Alexander Johnston

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ALEXANDER JOHNSTON. Among the makers of Westmoreland county of the last century was Alexander Johnston, who lived and died at Kingston House, on the Loyalhanna, about three miles from Latrobe. He was born July 10, 1773, in county Tyrone, Ireland. and died July 16, 1872, having lived ninety-nine years and six days.

An incident concerning his leaving Ireland is well worthy of mention Col. John McFarland, of Ligonier, frequently related that in 1844 he and Alexander Johnston had driven to Harrisburg together in a buggy, and on the way the latter told him that when he was a very young man he lived in the south of Ireland and had fallen in love and become the accepted suitor of a young woman of the neighborhood. Upon going to the father of the girl to ask his consent and to contract for the marriage, the old gentleman became very much enraged, and told him that he was too wild and unpromising to marry his daughter. Harsher words from each followed, whereupon Johnston struck his desired father-in-law and knocked him down. This he said, caused such an. uproar in the community, the old gentleman being of a very prominent family, that warrants were taken out for his arrest, and he was compelled to leave the country or suffer the consequences, which might have been very serious. So with the assistance of friends he secured a passage and sailed at once for America. He arrived in 1797 and remained for a short time in Philadelphia, after which he journeyed to Carlisle, where his relative, Gen. William Irvine, who as the reader has seen, was quite familiar with western Pennsylvania, advised him to settle in this part of the state. The young man accordingly crossed the Allegheny mountains and located first in Butler county. Becoming dissatisfied there, he removed to Westmoreland, where he met William Freame, another Irishman. whose daughter Elizabeth he afterwards married. William Freame had come to America with the renowned army of General James Wolfe to engage in the French and Indian war. At its close, with many other British soldiers, he remained in the colonies. When the Revolutionary war was declared he attached himself to the British army. After a short service he settled in Lancaster county, where he was married to Elizabeth Johnston, who had come from Ireland with her father in 1X92. This branch of the Johnston family is in no way related to the Westmoreland branch, the former having settled mostly in Kentucky and North Carolina.

Alexander Johnston and Elizabeth Freame had a family of eight sons and two daughters, and these, with their father, became one of the most noted families in Westmoreland county. Two of the oldest sons were educated at West Point, and served many years in the regular army as commissioned officers. Of the youngest son, Richard, we have spoken, he being a private in the Mexican war, killed at the storming of Molino del Rev. Another son, Edward Johnston, read law and became noted in his profession in. Iowa. Still another son, William F. Johnston, became governor of Pennsylvania, and we shall speak of him again. Another, Col. John W. Johnston, was captain of the Westmoreland company in the Mexican war, and afterwards was colonel of a regiment in the Civil war. The physical stature of these sons was remarkable. None of them was less than six feet, one or two were six feet six inches in height, and all were built in proportion. Their father, Alexander Johnston, was for many years a resident of Greensburg, he having served several terms in county offices of Westmoreland county. Later he purchased a large tract of land at the base of the Chestnut Ridge, in Unity. Derry and Ligonier townships. Upon this he erected a forge, rolling mill. etc., and became one of the earl- iron-masters of western Pennsylvania. These works were called the Kingston Works, this being the name of the tract of land upon which they were located. Nearby he built the stone house called Kingston House, which is yet well preserved, and is one of the landmarks of the past. It was built in 1815. as a tablet on its front wall indicates. His adventure in the production of iron was not successful, perhaps from the inferiority of the ore. Kingston iron never sold at a high price, and the business, instead of making him a fortune, involved him in pecuniary trouble. His house, Kingston House, near the pike, afterwards constructed, was converted into a public inn. After some years he removed to Greensburg, and was appointed register and recorder by Governor Wolf, for he had in the meantime taken an active part in the early politics of the county. He was a Federalist, and remained with that party until its final dissolution. He became a Jackson Democrat in 1824, and voted with that party as against the Anti-Mason and -National Republican parties. He held several offices by election, namely sheriff, justice of the peace, and treasurer, and was, as we have seen, register and recorder by appointment. The dates of his commissions were as follows: Sheriff, November 4, 1807; justice of the peace, October 24, 1822; treasurer, December 27, 1826; register and recorder, January 21. 1830. In the latter position he served six years, and then returned to his home, Kinston House. a most beautiful place in an early day, and remained there until his death. At the time of his death he was said to be the oldest living Freemason in the United States, having joined the fraternity in Ireland, and having participated first in a Masonic demonstration as early as 1795. By special authority he organized the grand lodge of Pennsylvania and the Masonic lodge in Greensburg, and was also authorized to organize the lodge in Somerset. He was a leader among men naturally, and always enjoyed the highest confidence of his neighbors. One of his most remarkable traits was his polished manners. It mattered not whether he met the rich or the poor, the high car the low, he greeted them in a most polished and dignified way; nor did he relax his courteous manners with advancing years, though in one sense of the word he never grew old. He took great pleasure in conversing with the young people around him, -which is always an evidence of a young and vigorous mind. His memory was stored with interesting anecdotes and historical reminiscences, and nothing seemed to delight him more than to gather around him a company of voting men and women and entertain them with his recollections of the past. He had been all his life a reader of books and a close observer of the events through which he passed, and moreover had a retentive memory. These qualities united in making him one of the most interesting and entertaining men of his day. He remembered the ringing of the bells in Ireland and the cry of the watchman at night when the news reached them that Cornwallis in America had been compelled to surrender his sword to Washington at Yorktown. The Irish, he said, seemed to take great pleasure in the downfall of the English armies in the new world. The latter years of his life were all that any one could wish for. He had full possession of his mental powers, and even the physical decline, which always comes with advancing years, came slowly to him, and only when he was nearing his hundredth year.

Source: Page(s) 646-648, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2008 for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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