|A note from Marla:
For those of you who know me, you know I have a small personal obsession by the name of
Abraham Robinson Johnston. I took my job in Robinson's boyhood home in Piqua, OH 7 years
ago this February. At the time I was hired to learn about, and communicate to the public, the
life of John Johnston, Federal Indian Agent 1775 -1861. In the course of reading John
Johnston's correspondence, available through the collections of the Cincinnati Historical
Society, the Paul Laurence Dunbar Special Collections, the Ohio Historical Society, and other
institutions, I 'met' the other members of his family, including his son, Robinson. Born
Abraham Robinson Johnston in 1815, he was the second son of John and Rachel Johnston of
Upper Piqua, OH. His elder brother Stephen had been born in 1803, and between the two
boys were five girls, four of which survived. Robinson, as the family called him, was a very
privileged young man. He was tutored by a well-known and respected doctor at Oxford, OH
and then went on to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father, as he put it
in his own letters, placed all his 'felicitations' in this talented and well-liked son. Unfortunately,
Robinson died at the age of 31on a California battlefield far away from his home, near an
Indian mission or village called San Pasqual. In this writer's humble opinion, it was a pointless
battle indicative of a war that should not have been fought; one motivated by greed and a
president's desire to make a reality of his personal vision of a country that went from 'sea to
shining sea'. As so often happens, the young men on the ground are the ones who pay the
price of old men's dreams of grandeur.
This is the first of a series of pages I intend to devote to telling Robinson's story from his birth
at Upper Piqua, OH to his death in California, and beyond. There is a mystery concerning this
young man's final resting place and we will explore that here as well.
So join me and come to know Robinson, or Abraham, or John, or Duke, or Rob - depending on
who you would have asked 160 odd years ago. Robinson had many nicknames, which tells us
something about him. He apparently loved to laugh, for he was known as a 'jovial six footer'.
He was also, apparently, a bit of a klutz. His friend Major Thomas Swords remarked to him in
a letter that - 'your usual ill luck has attended you.' He shot himself through the foot, lost some
of his toes, and broke his thigh bone at one point while ice skating. I hope by the time you
finish these pages you will feel you know him. New information will continue to be added as
There is no portrait definitely identified as Robinson, but we do have one image that just might
be him. It is a crayon portrait done in 1833. On the lower left-hand side of the image are the
words 'AR Johnston 1833'. As Robinson was an artist, this may simply be a drawing he did.
However, when you compare the features of the young blond man in the portrait with
Robinson's elder sister, Elizabeth, it becomes clear that this may be a self-portrait. The name
is written on it in such a way that it suggests AR Johnston is the subject.
Now, on to the Robinson I know....
Part Two: Boyhood and home
|Possible image of
Abraham Robinson Johnston,
age app. 18
Image courtesy of Kenneth Woodward, Ramona CA