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Johnston, William 1780-

Revolutionist; born in Canada, in 1780; was an American spy on the Canada frontier during the War of 1812-15. He was living at Clayton, N. Y., on the bank of the St. Lawrence, when the “patriot” war in Canada broke out in 1837. Being a bold and adventurous man, and cordially hating the British, Johnston was easily persuaded by the American sympathizers in the movement to join in the strife. The leaders regarded him as a valuable assistant, for he was thoroughly acquainted with the whole region of the Thousand Islands, in the St. Lawrence, from Kingston to Ogdensburg. He was employed to capture the steamboat Robert Peel, that carried passengers and the mail between Prescott and Toronto, and also to seize the Great Britain, another steamer, for the use of the “patriots.” With a desperate band, Johnston rushed on board of the Peel at Wells's

William Johnston.

Island, not far below Clayton, on the night of May 29, 1838. They were armed with muskets and bayonets and painted like Indians, and appeared with a shout, “Remember the Carolina!” —a vessel which some persons from Canada had cut loose at Schlosser (on Niagara River), set on fire, and sent blazing over Niagara.

Johnston's commission.

Falls. The passengers and baggage of the Peel were put on shore and the vessel was burned, because her captors could not manage her. Governor Marcy, of New York, declared Johnston an outlaw, and offered a reward of $500 for his person. The governor of Canada (Earl of Durham) offered $5,000 for the conviction of any person concerned in the “infamous outrage.” Johnston, in a proclamation issued from “Fort Watson,” declared himself the leader of the band; that his companions were nearly all Englishmen; and that his headquarters were on an island within the jurisdiction of the United States. Fort Watson was a myth. It was wherever Johnston was seated among the Thousand Islands, where for a long time he was concealed, going from one island to another to avoid arrest. His (laughter, a handsome maiden of eighteen years, who was an expert rower, went to his retreat at night with food. At length he was arrested, tried at Syracuse on a charge of violating the neutrality laws, and acquitted. Again arrested and put in jail, he managed to escape, when a reward of $200 was offered for him. He gave himself up at Albany, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to one year's imprisonment in the jail there and to pay a fine of $250. His faithful daughter, who had acquired the title of “The Heroine of the Thousand [185] Islands,” hastened to Albany and shared the prison with her father. He procured a key that would unlock his prison-door. His daughter departed and waited for him at Rome. He left the jail, walked 40 miles the first night, and soon joined her. They went home, and Johnston was not molested afterwards. The “patriots” urged him to engage in the struggle again. He had had enough of it. They sent him the commission of a commodore, dated at “Windsor, U. C., Sept. 5, 1839,” and signed “H. S. Hand, Commander-in-Chief of the Northwestern Army, on Patriot Service in Upper Canada.” On that commission was the device seen in the engraving—the American eagle carrying off the British lion. The maple-leaf is an emblem of Canada. He refused to serve, and remained quietly at home. President Pierce appointed him light-house keeper on Rock Island, in the St. Lawrence, in sight of the place where the Peel was burned.

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