George Johnston was the eldest son of Sarah (née McCarty) and George Johnston, Sr. The senior Johnston was a prominent attorney who had represented George Washington in legal matters, as well as serving together in the Virginia House of Burgesses.1 The younger Johnston received a good education, read law and, on March 12, 1770, established himself as an attorney in Loudoun County, Virginia.2 As the rift widened between Great Britain and her North American colonies, Johnston sided firmly with the rebellion. A loyalist observer once remarked of Johnston that “Independence seems to be his favorite Scheme…”3 He was appointed to the Loudoun County Committee of Correspondence on June 14, 1774,4 often serving as the body’s clerk.5 With the outbreak of armed conflict the following year, however, Johnston took up arms and was appointed a Captain in the 2nd Virginia Regiment on September 21, 1775.6 The unit spent the following year screening and skirmishing with crown military forces in the southern Tidewater region of Virginia and Johnston fought with his company at the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775.7
Due to his seniority and good standing, George Johnston was promoted to the rank of Major of the 5th Virginia Regiment on August 13, 1776, as the Virginia Line of the Continental Army grew.8 He joined his regiment in Pennsylvania several weeks later and, early in the morning of December 26, 1776, crossed the Delaware River with the Commander-in-Chief to rout the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey.9 With the departure of an aide in early January 1777, George Washington queried his military secretary, Robert Hanson Harrison, if “Majr Johnston would not, in your opinion, make a good Aid de Camp to me?.. If you think Mr Johnston will suit me…I should prefer him; & therefore beg that he may be sent hither immediately.”10 George Johnston accepted and was “appointed Aide-De-Camp to the Commander in Chief” in General Orders on January 20, 1777.11 His time as a member of the Commander- in-Chief’s military family was short-lived. After a brief illness, George Johnston passed away on May 29, 1777 at Morris Town, New Jersey, “much regretted” by his Countrymen.12
Samuel K. Fore
Harlan Crow Library
1. See, for example, "George Johnston to George Washington, January 8, 60," The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. VI, 4 September 1758 - 26 December 1760, ed. W.W. Abbot (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988), 382-284.
2. Loudon County, Virginia Order Book D, 1767-1770, p. 307.
3. Harold B. Gill, Jr. and George M. Curtis, eds., A Man Apart: The Journal of Nicholas Creswell, 1774-1781 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009), 106.
4. Brent Tarter, ed., Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. VI, Part Two: Independence and the Fifth Convention, 1776, A Documentary Record (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 733-1734.
5. Robert L. Scribner, ed., Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. III: The Breaking Storm and the Third Convention, 1775, A Documentary Record (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977), 171-173.
6. NARA M881, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, National Archives and Records Administration.
7. Robert L. Scribner and Brent Tarter, eds., Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. VI: The Time for Decision, 1776 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981), 251-252; George Johnston to Leven Powell, December 9, 1775, William Johnston Family Papers, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.
8. Worthington C. Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. VI, October 9-December 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), 864.
9. George Johnston to Leven Powell, December 12, 1776, and December 29, 1776, Leven Powell Papers, Library of Congress.
10. George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison, January 9, 1777, Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., ed., The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Vol. VIII, 6 January 1777-27 March 1777 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), 25-26.
11. General Orders, January 20, 1777, Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., ed., The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Vol. VIII, 6 January 1777-27 March 1777 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), 111.
12. Robert H. Harrison to Sarah McCarty Johnston Darrell, May 31, 1777, William JOhnston Family Ppaers, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress; Joseph Eggleston, letter, 1777, Manuscripts Accession number 11673, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville; Virginia Gazette, June 13, 1777 (no. 124), p. 3, c. 2.
Lefkowitz, Arthur S. George Washington’s Indispensable Men: The 32 Aides-de-Camp Who Helped Win American Independence. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2003.
Powell, Robert C. A Biographical Sketch of Col. Levein Powell, Including His Correspondence During the Revolutionary War. Alexandria: G. H. Ramey & Son, 1877.