Elizabeth Lichtenstein Johnston – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
Elizabeth Lichtenstein (or Lightenstone) Johnston was a staunch Loyalist who lived through the upheavals of the American Revolution (1775-1783) in Georgia. At the age of seventy-two, she wrote graphic memories of her experiences, providing the most detailed first-hand account of how the Revolution affected women in colonial Georgia.
Johnston, an only child, was born on a small farm by the Little Ogeechee River on May 28, 1764, to parents who reflected the diverse roots of Georgia’s early immigrants. His father, Johann Lichtenstein, had emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia, and was employed as a scout ship pilot by the royal government. His mother, Catherine Delegal, whose father, Philip Delegal, had commanded a company under James Oglethorpe, was of French Huguenot stock. Johnston fondly remembered her childhood, especially after her father bought a plantation on Skidaway Island, where she enjoyed figs, peaches, pomegranates and plums, as well as fine fish, oysters, crabs and prawns. Her quiet country life was abruptly interrupted by the death of her mother in 1774, and she was reluctantly sent to embroidery school by an elderly aunt in Savannah.
Johnston harbored bitter memories of the impending Revolution, describing how the rebels (including some of his teachers) were a “tattered body” and how “everywhere the scum rose to the top”. At the age of twelve, she was violently separated from her father, who, with the help of his enslaved workers, fled to the safety of a British warship, HMS Scarborough. Johnston was outraged at the treatment of Loyalist women and children, some of whose lands were confiscated, and she was terrified during the Siege of Savannah in October 1779, when Continental Army forces under General Lachlan McIntosh and their allies French bombarded the city for several days. .
Except for this failed Allied counter-assault, the British occupation of the Lowcountry between December 1778 and July 1782 brought limited respite to Johnston and his fellow Loyalists, while the Patriots, in turn, suffered confiscations and depredations. At the age of fifteen she was courted by Conservative militia officers and married twenty-five-year-old William Martin Johnston (captain of the New York Volunteers) on November 21, 1779. The Johnstons, like thousands of others Georgia Loyalists were forced to evacuate Savannah and begin the search for a new home after Britain’s defeat. Elizabeth would have ten children, seven of whom survived beyond infancy, and their birthplaces bear witness to her repeated upheavals: Savannah; Charleston, South Carolina; St. Augustine, Florida; Edinburgh, Scotland; Jamaica; and finally Nova Scotia. It’s no wonder she signed her letters to her husband as “your once truly happy, but now grieving wife.”
While Souvenirs are unique in history, there were many women of strong character, clear intellect and deep religious and political convictions on both sides of the conflict. They profoundly influenced the course of the Revolution in Georgia and how that war would be remembered by later generations.