Samuel Johnston

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Samuel Johnston
Samuel Johnston - Governeur von Nord Karolina.jpg
United States Senator
from North Carolina
In office
November 26, 1789 – March 4, 1793
Preceded byNone
Succeeded byAlexander Martin
6th Governor of North Carolina
In office
December 20, 1787 – December 17, 1789
Preceded byRichard Caswell
Succeeded byAlexander Martin
1st and 3rd Grand Master of the
Masons of North Carolina
In office
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byRichard Caswell
In office
Preceded byRichard Caswell
Succeeded byWilliam Richardson Davie
Acting Governor of North Carolina
In office
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byJosiah Martin
Succeeded byRichard Caswell
Personal details
Born(1733-12-15)December 15, 1733
Dundee, Scotland, Kingdom of Great Britain
DiedAugust 17, 1816(1816-08-17) (aged 82)
Edenton, North Carolina, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
RelationsGabriel Johnston (brother)

Samuel Johnston (December 15, 1733 – August 17, 1816) was an American planter, lawyer, Grand Master of Freemasons, enslaver,[1] and statesman from Chowan County, North Carolina. He represented North Carolina in both the Continental Congress and the United States Senate, and he was the sixth Governor of North Carolina.

Early life and revolutionary politics[edit]

Johnston was born in Dundee, Scotland in the Kingdom of Great Britain, but came to America when his father, Samuel Sr., moved to Onslow County, North Carolina, in 1736. Samuel Sr. became surveyor-general of the colony where his brother, Gabriel Johnston, was governor.[2] Young Samuel was educated in New England, then read law in Carolina. He moved to Chowan County and started a plantation known as Hayes near Edenton.

Johnston was admitted to the bar and began a law practice in Edenton. In 1759, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Burgesses and served in that body until it was displaced in 1775 during the American Revolution. During North Carolina's War of the Regulation in December 1770, he introduced the anti-Regulators bill was later passed as the Johnston Riot Act in response to the September 1770 Hillsborough Riot and to later reports of a planned Regulator march upon the provincial capital, New Bern, which ultimately did not occur. The passage of the Johnston Riot Act and others precipitated an even more significant enlargement of the Regulator movement and forced Royal Governor Tryon to call out the provincial militia, which culminated in the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771.[2][3][4] As a strong supporter of independence, he was also elected as a delegate to the first four provincial congresses and presided over the Third and Fourth congresses in 1775 and 1776.[5] After Royal Governor Josiah Martin abdicated in 1775, he was the highest-ranking official in the state until Richard Caswell was elected president of the Fifth Provincial Congress.[6]

Johnston is frequently cited as having served in the North Carolina Senate in 1779, but that is not confirmed in Senate Journals. He may have been elected, but he certainly did not attend. In Johnston's own words, after 1777, "...had nothing to do with public business..." during the Revolution.[citation needed][7] Under the new state government, Johnston was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1783 and 1784.

Johnson was the first Grand Master of Freemasons for the State of North Carolina, voted into office on 11 Dec 1787 to revive Masonic activities that had been defunct after breaking away from England. There had only been Deputy Grand Master until he was elected Grand Master. He would be elected Grand Master again in 1789-1791.[8]

Election as president[edit]

North Carolina sent Johnston as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781. Johnston was elected the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation, but he declined the office. This was reported[9] on July 10, 1781:

Mr. [Samuel] Johnston having declined to accept the office of President, and offered such reasons as were satisfactory, the House proceeded to another election; and, the ballots being taken, the hon. Thomas McKean was elected.[9]

Later career and death[edit]

Johnston served as Governor of North Carolina from 1787 to 1789. He presided over both conventions called to ratify the US Constitution. The one in 1788 rejected the Constitution despite Johnston's strong support. He called another convention in 1789, which decided on ratification. Johnston then resigned as governor to become one of the state's first two US Senators and served from 1789 to 1793. In 1800, he was made a Judge in the Superior Court of North Carolina, an office he held until his retirement in 1803.

Johnston died at his home, Hayes Plantation, near Edenton, in Chowan County; he purchased the house from David Rieusett in 1765 and lived there until 1793 when he moved to the Hermitage, a plantation in Martin County.[10] The 1790 Census shows that he enslaved 96 people at Hayes Plantation.[11] In 1816 he was buried in the Johnston Burial Ground there. The plantation house is privately owned but was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. It is now within Edenton, but the current house was completed by his son, James Cathcart Johnston, a year after Samuel's death.


Samuel Johnston's collection of books, which he bequeathed to his son James, is preserved in a full-scale replication of Hayes Plantation's library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The octagon-shaped historic room is on permanent exhibit in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Bair, Anna Withers (1988). "Samuel Johnston". NCPedia.
  3. ^ Howard, Joshua B. (October 2009). "The Battle of Alamance: A Reanalysis of the Historical and Documentary Records". North Carolina Division of Archives and History Report (Revised Ed.): 4–5.
  4. ^ Kars, Marjoleine (2002). Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 187–191. ISBN 978-0807849996.
  5. ^ Connor, Robert (ed.). "A Manual of North Carolina Issued by the North Carolina Historical Commission for the Use of Members of the General Assembly Session 1913". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved November 4, 2008.
  6. ^ Lewis, J.D. "Royal Colony of North Carolina, 27th House of Burgesses". Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  7. ^ Samuel Johnston to William McCormick, August 1: 1783 Audit Office 13/121/5
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b USCA Journals, America's Four Republics: The More or Less United States. 2d Edition, June 2018
  10. ^
  11. ^

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. senator (Class 3) from North Carolina
November 26, 1789 – March 4, 1793
Served alongside: Benjamin Hawkins
Succeeded by