Isabella Johnson Savage Conway 1836 - 1915
Life of a Real Daughter
Isabella Johnson was born June 7, 1836, in Palatine, New York. Her father was Phillip Johnson. He was 72 when Isabella was born. Her mother was Susannah Pettit. At that time, Isabella, the 12th in a family of 13 children, the names known are: Charles, Phillip H., Sarah, William, Isaac, Cinderalla (Lucinda) Catlin, Phoebe, John H., Margaret E. Hogan/Hoppock, Isabella M. Savage/Conway, Cornelia South, and George.
Isabella and her sisters, Margaret Eleanor Hoppock and Lucinda (Cinderalla) W. Catlin were all Real Daughters, which is a woman who was a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, their father was of a Revolutionary War patriot. Isabella was the youngest of the three. She and Margaret were members of the Benjamin Tallmadge Chapter in New York and Cinderella joined the Milwaukee Chapter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the United States, only 767 women have received the designation of being a Real Daughter.
Patriot Philip Johnson was born in May 1764 in Little Nine Partners, New York, and died in Rome, New York, on March 18, 1845, at the age 80. Philip enlisted in 1781 in New York and attained the rank of private. He fought under George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Isabell recalled a war story from when she was young about how her father and two companions were retreating and had to swim across a body of water infested with sharks, one of the comrades never made it having been killed by a shark. She also recounted stories she had heard from her mother, who was much younger than her father, about how as a girl she had hidden in a damp pit covered with brush when the family heard British soldiers approaching.
Isabella’s uncle fought in the War of 1812. One brother fought in the Seminole Indian war, and two of her brothers and husband served in the Civil War. One of her brothers did not return.
Isabell Johnson married Mathew W. Savage, a teamster, and lived with him in Buffalo, New York, and Bay City, Michigan. The 1870 census shows Isabella and Matthew living in Saginaw, Michigan with two sons, George W and Henry C., and four other young men. In 1873, the Saginaw City Directory shows that the Isabella is at the Perry Grocery. By 1880 the family, which now included 2-year-old Alonzo W., were back living in Bay City, Michigan. On both, Isabella is shown as head of house with the occupation of housekeeper. Mathew died on August 10, 1890 of an enlargement of the liver.
Isabella later married Patrick Peter Conway, a widowed Palouse farmer, and Civil War veteran, on January 8, 1889, in in Spokane Falls, Washington. The marriage record stated P Conway married Isabella M. Goestel (Savage) on January 8, 1889. Peter was born in Ireland in April 1841. He later became a naturalized citizen. At the age of 20, he enlisted in 1861 in Company A, Fifty-sixth New York Infantry, and served until the end of the Civil War. He was part of 18 large battles and was captured and imprisoned for two months in Andersonville prison at Camp Sumter, Georgia. He was honorably discharged when his regiment was mustered out in 1865. Peter came to Washington Territory in 1878 with his first wife Mary, who died in 1888, and was a farmer in Oakesdale, Washington.
Isabella moved to Spokane and bought the old Railroad Hotel (House), which they lost in Spokane's Great Fire of 1889. They then ran the downtown Spokane Leland Hotel, which also later burned down and was replaced.
On August 11, 1891, the newspaper had a headline “Pursued by Flames.” The article told of an early morning fire at the Leland Lodging House also known at Conway House. The fire was discovered about 3 a.m. and spread rapidly. Before all could be escape, the narrow staircase was enveloped in flames. Several of the lodgers jumped from the second and third floor windows breaking bones as they landed. Isabella occupied rooms on the upper two floors, renting the out, and the lower corner store. She was fully insured, but the papers were lost in the fire.
Of the 20 tenants, there were numerous injuries and hospitalizations, One man, Charles Johnson, 74, who was an invalid, died being suffocated by smoke. He was Isabella’s brother. The fire department was lauded as heroes that more lives were not lost.
On July 14, 1915, the Liberty Bell came to town and was viewed by 72,000 with many dignitaries present. There were police everywhere for security, and no one was allowed to touch the bell. However, this was violated on several occasions. Since the bell was only to be in town for a few short hours, the lawmen were chaperoning the mass of people by the bell at a tempo of 300 a minute. Isabella told an officer that she had a particular interest in being photographed with the bell, being that her father had fought in the Revolutionary War under General Washington. She stated that she wanted a photo with her hand on the bell. According to those present, her explanation of how she came to be a real daughter was intricate, but convincing. She was boosted to the platform of the rail car and there was a “palpitant clicking of Kodaks” as she stood with hand resting on the bell.
Isabella passed away on October 4, 1915, at the age of 79. At the time she was active as the Chaplain of the Daughters of Veterans and Vice President of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Isabella is buried at the Greenwood Memorial Terrace in Spokane. She is the only Real Daughter buried in Washington State. Two separate articles in 1925 state that the gravesite would be marked by the Erie Chapter DAR in Pennsylvania. They’d marked her sister Margaret’s grave September 1, 1925.
A beautiful white marble upright gravestone with bronze plaques were placed and dedicated by members of the Esther Reed Chapter, DAR, Spokane, WA in 1928. The WSSDAR held wreath laying ceremonies on May 21, 2009, and September 27, 2013. The Jonas Babcock Chapter headed the restoration and cleanup of the gravesite in 2016, and a visitation, wreath laying with the State Regent occurred on October 20, 2017.
When Isabell Conway was 75, she was cooking, ironing, and gardening as a means of “keeping young.” She made the statement that she hoped to live a good many years and wanted them all to be useful ones.
Isabella had always been an astute businesswoman. At the time of her death her estate was estimated at over $35,000, which today would be over a million dollars. In her assets were listed properties in Odessa, Oakesdale, Pasco, Spokane, valuable farm properties in Lincoln and Whitman County, and personal estate consisting of notes, mining stocks and cash in the bank. As had been predicted, there was a protracted battle over the will.
There is also a controversy of her name. The DAR has the name as Isabell, but the original application shows an a on the end crossed off. The death certificate, marriage certificate, and numerous news articles all have Isabella. Her husband Peter, brother Charles, and sons Alonzo and George are all buried in Fairmount Cemeteries.