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George W. 'Lafayette' Johnston

George W. "Lafayette" Johnston was born in about 1834 in or near Sycamore, Greene County, PA, the son of Andrew and Climena (Conklin) Johnston.

A bachelor at the age of 26, in 1860, he lived with his parents and provided laborer on their large Center Township farm. He stood 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 165 lbs., with black hair and black eyes.

Gettysburg monument to the 1st PA Cavalry
On Sept. 20, 1860, when he was 26 years of age, Lafayette entered into holy marriage with 26-year-old Maria Taylor (1836- ? ), daughter of Thomas W. Taylor. The ceremony was led by Rev. Charles Tilton in the home of the bride's father in Washington Township, Greene County. Among those attending were Abner Johns and Lucy Rush. A notation of the marriage was written in the father's family Bible.

The couple's three known offspring were Thomas Francis Johnston, Margaret T. "Maggie" Johnston and Lafayette "Ellsworth" Johnston.

Lafayette joined the Union Army during the Civil War, mustering in on Sept. 24, 1862, shortly after the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was assigned to the 44th Pennsylvania Infantry, also known as the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company F. Among many other engagements, the 1st Cavalry took part in the Battles of Fredericksburg, Brandy Station, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Five Forks and was present at Appomattox at the Confederate surrender. During the Gettysburg fight, the retiment served as a headquarters escort along Cemetery Ridge, where today a monument to the 1st Cavalry stands on the field.

In December 1863 and then January and February 1864, at Warrenton, VA, he suffered with what officials wrote as "Feb. Intermit," otherwise known as fever and malaria. He contracted the sickness while on picket duty, the weather being foggy and warm. Fellow soldier Jacob J. Mitchell noted Lafayette's in ability to perform his duty for two to three months and was admitted to a regimental hospital. After two weeks of treatment, he was sent back to the regiment on Feb. 19, 1864.

He was transferred to a battalion on Sept. 9, 1864. On or about Nov. 2, 1864, short of breath, he contracted a sinus infection. He received medical care for a few days and returned to his unit on Nov. 5, 1864. Then in battle in November 1864, while covering a crossroads at Gravel Run, VA, near Petersburg, he received a gunshot, "struck with musket ball on right breast passing nearly through a testament I carried in my blouse pocket," he wrote. Friend Mitchel noted that the enemy miniť ball also had knocked off the hammer of Lafayette's rifle and that the bullet had passed about halfway through the testament. The shock knocked him off of his horse, and he was carried to the rear of the line.

The war now over, he received his honorable discharge at Bailey's Crossroads in Fairfax County, WV on June 6, 1865.

Lafayette's Civil War pension document. National Archives.

Early on, the Johnstons lived in Morris Township, Greene County. Circa 1870-1880, the family made a home on a farm  in Center Township. The 1870 census-taker recorded the estimated value of Lafayette's farm as $8,700. Teenager Samuel J. Wilson lived under their roof in 1870.

He contracted in the spring of 1888 a severe case of pneumonia which left permanent damage in his right lung. 

In 1880, Lafayette was awarded a military pension as compensation for his wartime injuries. [Invalid App. #382.434 - Cert. #934.540]

Surgeon's sketch of Lafayette's 1890 injury

In September 1890, Lafayette suffered a freak injury to his right wrist. He wrote that "while chopping timber" with a double-billed axe, he had cut or severed the tendons of the third and fourth fingers. Friends Lindsey Roop and John Buchanan, working near him that day, watched as he pitched forward "from off a log of wood he was cutting, the log having suddenly broken, and fall on his right hand or write on the edge of his ax and did great injury to his hand." From that time forward, he could not form a grip with the hand and thus unable to hold a hoe or axe.

Lafayette filed for an increase in his pension payments in 1890-1891. Among the friends and neighbors signing affidavits of support was Roop, of Sycramore, who lived three-and-a-half miles away. Roop wrote that Lafayette could do no more than a quarter of a day's manual labor, due to a crippled wrist, shortness of breath and lung problems. George Shoup, about a mile away, and Inghram Rush, two miled away, said they had seen Lafayette once a week ever since the war's end. Shoup added that that the soldier had shown him the pocket testament where the enemy bullet had struck.

Neighbor Isaac S. Ingram, whose farm was three-quarters of a mile distant, said that he had employed Lafayette from time to time and that he was "not more than half hand, that  he is disabled from doing manuel labor." 

The family's home in 1890 was in Swarts, Greene County. At that time, Lafayette earned a living as a day laborer, apparently engaged as a farmer and railroad worker. At one point, they lived on a farm owned by James L. and Belle S. Iams.

Waynesburg and Washington Railroad

Compounding his injuries, Lafayette broke his left thigh near the  hip on  1893. Friends George W. Foy and John Hays testified that "while loading rail road ties for the Waynesburg and Washington Rail Road, [he] slip and fell while carrying a tie, tie fell on his left leg and broke..." He never fully recovered and was confined to bed.  Compounding his injuries, Lafayette broke his left thigh near the  hip in 1893. Friends George W. Foy and John Hays testified that "while loading rail road ties for the Waynesburg and Washington Rail Road, [he] slip and fell while carrying a tie, tie fell on his left leg and broke..." He never fully recovered and was confined to bed. 

He suffered for three years. The injured leg became a few inches shorter than the good one, and when able to be up and about, Lafayette was forced to use a cane.

The soldier's signature 
His boyhood friend and family physician, Dr. W.S. Throckmorton, wrote toward the end that "he is so dangerously ill and can't recover [and] that he will live but a few months perhaps... He has not been able to maintain himself for several years. He is living in extreme poverty, so much so that the poor directors of the county have been appealed to, to aid him and his old wife." In another affidavit, Throckmorton said that Lafayette and his wife had no home and had to secure a residence as best they could, and that he "at this time is living in an old log cabin, sick in bed..."  The physician also wrote in 185 that "no enterprising farmer would board him for his labor."

Death finally carried him away on or about Nov. 13, 1896. Friend Hays came to the house an hour after death, helped care for the body and dress it, and then attend the funeral. Others present at the funeral were James L. and Belle S. Iams. An obituary appeared in the Waynesburg Democrat-Messenger on Nov. 20, 1896.

The widowed Maria was awarded the Civil War pension for her support. [Widow App. #645.470 - Cert. #446.683]. Her brother-in-law Daniel Johnston was present when she signed certain papers in this pursuit.

Maria moved into the home of her son Ellsworth in Morris Township where she resided in 1900.

~ Son Thomas Francis Johnston ~

Son Thomas Francis Johnston (1863-1927) was born in 1863. He grew up as a farm laborer. 

He was joined in the bonds of wedlock with Emma Anderson ( ? - ? ). 

Together, they produced a family of three -- William T. Johnston, Arthur Johnston and Mrs. Oscar M. Leffey. 

The family rented a home in Amwell Township, Washington County, on the C.W. Redd farm near Pancake, PA. where Thomas earned a living as a teamster. They belonged to the Baptist church. 

At the age of about 63, death carried him away on May 18, 1927, discovered dead while in his wagon. A physician wrote that he was "found dead ... probably apoplexy." Funeral services were held in the family residence, led by Rev. H.J. DeBolt of the West Washington Methodist Episcopal Church. Interment of the remains was in Washington Cemetery. Arthur Johnston, of Washington, signed the official Pennsylvania certificate of death.

Son William T. Johnston ( ? - ? ) relocated to Youngstown, OH and was there in 1927.

Son Arthur Johnston ( ? - ? ) resided in Washington, PA.

Daughter (?) Johnston ( ? - ? ) was joined in wedlock with Oscar M. Leffey ( ? - ? ). The Leffeys dwelled in Washington, PA in 1927.

~ Daughter Margaret T. "Maggie" Johnston ~

Daughter Margaret T. "Maggie" Johnston (1867- ? ) was born in about 1867. 

Her paper trail has gone cold.

~ Son Lafayette "Ellsworth" Johnston ~

Son Lafayette "Ellsworth" Johnston (1870-1950) -- also nicknamed "Lafe" -- was born on Nov. 26, 1870 in Sycamore, Greene County. 

On Jan. 15, 1898, he married Columbia Jane Cain (Jan. 2, 1878-1931), daughter of Enoch and Minerva (Farrell) Cain of Swarts, Greene County. Rev. J.D.W. Heazelton presided. 

Five known offspring in this family were Swart T. Johnston, Frank Johnston, Lewis Johnston, James Johnston and Annabelle Johnston. 

The United States Census of 1900 lists the family in Morris Township, Greene County, with Ellsworth's widowed mother in the household. The family appears to have remained in Morris for decades, on one or more farms near Nineveh. Ellsworth's work was as a township road supervisor. They belonged to the Nineveh Methodist Episcopal Church. 

Columbia was diagnosed with heart problems at the age of about 48. She endured the ailment for four years. The family was plunged into grief when she was felled by a stroke and died at the age of 52 on Aug. 8, 1931. Burial of the remains was in Oakmont Cemetery, Waynesburg. Said the Waynesburg Republican, "She had been in failing health for some time." Rev. John H. DeBolt, of the West Washington Methodist Episcopal Church, officiated the funeral service. 


Son Swart T. Johnston (1899- ? ) was born in Oct. 1899.

Son James Johnston (1903- ? ) was born in about 1903 in Morris Township, Greene County.

Daughter Annabelle Johnston (1905- ? ) was born in about 1905 in Morris Township, Greene County.

Son Frank Johnston (1906- ? ) was born in about 1906 in Morris Township, Greene County.

Son Lewis Johnston (1908- ? ) was born in about 1908 in Morris Township, Greene County. 


    Copyright © 2021-2022 Mark A. Miner

    Generous assistance and content for this biography have been provided by David Shaw.