Have you ever wondered what happened to some of our lesser known founding fathers? Take Alexander Johnston for instance.
Johnston was one of many colonial soldiers who fought for independence from Great Britain. On Jan. 17, 1781, he was at the Battle of Cowpens which turned out to be a turning point in the American reconquest of South Carolina. It would be his great-grandson, Thomas A. Johnston, who would become the second superintendent of Kemper School in 1881 and turn it into Kemper Military School, the West Point of the West.
After the war, Johnston moved to Tennessee. He and his wife Margaret, whose father had also fought for American independence, raised their family near McMinnville. They were blessed with four sons and a daughter: Gavin, Robert B., James, Alexander, and Mary.
Alexander, Thomas A. Johnston’s grandfather, married Rachel Thaxton. Their son, John Benoni Johnston was born on Aug. 30, 1812, and Rachel died shortly thereafter. Johnston married his second wife, Mary Hammond, on Dec. 6, 1813. Their union was blessed with nine more children. Alexander and Mary Johnston moved to what would become Cooper County, Missouri, in 1817.
John Benoni Johnston acquired property next the family farm and followed in his father’s footsteps as a farmer. John Johnston married Elizabeth Ann Robinson in 1835 and their union produced five children before her death in 1844. John remarried on June 1, 1846. His wife, Miss Margaret Harris, bore him six children: Robert Barnett, Thomas Alexander, William Franklin, Elizabeth, George Washington, and James Ewing.
Thomas Alexander Johnston was born on Nov. 13, 1848, on a farm south of Boonville to John Benoni Johnston and his second wife Margaret Harris Johnston. He was educated in local schools and then at Kemper School. Johnston joined the Confederate Army in October 1864.
After the War Between the States, Col. Johnston attended the State University at Columbia and graduated in 1872 with a Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Arts. He returned to Boonville and joined the faculty at Kemper School as assistant principal. When Mr. Kemper died in 1881, Johnston was named the next superintendent.
Col. Johnston began a series of improvements that increased enrollment and added more buildings. He became known as the “Builder of Kemper.” In 1885, he added the military training program. The school’s name was changed to Kemper Military School in 1899 and it was advertised as the “West Point of the West.” Other changes followed: 1915, the Standard of Honor; 1916, a formal ROTC program; and 1923, a junior college.
Johnston retired in 1928, naming his son-in-law, Col. Arthur M. Hitch, as his successor but stayed on as President of Kemper until his death on Feb. 5, 1934.