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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Johnston, Lancelot

by Anna Withers Bair and Katharine K. Kendall, 1988

1748–19 Sept. 1832

Lancelot Johnston, physician, Revolutionary War surgeon, and planter, was born in Ardess, County Fermanagh, Ireland, of Scottish ancestry. He received his medical education at the Medical College of the University of Dublin and emigrated to America before 1769, settling in that part of Orange County that soon became Caswell County. In 1771 he served for two months in the militia, and on 10 May 1777 he was commissioned by the Continental Congress as surgeon of the Ninth Battalion, Continental Army, "raised for the defending of American liberty and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof." On 26 Nov. 1778, he was appointed regimental surgeon of the Continental troops to be raised in the Hillsborough and Salisbury districts to assist in South Carolina, and was advanced £150 for the purchase of medicine and supplies. After the Battle of Camden he was sent there to help care for the wounded. His arrival was welcomed by the overworked Dr. Hugh Williamson, of Edenton, who wrote to the speaker of the North Carolina House of Commons: "We were happily reinforced by Dr. Johnston, a Senior Surgeon of great skill and Humanity in the Continental Service."

After the war, Johnston continued to serve as a physician to the residents of Caswell County and environs; he also was a planter of the farms he owned in the area. He died at his home in St. David's District (now Locust Hill township) and was buried in the family cemetery nearby.

In 1774 Johnston married Zerurah Rice, the daughter of Thomas Rice of Caswell County. They were the parents of six children: William, Lancelot, Elizabeth (m. Dr. E. E. Jones), and Polly (m. a Mr. Slade), all of whom moved to Madison, Ga.; and Thomas (m. Jane Bethell) and Zilphar (m. James Yancey), both of whom remained in North Carolina. Portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Johnston, said to have been painted by Thomas Sully, were sold by the family in the 1930s, but photographs of the portraits are owned by several descendants including Mrs. F. F. Bahnson, Jr., of Winston-Salem and Mrs. Clifford Bair of Chapel Hill.


Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vol. 12 (1895).

Johnston Family Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill).

William S. Powell, When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County (1977).

William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 10 (1890).

Additional Resources:

Dudley, Harold James. History of Synod of N. C., Presbyterian Church in the U. S. [Raleigh, N. C., n.p.]. 1963. 22. (accessed May 21, 2014).

Lucian Lamar Knight. A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians. The Lewis Publishing Company. 1917. 2484. (accessed May 21, 2014).

United States Department of the Interior. National Park Service. National Register of Historic Places - Registration Form: John Johnson House. By Kaye Grayheal and Michael Southern, Winston-Salem, N.C. January 3, 1997. (accessed May 21, 2014).

Minutes of the North Carolina Senate, August 8, 1778 - August 19, 1778. State Records of North Carolina vol. 12. Winston [N.C.]: M.I. and J.C. Stewart, Printers to the State. 1895. 798, 800, 806.

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