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James Madison Johnston (1833-?)
Born in Wisc., raised in Green Bay. Civil engineer in Bay City, Mich.

Biography. (Added May, 2011)

History of Saginaw and Bay Counties, Michigan - 1892.


J. Madison Johnston, who is an old settler in this region and is now practicing surveying and civil engineering in Bay City, has resided here since the fall of 1853, at which time this place was known as Lower Saginaw. He was born and reared on the frontier of Wisconsin, his birthplace in Brown County, that State, and his natal day February 18, 1833. His father Capt. Johnson was a native of Oxford, Va., and an old Indian fighter, who saw service under old Anthony Wayne. The grandfather who took part in the Revolutionary War was of Scotch descent, and one of the F. F. V's.

Capt. George Johnston, spent his early life upon a Virginia plantation, and served in the United States Army through the War of 1812, after which he was sent with his regiment to old Ft. Mackinaw, where they were stationed for several years, and later at Ft. Howard, where the Captain was in command of the Fort. When the Blackhawk War broke out, he took his old company and a squad of volunteers and commanded them through that period of warfare. Subsequently he was stationed again at Ft. Howard, where he remained in command until he resigned, after which he engaged as an Indian trader, buying and selling furs, and died at Green Bay in 1850, at the age of seventy-two. He was a man of powerful frame, measuring six feet and two inches, and weighing two hundred and twenty pounds. He feared nothing, and was greatly admired by the Indians, and had many friends among the Menominees, Winnebagos, and Pottowottamies. His real-estate grew in value after his death, and this left his family in comfortable circumstances. He was a Jacksonian Democrat and in religious preference was attached to the Episcopal service.

The mother of our subject was in her maidenhood Phyliss McFearson. She was born in Montreal, Canada, and her father John was a native of Massachusetts. He was a sailor on the high seas as well as on the lakes, and was the first one who drew a sailing chart of the upper lakes. He was a powerful man of fine personal and active habits, and spent his last days in Detroit after giving up the captaincy of his boat. The mother was reared in that city, and died there at the age of seventy years. She was of Scotch decent, and a Roman Catholic in her religious belief.

Our subject is the youngest of a family of eight sons and one daughter. One of his brothers, Thomas J. Johnston was a General in the Confederate Army, and after the war became a Catholic Priest, and before his death, Canon of the Diocese of San Antonio, Tex. His death resulted from his being thrown from a carriage while riding with Gen. Ord, at San Antonio.

Madison Johnston was brought up in Green Bay and attended the log schoolhouse during three months of each year, remaining on the farm until he reached the age of sixteen, when he began trading with the Indians, buying their furs, and carrying on an extensive business with them. He spoke the Menominee language, and was a fine shot, and his courage, and the Indian's superstition in regard to his father protected him from many dangers to which he was exposed. In 1853 he came to Detroit with his mother who died three years later, and after that he came to Bay City, to be with his cousin James Watson, in whose store ( which was the first one at Lower Saginaw,) he became a clerk.

After a year this young man engaged in fishing, buying a vessel, which he named the “King Fisher,” and having some boats built to do fishing in Saginaw Bay and Thunder Bay. This business prospered until 1861, when disaster befell him, and he was obliged to sell out for a mere song. He had studied and practiced civil engineering in Wisconsin, and he now took up that line of work. He was elected County Surveyor in 1864, and served until 1868, when he was re-elected, but declined to qualify, as his local practice engaged all his time. In 1873, however, he accepted the office of City Surveyor, and held it until 1881, when he laid aside business here. Two years later he took a journey to Honduras, Central America, prospecting and placer-mining on the Polia River. He acted as the President of the Bay City Mining Company, but although he found some signs of gold, he did not have the appliances for working it, and returned to Bay City the following summer.

Since that time our subject has devoted himself to civil engineering, and is the oldest man in that profession here. Previous to 1853, he and his brother John located the first mail route from Escanaba River to Marquette, and this route marked by blazed trees was used for many years. His marriage with Hannah Reed, a native of Paynesville, Ohio, took place in 1858, and she died leaving five children, two of whom survive, namely, Carrie (Mrs. Parker) and Belle.

The second marriage of our subject was solemnized on Christmas Day, 1890, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the bride being Miss Mattie, daughter of H. M. Starke, an early settler at Eagles, Clinton County, where this lady was born. Her mother, Rebecca Kilbourn, was a native of New York, and still lives, making her home in Cincinnati. Mrs. Johnston was the third of a family of nine children and had her education here. She taught the first school in the Pinconning log schoolhouse, beginning with thirty Indians and four white pupils, and she was then only seventeen years old. The Democratic party commands the vote and influence of Mr. Johnston and he has been influential on the War and City Committees.

Additional Notes.

    1869 - Michigan Deaths: Bay City, Bay.

  • Mattie Johnston, b. 1866, daughter of James M. and Hannah Johnston, died June 6, 1869.

    1870 - Michigan Births: Bay, Mich.

  • Belle A. Johnston, born September 17, 1870, daughter of James M. and Hannah Johnston.

    1880 – Census: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Johnson, J. Madison – b. 1834 Canada , widow- surveyor
  • Grace, dau. - b. 1861 Mich.
  • Kittie, dau. - b. 1866 Mich.
  • Arthur, son – b. 1876 Mich.

    1883 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Johnston, J. Madison - surveyor and civil engineer, 813 N. Saginaw, res 251 Jackson.

    1890 – Ohio Marriages: Hamilton Co., Ohio

  • Date: December 24, 1890.
  • Groom: J. Madison Johnston
  • Bride: Martha E. Stark
  • Official: Leon A. Harvey, minister.

    1892 – Michigan Births: Bay City.

  • James Madison Johnston, born March 18, 1892, son of James M. and Martha Madison.

    1919 - Michigan Marriages: Marquette, Marquette Co.

  • Date: September 24, 1919.
  • Groom: J. Madison Johnston, of Bessemer, b. 1892 Bay City, son of J. Madison Johnson and Martha E. Stark.
  • Bride: Iven M. Chamberland, of Marquette, b. 1897 Marquette, daughter of Frank J. Chamberlain and Elenore Stephens.
  • Official: Bates G. Burt, minister.
  • Witnesses: Josehpene L. Johnston and L. V. Chamberlain, both of Marquette.
    -- Note: Idaho death record, shows a baby death June 18, 1832, at Blackfoot, Bingham, Idaho, parents were J.M. Johnson and Iven M. Chamberlain.
Related Pages/Notes

Related Pages
Watson, James cousin
People Referenced
Burt, Bates G.
Chamberlain, Frank J.
Chamberlain, Iven M.
... (d-inlaw)
Chamberlain, L.V.
Harvey, Leon A.
Johnston, Arthur (son)
Johnston, Belle A. (dau)
JOhnston, Carrie (dau)
Johnston, George R. (father)
Johnston, Grace (dau)
Johnston, James M. (subject)
Johnston, James M., Jr (son)
Johnston, John (bro)
Johnston,Josephine L.
Johnston, Kittie (dau)
Johnston, Mattie (dau)
Johnston, Thomas J. (bro)
Kilbourn, Rebecca (m-inlaw)
McFearson, Phyliss (mother)
Ord, Gen.
Parker, Mrs.
Reed, Hannah (1-wife)
Starke, Hiram (f-inlaw)
Starke, Martha (2-wife)
Stephens, Elenore
Wayne, Anthony
Subjects Referenced
Bay City, MI
Bay City Mining Co.
Bessemer, MI
Black Foot, Bingham, ID
Black Hawk war
Brown County, WI
Cincinnati, OH
Clinton County, OH
Confederate army
Detrot, MI
Escanaba River, MI
Eagles, OH
FT. Howard
Ft. Mackinaw
Green Bay, WI
Hamilton County, OH
Honduras, Central Amer.
Lower Saginaw, MI
Marquette, MI
Montreal, Canada
New York
Oxford, VA
Paolia River, Honduras
Paynesville, OH
Pinconning, Bay, MI
Saginaw Bay, MI
San Antonio, TX
Thunder Bay, MI
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.