History's Women: Misc. Articles: Jemima Suggett Johnson - Patron Saint of the Revolutionary PeriodJemima Suggett Johnson
Patron Saint of the Revolutionary Period
1745-1814 A.D.

Colonel Robert Johnson and his wife, Jemima Suggett, of Orange County, Va., with their three children emigrated into Kentucky in 1781 and settled in the Blue Grass region. Soon afterward, Colonel Johnson was forced to return to Virginia and left his wife and family in the fort at Bryant station.

On the night of August 14, 1782, the fort was surrounded by six hundred Indians and a few Tories under the renegade Simon Girty. The enemy lay in ambush until the next morning, and the first garrison knew of their presence was when a part of their number made a noisy demonstration at one end of the fort. Old Indian fighters in the garrison at once surmised that this was a feint to distract their attention away from the main gate, at the other end of the fort and a few rods from the spring that supplied them with water, and that the main body of the Indians was in ambush waiting to attack that gate.

About this time it was discovered that there was no water left in the fort. This was most alarming, the water being needed not only for drinking, but to extinguish the fires set by the blazing arrows which it was expected the Indians would use. Not an Indian could be seen in the vicinity of the main gate, but every man and woman at the fort knew that the enemy lay in ambush there, waiting for an opportunity to attack the gate as soon as it should be left unprotected. For any man to pass through the gate meant almost instant death.

It was Jemima Johnson, who then proposed a plan that has marked her name as a heroine for all time. It had been the custom for the women in the fort to go to the spring every morning for the day’s water supply. It was believed that the Indians, who had come in large force to capture the fort, thought that their ambush was still unsuspected and would, therefore, not fire on the women if they went for water as usual, because that would betray their presence.

“My daughter Betsy and I will take the lead, if the others will follow,” she said, and every woman in the fort was ready. From the oldest grandam to the young girls, bearing buckets and tubs, they streamed out of the big gate, simulating a nonchalance that none of them felt, while the men, with their long rifles at the loopholes, peered through, scarcely daring to breathe. Back came the women with the vessels filled, and while there may have been a little water spilled through nervousness and possibly some little crowding at the gate, they entered the fort again in good order. Then the gate shut behind them and the Indians, believing that the entire garrison was at the opposite end of the fort, began their attack. The fight lasted two days and a night, and then word came that help was coming and the Indians retreated, bearing with them many dead, picked off by the long Kentucky rifles.

When Mrs. Johnson headed the band of water-carriers she left behind in his cradle, her youngest son, Richard Mentor Johnson, who afterward became Vice-President of the United States. It is a matter of historical record that a blazing arrow, shot into the fort by the Indians, set fire to his cradle and that his sister Betsy put out the blaze as she was passing water to the men on the stockade.

This same Betsy afterward married General John Payne, whose fame is a part of the history of the battle of the Thames, fought on the Canadian border, in 1813. Jemima Johnson had four sons, a brother, and a son-in-law in that bloody engagement. Richard Mentor Johnson, the babe of Bryant Station, left his seat in Congress, recruited a regiment of cavalry in Kentucky, and led the “forlorn hope.” After being wounded many times and with his right wrist broken, he killed the famous Indian leader Tecumseh, firing his revolver with his left hand, as he lay with his legs fastened beneath his dead horse. General William Johnson, Colonels James and John T. Johnson, and Captain Henry Johnson all won military distinction. Another son, Benjamin, was Territorial Judge of Arkansas. Colonel John T. Johnson resigned a seat in Congress to become an evangelist of the Campbellite faith.

Daughters of the American Revolution of Paris, Ky., chose Jemima Johnson as their patron saint and thus paid a graceful tribute to their first regent, her great-great-granddaughter.


Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

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