Calvin Johnston was
the only man Kate allowed to shake her hand.
He often spoke of the incident, describing Kate’s hands as being “fragile
and velvety.” Kate thought a
great deal of Calvin Johnston, often using him as a basis for comparison when
telling others of their faults, exclaiming, “There is no finer man in this
country than Calvin Johnston.”
in North Carolina, Calvin Johnston was a toddler when his family moved to
Tennessee in 1800. He spent his
childhood on the Johnston farm in Robertson County, Tennessee, where he
developed a keen interest in Latin and horticulture.
He married Francis Porter, a first cousin, in 1823. They had one
built a large brick home on his father’s farm
and spent most of his adult life there. It
is believed that the house was built around 1841, with that being the date
carved into a stone window lintel. In
1850, four years after the death of his first wife, Johnston married Elizabeth
Holland. They had no children.
to the way in which Calvin Johnston is portrayed by many authors and historians,
he was in fact a very enlightened and innovative man, much moreso than most of
of his greatest achievements was the creation of a raised writing system for the
blind, which enabled them to read written material with their fingers.
After perfecting his system, Johnston traveled to New Orleans
to apply for a patent.
He learned upon arriving that a Frenchman named “Braille” had
received a patent for the same type of writing system only a week earlier.
horticulture enthusiast, Johnston collected specimens of all wild plants and
flowers in the area and pressed them in a book, listing both the Latin and
common name of each. Vanderbilt
University in nearby Nashville learned
of Johnston’s book and asked that it be donated because of its stunning
accuracy and potential as a learning tool.
His descendants decided to retain the book, which is still in their
Calvin Johnston’s interest in
horticulture is still evident today, not only in the form of his book, but also
in the flowers he planted many years ago. He
loved buttercups and liberally planted them around the site of his home and the
grave of his nephew. Although the
buttercups around his home site are long gone, the ones he planted on his nephew’s
grave still bloom each year. The
variety growing on the grave is very old and no longer obtainable, which leads
many to believe that these are the same buttercups planted by Johnston many
years ago. The variety contains
some green, but mostly “butter and egg” colors.