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Historic Diaries: James Doty, 1820

June 15, 1820: Schoolcraft Meets His Future Wife

Editor's Note:

About 1790, fur trader John Johnston arrived at LaPointe, Wis., on Madeline Island, where he married a young Indian woman whom surviving records call Susan, the daughter of Ojibwe chief Waubejeeg (White-fisher). After her father's death in 1793, the Johnstons moved to the Sault, where their family was known for its intelligence, polished manners, and hospitality. Johnston was Irish and sent his mixed-race children home to his native country to be educated. Schoolcraft described the family this way:

"Although now absent on a visit to Europe, his family received us with marked urbanity and hospitality, and invited the gentlemen composing the travelling family of Governor Cass to take all our meals with them. Everything at this mansion was done with ceremonious attention to the highest rules of English social life; Miss Jane, the eldest daughter, who had received her education in Ireland, presiding."

Jane Johnston's Ojibwe name was Obahbahmwawageezhagoquay, meaning "The Sound That Stars Make Rushing through the Sky." She was 20 years old at the time of the expedition's visit and had already traveled to London, Dublin, and Liverpool. Two years later Schoolcraft was appointed U.S. Indian agent at the Sault, and in 1823 he and Jane were married. Much of the information about American Indian life contained in his well-known books was in fact derived from her and her mother, and Jane played an active role in their production. In his famous book Hiawatha, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took many details from Schoolcraft's writings, carrying the Johnston family's Ojibwe heritage anonymously into millions of American schoolrooms over the next century.

Schoolcraft made this picture of Sault St. Marie for the 1832 edition of his journal.

Location: Sault St. Marie, Mich.

View original page in Schoolcraft's 1821 Narrative

[Doty did not write in his journal this day, so we have inserted excerpts from Schoolcraft's:]

The Sault de St. Marie is the largest of three rapids which impede the navigation of the river St. Mary between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, and puts a final stop to the ship navigation of the northern lakes. It is situated fifteen miles below the foot of Lake Superior, and ninety northwest of the island of Mackinac…

The village of the Sault de St. Marie, is on the south or American shore, and consists of from fifteen to twenty buildings, occupied by five or six French and English families. Among the latter is that of J. Johnston, Esq. a gentleman of rank, who, in the prosecution of the northwest fur trade, settled here shortly after the close of the American Revolution, and married the daughter of a Chippeway chief. In the hospitality and politeness, which during our stay at the Sault, we experienced in this family, we have been made to forget our insulated situation, and to observed how short a participation in the blandishments of refined society, is sufficient to obliterate the effect of the fatigues and privations of travelling. The site of the village is elevated and pleasant, and a regular plan appears to have been observed in the buildings, though some of them are in a state of dilapidation, and altogether it has the marks of an ancient settlement fallen to decay…There are, at present, about forty lodges of Chippeway Indians, (called Saulteurs, by the French,) containing a population of about two hundred souls, who subsist wholly upon the white-fish.

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