am doing my usual deep dive into land records to figure out more of the story.
John Johnston Junior wrote his will in 1849, and managed to be both vague and very specific at the same time! However, between this document and a newspaper article written in 1972 about this history of the Cane Ridge settlement (now a South Nashville neighborhood) I have been able to figure out who at least most of his children were.
John, like the classic Scots-Irishman he probably was, told his daughters not to waste their inheritance. He did not have a high opinion of the financial acumen of his sons-in-law, “upon cool reflexion” deciding that it was best to protect his estate from their creditors. He appeared to particularly dislike Stephen Saunders, husband of his daughter Elizabeth, prohibiting from having any “wright” to her inheritance.
One enslaved man, Harvey, is mentioned by name in the will and given “special consideration.” He mentions more “negroes,” however, John held just two slaves on both the 1840 census and 1850 slave schedule. In 1850, one of these is a 72 year old man. This is no doubt Harvey, who John mentions had previously been held by his parents. There is also a 35 year old woman listed, I do not yet know her name.
State of Tennessee Davidson County the twenty third day of April 1849
In the name of God amen I John Johnston of the state and county above written being in common health of body and mind doth make this my testament and last will.
After my body is laid in the grave and the soul to the god that give it and all my just debts paid I give and bequeath to my children share and share alike with a few exceptions.
I give to my daughter Lucinia thirty dollars in consideration of a gray colt give to her by Joseph White when infant.
I paid some money for my son William nothing to be taken from his heirs for that he done more to raise my family than any of the rest of my children.
Upon cool reflexion I think it advisable to exclude two of my son in laws Greenby Ozment and James Mize not from any unkind feelings I have received from them but to secure any property that my coming to them from my estate after my death that I prohibit them from the wright of transferring but secure it from the payment of any debt that the said Ozment or Mize has contracted or may contract hereafter then to have the use of it as long as they are man and wife and then to my daughters and their children.
My daughters and their husbands in land or negroes to have use of it or some other way that my be advisable so they have the benefit of it but not to be wasted by them.
Amanda Mize to have equal shear with my daughters Sarah Pat (?) for money paid to Doc Turner and McDonald (?) the receipt will show, Edwin Vaughn to have six acres of the twenty six I own jointly the twenty five acres whereon he now lives his wrights and title forever
One hundred dollars to be taken out of Matilda’s share the sum I paid for the land the said Vaughn to have six acres of that twenty six I have there to be on the south boundary joining his land him to allow equal value with the remainder of that tract
My granddaughter Nancy Eastwood to have equal share with the rest of Matilda children
I also bar Stephen Saunders from any wright of transfer of any property coming to my daughter Elizabeth to have the full use of it as long as they remain man and wife the rights to be vested in her and her children
My desire is that Harvey shall not be sold to Strangers he has served long in the family my father and my mother myself. I want him to have choice if any of my children to serve and them bound that he shall not come to suffer
State of Tennessee Davidson County Court January term 1856
A paper writing purporting to be the last Will and Testament of John Johnston dec’d was produced in open court for probate and proved
Recorded Sept. 8th 1857