Benjamin Franklin Johnston was born March 23, 1829 in Geneseo, Livingston, New York to Daniel Benjamin Johnston (1791-1860) and Abigail Lord Johnston ((1792-1879). In 1848, at the age of 19, he came to Almont and worked as a painter with his brother.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he enlisted in Almont as a private in the 5th Michigan Cavalry Regiment. In June 1864 he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Travilian Station, Virginia.
Benjamin was transferred to Libby Prison in Richmond and after a brief stay he was transferred to Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. In March 1865, he and the surviving prisoners at Camp Sumter were paroled and sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi.
U. S. government officials contracted with the Sultana’s captain, J. Cass Mason, to take the former Confederate prisoners to St. Louis. The Sultana would be paid $5 for a soldier and $10 for an officer. Over 2,300 soldiers were crammed on the ship along with the freight which was already aboard.
The “Sultana” left Memphis on April 26th, at about 2 a.m., they resumed their movement north for about three miles when one of the boilers in the middle of the ship exploded. This explosion caused two more boilers to explode and started an uncontrollable fire. Hundreds were killed immediately, many drown in the cold waters, and many died days later from the injuries received from the explosion and fire. At about 1,800 lives, this is the single largest maritime loss of life in U. S. history– even worse than the Titanic.
Benjamin survived by jumping into the water, grabbing a floating log, and paddling toward the shore where he clung to a tree till he was picked up by a passing steamer.
When he returned to Almont, he operated a successful furniture store, which was located where Chicky’s and Mandy J’s are now. He built his family home on Johnson Street, just north of Washington Street. It was a very large structure.
At some time after Benjamin’s death, the house was cut into two pieces. The southern section of the house was moved to Cherry Street and remodeled. The northern section remained on Johnson Street and was also remodeled.
The rumor was that members of his family couldn’t agree on what to do with the house.