George Johnstone

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George Johnstone
Born 1730
Died 1787
Spouse Charlotte Dee
Parents Sir James Johnstone and Barbara Murray
Children George Lindsay Johnstone
James Primrose Johnstone
Alexander Johnstone
Sophia Johnstone
John Lowther Johnstone

George Johnstone (1730-1787) was the first governor of British West Florida.

Early life & appointment[edit]

Johnstone was a son of Sir James Johnstone, 3rd Baronet of Westerhall, Dumfries, and his wife Barbara Murray, the oldest sister of the literary patron Patrick Murray. He was a younger brother of William Johnstone (later Pulteney).

He began his career at sea in the Merchant Navy, then entered the Royal Navy in 1746. Shortly after his promotion to Lieutenant in 1755, Johnstone was court martialed for "insubordination and disobedience" however, his record of gallantry in combat taken into account, he was given a reprimand in 1757. He was promoted Captain in 1762.

Johnstone was known for his pugnacious personality and a propensity for dueling. When the North Briton newspaper criticized his November 20, 1763 appointment to the West Florida governorship, Johnstone instigated a fistfight with the author.[1] He did not travel to the colony until late 1764, setting sail from Jamaica on September 21 and arriving in Pensacola on October 21. Surveyor general Elias Durnford traveled with him, as did Scottish writers James Macpherson and Archibald Campbell[2] and a regiment of Highlanders.


When Johnstone arrived in Pensacola, the military government was led at the time by Colonel William Taylor, under orders of General Thomas Gage (for whom Gage Hill was named), and he and Johnstone regularly quarreled on matters of authority.

Johnstone described the city as he found it:

An assembly of poor despicable huts, to the number of one hundred and twelve; but it has all the advantages which a sandy soil can afford, namely health, good water, a noble port, beautiful situations surrounding it, infinite communications by water, capable of easy communications by land, great plenty of fish, and excellent vegetables.[3]

Johnstone sent garrisons to the other West Florida forts, including Mobile's Fort Conde, which he renamed Fort Charlotte in honor of the Queen. Among Johnstone's other accomplishments was the 1765 "Congress of Pensacola," where he and Indian agent John Stuart met with Creek leaders to negotiate trade regulations. Johnstone was concerned about the effect of excessive competition on the trading economy, so he proposed a limit of one trader per 300 gunmen, the licenses to be determined by lottery. Johnstone and Stuart instituted a total of nineteen trade regulations with the Creeks, Chickasaws and Choctaws. Enforcement proved impossible, however, and the arrangement was deemed by one trader "a shameful farce on œconomy and good order" as the traders "notoriously violated every essential part of their instructions."[4]

Johnstone was convinced West Florida had the potential to become "the Emporium of the New World."[5] He was empowered to issue land grants "without fee or reward" to retired British officers who served in America, which proved an effective incentive for immigration.[6] However, improvement of the city went slowly, as the buildings needed regular maintenance, and disease claimed 119 lives in the course of just four months in 1765[3] — likely due to a ditch that had been dug around the existing Spanish presidio "with a view of making the fortification more respectable… [but] in fact, could answer no other purpose, than holding a quantity of stagnated water to empoison the little air that could find its way into the garrison."[7] Johnstone later compared Pensacola's lack of progress to Spanish developments in New Orleans:

To see the fortifications, churches, hospitals, and public buildings which are everywhere erecting in the Spanish dominions since the arrival of Don Antonio de Ulloa, whilst nothing is undertaken on our part, is extremely mortifying.[3]

While in Pensacola, Johnstone had a long-term relationship with Martha Ford, by whom he had the following illegitimate issue, all of whom he supported: George Lindsay Johnstone (later a member of Parliament), James Primrose Johnstone, Alexander Johnstone, and Sophia Johnstone. Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason visited Pensacola circa 1765 and wrote disparagingly of the relationship:

The Governour is a Single Person, keeps a Concubine, has a Child by her and the Infection rages, and is copied. Greatly is it to be lamented (on the Side of Virtue and Religion) that Immoral and reprobate Persons are sent out as Governours of Provinces, and more especially New, and to be cultivated Provinces. One such Person, at the beginning of Things does more Damage to the Nation, more Mischief to Mankind, more Hurt to Goodness than twenty Succeeding Him can repair.[8]

Later career[edit]

Johnstone was recalled from Pensacola in early 1767, leaving Lieutenant Governor Montfort Browne serving in an interim capacity for more than a year until the arrival of John Eliot.

Returning to England, he was elected to Parliament as MP of Appleby (1774-80), Lostwithiel (1780-84) and Ilchester (1786-87), taking an independent line. During his time in Parliament his conduct was criticized for "his shameless and scurrilous utterances" and in December 1770, after publicly insulting Lord George Germain for "cowardice in battle", he eventually fought Germain in a duel, although ending inconclusively.

Johnstone was a member of the Carlisle Peace Commission during the American Revolution, but was sent back to Britain in 1778 after members of the Second Continental Congress accused him of attempted bribery and refused to negotiate. During his time in America, he met up with his first cousin, Patrick Ferguson.

However, in exchange for politically supporting Lord Sandwich, Johnstone was given command of a naval squadron off the coast of Portugal in May 1779. Patrolling the South Atlantic, Johnstone met with moderate success capturing the French 44-gun frigate Artois before successfully defending against Vice Admiral Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez at the Battle of Porto Praya off the coast of Praia, Cape Verde on April 16, 1781. Although he planned to attack the Cape of Good Hope, he later decided on returning to England.

In 1782, Johnstone married Charlotte Dee, whom he had met while living in Lisbon. They had one son, John Lowther Johnstone (1783-1811). Following the war, Johnstone served as director of the East India Company for two years until his resignation due to poor health in 1785. (He was suffering from throat cancer.)

Johnstone died in 1787. His son John later succeeded his uncle William Johnstone Pulteney as 6th Baronet of Westerhall.

Other images[edit]


  1. Colon Cordon Calloway. The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  2. Kevin M. McCarthy. The Book lover's guide to Florida. Pineapple Press Inc., 1992.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 David F. Marley. Historic Cities of the Americas. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
  4. Kathryn E. Holland Braund. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815. University of Nevada Press, 2008.
  5. Robin F. A. Fabel. Bombast and Broadsides: The Lives of George Johnstone. University of Alabama Press, 1987.
  6. Robert Lowry and William H. McCardle. A History of Mississippi: From the Discovery of the Great River by Hernando DeSoto, Including the Earliest Settlement Made by the French Under Iberville, to the Death of Jefferson Davis. R. H. Henry & Co., 1891.
  7. Philip Pittman. The Present State of the European Settlements on the Mississippi. J. Nourse, 1770.
  8. Charles Woodmason and Richard J. Hooker. The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant. UNC Press, 1969.