ELIZABETH JOHNSTON
And Some Random Thoughts on Pioneering Women

Contributed by Virginia Furbee

In Wallace Foster McKimmie's History of The Furbee Family, (never published to my knowledge) there is a transaction by Waitman Furbee dated October 10, 1790. This particular Waitman Furbee must have been the brother of Caleb Furbee, my 4th great grandfather, rather than Caleb's son Waitman, b. 1783. Caleb's son would have been too young in 1790 to negotiate for land in what is now West Virginia. This Waitman was my 4th great grand uncle. Waitman was apparently a very popular name - there are 4 of them in McKimmie's history. I do not know if it was an earlier family name.

The transaction reads: This indenture made the tenth day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety, between John Johnston and his wife, Elizabeth, both of the County of Monogalia and the State of Virginia, of the first part, and Waitman Furbee of the second part, of the County of Kent and to Delaware State. Witnesseth that for and in consideration of, two hundred and eight pounds, containing two hundred and thirty acres of land, lying and being in the County of Monongalia, on West Run, including his settlement in the year of 1771, and by survey bearing date, the 17th. day of January, 1787. This deed being in part:

Signed sealed and deliveredDavid RottJohn Johnston (seal)
in the presence of:F. WarmanElizabeth Johnston
her (x) mark
Hohn Lowman

There are a number of things in this transaction that pique my curiosity. For one thing, HOHN Lowman, a witness, could have been JOHN Lowman. Maybe a typo? Maybe not, just my guess. The date of the transaction, October 10, 1790, and the date of the Johnstons settlement in 1771, is separated by nineteen years. Truly, in the year 1771, this area, which lies in what is now northern West Virginia, must have been an absolute wilderness. I can't help but wonder how Elizabeth Johnston and her husband John, and any children they may have had, were able to survive in this hill country. True pioneers they were!

Another point of interest is that while John Johnston could sign his name, Elizabeth could not. An X had to suffice. It wasn't uncommon at that time for women not to be able to write...they were never expected to need that skill unless they were on a different level of society. Back woods folk did not usually need to know how to read or write and their knowledge of "cyphering" was limited to what was necessary to get by. By the time a woman married, her mother had taught her everything she needed to know. How to weave, sew and launder clothing, how to cook and preserve food...those were only a few of the things she needed to know. Some women could handle a long rifle as well as any man and could hunt if need be or defend their land and home. And when babies came, sometimes there were no other women nearby, and certainly, unless they lived in a sizeable community, there was no Doctor around. A woman had to be physically strong and mentally alert in order to carry out her daily duties and keep her family fed, clothed and in fairly good health.

Elizabeth Johnston is not a relative of mine but her life touched one of my relatives living at that time. I must say that I admire Elizabeth and all of the pioneer women in the early settlements of our country. You know, we call these ladies "women" when, in fact, many were barely out of childhood! And I haven't even mentioned the wild life; cougar, bear, deer, fox, wolf, raccoon, opossom, beaver, badger, porcupine, and on down the line. Some dangerous, some edible, most plentiful, a few rarely seen, they were only part of their lives. It is also worth mentioning the Native Americans were not always the savages we have heard about. They merely had a different culture, but often were friendly to some of the settlers. It was a bit later that they were forced further and further to the west.

Many of my ancestors were born and lived in northern Virginia, later West Virginia, and those folks were pioneers, too. From the tales that came down from my Grandmother Lucinda (Delaney) Furbee, my Grandfather Samuel Furbee was a traveling blacksmith. An anvil and tools in the back of the wagon, covered I understand, Grandma beside him with one or two of their kids on her lap or at her feet, and one under her apron, Grandpa traveled the larger part of the Commonwealth of Virginia for several years. None of their eight children was born in the same place. When I knew the old folks, they lived on a farm near Paden City, West Virginia. The drive up the hill to their house was partly creek bed; in the rain it was virtually impassable.

That area of West Virginia is hot in the Summer, cold in the Winter, muddy in the Spring, and absolutely GORGEOUS in the fall. It is beautiful any time of year, wooded, hilly, even mountainous by eastern U. S. standards. There are runs, creeks and ridges, hollows (hollers) and cliffs, flatlands, and woodlands. My Grandfather used to say that all of the cows had short legs on one side from grazing on the sides of the hills! (Grandma called him something like, "You old fool!" She didn't have a lot of patience with Grandpa.)

I'm proud of my family, and proud of the fact that my family were among the early settlers and patriots. I am also proud of the women in my family. They have contributed much to the history of the nation, and they are all still alive in the genes that I carry and have passed on to my descendants. My children's children will soon enough have their own families. I truly hope they will read about people like John Johnston and his wife Elizabeth and about their own ancestors. God bless 'em all.

Any comments welcomed by Virginia Furbee.email icon

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