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    Westerhall, Grenada
    Cape Coast Castle
    North America
The Paths of the Johnstones
Social Map: Travel Abroad

  • Johnstone Mausoleum, Westerkirk
    Westerhall: Nestled in the valley of the Esk in the Scottish lowlands, the Johnstone's family home, Westerhall, is hidden among bare, rounded hills. It was the home of the Johnstone parents, and of Betty for much of her life. It was inherited by James, who tried to improve the estate, which he called a "Crazzy Rocking house," and then by William, who put it up for sale. The house was, at times, cramped. Adam Smith, when visiting had to stay "above Stairs." In the mid-eighteenth century, it was surrounded by sheep-grazing, smuggling, and disputes over inheritance. "It's but a coarse moorish Country," in the description of a 1729 travel guide to this part of Scotland, and Daniel Defoe, in his Journey through Scotland, described it as "a wild and mountainous Country, where nothing but what was desolate and dismal could be expected."

  • One of the two old waterwheels used to crush sugarcane, Westerhall
    Westerhall, Grenada: In 1764, Alexander, then a colonel in charge of the fortifications on Grenada, purchased a large sugar plantation and renamed it "Westerhall." The Westerhall plantation in Grenada was a part of the Johnstones' lives over three generations, and its descent, by inheritance, was a journey through the early history of empire. Alexander was the most prosperous of all the absentee proprietors in Grenada when the French recaptured the island in 1779, or at least the owner of the largest number of slaves; the slaves whom he had bought with credit from his brothers. The Westerhall plantation later became a celebrated example, in the years when it was owned by James, of enlightened production; of cultivation with the plough, by slaves in shoes. It was virtually untouched, according to the abolitionists' histories, by the epidemic illnesses that afflicted the island and by the political sequence of slave revolutions, including Fédon's Revolution of 1795-1796. When William inherited the plantation, in the description of his new manager, "the plough was abandoned, because, on that Estate, it was found to accomplish no saving of expense, no acceleration of labour, and because it added nothing to the crop." The same manager, in turn, became one of the most prominent theorists of slavery of the nineteenth century. "I know Westerhall Estate, Grenada, well -- every cane hole in it," he wrote.

  • The Castle of Edinburgh, Alexander Naysmith (1758-1840)
    Edinburgh: Eighteenth century Edinburgh, the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment, played a prominent role in the story of the Johnstones. Most of the Johnstones lived in or passed through Edinburgh with some regularity – as did most of their friends. Barbara and Betty both lived there for a time. Gideon tended to appear there with news of friends and then to leave again. It was the site of education and learning: Patrick studied there, as did John. William did too, with Adam Smith. Its libraries saw Charlotte's husband, along with Johnstone brothers, searching for links to distant ancestors. It was a young Edinburgh mathematician (and later professor at the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, in America), Walter Minto who became the tutor to George's older sons. Betty corresponded regularly about minerals with William Cullen, an eminent professor of chemistry based in Edinburgh and William was involved with another Edinburgh chemist, Joseph Black. The city was not only the center of Scottish intellectual life, but the center of political and cultural life as well. Margaret, after the collapse of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion, was imprisoned in Edinburgh castle. And it was in Edinburgh that Joseph Knight's fate was ultimately decided. William was a member of the Edinburgh social club, the Select Society, a group that included Smith, David Hume, Adam Ferguson, and other luminaries. John, his son, and James Balmain were subscribers to another Edinburgh society, this one for the Abolition of the African Slave trade.

  • Westminster Abbey, Canaletto (1749)
    London, as the capital of the far-flung British Empire, was a natural magnet for the highly mobile Johnstones and their friends. George lived there, in Kensington Gore with Martha Ford after returning from Florida. So did Gideon when he returned from naval service off the American coast. Alexander, too, was a resident, attracted from Grenada to protest against the "illegal, grievous, cruel, oppressive and unjust acts" of the island's governor, to the highest political instance in the empire, the Privy Council of the King's closest advisers. After returning from India with Elizabeth Carolina, John also stayed in London for four years, forced to clear up a series of lawsuits over the gifts he had received from Indian bankers while working for the East India Company. His partner from India, William Bolts, also landed in London and began publishing a series of political pamphlets. George’s secretary, James “Ossian” Macpherson became a political agent of the Nawab of Arcot, and many of the Johnstones other friends ended up there, as bankers, merchants, or administrators. London, as the site of British power, played an increasing role in the family’s affairs as the Johnstones themselves gained influence and stature. Four of the Johnstone brothers, James, William, George and John, were eventually elected to the House of Commons, and from 1768 to 1805 there was always at least one of them in parliament, and sometimes as many as three.

  • View of Calcutta from Fort William, painting, Samuel Davis, about 1783. Murshidabad, Bengal, 18th century A peaceful historic graveyard from 1767 for early British residents
    Calcutta: The seat of British power in India, Calcutta played a prominent role in the lives of the Johnstones, especially for John, Gideon, and Patrick, who were servants of the East India Company. John arrived in Bengal in 1751 and he became a high official and public figure, later involved in disputes with the East India governor, Lord Clive. His younger brother Patrick soon followed, with a certificate in "Arithmetick and Bookkeeping." “My very worthy Brother Johny & I are trying to establish & carry on a Good Trade Tho We want Money to make it an extensive one," Patrick wrote to William from Calcutta in September 1755. Gideon, the youngest brother, followed later, arriving in India as a "free merchant" in 1762, and entering the Company's service in 1764. Patrick’s time in Calcutta was short; after the outbreak of hostilities between the British and Bengali rulers, Patrick died on the night of June 20-21 1756, in the prison of the Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah that was known, later, as the "black hole of Calcutta." As a colonial capital, Calcutta was a place of cultural encounters, where Europeans like John met people from across the globe: Bell or Belinda, a “native of the kingdom of Bengal,” Armenian-Persian merchants, a Dutch partner named William Bolts, and John’s own future English wife, Elizabeth Carolina Keene. The dispute between John and Lord Clive, in Calcutta in the summer of 1765, was over the parameters of such encounters, specifically the regulation of the British officials' involvement in Indian commerce.

  • Cape Coast Castle, Guinea (present day Ghana)
    Cape Coast Castle, in present-day Ghana, was a site of a thriving slave trade and the place where Joseph Knight, the man whose case ended the law of Slavery in Britain, was first sold into servitude. Knight was bought by a trader, Captain Knight, who was on his way to Jamaica. Cape Coast Castle was a market for human beings, and for goods from around the globe. It was an emporium of "Patna Chints," "Cherriderries," "White Linnen," "Bejutapauts," and "Mohair Buttons." The family had another connection to the Cape Coast. One of their childhood neighbors and continuing friends, Gilbert Petrie, became its governor. He sent James the present of an "Animal," in remembrance of earlier services and he visited James in Norfolk, where they discussed the effect of "Semiruta in Putrid Fevers."

  • Stables of Alva House Ruins of Alva House Johnstone Mausoleum, Alva Kirkyard
    Alva: After fifteen years in India and four in London, John wrote to his brother that "I own it is my wish to fix my wandering feet on some speck of Earth I could call my own." He rented a house near Balgonie for two years, and in 1772 he bought an estate at Alva, nestled in the Ochil Hills of what is now Clackmannanshire. He stayed there for the rest of his life. At Alva, he commissioned an extraordinary project of classical estate buildings, which were never built: "a circular court 100 feet across. In the centre is a round dung hill. Over the dung hill there is a round pigeon house that supports a short octagonal turret with a pyramidal roof. The court is surrounded by eight 2-storey blocks with pyramidal roofs," and eight 1-storey blocks, including "a brewhouse, a poultry house, a dairy, a wash house, a laundry, a slaughter room, coach houses, a cart shed, stables, a cow house, a carpenter's shop and a smith's shop." In the returns for taxes on servants, John declared four female servants, and six male servants, including a butler, a valet and a coachman. His wife Elizabeth Carolina died at Alva in 1778, leaving a young son and daughter. His own happiness, John wrote to James Balmain, was placed "more on the Social pleasures under my Own Roof than in Any I have yet found to depend on Externals." After Elizabeth Carolina's death, John commissioned an edifice that was built: a mausoleum designed by the noted Scottish architect Robert Adam.

  • Bridge near which Bell or Belinda's child was found
    Balgonie: After living in London, John moved back to Scotland, renting a mansion near the ancient castle of Balgonie in Fife. There, he lived with his family and with one male servant and three women servants, in addition to Bell or Belinda. Balgonie was only an afternoon's walk from the home of Adam Smith in Kirkaldy, and John and Smith were almost certainly acquainted at that time. It was in Balgonie that the drama of Bell or Belinda unfolded in 1771. Bell or Belinda's dead son was found in the river Leven, not far from John and Elizabeth Carolina's house. Over the course of Bell or Belinda's trial in Cupar, and then in Perth, the household at Balgonie was turned upside-down. Eighteen witnesses were identified, six of them from the household of a neighbouring tenant, and four from the Johnstones' household, including "Molly a black girl, the slave or servant of John Johnstone." In the year after Bell or Belinda was sent to America, John and Elizabeth Carolina moved away to their own estate at Alva, returning only "to pack up our Baggage, & bid adieu to the old Castle."

  • Pensacola Harbor Martha's Vineyard Mid 18th Century View Of Quebec Photograph: Mid 18th Century View Of Quebec, Everett
    North America: The American colonies played an important, if shifting role in the lives of the Johnstones. Alexander, George and Gideon all came to America in the service of the crown. During the American War of Independence, Gideon served as a naval officer in New York, off Plymouth Sound, and off the island of Nantucket. Alexander spent several unhappy years in the army in Canada and what was later upstate New York. George was the British governor of West Florida, stationed in Pensacola during the 1760s. William, too, though never a visitor, bought the so-called Genesee tract, some 1,300,000 acres in New York, and became one of America's largest landowners. The Johnstones were in contact with many different Americans. Barbara's daughter married Edmund Dana, an American medical student from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and George, originally a supporter of the re8olution, was in contact with Thomas Gage and Thomas Hutchinson, royal governors of Massachusetts. George also served on the Carlisle Commission, an ill-fated attempt to negotiate peace with the belligerent colonies. Alexander Hamilton was involved with in William's land purchases in New York, and former American vice president Aaron Burr visited Betty in Edinburgh, an event of which he wrote "Asked into Mrs J's room. Pretty place; view of the Forth."