No history of Sault Sainte Marie would be complete without the relation of the coming of John Johnston and his subsequent life here.
In the year 1792 there arrived in Canada from Ireland a young man bearing letters of introduction to Lord Dorchester, the Governor.
A cloud seems to have rested on his youthful days a shadow which was always a mystery to his hosts of friends, and which he never ceased to allude to with regret.
At first it was proposed that he should enter military life in the colony, but a trading party for the West affording an opening, the young Irishman embarked and was soon at the Sault.
This, Mr. Johnson made his headquarters and afterward built himself a house which is still to be seen in the American town of Sault Sainte Marie and which evidences the quiet comfort in which he lived.
His home for many years was the rendevous of all the white men who found in the cultured and intellectual geniality of the host that social pleasure which, when absent, makes of the lonely wilderness, a wilderness indeed.
Some months were spent at the Sault by the young trader ere he journeyed further, but at last reaching La Pointe he entered at once into his work.
It was on this island that he frrst met ” a far-famed Indian chieftain who was to the natives of this district what Pontiac had been to all a few years earlier.
It was said that Wabojeeg’s counsel was accepted by all, that when he spoke none, even among the elders, would advise differently from him and the Braves were always anxious and ready to follow him wherever he might choose to lead the way.
Nor was his bravery held in less esteem by the warriors than his wisdom in council. There has come down to us a translation of his war song which he and his warriors were wont to chant on the eve of battle.
Where are my foes ? say, warriors? No forest is so black,
That it can hide from my quick eye, the vestige of their track ; There is no lake so boundless, no path where man may go,
Can shield them from my sharp pursuit, or save them from my blow. The winds that whisper in the trees, the clouds that spot the sky, Impart a soft intelligence, to show one where they lie,
The very birds that sail the air, and scream as on they go, Give me a clue my course to tread, and lead me to the foe.
The sun at dawn, lifts up its head, to guide me on my way,
The moon at night looks softly down, and cheers me with her ray, The war-crowned stars, those beaming lights, my spirit casts at night Direct me as I tread the maze, and lead me to the fight.
In sacred dreams within my lodge, while resting on the land, Bright omens of success arise, and nerve my warlike hand. Where’er I turn, where’er I go, there is a whispering sound,
That tells me I shall crush the foe, and drive him from my ground.
The beaming west invites me on, with smiles of vermil hue, And clouds of promise fill the sky, and deck its heavenly blue,. There is no breeze, there is no sign, in ocean, earth or sky, That does not swell my breast with hope, or animate my eye. If to the stormy beach I go, where heavy tempests play,
They tell me but, how warriors brave, should conquer in the fray. All nature fills my heart with fires, that prompt me on to go, To rush with rage, and lifted spear, upon my country’s foe.
The sixty foot lodge of this chieftain was the largest and grandest in the land as far at least as the Mississippi, to which his influence extended. Its walls were decorated with trophies of the chase, and in the centre was a strong upright pole which was surmounted by an owl. This ornament had its signifiicance and conveyed to the mind of the Indians the fact that the chief was also a Midi priest.
Wabojeeg did not marry until late in life when he took as his partner a widow with two sons. He soon tired, however, of his wife andafter the manner of his tribeattached himself to a young and beautiful Ojibway maiden whom he brought to his home. Here they lived in happiness for many years, and Wabojeeb became the father of six children.
To this family was Mr. Johnston presented in his trading trip in 1792 and at once fell in love with one of the beautiful daughters. He approached the ” White Fisher,” by which interpretation of “Wabojeeg,” he was known, but the wily old chief was not as enthusiastic as Johnston had hoped.
Too many Ojibway maidens had, he said, been ardently wooed, and finally won by the young traders who came from the front, and were left to mourn their trustfulness which gave them into unworthy hands, for when the traders had sued successfully they left their spouse and departed.
No such fate was to overtake O-shau-gus-coday-way-qua, by which name his daughter was known, and Mr. Johnston was in despair. Finally it was arranged that he was to go away for a year and if on his return his love was as strong as ever then Wabojeeb promised that he would listen to his plea.
Mr. Johnston left as soon as possible and journeying to Montreal secured passage to Ireland where he sold his estate at Craige, near the Giant’s Causeway, and returned to claim his Indian bride.
This time he could not be gainsaid, and after making the young man sware that he would made her his wife after the manner of the white man, Wabojeeg gave him his daughter, after a long speech of advice to both.
Before the marriage could take place, however, the maid must needs fast, and for that purpose she withdrew from her father’s lodge to a lonely mountain for a ten day’s vigil.
There she was approached in vision each day by a white man holding a cup of water in his outstretched hand as he exclaimed, ” Why do you fast ! why, poor thing, do you punish yourself !” In her dream she saw each time a dog accompanying the stranger which looked into her face with deep solicitude. Her vision led to another in which she saw many canoes of Redmen approaching to pay her homage, and again did a third vision come to her, in which she saw as if the whole earth were on fire and cried in her distress that all her relatives would be burnt, but as though to reassure her there came a voice saying, ” Do not be afraid, they will be rescued.”
During the succeeding ten days when the girl lived on water and on the coarse maize brought to her by her grandmotherthe spouse of the famous Ma-mong-e-se-do of former timeshe became convinced that she had found her guardian spirit, who was none other than the impulsive Irish trader, and at once made ready for her wedding.
But in spite of this she ceased not to regard her future husband with fear, and on being conducted to his lodge whither she went as she, poor thing, after related, with fear and reluctance, she took refuge in a dark corner, hid beneath a blanket’s folds and refused to be comforted.
Her husband strove to win her love by every show of delicate tenderness but without success, for on the tenth day the frightened O-shau-gusco-day-way-qua fled from her dwelling, and after wandering and fasting for days in the woods, finally reached the wigwam of her grandsire. Her father was away on a hunting expedition when she arrived, but being warned in a dream of her coming, he turned his steps homeward. His treatment of the girl on returning was remarkable. Giving her a beating he told her to go to her husband and threatened the shrinking child that he would cut off her ears if she returned to him again.
Together they set out for Sault Sainte Marie whither Johnston had gone, and with many apologies and with presents of corn, furs and tobacco did Wabojeeg restore to her husband his trembling wife.
Soon afterward Mrs. Johnston expressed a wish to return to visit her people. At once a schooner was fitted out and with a retinue of clerks and servants she began her journey.
Not till now had she been able to contrast her present life with her former wild existence.
A short stay in the wigwams of her people sufficed and she returned to the home at the. Sault where for thirty-six years she was the contented helpmeet of the man who had won her for himself.
During the war of 1812-1815 Mr. Johnston remained firm in his loyalty to the old flag, supplying men, boats and weapons at his own cost. His connection with that war, however, must be left for another chapter.
Among the children of this henceforth happy couple were in after years the wife of the Reverend (afterward Archdeacon) MacMurray who, in 1832, was sent to the Sault as a missionary to replace a lay reader who had proved unfaithful, and Mrs. Henry Schoolcraft. whose husband was the famous Indian Agent, and from whom, it is said, Longfellow obtained the data for his famous epic poem Hiawatha.
Another of their eight children was the Louis Johnston who was serving on board the Queen Charlotte when, in 1813, she was captured by Commodore Perry. George Johnston served in the British army and was present at the attack on Mackinac by the Americans in 1814. John acted for many years as United States interpreter, and Anna, who was the yougest, was the wife of the ill-fated brother of the Indian Agent, James L. Schoolcraft, who was shot by Lieutenant Tilden 1846.
By treaty in 1827, known as the Treaty of Fond du Lac, the family received from the American Government a tract of land on what is known as Sugar Island in the St. Mary’s River, and here after her husband’s death did Mrs. Johnston retire each year and turn her attention to the manufacture of maple sugar, several tons of which she marketed each succeeding Spring.
The misgiving of her father, old Wabogish, in regard to the unfaithful white men is well voiced by one of his grand children whose song with its translation will interest many.
Literal translation by Mrs. Schoolcraft :
” Why What’s the matter with the young American ? He crosses the river with tears in his eyes. He sees the young Ojibway girl preparing to leave the place ; he sobs for his sweetheart, because she is going away, but he will not sigh long for her, for as soon as he is out of her sight, he will forget her.”
That stream, along whose bosom bright, With joy I’ve seen your bark appear ; You cross, no longer, with delight, Nor I, with joy, your greeting hear.
And can such cause, alone, draw ttears From eyes, that always smil’d before? Of partingcan it be the fears? Of parting nowto meet no more?
But heavily though now you sigh ; And tho’ your griefs be now sincere, To find our dreaded parting nigh, And bid farewell to pleasure dear
When o’er the waters, wide and deep, Farthine OjibwaV Maid shall be,
New loves will make you please to weep, Nor e’er again, remember me.
Saut de Ste. Marie, July 6, 1825.
Of the descendents of the Johnston’s there are still some few remaining scattered over what is known as the Upper Peninsula of Northern Michigan
Chapman’s “Historic Johnson Family.”