An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 19, 2003 - Issue 85
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
Ozhahguscodaywayquay, "Woman of the Green Glade", later known
as "Neengay" (Mother) and still later Susan was the wife of
John Johnston a fur trader and leading citizen at Sault Ste. Marie. Through
her family connections with prominent Indians of the Upper Great Lakes
region and her natural capabilities and talents she came to play a vital
role in the history of this area.
Born in about 1772 at La Pointe she was raised in the Ojibway culture,
learning traditional food gathering and preparation. She was taught quillwork
and beadwork, and learned the legends and stories of her people. From
her father, she inherited a poetical talent. Her grandfather was Ma-mongazidaq
("Big foot" or "loons foot") an Ojibway warrior chief
who fought with the French under General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham
in 1759. Her father was Waubejeeg ("White Fisher") also an Ojibway
chieftain, but one who did not align with any of the white man. Instead,
he fought against the Sioux driving them from the Lake Superior region.
Her brother was Beshike (Chief Buffalo) of La Pointe.
In 1791, John Johnston came to La Pointe to begin his new career as a
fur trader. Abandoned by his men he had the good fortune to be befriended
by Ozhahguscodaywayquay's father and grandfather. Meeting and falling
in love with the Indian maiden, he asked to marry her. Waubejeeg refused,
sending Johnston back to Montreal with a promise that if he returned the
following year and still wanted to marry her, he would be allowed to do
so. Johnston returned the following summer, and the two were married according
to Indian custom.
Ozhahguscodayayquay prior to her marriages he made an "apowa"
fasting in isolation to find her guardian spirit that would tell her what
to do Notwithstanding that the spirit that appeared to her was a white
man and her dream vision showed her helping her people and receiving great
honor from them she did not immediately accept Johnston. Within a few
days of her marriage she ran away from him but was brought back in disgrace
by her father and grandfather. From then on she remained with Johnston
and soon came to appreciate and love her new husband.
In 1793, after the birth of their first child Lewis Saurin the two moved
to Sault Ste. Marie. They eventually had seven more children all born
at the Sault. As an independent fur trader, Johnston established ties
through his wife's relatives and connections. The family's lifestyle dress
and pastimes expressed the cultures of both parents. The children were
fluent in French, English and Ojibway. Ozhahguscodaywayquay-now Neengay-spoke
only Ojibway, although she understood both French and English.
The war of 1812 brought about a change in the family's fortunes. Johnston
joined the3 war on the side of the British. In 1814, while Johnston was
enroute to defend Mackinac Island from the Americans efforts to recapture
it, an American force came up the St. Mary's river and burned Johnston's
storehouses and other outbuildings, believing them to be part of the Northwest
company's holdings. In the following years, as the family worked to recover
from their losses Neengay helped through her influence with the Indians,
who increasingly came to the Sault Ste. Marie area, drawn there by the
Johnston family's presence. Her expertise in traditional Indian domestic
skills also made it possible for the family to maintain the level of comfort
and plenty they had enjoyed prior to 1812.
In June of 1829, Gov Lewis Cass of the Michigan territory came to the
Sault with a contingent of U.S. Troops in order to establish a U.S. presence
in the area and to purchase land for a fort. John Johnston was in Ireland
at the time, and Neengay, with son George welcomed the visitors. The Indians
were not universally willing to accept the U.S. presence in the area.
Neengay through her influence with the elder chiefs, managed to avert
an uprising of the Indians. A treaty was signed on June 16, 1829, ceding
land at Sault Ste. Marie for the desired fort.
In 1821, the Johnston marriage was formalized in a civil ceremony at the
Sault-fulfilling a promise Johnston had made to Ozhahguscodaywayquay's
father at the tine of the couple's Indian style wedding 29 years earlier.
By this time, Neengay had taken the name Susan as shown on the marriage
In 1823, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the newly appointed Indian agent to the
area, married Jane, the Johnston's eldest daughter. Schoolcraft developed
an interest in the Indian culture, languages, and lifestyle. His studies
were greatly helped by Susan and her children. She related legends of
her tribe and assisted Schoolcraft in his exploration of the Ojibway vocabulary.
Schoolcraft published works were, years later the basis of Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha.
Following increasing illness, John Johnston died on September 22, 1828.
Susan made a plaque for the coffin out of hammered silver teaspoons. After
Johnston's death, Susan, with the help of her son William, continued to
run the family fur-trading business until 1831. Later, she provided for
herself and other family members by engaging in fishing expeditions with
local Indians and traveling to Sugar Island each spring to manufacture
maple sugar on property she had chosen as her share of land obtained through
the 1826 Treaty of Fond du Lac.
In 1832, Susan and her family joined the Presbyterian Church organized
the year by the Rev. Jeremiah Porter. Susan loaned an old store building,
located close to the Johnston house for services. In the fall of 1832
she had a small church, a simple wooden structure without a steeple, erected
for the congregation.
The last few years of her life were quiet ones, she and her daughter, Eliza, lived alone in the family Homestead. She died on November 28, 1843, and is buried next to her husband's grave in Riverside Cemetery.
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