Royal Governor Gabriel Johnston in Office for 18 Years

Southport’s Fort Johnston, which is named for Gov. Gabriel Johnston. Image from the State Historic Preservation Office.

On July 17, 1752, Colonial-era Governor Gabriel Johnston died.

Johnston served in the colony’s top job for 18 years, holding the post longer than any governor in North Carolina’s history down to the present day. Perhaps even more remarkable is that, due to problems collecting the rents and taxes that paid his salary, he was left uncompensated for 13 of those years.

Johnston was born in the Scottish lowlands, before being educated at the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews. Sometime around 1728, he moved to London, where he lived in the home of Lord Wilmington, president of the Privy Council, which was a panel of king’s closest advisers.

Named governor of North Carolina in 1733. Johnston didn’t arrive at his post in October of the following year. He advocated for the establishment of Newton in 1735, and later renamed the town Wilmington in his patron’s honor.

Johnston’s term saw many changes in North Carolina, including the first printer and thus the first newspaper and printed laws, new agricultural techniques and the building of several forts. North Carolina’s population also tripled during his term, thanks in part to Johnston’s efforts in encouraging immigration, especially from his native Scotland.

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