Zopher Johnston: Patriarch




SUBMITTED BY:  Stevie Hughes, stevie1302@aol.com

The Patriarch of the District 12 (Baileyton Road area) Johnson family was Zopher Johnston.  His year of birth is not known, but he was born sometime in the early 1700’s.  His name was carried forward by multiple generations over an unbroken, 200 year time span.  The last of his namesakes (who was born in Greene County in 1851) died in Macedonia,  Illinois in 1932.

By 1791, there were three “Zopher Johnstons” in Greene County. The family Patriarch, Zopher, who was born in the early 1700’s, is who we refer to as Zopher “The Elder”.  The original surname was Johnston, but is often spelled as “Johnson” in various records.  We have a first hand account of his name by Jane Brown Cooper in 1844, when, in her own hand, she phonetically spelled his name as “Zaffa Johnston”.  By 1840, the “T” had been dropped from the surname in most records.  By 1850, the “T” is completely gone, and the surname is Johnson.  This is the surname his descendants would carry in their future westward migrations into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

We first find the Patriarch, Zopher Johnston, in the 1730 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania tax list:  “Zopher and John Johnson, settled ten years”; thus, we know he was in the Colonies at least by the year 1720.  The timing coincides perfectly with the initial mass immigration of the Scots into the Colonies.  It is possible Zopher and John, came to the Colonies as young, indentured servants to a wealthy Quaker Family living in Philadelphia.  After their indenture was fully paid, they migrated westward.  This scenario is one theory.

The next “sighting” occurs in September 1761.  Again, both “Sopher” and John Johnston are once again in a Tax List, this time in Allen Township in Northampton County, PA.  We can now make some speculative assumptions.  Zopher and John appear to be brothers.  “Sopher” has 6 persons in his household, while John has 5.  We know “Sopher” is Zopher Johnston, the Patriarch of the District 12 Greene County Johnsons,  because in 1832 in Greene County TN his son, Zopher Johnston Senior, filed for a Revolutionary War Pension.  In this pension application, Zopher Senior stated he was born on the Forks of Delaware in Pennsylvania.  This area is in Northampton County, PA.  In 1832, Zopher Senior stated his age as 70 years old; thus, dating his birth in Northampton County about 1762.

Another twenty years will elapse before we are able to learn more about Zopher  Johnston, the Patriarch of the Greene County District 12 Johnson families.  During this twenty year interval (1761-82), like so many of the Scots, Zopher migrated south from Pennsylvania, down the Great Wagon Road  into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  It is uncertain if Zopher’s brother, John, came with him.  In 1782, we find only Zopher Johnston in Frederick County Virginia.  His “brother”, John, is not with him.  In the 1782 Frederick County Virginia Tax List, Zopher is listed with eight persons in his household.  Two of his sons reside next door in their separate households.  These sons are Moses and Zopher Johnston Senior, the Revolutionary War soldier who is buried at Kidwell Cemetery.  Both of these sons came to Greene County Tennessee with their father, Zopher, about 1790.  Residing next door to this Johnston Family in 1782 is the Jotham Brown Family.  Jotham Brown’s wife, Pheby, is believed to be a daughter of Zopher Johnston.  There is not yet specific documentation with which to make this claim with certainty.   Most of the Jotham Brown family members also migrated into Greene County Tennessee about 1805.

On November 17, 1790, Zopher Johnston, the Patriarch of the Greene County family, purchased 100 acres of land from the State of North Carolina, Grant #850, paying 50 shillings. The exact location of this land is not known; however, it was adjacent to land owned by William Hannah and Daniel “Britten”.   We know the original land purchase in Greene County was by the Father, Zopher, because of the 1791/92 Tax List.  In the Captain Tate Company, 1791/92 Tax List, both Zopher, the Father, and Zopher Senior, his son, are in the tax list.  The Father, Zopher, owned the 100 acres.  The son, Zopher Senior, is shown with no land and is taxed only as a poll.  A few years later, on August 8, 1795, another 100 acres of land was purchased on Grant # 1336.  This land was located at the Little Chuckey at Pigeon Creek, adjacent to the land owned by Frederick Hale and Henry Dunham (e.g. Dunham’s Fork in District 12).  On February 6, 1795, another 200 acres was purchased from Thomas McMeans.  The description of this acreage was Limestone Fork.  The 1795 land purchases, could be by either the Father, Zopher, or the son, Zopher Senior.  The next available tax list, that of Captain Gist’s Company in 1796, both Father and son, Zopher, own land, as does the son, Moses.

With the absence of census records until 1830, the annual Greene County Tax Lists begin to “tell the story” of Zopher  Johnston, the Patriarch of the Greene County families in District 12.  Zopher is first found in the Greene County Tax Lists in 1791/92, owning 100 acres of land.  He continues to be in the early Tax Lists up through 1798.  In 1791/2 the land was under Captain Tate’s District.  In 1796, the District was under Captain Joseph Gist.  By 1797, the area was under Captain John Harmon. In the 1798 listing of Captain John Harmon’s Company, Zopher is listed with 300 acres of land.  So, too, are his sons Zopher Senior (born c. 1762), who owned 150 acres, and Moses (born c. 1755), who owned 100 acres, all in the same District. 

Neither Zopher Johnston the Patriarch, nor either of his sons, are in the 1800 List.  This seems to imply the 1800 Tax List of Greene County is incomplete.  The Tax Lists for the years 1801-1804 are missing.  In the 1805 Tax List, only a Harrison Johnston (born 1780) is named.  Harrison is believed to be a much younger son of Zopher the Patriarch by a younger, second wife, Catherine Harrison (born 1753; died 1834).  The Tax Lists for the years 1806 through 1808 no longer exist.  By 1809, only Zopher Johnston Sr. (born c. 1762), the Revolutionary War Soldier buried at Kidwell Cemetery, remained in Greene County. 

Zopher Johnston, the family Patriarch, who brought his family from Virginia into Greene County Tennessee by 1790, most probably died in Greene County between 1800 and 1805.  He is clearly deceased by March 1809, when his son Harrison, was named in a lawsuit in Greene County as the Administrator of the Estate of Zopher Johnston, deceased. 

The known children of Zopher Johnston, the Patriarch of the Greene County District 12 Johnson families, and his first wife whose name is not known, include:

1.  Zopher Johnston Senior, born c. 1762 Forks of Delaware Pennsylvania; died c. 1836-39 in Greene County TN.  In the 1782 Frederick County Tax List, he had two persons in his household.   He and his young family came to Greene County with his Father about 1790.  Zopher Senior was a Revolutionary War soldier who received a pension in Greene County between 1832-1836.  He is the only son of Zopher “The Elder” who remained in Greene County.  He is buried in Kidwell Cemetery near Baileyton Road.  For more information on this family, please refer to the Zopher Johnston Senior Family of Greene County Tennessee.

2.  Moses, born c. 1755.  In the 1782 Tax List of Frederick County Virginia, Moses had six persons in his household.  From this, we presume, Moses was somewhat older than his brother, Zopher.  Moses was in Greene County through-out the 1790’s and into the early 1800’s.  He is found in the Greene County Court Records appointed to juries and road construction.  He is also found in the ledgers of Merchant, Robert Wyly.  Moses is not in the 1809 Greene County Tax List.  By 1813, it appears Moses had moved to adjacent Hawkins County.  He is named in a land deed on 10-20-1813 in Hawkins County, when a James Johnson purchased 200 acres of land adjacent to that of Moses Johnson.  One witness to the deed was William Stapleton, a known intermarried family member.   Moses is believed to also have named a son, Zopher.  This Zopher, born between 1800 – 1810, is in the 1830 Greene County Census with his young wife and two children,  living near Zopher Johnston Senior (born c. 1762), and his son, Zopher Johnston Junior (born 1791).  This is the only record where Zopher, son of Moses, appears in Greene County.   Another son of Moses is believed to be Moses Junior.  Moses Junior married on 3-23-1818 in Greene County to Polly Weston.  Zopher, son of Moses, and Moses Junior are not found in any Tax List or land deeds in Greene County.

3.  Joseph.  Joseph was named in his brother, Zopher Johnston Senior’s, Revolutionary War Pension application.    In 1832, Zopher Senior stated that he substituted for his brother, Joseph, in the Virginia Militia.   By 1787, Joseph had left Frederick County and was in Faquire County Virginia where his son, Zopher, was born.   Joseph and his family never came to Greene County (that is known).  Zopher, son of Joseph, migrated into Ohio, then into Indiana, by 1830.

4.  Pheby, born c. 1745.  In the 1782 Frederick County Tax List, the Father, Zopher, had eight people in his household, with his two sons, Moses and Zopher, residing next door.  Also residing next door is the Jotham Brown family.  Jotham’s wife, Pheby, is believed to be a daughter of Zopher Johnston, the Patriarch of the Greene County families.  In 1797 in Montgomery County Virginia, Pheby, wife of Jotham Brown, identified eleven children as her legal heirs.  Pheby and Jotham’s daughter, Jane, was born about 1765 in Virginia.  Jane Brown Cooper was age 85 in the 1850 Greene County Census.  This tells us three things:  (1)  Pheby, wife of Jotham Brown, was married on or about 1765.  (2)  Pheby’s year of birth can be estimated to about 1745; and (3) If Jane Brown Cooper was born in Virginia, then both the Jotham Brown and the Zopher Johnston families were in Virginia by 1765.  Most of  Pheby and Jotham Brown’s children came to Greene County by 1805.  For information on Phebe (Johnston??) and Jotham Brown, please refer to the Jotham Brown Family of Greene County Tennessee.

5.  Others???  It is virtually certain that Zopher Johnston, the Patriarch of the Greene County District 12 Johnson families, named a son, John.  This name carried forward in multiple generations of the Greene County family.  John, a son of Zopher, was possibly in Greene County in 1796.  A John Johnson appears with 200 acres of land in the 1796 Tax List of Captain Joseph Gist.  There is also an Abner Johnson, poll only, in this list.  This is the same tax list where the Father, Zopher, and his known sons Zopher Senior and Moses are also listed.  In the 1797 Tax List, both John and Abner Johnson are gone, but in their place is a William Johnson who now owned 200 acres of land.  In the 1798 Tax List William Johnson is now gone, but Abner Johnson has returned and he now owned 200 acres of land.   The 1798 Tax List is the last time John, William or Abner Johnson appear in this area of Greene County.  This gives rise to the possibility that more sons and/or grandsons of Zopher “The Elder’” were also in Greene County.

Zopher Johnston’s first wife died before 1780.  Zopher remarried to Catherine Harrison about that time.  There is only one known child by Zopher “The Elder” and his second wife, Catherine Harrison:

6.  Harrison, born 6-18-1780.  Harrison Johnston is named in a lawsuit brought before the  Greene County Courts in March 1809.  He was identified as the Administrator of the Estate of “Zopher Johnston, deceased”.   Previously, in the 1805 Tax List, Harrison is the only one of the Johnston family members who were in this Tax List.  It is probable that his Father, Zopher, was dead by 1805; and Zopher’s second wife and widow, Catherine Harrison, and her son, Harrison, were “legal” owners of the farm.  March 1809 is the last time Harrison can be documented in Greene County.   He is not in the 1809 Greene County Tax List.  He is also not found in the Marriage records.  Harrison and his mother, Catherine Harrison Johnson migrated to western Tennessee, settling in Madison County.  They are both buried in the Johnson Family Cemetery on their farm.  Catherine, born 9-13-1753, died on 5-22-1834.   On Harrison Johnson’s tombstone, he is identified as the son of Zopher and Catherine Johnson.  Harrison died on 6-3-1857.  A picture of their tombstones is at the website, www.johnsonfamilyhistory.org.

It is the opinion of the author of this paper, that the 1809 law suit over the Estate of Zopher Johnston was the division of the Father, Zopher’s, property among the heirs.  In the 1809 Greene County Tax List Zopher Johnston Sr. is shown for the first time with the 189 acre farm located at the Roaring Fork of Lick Creek.   The Roaring Fork farm would pass to Zopher Senior’s sons, John and Joseph, and later to his grandsons.  Moses Johnston is no longer in Greene County in 1809, nor is Harrison Johnston.

For further information on this Johnston/Johnson Family and their intermarried Greene County families please visit the Johnson Family website, www.johnsonfamilyhistory.org.

For persons with the Johnson/Johnston surname, a DNA project is available for the male descendants of the Zopher Johnston/Johnson Family.  Three proven male descendants of Zopher Johnston have DNA results available for comparison.  Two have the latest 37-marker test results.  This Johnson database is administered by Family Tree DNA.  The DNA results are also available at the family website.  We welcome more participants with the hope of identifying more male descendants of this family.



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