Katherine Courtenay Johnston was born in 1877 in Botetourt County, Virginia to Charles Johnston (1844-1910) and Nannie (Thornton) Johnston (1852-1911). In the late 19th century, Katherine Courtenay Johnston moved to Los Angeles, California where she attended school and was later employed as a teacher. In the early 20th century she received her law degree and subsequently moved to New York where she worked as an attorney in Manhattan until her death in 1952. Katherine Courtenay Johnston is buried in the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Through her father’s family, Katherine Courtenay Johnston was descended from Peter Johnston, who emigrated to Virginia from Scotland in 1727. In 1765 he moved to Prince Edward County and purchased a large tract of land which he originally named Cherry Hill and later renamed Longwood. Peter Johnston and his wife Martha (Rogers) had four sons: Peter Johnston, Jr., Andrew, Charles, and Edward. Two of those sons, Peter Johnston, Jr. (1763-1831) and Charles Johnston (1769-1833) are represented in this collection.

Peter Johnston, Jr. left home at 17 to fight in the Revolutionary War. He served with Light Horse Harry Lee’s regiment throughout the war, eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant. After the war, he returned to Prince Edward County where he studied law, was elected to the House of Delegates, and was later appointed judge. He inherited the Longwood land and Johnston home after his father’s death. In 1811, Peter Johnston, Jr. sold the Longwood estate, consisting then of 1181 acres to Abraham Venable. In 1928, the State Teachers College purchased the Longwood house and a portion of the property. It is from this that Longwood College took its name in 1949.

Charles Johnston was the third son of Peter and Martha. In 1790, Charles was kidnapped by members of the Shawnee tribe while traveling down the Ohio River. In 1827, he wrote and published his memoirs, “A Narrative of the Incidents Attending Capture, Detention, and Ransom of Charles Johnston of Botetourt County.” In 1808 he built his home “Sandusky” in Lynchburg, VA. Charles was the father, through his 2nd marriage, of Frederick B. Johnston, Katherine Courtenay Johnston’s paternal grandfather.

Through her mother’s family, Katherine Courtenay Johnston, was descended from the Thornton and Moseley families, both of which are represented in this collection. Her maternal grandfather, Richard Clough Thornton was a prominent attorney and planter in Cumberland County, Virginia. Her uncle, John T. Thornton was a Colonel with the Confederate Cavalry who was killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg. During his final retreat, General Robert E. Lee stopped at the Farmville, Virginia home of Col. Thornton’s widow, Martha Thornton, to pay his respects. William Mynn Thornton, the son of John T. and Martha Thornton, was a well-respected longtime professor at the University of Virginia.

On both sides of her family, Katherine Courtenay Johnston was related to some of the most influential and important Virginia families. As such, this collection of materials related to her family provides tremendous insight into Virginia history before, during, and after the Civil War.


This collection was originally assembled by Katherine Courtenay Johnston. Upon her death in 1952, the collection was inherited by her cousin Nancy Burwell Johnston. In 1953, Nancy Burwell Johnston donated the first of the materials contained in this collection to (then) Longwood College President Dabney Lancaster. Other Johnston family members added items to this collection in 1954 and again in 1955.

Scope and Content

The materials in this collection date from 1829 through 1946 and consist of correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, and ephemera.


This collection consists of 3 linear feet contained in (2) archival binders and (3) flat boxes.


There are no restrictions to access or use for research purposes.

  • While the majority of the correspondence in this collection pertains to people related to the Johnston, Thornton, or Moseley families, there are (2) pieces of correspondence that cannot be positively attributed to those families:

    #3-a: “Stonewall” Jackson to William Cook Lewis, December 29, 1863.

    #9-a: Harriot Brown to Maggie ___________, January 17, 1863.

  • Short biographies of those known subjects mentioned in the correspondence are provided at the end of the finding aid for this collection.
  • The photographs in Binder #17 retain the same order in which they appeared in the original Johnston family photo album.
View the full finding aid here: Katherine Courtenay Johnston Collection, LU-016


Browse the Katherine Courtenay Johnston Collection, LU-016 Collections:

Katherine Courtenay Johnston Collection Correspondence

Katherine Courtenay Johnston Collection Photographs