Born in Omagh, Ireland in 1789, Hugh Johnston was the son of William and Isabella (Jones) Johnston. In 1801, William Johnston died and twelve-year-old Hugh was apprenticed to learn the grocery business with a relative named Greer.
When Hugh was 21 years old he married Mary Bell. Mary had been previously engaged to a wealthy, but much older, man. When her parents heard of the elopement, her father came looking for them at the home of Hugh's older sister. They had been married by an itinerant preacher and her father threatened to have the marriage annulled. His friend, Sir John Stewart, however, convinced him to have them "properly" married by a Church of Ireland clergyman instead.
With the assistance of Mr. Bell and Sir John Stewart, Hugh Johnston bought out Greer's business and over the years he expanded it to include a bakery, mail coaches and an agency for a line of ships.
The family also grew, with 13 children being born to the couple in Ireland. Since most of them were boys, Hugh Johnston began to talk of immigrating to North America where he could get grants of land for his sons. Thus, Hugh and Mary Johnston and their family left Omagh on Easter Sunday of 1831 to settle in Canada West.
The family, plus their servants, numbered 20 people who left Ireland and, after 6 weeks at sea, they arrived in New York. After a week there, they moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake. They remained there a year, during which time Mary gave birth to another son. They purchased a home in London and lived there for many years until tales of the wonders of the St. Clair River area came to them from the Talfourds. Hugh Johnston thus visited the area and with the assistance of an earlier settler, Mr. Gurd, located a suitable farm to purchase on the front concession. It was sold to him by a couple by the name of Smith who wished to return to New York State where their families lived. The farm consisted of a 4-room house, log barn, stable, hen house and wharf, plus an orchard and a sugar bush. Hugh Johnston arranged to have an addition of 4 more bedrooms plus a new kitchen and pantry added onto the house before leaving for London to move his family.
Mary Johnston died in February of 1862, six months after their 50th wedding anniversary. Hugh Johnston died in 1866 and was also buried in Sutherland's cemetery, between Courtright and Mooretown.
As adults, Hugh and Mary's children developed interesting careers and their marriages connected them to other well-known families of early Moore. They may serve as the subjects of future "Personalities of Moore" columns.
Lambton Centennial Series, No. 6 to 13, by Jacqueline James Johnston