William R. Johnston, A Vintage Vignette

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William R. Johnston
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
July 19, 2014

William R. Johnston, first Mayor of Madison, was born about 1830 in the Madison area. His parents were William (born 1785 in Virginia) and Elizabeth (born 1790 in North Carolina) Johnston. The the senior William Johnston in 1827 purchased 80 acres of land west of Indian Creek Road and north of Old Monrovia Road. In 1831 he purchased 160 acres along the east side today's Slaughter Road, running from its intersection with Carter Road to a bit north of the Yancy Road intersection. This parcel had been the former residence of pioneer William East. The Johnston family was a neighbor of Richard Martin, father of George Washington Martin and Elijah Thomas Martin, all of whom figured prominently in the history of the town. This last Johnston parcel of land would have been where the first Madison mayor was raised on the family farm. The junior William Johnston with his wife Sarah were listed in the 1870 census as having children Elizabeth (age 10), William C. (age 5), and Maud (age 1). They also had a black female domestic servant named Emeline (age 15) living in their house at that time. William's occupation in the 1870 census was given as "retail dry goods merchant."

During his lifetime, William purchased four parcels of land in the Madison area. Two comprised just over an acre in combination, located on the west side of today's Sullivan Street. One of the other lots was a small parcel of 64 ft. X 33 ft. in the southwest corner of Madison's original platted Lot 16, where John W. Cosby had lived beside the lot of Theodorick and Jane Clay. This small southwestern corner of Lot 16 would soon afterward become called "The Post Office Lot." It was the location of the oldest post office building, depicted in many copies now displayed in the town and in historical books about Madison. Today that location includes the south end of Buttermilk Alley on the north side of Front Street. William's other lot in the old town center was original Lot 34, situated on the north of Arnett Street and east of Sullivan Street. This lot consisted of 0.85 acre, and it was most likely the site of William's actual residence. William must have passed away in July 1877 since his estate began probate proceedings on August 1 of that year, when he left his wife Seraphina and minor children to settle his estate. Before the end of September 1877 the estate was settled, with Probate Minute Book 17 on page 108 recording the exemptions for his widow and his minor children. The place of his burial is not yet known, but perhaps research into newspapers of that time will turn up such information.

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