Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John M. Johnston Collection, 1820-1939

Finding aid created by
Cheney J. Schopieray, June 2003, and Meg Hixon, June 2012

Summary Information
Title: John M. Johnston collection
Creator: Johnston family
Inclusive dates: 1820-1939
Bulk dates: 1820-1892
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
This collection contains 65 letters, financial records, and legal documents related to John M. Johnston, a Native American language interpreter who lived in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and to Native Americans in Michigan during the 19th century. Henry R. Schoolcraft and Ramsay Crooks contributed letters and documents to the collection.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2805.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

John M. Johnston Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


John McDouall Johnston was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on October 12, 1816, the son of John Johnston (1762-1827) and his wife, an Ojibwa woman baptized as "Susan." He had at least four siblings: Eliza, Charlotte, Anna, and William. After briefly attending the Lowville Academy in New York as a teenager, Johnston returned to Sault Ste. Marie, where he became an interpreter of Native American languages. He served as a translator for Henry Schoolcraft and Major W. V. Cobbs, and on official military projects. Johnston also served as the United States farmer at the Indian agency at Grand Traverse Bay, as Chippewa County inspector of fish, and as a notary public. He received a quartermaster's commission in the Michigan State Militia's 16th Regiment in 1843, and eventually rose to the rank of major. He married Justine Piquette (1816-1913) in 1842, and had nine children: Spencer, Anna, Charlotte, Eliza, James, Antony, Howard, Henry, and William. John M. Johnston died on February 14, 1895.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection contains 65 items related to John M. Johnston, a Native American language interpreter from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and to the history of Native Americans in Michigan during the 19th century. Included are 21 letters, 32 documents, and 12 notes and other items; most material is dated between 1820 and 1892.

John M. Johnston received personal letters from family members throughout the 19th century, including a letter from his sisters written during his time at school in New York (1831) and a letter his brother William wrote about the death of his son in the Civil War (January 23, 1863). Other items directly related to the Johnston family include 5 appointments for military positions in the 16th Regiment, Michigan State Militia; Eliza Johnston's stock certificates for the St. Joseph Manufacturing Company; an early receipt addressed to Johnston's father in Dublin, Ireland; and items regarding the division of John and Susan Johnston's property following their deaths. Also included are a printed proclamation of the United States' declaration of war on Mexico, May 13, 1846; a picture postcard of the Johnston family home in Sault Ste. Marie; and manuscript notes on the Johnston family.

The bulk of the remaining material directly concerns Native Americans in Michigan, particularly the Ojibwa (Chippewa) tribe, including 7 letters from Henry Schoolcraft to Johnston and Major W. V. Cobbs, 1835-1844; 4 letters by American Fur Company president Ramsay Crooks, 1835 and 1839; a document signed with the marks of 10 Native Americans regarding hunting and fishing rights and white persons trespassing on their lands, October 2, 1837; a letter from five natives, July 1839; one temperance pledge signed by 46 persons at the Point Iroquois Mission, October 20, 1877, with another blank, partially printed pledge; and additional items related to the economic relationship between European settlers and Native Americans in the Upper Peninsula.

Subject Terms

    • American Fur Company.
    • Decedents' estates.
    • Indians of North America--Michigan.
    • Johnston, John McDouall, 1816-1895.
    • Michigan--History.
    • Michigan. Militia. Regiment, 16th.
    • Ojibwa Indians--Government relations.
    • Ojibwa Indians--History.
    • Ojibwa language.
    • Ord, James.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Sault Sainte Marie (Mich.)
    • Crooks, Ramsay, 1787-1859.
    • Felch, Alpheus, 1804-1896.
    • Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1  
    John M. Johnston collection [series]
    Folders   1-7  
     May 18, 1820-November 27, 1939, and  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The American Fur Company collection holds a letter by John M. Johnston's father: January 26, 1811.


    Memorial Record of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1895.