Robert "Red Robin" Johnston, Sr., 1808-ca.1896
Original tintype image captured ca. 1869 by William McConnell of Plantagenet, Ontario, CANADA.
Image restored in 2005 by Clifford A. Johnston.
Red Robin's name and a brief by-line were added at the request of a family member.
Robert "Red Robin" Johnston was born in Broagh Townland, Termoneeny Parish, Londonderry County, IRELAND, as was his brother, Archibald "Archie" in 1815. Their father was John Johnston of Broagh. The Johnstons are said to have come to Broagh Townland ca. 1700, and James Johnston is listed in the 1740 Protestant Householders Returns. Robert is recorded as having been baptized in the Castledawson Presbyterian Church on July 22, 1808. The immediate Irish branches of the family are said to have died off by 1910. Oral family history has our family leaving Scotland/Ireland for Canada because of religious persecution. Just what the details are of the persecution I have yet to find out. They were Presbyterians initially.
In Canada sometime in the late 1800s a fire consumed his home and all of its contents. I have been told by older family members that a family bible, 2 small (approximately 12" high) oil portraits, legal papers from Scotland and personal letters were all destroyed. It was a terrible loss to our family and our research efforts.
Via oral family history we know that Red Robin was 6'-5" in height. He had red hair, the basis for his nickname. He was said to have been very handsome as a young man and had a charismatic personality, much to the delight of the local women and the dismay of their boyfriends and husbands ;-) In addition we know that he enjoyed a "wee dram" at the end of the day. This caused much concern among his fellow Methodists. As was the custom in those parts, 2 women Methodist ministers would make the rounds in their horse-drawn carriage bringing the Word to their parishoners. They were constantly in dismay at Red Robin's custom of having his wee dram at the end of a hard day's work. As luck would have it, at the close of one particular day Red Robin was sitting outside and sipping his whisky when the ladies arrived, unannounced. One of them immediately launched into a verbal tirade telling Red Robin in no uncertain terms that he was going to go to Hell unless he gave up his drink. An ultimatum was given to him. Choose! God or the demon drink. Now, Red Robin truly loved his God, his women and his whisky, but not necessarily in that order. He made his decision on the spot and showed the women to the gate. Then he proceeded to sit down and finish his wee dram which had been so rudely interrupted.
More oral family history indicates that Robert was 6'-5" tall, Francis was 6'-3" tall, and Archibald was 6'-1" tall. Affectionatley I call them the "Wee Three". In addition, Francis, his wife Fanny and some of their deceased, infant children were buried on the family farm land. More specifically, as they had died in the winter when the ground was frozen, they were buried in the root cellar under their farm house. Red Robin, his wife Mae, and their daughter Margaret are buried alongside John McQueen, Mae's father, at Westminster Cemetery. Other Johnstons are interred at Glenburn Cemetery.
By way of Y-DNA testing we now know that Francis "Frank" Johnston, b. 1805 in England, who farmed close to Red Robin in Upper Canada was his older brother. Archibald "Archie" Johnston, b. 1815 in Ireland, was the youngest brother. Frank was in Upper Canada in 1826 as we found a record of his infant son, Christopher, dying in that year. The first record of Red Robin in Upper Canada is in 1833; however, he may have been there much earlier. Archibald Johnston, b. 1815 in Ireland, owned the farm adjacent to Red Robin on the south side. In early 2008 Y-DNA testing confirmed the family connection. Male descendants of all 3 are exact matches for the 67-markers Y-DNA test. Oral family history was weak on their relationship, but indicated that they were either all brothers or 2 brothers and a cousin. We have been unable to find a paper trail connection. Other siblings may have been Thomas, Janet and Catherine, but we have scanty information on them.
Red Robin & Archie were born in Kilrea, Co. Derry, Ireland. Three families from that area (Anderson, Johnston & Wylie) came to Upper Canada ca. 1832 and settled close to each other. Later the Derby family joined them in the 1840's. Indications are that Frank and possibly a George Johnson [sic] came over with a boat load of Methodists in 1822. Robert may have been with them. Archibald and 3 of his sisters came over with another group of Methodists in 1832. Our research efforts continue.