JOHNSTONE, JAMES, known as the Chevalier de Johnstone (he occasionally signed Johnstone de Moffatt), army officer; b. 25 July 1719 in Edinburgh, Scotland, son of James Johnstone, a merchant; his mother belonged to a lesser branch of the Douglas family; d. after 1791, probably in Paris, France.
It is known that James Johnstone’s relations with his father were stormy and that he was indulged by his mother, but his early education has not been recorded. He is described as short in stature and slight of build. His youth appears to have been spent wantonly. After a visit to two uncles in Russia in 1738, he resided in London but was forced by his father to return to Scotland in 1740. When news reached Edinburgh in 1745 that Prince Charles, the Young Pretender, had landed in Scotland, Johnstone sped to join his army. Through his relatives he was introduced to Lord George Murray, second in command of the rebels, who appointed him his aide-de-camp. Johnstone moved with the army during the Jacobite uprising and occasionally served as aide-de-camp to the prince. After the battle of Prestonpans (Lothian) in September 1745, Charles granted Johnstone a captain’s commission. The young officer raised some men and joined the Duke of Perth’s Regiment. Following the rout at Culloden in 1746, he escaped north and was concealed by a protectress who seems to have been Lady Jane Douglas, wife of Colonel John Stewart. Johnstone made his way to London in the disguise of a pedlar and then to Rotterdam dressed as a servant in the company of his protectress. In Paris he was introduced to the Marquis de Puysieux, minister of foreign affairs, by influential friends and was granted a pension from funds accorded by Louis XV for Scottish rebels exiled in France.
Despite promises from Puysieux, Johnstone’s captain’s commission was not recognized in France, and he received only an ensigncy in the colonial regular troops of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Although his derogation vexed him, he went to Louisbourg in 1750. He described his life there as purgatory, but he lived comfortably; his servant attended to his material wants and he indulged in reading military history. In the quarrel between Governor Jean-Louis de Raymond and the financial commissary, Jacques Prevost de La Croix, Johnstone sided with the former and was rewarded with an appointment as English interpreter in 1752 and a promotion to lieutenant in 1754.
In June 1758, when Louisbourg was attacked by Jeffery Amherst, Johnstone was stationed on Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island). He escaped to Acadia and was charged with conducting some English prisoners from Miramichi (N.B.) to Quebec. Arriving there in September, he later became aide-de-camp to Lévis. He also served as interpreter and as voluntary engineer for the entrenchments constructed by Lévis between the French camp and the Rivière Montmorency. But when Lévis left for Montreal, Johnstone remained in Quebec as aide-de-camp to Montcalm*. Following the siege of Quebec and the death of the general, he retreated with the army. At Île aux Noix from April to August 1760, he escaped to Montreal when the French were forced to abandon the Champlain-Richelieu front. After the capitulation of the city, he returned to Quebec and sailed for France on 16 Oct. 1760.
Johnstone’s role in the momentous events in New France was minor. Although egocentric, he was timid by nature and had made his escape at Culloden by having a younger officer dislodge a servant from a horse. His principal legacy was his memoirs, composed, or at least completed, after his return to France, in which he recounted in ungrammatical French what he had witnessed and heard during his campaigns in Scotland and in New France. Although he sometimes erred in matters of detail and frequently bemoaned his unhappy fate, Johnstone often wrote with shrewd insight and philosophical reflection.
Johnstone’s later life was less eventful. He was retired from the Marine service with a pension of 300 livres in 1761 and the following year was made a knight of the order of Saint-Louis. He lived in Paris but visited Scotland in 1779 to settle personal matters. By 1790 his pension had been increased to 1,485 livres, and in 1791 he successfully petitioned the assembly for 500 livres for losses incurred during the Jacobite rebellion. Johnstone’s adventures were the inspiration for the character of Maxwell in the Canadian novel entitled The span o’ life: a tale of Louisbourg and Quebec, written by William McLennan and Jean Newton McIlwraith and published in New York and Toronto in 1899.
[The main source for James Johnstone’s life is his memoirs; the PAC has a copy (MG 18, J10). Charles Winchester edited a poor translation of this manuscript as Memoirs of the Chevalier de Johnstone (3v., Aberdeen, Scot., 1870–71). The work has also been printed in parts: Memoirs of the rebellion in 1745 and 1746 . . . (London, 1820; repub., ed. Brian Rawson, 1958); “Mémoires de M. le Cher. de Johnstone,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Hist. Docs., 9th ser. (1915). Parts of the Canadian memoirs were first published in translation in Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Hist. Docs., 2nd ser. (1868), and in Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., III, 465–84; IV, 231–43, .c.]
AN, Col., C11C, 13, p.162 (PAC transcript); E, 230 (dossier Johnstone). McLennan, Louisbourg. Stacey, Quebec, 1759. Édouard Fabre Surveyer, “Le chevalier Johnstone,” BRH, LXI (1955), 85–92. William Howitt, “Le chevalier Johnstone,” BRH, VII (1901), 56–58.