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Texas History ~ Founders of Liberty: Hugh Blair Johnston

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Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 5:09 pm

Hugh Blair Johnston (1794-1850) was born in Georgia in 1794. He moved to Wilkinson County, Mississippi, purchasing land, raising stock, and planting cotton.

Amite County, established in 1809 from Wilkinson, was the fifth county formed in the Mississippi with the legislature naming the town of Liberty. Johnston who married Martha White in 1823 became well known there.

Due to its location, Amite County was a starting place for the trek to Texas. William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, Gail Borden and others left from Liberty, Missippi for Texas to secure land grants that included thousands of acres for a large family.

In 1825 Johnston and his father-in-law, Mathew G. White, led a number of families to the Atascosito District of Texas, where in 1827 he claimed a league of land along the east bank of the Trinity River north of the George Orr League and Atascosito. He was a carpenter, farmer, and stock raiser, one of the early cattlemen of Southeast Texas.

Proving his loyalty to his new country, Johnston served as captain in a military company that helped put down the Fredonian Rebellion of Dec. 21, 1826 in Nacogdoches. Johnston marched with Stephen F. Austin and Peter Ellis Bean in this action arriving in Nacogdoches on January 31, 1827. The revolutionists gave up without much of a fight, fleeing across the Sabine River into Louisiana.

George Orr, Hugh B. Johnston, Mathew G. White and others petitioned to be included in Stephen F. Austin's colony, but because they were outside the boundaries, Austin denied their petition.

Mexican Land Commissioner Joes Francisco Madero opened his office in the settlement and on May 5, 1831, granted thirty-six land titles there including Johnston's petition, thus forming a new municipality, Villa de la Santísima Trinidad de la Libertad.

The new municipality included a four-league grant, south of Atascosito and south of the Atascosito Road, with the town being on the east side of the Trinity River.

It is thought that Johnston and White suggested the name of Liberty after their former hometown of Liberty, Mississippi.

Hugh B. Johnston became the first alcalde of the new municipality, the most important official in the Spanish municipality. He served as the chief executive, as the judge and as the head of the Ayuntamiento, the town council. In practice Alcalde Johnston handled most judicial matters, civil and criminal, occurring within the limits of his jurisdiction.

Johnston always seemed to be involved in Texas politics. When the Anahuac military commander, Juan Davis Bradburn, dissolved the Liberty Municipality in Dec. 1831, Johnston and others fought it. He signed the Turtle Bayou Resolutions on June 13, 1832, the first declaration for independence from the Mexican Centralists that was addressed to Colonel Jose Antonio Mexia.

Col. José de las Piedras marched from Nacogdoches, meeting with the Anglo insurgents and agreed with their demands. He reinstated the Liberty Municipality and removed Bradburn from office.

Johnston was a member of the Consultation in 1835 and served on its General Council, which elected him to the committee to organize the Liberty militia.

The Consultation of 1835 was the starting point for the independence movement that created the Republic of Texas on December 2, 1836. Under the leadership of Branch T. Archer, another Liberty resident, fifty-eight members representing almost all of Texas except for the war zone of Bexar, Goliad, Refugio, Victoria or San Patrico, met to discuss their options for action, from military organization to the compromises proposed by the peace party.

Composed of one member from each municipality, the General Council governed Texas between the Consultation's adjournment on November 14, 1835, and the opening of the Convention of 1836 on March 1.

During the Texas Revolution, Johnston served in the local guard and continued his political activity after the war by serving as a Liberty County justice of the peace, 1836-1837, and as one of two members of the county board of land commissioners. This board, working for the Texas General Land Office, tried to eliminate all fraudulent land claims and insure the legitimate ones were honored.

In 1838 Liberty residents elected him representative to the Third Congress of the Republic of Texas. Hugh B. Johnston and his brother-in-law, James B. Woods, opposed each other for the position.

During the campaign, Johnston's supporters charged that Woods was intemperate and was a friend of the infamous Thomas D. Yocum, a man some considered the worst outlaw of Southeast Texas. It was not recorded what Woods said about his brother-in-law.

After serving as Liberty County Judge in 1839, Johnston retired from public life even though his popularity as a candidate continued. He declined a Texas State Senate nomination in 1847.

By 1840 Hugh B. Johnston had title to more than 4,000 acres of land and owned 6 slaves. On the tax roll he claimed 150 cattle and 2 horses.

Martha White, his wife, no doubt played a big role in Johnston's political and economical success. She managed the home front when Johnston was gone from Liberty. She enjoyed living in Liberty, being near her parents and siblings.

The Johnston's had nine children, seven that lived to adulthood. They were Mathew Hale (1845-1884), Elam (died in 1861 at Manassas), Alexander W., Mary, LeAnna, Sam Houston (1847) and Ellen (1836-1858). Sam Houston Johnston was named for the general who was a good family friend.

In 1956 the Liberty Bicentennial celebration erected a monument at his old home tract. The marker was located by two of his direct descendants, surveyor Ross Gerald Partlow and Bill Daniel, then chairman of the Liberty Bicentennial Commission. Johnston's descendants still live in Liberty and Harris County, many of them becoming prominent in their own field, including Texas Governor Price Daniel.

The Hugh B. Johnston Chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas continues to meet and recently, direct descendants, Michael Hale Johnston, H. Dan Johnston and Dozier Partlow, have served as chapter presidents.

Sources: Miriam Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County, and the Atascosito District (Austin: Pemberton, 1974). Handbook of Texas Online, Robert Wooster's article in the Handbook of Texas Online, Howard Brister's online genealogy, and the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Liberty.


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