Journal into the Past

"Dear Diary…" Many girls write these words everyday. Would it surprise you to know that girls have done this for centuries? It is one of the best ways to find out about your own grandmother and great-grandmother’s lives. Ask your grandmother if she kept a diary when she was a young girl. If your great-grandmother is still living, ask her, too. Many times such books are thrown away when a person dies. That means a lot of history is lost. Many years ago there were no "diaries" to go to the store and buy. Instead, girls would take any book they could, often it was just a simple notebook or tablet, and would write their thoughts and feelings. These were called journals. Another thing girls did was make scrapbooks. They would cut out interesting newspaper articles, often about relatives or people they knew, and paste them into blank books. Other times they would put ads from magazines or a printed program from a movie they saw.

Does your grandmother have an attic? If you can get up there and dig a little, you might find such treasures as these. Many older people kept letters and Christmas cards. Most grandmothers love to talk about their childhood. Abigail Adams, wife of the second president of the United States, John Adams, was almost as famous as her husband. She was born in 1744 and died in 1818. She wrote many letters to her husband and they have been published in a book, which is in most public libraries even today.

The following are a few excerpts from a book titled, Affectionately Rachel, letters from India, 1860-1884. These letters actually began while Rachel attended the female seminary in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio from the school term 1855 to 1857. The following entries can show all of us the power in the written word and the budding of a young love!

Introduction to the letters- {When all was ready, Rachel Kerr, from Hookstown, Green Twp. PA, age eighteen, left her snug home and community, crossed the Ohio River, and began a boarding-student life. Her first letter was a formal letter laden with elaborate expressions of gratitude and was signed with her proper first name}. Seminary Hall, Feb. 22nd, 1856 My Dear Mother… in writing to the dearest and best of Mothers. For who so kind, so patient and indulgent to our faults, our failings, and youthful follies, as she who has watched over us in our infancy and more mature years. No other earthly friend can supply the place of a kind and loving father and mother. May I be enabled to appreciate this blessing I enjoy, and may I never cause those hearts a painful thought who have given me the opportunity of improving my mind in the enjoyment of so many advantages… Your loving and affectionate Daughter, Rachel. Steubenville Female Seminary, Nov 7th, 1856, Dear Brother… I have a very nice room, nicely carpeted, with a stove and every convenience. Last, but not least of all, my roommate is a very pleasant one as far as present experiences goes. Her name is Porr (Sepora Porter))…We got to Steubenville about 8 o’clock same evening. Jennie McCullough is not coming back but Lib Miller and Nora Bell from Pugh Town are here now. We have only heard a rumor that "Buck" is elected- after all our trouble, convention, etc. {"Buck" was a nickname for James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, the successful Democratic candidate for President in 1856. The Kerr family was active in the new Republication party}. Rachel writes about her siblings’ teacher back home and asks if the children are flourishing in school. At home teaching her younger siblings would be Rachel’s future husband, William F. Johnson (the "t" was removed in Johnston by William’s uncles and aunts in his youth. More about Will’s ancestors below).

January 6, 1857, Steubenville Female Seminary, My Dear Brother (Sam) …but now we must all settle our brains down for the rest of the winter, with a better motive than merely to pass the time… I guess I enjoyed the first sleighing this year, jolting over the clods in Mr. Johnson’s sled the eve I went home. (Mr. Johnson refers to her future husband again)…Samuel, cant you slip down someday and give me a sleigh ride to comfort me. For we are all looking very wishfully at the sleighs as they go by with the merry-bells keeping music to the times. For I know I would be quite ready to draw down my bonnet over my face and say, "Here am I, Take me." Thursday eve, Feb 5, 1857, Dear Brother Sam… It is 6 weeks from yesterday until our examination… but "the wars will soon be o’er and I’ll go home." Your loving Sister, Rach…Saturday eve, February 28th, 1857 Female Seminary, Dear Brother Sam… This week one of our class was expelled- Miss Semple…She would have graduated in 4 more weeks. I pity her, tho the fault was her own. There are only 12 of us left. I have been having a good time with a toothache for a week or two and had my tooth extracted by the dentist.

{The Beatty’s, who ran the Steubenville Seminary, took a personal interest in their students. They assumed a parental role, as evidenced in the following letter that Mrs. Beatty wrote to Rachel’s mother}. Steubenville, July 19th, 1857, Mrs. Kerr Dear Madam, I write to inform you that your daughter has the measles and so she has not been able to write. They first made their appearance a week ago. On Sabbath morning she went to church as usual. In the afternoon she came to me sayin she has some pimples on her face, but does not feel well. In a short time they began to extend over her arms and body. I saw she was very sick. She had in addition her tooth ache and pain in her face. She is much better and getting along well as might be expected. We have a good nurse and physician. The nursery is warm and comfortable. The matron is a good nurse and I see your daughter several times a day.

More about William (Will) F. Johns(t)on
{First mentioned in Rachel’s letters from the seminary}. Will’s ancestors came to America around 1770. They left Scotland because of religious persecution under James II, moved on to Ireland, then to America. The Presbyterian roots of Will’s proud Scotch-Irish forefathers ran deep. Will’s paternal grandfather, Richard, was nine years old when the six Johnston children set out from Northern Ireland for America with their parents. Sadly, both parents died on shipboard and were buried at sea leaving their children to face the New World as orphans. The children arrived and set up housekeeping together in the state of Delaware. Three of the children married before the end of the Revolutionary War.
In the spring of 1791, the married Johnston families along with the three youngest siblings not married, crossed over the mountains and settled in Washington County, PA, near Canonsburg. Their settlement was about thirty miles southeast of Hookstown. They joined the Chartiers Presbyterian Church and became a vital part of the pioneering fabric of North Straban Twp. community.

Richard Johnston and his wife, Jane, created a farm home for their family of thirteen children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. Among those nine was William (Will’s father). Will’s father left farming to others and became a medical doctor. Following his training, the young doctor and his bride, Elizabeth, crossed a few more hills and the Ohio River to establish their home and begin his medical practice in Cadiz, Harrison County, Ohio. In December 1838, when young Will was only nine months old, his father, Richard died of "pulmonary consumption" at the age of thirty five, leaving Elizabethwith five children, ages nine months to eleven years.

The young widow returned to the family circle in Washington, PA. But times were hard, and four years after her husband’s death Elizabeth died also, family records suggesting that her heart was broken.

After the death of their parents, each of William and Elizabeth’s children was chosen to be raised by a different aunt or uncle. Will, the youngest, at four years of age, went to live with his Uncle David, Aunt Jane, and eventually three younger Johnson cousins on a farm outside of Steubenville, Ohio. He lived on the farm until he returned to PA to attend Jefferson College in Canonsburg, PA. After graduation in 1856, at age eighteen, Will took a teaching position in Rachel’s hometown of Hookstown, PA.

In Hookstown, the attractive teaching newcomer, Will and the vibrant young woman who went away to school to become a teacher, undoubtedly heard a great deal about each other from mutual friends. After a proper introduction, they participated in a series of formal and informal social events and continued exchanging letters.

Rachel’s light-hearted letters to her brother Sam spoke of going sleighing with Mr. Johnson the evening she arrived home for Christmas vacation. Their discreet courtship continued through personal letters. Rachel never mentioned Mr. Johnson in letters to her parents, but did refer to him in her letters to her brother Sam. As their love bloomed, Rachel’s and Will’s stories joined into one!


KERR LETTERS
While attending the Female Seminary, Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio
 

The following are a few excerpts from a book titled, Affectionately Rachel, letters from India, 1860-1884. These letters actually began while Rachel attended the female seminary in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio from the school term 1855 to 1857. The following entries can show all of us the power in the written word and the budding of a young love! 

     Introduction to the letters- {When all was ready, Rachel Kerr, from Hookstown, Green Twp. PA, age eighteen, left her snug home and community, crossed the Ohio River, and began a boarding-student life. Her first letter was a formal letter laden with elaborate expressions of gratitude and was signed with her proper first name}. Seminary Hall, Feb. 22nd, 1856 My Dear Mother… in writing to the dearest and best of Mothers. For who so kind, so patient and indulgent to our faults, our failings, and youthful follies, as she who has watched over us in our infancy and more mature years. No other earthly friend can supply the place of a kind and loving father and mother. May I be enabled to appreciate this blessing I enjoy, and may I never cause those hearts a painful thought who have given me the opportunity of improving my mind in the enjoyment of so many advantages… Your loving and affectionate Daughter, Rachel.  Steubenville Female Seminary, Nov 7th, 1856, Dear Brother… I have a very nice room, nicely carpeted, with a stove and every convenience. Last, but not least of all, my roommate is a very pleasant one as far as present experiences goes. Her name is Porr (Sepora Porter))…We got to Steubenville about 8 o’clock same evening.  Jennie McCullough is not coming back but Lib Miller and Nora Bell from Pugh Town are here now. We have only heard a rumor that “Buck” is elected- after all our trouble, convention, etc. {“Buck” was a nickname for James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, the successful Democratic candidate for President in 1856. The Kerr family was active in the new Republication party}. Rachel writes about her siblings’ teacher back home and asks if the children are flourishing in school.  At home teaching her younger siblings would be Rachel’s future husband, William F. Johnson (the “t” was removed in Johnston by William’s uncles and aunts in his youth.  More about Will’s ancestors below).

     January 6, 1857, Steubenville Female Seminary, My Dear Brother (Sam) …but now we must all settle our brains down for the rest of the winter, with a better motive than merely to pass the time… I guess I enjoyed the first sleighing this year, jolting over the clods in Mr. Johnson’s sled the eve I went home. (Mr. Johnson refers to her future husband again)…Samuel, cant you slip down someday and give me a sleigh ride to comfort me. For we are all looking very wishfully at the sleighs as they go by with the merry-bells keeping music to the times. For I know I would be quite ready to draw down my bonnet over my face and say, “Here am I, Take me.” Thursday eve, Feb 5, 1857, Dear Brother Sam… It is 6 weeks from yesterday until our examination… but “the wars will soon be o’er and I’ll go home.”  Your loving Sister, Rach…Saturday eve, February 28th, 1857 Female Seminary, Dear Brother Sam… This week one of our class was expelled- Miss Semple…She would have graduated in 4 more weeks. I pity her, tho the fault was her own. There are only 12 of us left. I have been having a good time with a toothache for a week or two and had my tooth extracted by the dentist.

     {The Beatty’s, who ran the Steubenville Seminary, took a personal interest in their students. They assumed a parental role, as evidenced in the following letter that Mrs. Beatty wrote to Rachel’s mother}. Steubenville, July 19th, 1857, Mrs. Kerr Dear Madam, I write to inform you that your daughter has the measles and so she has not been able to write. They first made their appearance a week ago. On Sabbath morning she went to church as usual. In the afternoon she came to me sayin she has some pimples on her face, but does not feel well. In a short time they began to extend over her arms and body. I saw she was very sick. She had in addition her tooth ache and pain in her face. She is much better and getting along well as might be expected. We have a good nurse and physician. The nursery is warm and comfortable. The matron is a good nurse and I see your daughter several times a day.

More about William (Will) F. Johns(t)on

     {First mentioned in Rachel’s letters from the seminary}. Will’s ancestors came to America around 1770. They left Scotland because of religious persecution under James II, moved on to Ireland, then to America. The Presbyterian roots of Will’s proud Scotch-Irish forefathers ran deep. Will’s paternal grandfather, Richard, was nine years old when the six Johnston children set out from Northern Ireland for America with their parents. Sadly, both parents died on shipboard and were buried at sea leaving their children to face the New World as orphans. The children arrived and set up housekeeping together in the state of Delaware. Three of the children married before the end of the Revolutionary War.

     
In the spring of 1791, the married Johnston families along with the three youngest siblings not married, crossed over the mountains and settled in Washington County, PA, near Canonsburg. Their settlement was about thirty miles southeast of Hookstown. They joined the Chartiers Presbyterian Church and became a vital part of the pioneering fabric of North Straban Twp. community.      
     

       Richard Johnston and his wife, Jane, created a farm home for their family of thirteen children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. Among those nine was William (Will’s father). Will’s father left farming to others and became a medical doctor. Following his training, the young doctor and his bride, Elizabeth, crossed a few more hills and the Ohio River to establish their home and begin his medical practice in Cadiz, Harrison County, Ohio. In December 1838, when young Will was only nine months old, his father, Richard died of “pulmonary consumption” at the age of thirty five, leaving Elizabeth with five children, ages nine months to eleven years.

     The young widow returned to the family circle in Washington, PA. But times were hard, and four years after her husband’s death Elizabeth died also, family records suggesting that her heart was broken.

     After the death of their parents, each of William and Elizabeth’s children was chosen to be raised by a different aunt or uncle. Will, the youngest, at four years of age, went to live with his Uncle David, Aunt Jane, and eventually three younger Johnson cousins on a farm outside of Steubenville, Ohio. He lived on the farm until he returned to PA to attend Jefferson College in Canonsburg, PA. After graduation in 1856, at age eighteen, Will took a teaching position in Rachel’s hometown of Hookstown, PA.

     In Hookstown, the attractive teaching newcomer, Will and the vibrant young woman who went away to school to become a teacher, undoubtedly heard a great deal about each other from mutual friends. After a proper introduction, they participated in a series of formal and informal social events and continued exchanging letters.

     Rachel’s light-hearted letters to her brother Sam spoke of going sleighing with Mr. Johnson the evening she arrived home for Christmas vacation. Their discreet courtship continued through personal letters. Rachel never mentioned Mr. Johnson in letters to her parents, but did refer to him in her letters to her brother Sam. As their love bloomed, Rachel’s and Will’s stories joined into one!

(Compiled by Flora L. VerStraten)