The following article was written by Sharon Starkey, the 4th great-granddaughter of Susanna Bucklin, who married Solomon Johns. Sharon is proud to be a descendant of both Patriot and Loyalist ancestors. She says: “Mostly I am proud of the fact that they took an active position in the Revolution and fought for what they believed in.”
Here is the story of a Revolutionary War hero, but a hero for the English side!
by Sharon Starkey
Solomon Johns began his life in the town of Sharon, New Haven (Litchfield) County, Connecticut. He was the ninth and last child of Benjamin Johns and Mary Allis. Because his mother died shortly after his birth, it is likely that Jerusha Johns, his stepmother, took care of him as he grew up in Amenia, New York. Solomon was involved in land speculation with his father from a young age. They were part of a group known as the “Yorkers”, or “Durhamites”, who acquired land in the New Hampshire Grants, later to become the state of Vermont.
Solomon acquired land prior to 1775 in Clarendon, Rutland County, Vermont. A muster roll taken during the Revolutionary War states that Solomon had been a farmer there. We assume that he settled on this land with his bride, Susanna Bucklin, after their marriage in 1775. Their first son, David Bucklin Johns, was probably born at the Clarendon property in the latter part of 1776.
The Declaration of Independence in 1776 changed the lives of everyone in colonial America. Some inhabitants were truly loyal British subjects. Others felt that the notable British army would win the conflict and so they remained loyal to the “crown” in order to retain their land. These people were called Tories, later known as Loyalists. The citizens who would not accept the high taxes imposed by Britain, or the demands of King George III, were the Patriots, also known as “rebels”. Feelings were extremely strong on both sides and thus began the Revolutionary War for independence from Britain. Unfortunately, many families in America were torn apart because of their diverging principles. The Johns family had men fighting on opposing sides.
When the revolution heated up Solomon Johns chose to pledge allegiance to the crown by “joining the King’s troops in August 1777”(1) . Other “Yorkers” were reported to have joined as well. This very likely occurred when General John Burgoyne, military governor of Canada, came through Vermont on his campaign south from Fort St. Johns. The British troops marched along the Hudson River, about 20 miles east of Clarendon. The farmers of the lands on Lake Champlain and the Upper Hudson River joined what appeared to be a victorious army.
Some of the men who joined the British side brought their families along. It is very likely that Solomon took his wife Susanna and son David with him, as he would not want to leave them alone. The Patriots also left Vermont during this time period so there were few people left in that area.
During the summer of 1777 an unfortunate incident occurred in Rutland County involving Solomon. An altercation took place between him and a certain Nathan Tuttle, ending in this man’s death, apparently by the hand of Solomon, after great provocation by Tuttle. A bond of secrecy was agreed upon among those present for the duration of Solomon’s life. When Solomon died in 1786 the story was told in Rutland, and some felt that his premature death was retribution for the killing of Mr. Tuttle.
Vermont became a republic early in 1778. The government incurred expenses, but there was no revenue forthcoming. Ira Allen, as Secretary of State, proposed that the estates of those who had left Vermont should be confiscated and sold to provide funds for the operation of the government. That was immediately acted upon on 25 March 1778, and a commission was appointed the following day to carry out the orders. There were 155 estates taken; one of those was the Clarendon property of Solomon Johns, confiscated 23 April 1778(2), second on the list to be sold by the Commission(3).
Solomon is noted as accompanying Major Christopher Carleton of the British army, in the fall of 1778, on an expedition against several settlements along the eastern side of Lake Champlain in Vermont Territory(4). At that time we believe he was with the Queen’s Loyal Rangers(5). This was a provincial corps, one of several made up of ordinary countrymen aiding the British army to suppress the rebellion against the British crown. In October 1778, prior to this expedition, Major Carleton wrote in his journal in regard to the Indians agreeing with his wish “to send a person I could confide in to bring me a true state of the strength and situation of the enemy. The person I sent was Mr. Johns, and at his request, a Serjant of Capt. Sherwood’s company with him”. Three pages further on in his journal Major Carleton continues – “About midnight, the officer Johns, who had been sent out six days earlier, returned”.(6)
Solomon Johns, labeled a Tory, was banished from Vermont in 1779 through an act passed by the Vermont government under the Convention of Dorset; “to prevent the return to this state of certain persons therein named, and others who have left this state, and who joined the enemies thereof”. This act was later repealed. Loyalists from Connecticut, New York and Vermont escaped detainment because they spent weeks tramping by night and hiding by day to join the British camp at St. Johns, Quebec(7). Many arrived in a state of starvation and with their clothes in shreds.
On 1st May 1779 the 2nd battalion of the King’s Rangers, also known as “Rogers Rangers”, was raised under the leadership of Major Commandant James Rogers, brother of the famous Robert Rogers of the Seven Years War. Solomon was appointed to the rank of Lieutenant(8). All officers were required to recruit a requisite number of men to qualify for their position. The King’s Rangers were headquartered at Fort St. Johns (now St. Jean) Quebec, situated on the Richelieu River. A very important role played by a large number of the officers and men of this battalion was that of scouting and reconnaissance for other corps including carrying top secret dispatches.
As well, some of the men were secret service agents, or spies, for the crown forces in rebel territory. Disguised as civilians, their fate, if captured, was to be hanged. We believe that Solomon was involved in these perilous activities. He and fellow officer William Buell were captured in Vermont in August 1780. It is presumed that they were on a secret service mission for the British Secret Service, Northern Department, under the direction of Capt. Justus Sherwood. References to Lieut. Johns regarding his incarceration are primarily expense accounts by the individuals involved in capturing him and Ensign Buell. One was the account of Steel Smith of Windsor – “expenses for meals for Solomon Johns and William Buell (Tories) and their gards”. Another was an excerpt from an account of Col. Ebenezer Woods for expenses of 1 pound, 5 shillings for ” five days spent in catching and securing Solomon Johns and William Buell”. The last was the Order of Governor Chittenden “pleas to pay to Lieut. Elnathan Strong four pounds and eight pence Connecticut money to pay the Expenses of the Gard that brought Solomon Johns and Buel to Bennington”. A gaol had been set up in Bennington for incarcerating those who were supporting the enemy(9). (The spelling here is as recorded from the original documents.)
A letter from Major-General Frederick Haldimand, governor-in-chief of Canada, was taken to Governor Chittenden of Vermont in November of 1780 to suggest an exchange of prisoners. Governor Haldimand appointed Capt. Justus Sherwood and his second-in-command, Dr. George Smythe (code name Hudibras), as his representatives if Governor Chittenden was amenable to an exchange. Chittenden responded agreeing to the above and appointed his representatives. The meeting was set for January 1781, but the Vermont people could not make the journey because of ice conditions on Lake Champlain. We assume that Solomon and other Loyalist prisoners were exchanged, during the spring of 1781, for Patriot prisoners held in Quebec.
By summer Lieutenant Solomon Johns was “on command at Point au Fer”, according to a muster roll of the men under Captain Azariah Pritchard dated 27 July 1781(10). Point au Fer was a command post (also called a blockhouse) on the western side of Lake Champlain about 24 miles south of Fort St. Johns. Here officers and men were stationed on active duty, awaiting orders to go into rebel territory on reconnaissance or secret service missions, usually in Vermont or New York.
In September 1781 Governor Haldimand officially commissioned the King’s Rangers as one of the provincial corps working with the British army. Lieutenant Solomon Johns was appointed to the 2nd Company under Capt. Azariah Pritchard(11). The descendants of his eldest son, David Johns, kept Solomon’s officers’ sword at least until the early 1900’s. Alice Johns viewed the sword when she stayed with her aunt, Nancy Johns Brown, in Ontario about 1900. Its current location is unknown.
By early 1783 it was evident that Britain was going to give the rebelling colonies their independence. Most of the Loyalists realized that they could not return to their previous homeland. Because of their express allegiance to the King they would have to start a new life in Canada. Governor Haldimand had made arrangements for the British government to purchase Indian land, in the area that later became Ontario, for the accommodation of the exiled Loyalists. He sent men who were skilled in the art of land colonization to investigate the possibilities for settlement. By 19 September Capt.
Justus Sherwood was in Montreal with a survey crew that consisted of Lieut. Solomon Johns, and two privates, from the King’s Rangers and Ensign Elijah Bothum with seven privates from the Loyal Rangers. Deputy Surveyor-General John Collins accompanied Capt. Sherwood’s party. On 23 September the surveyors and their assistants were at the west-end of Lake St. Francis, about 65 miles from Montreal. Solomon took a crew inland, returning to report that “they had never seen as fine a country for all kinds of cultivation”. They had crossed a large creek that emptied into a river at the head of the Long Sault Rapids where a waterfall would make a fine mill site, one of the first requirements for a new community. On 8 October Capt. Sherwood escorted Elijah Bothum and Solomon Johns westward, each with one assistant, and ordered them to explore up the Bay of Quinte, on Lake Ontario. A few days later he sent them out to explore along the north shore of the Bay of Quinte. This area was later to be known as the Cataraqui Townships. The men returned with good accounts of the land they had visited farther west.(12) Solomon’s reports are documented with Capt. Sherwood’s reports in the Haldimand Papers at the Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa(13).
All members of the provincial corps who were on duty at the British posts near Montreal, Sorel and Lake Champlain were disbanded on 24 December 1783. The Loyal Rangers, King’s Rangers and the first battalion of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York were to remain where they were quartered until the spring, when they could be moved to the land that the Governor had chosen for them up the St. Lawrence(14) . Along with their families they would continue receiving provisions over the winter. A muster roll of the King’s Rangers at that time states that they were at the camp at Machiche, a camp near Montreal. Solomon Johns, Lieutenant 2nd Company King’s Rangers, was mustered out 27 January 1784 with his fellow officers(15).
For his service as a subaltern in the provincial corps, Lieutenant Solomon Johns was initially allotted 750 acres of crown land. Part of this land was allocated in the Cataraqui Townships – #3, Fredericksburgh and #5, Marysburg(16) . However, along with fellow officers William Buell and James and David Breakenridge, Solomon chose instead to settle with the men of the Loyal Rangers in New Oswegatchie, an area comprising the three townships east of Kingston on the north side of the St. Lawrence River. Each township fronting on the St. Lawrence and the Bay of Quinte was nine miles wide and twelve miles deep, divided into rows called concessions. Each concession was laid out into lots of 200 acres each, with four lots having a mile of water frontage. Every two or three miles there was a forty-foot wide strip was reserved for a crossroad. The lots were fairly allocated to the Loyalists by a “draw out of a hat”(17).
In 1784 Solomon, Susanna, and their family began the pilgrimage, along with other Loyalist families, from Lachine, Quebec up the St. Lawrence River to their new homeland. This was an arduous journey with four families and four French Canadian crewmen assigned to a bateau – a flat bottom boat, 24 feet long, 5 feet across the beam, and pointed at both ends. These vessels were sturdily built to withstand the battering on the rocks and small enough to be manhandled by the crews through rough water. They traveled in brigades of 12 bateaux. All passengers disembarked, and removed their valuables, each time the bateaux were hauled through the rapids. When the Loyalists arrived at their prescribed destinations they stayed in camps until they could go to their land. Each family was given a canvas tent, to be returned once they had built a cabin, plus one set of clothing for each man and boy over 10, and cloth for the women, girls and small boys. Each person was given shoe soles and one blanket, with two small children sharing a blanket. Seed, grain, an axe, and a shovel rounded out the provisions, although “victualling” would continue until 1st May 1786.
Once on their land the men helped each other to build their cabins. These primitive dwellings were no larger than 12 feet by 14 feet, with one small window, and only a blanket to cover the doorway. Furniture and utensils were made during the evenings from available wood. One of the complaints was of the lack of bread. Wheat was not available during that first year. Meals consisted mostly of cornbread, the dried corn having been ground by hand in a burrowed out log. When available fish, berries, and wild game supplemented these meager provisions. Many settlers perished in the cold winter, but those who lived through it flourished on the exceptionally fertile land. According to a petition of Susanna Johns, Solomon’s wife, dated 1799, addressed to the General Assembly of the State of Vermont, Solomon had returned to Clarendon at the end of the Revolution to dispose of this interests there. By this time his stepmother had died, and it is our belief that Solomon then helped his father to settle his affairs in Vermont and brought him to Elizabethtown Township, Ontario. The family may have homesteaded on the property that Benjamin purchased there.
Solomon was in good company when he settled in Elizabethtown. In time, his comrades became leaders in their communities. These men were New Englanders and preferred the style of community life that they had known and hoped to recreate in their new settlements. The democratically minded citizens congregated around William Buell who was elected to the legislative assembly in 1800. He later founded the town of Elizabethtown, now Brockville, which had a New England Square as its focal point – the only one in the townships built to the original plan. Capt. James Breakenridge, who married Solomon’s niece Nancy Johns, became a magistrate and was appointed as Colonel to command the Leeds Militia. James also represented his area in the legislature and later became known as the “Duke of Leeds”. Capt. Justus Sherwood of the Loyal Rangers was another prominent citizen of the area, residing in Augusta, later named Prescott. There are several monuments honoring Capt. Sherwood for his important contribution during the revolution and later in his community. Had Solomon lived for a natural lifetime he may well have had a role of leadership along with his peers.
Unfortunately, in his prime at the age of 35, Solomon died during the spring of 1786 “from the fall of a tree”, presumably while clearing his land. His widow, Susanna, and their children were destitute. During the summer of 1787 Major Robert Mathews, assistant to Lord Dorchester (Governor of Canada from 1786 to 1796), was on a voyage to inspect the Loyalist townships. In May he reached the residence of Justus Sherwood, who was away on a survey, and went on to stay with a man who had been a sergeant in the Loyal Rangers. There “the widow of Lieutenant Solomon Johns, King’s Rangers, brought a petition for Lord Dorchester”(18). Major Mathews wrote in his journal that he remembered Lieutenant Johns as a “gallant, active, worthy young man”(19).
In time, the amount of land granted to officers of The Provincial Corps was increased to match that received by the 84th Regiment of Foot, Royal Highland Emigrants. Solomon’s widow and children were eventually allocated 2400 acres for Solomon’s service, including a compassionate grant of 400 acres for Susanna. These lots of 200 acres each were located in various townships in Upper Canada.
The descendants of Solomon Johns, U.E. will remember him with respect and admiration for his courage. Sadly, he did not live to witness the growth of the settlement, of which he was a founder, at Elizabethtown Township (now the city of Brockville, Leeds County) in southern Ontario. He missed the pride of watching his sons grow into men, and the pleasure of knowing his grandchildren. Because Lieutenant Solomon Johns chose to remain loyal to the British crown during the Revolutionary War he, and his descendants, are entitled to a mark of honor, the only hereditary title in Canada.
Those Loyalists who have adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their children and their descendants by either sex, are to be distinguished by the following Capitals, affixed to their names: U.E. alluding to their great principle The Unity of the Empire.
— Lord Dorchester’s Proclamation, 9 November 1789.
1. Return of Officers of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Rangers, commanded by Major James Rogers
2. “The New Loyalist Index”, Paul Bunnell
3. State Papers of Vermont, Vol. 6, p. 345, “List of those parsons names that forfeited their estates”
4. Ontario Archives, Jessup Papers, Military order Book, 25 Nov. 1781
5. The Old United Empire Loyalists List as quoted in “Lunenburg, or the Old Eastern District”, J. P. Pringle
6. “Carleton’s Raid”, Ida H. & Paul A. Washington, Phoenix Pub., 1977, pp.36, 39
7. “The Loyalists”, Christopher Moore
8. Great Britain, P.R.O., Colonial office, class 42, folio 248; National Archives of Canada microcopy
9. “State Papers of Vermont, Volume 6”, pub. 1941
10. War Office, 28/4/98
11. Ontario Archives, Jessup Papers, Military Order Book, Nov. 25, 1781.
12. “Buckskin Pimpernel” The Exploits of Justus Sherwood, Loyalist Spy, pp.190-197
13. PAC, Haldimand Papers, B169, pp.26-8, Lt. Johns report while exploring with a small party
14. “Buckskin Pimpernel” The Exploits of Justus Sherwood, Loyalist Spy, p.201
15. PAC Haldimand Papers B160, pp. 153-6
16. “Journal of the Land Committee”, 7 May 1790
17. “United Empire Loyalists – Pioneers of Upper Canada”, Nick and Helma Mika
18. “King’s Men, The Soldier Founders of Ontario”, Mary Beacock Fryer, p.333
19. H.M. Jackson, “Sherwood”, pg. 33-34