"The Coming of William Johnson, Afterward Baronet"
A Speech by W. Max Reid, Amsterdam, N. Y.
It is of the Mohawk Valley, and not the "Lordly Hudson," that I am to speak to you at this session. In fact, your President has warned me off, so to speak, from things pertaining to the subject of this symposium.
The Mohawk Valley of the tourist begins at Schenectady where for a brief moment one sees the Mohawk river in all its placid majesty, and a vista of the hills of the Yantaputchaburg in the dim distance to the west, marking its course.
You will remember perhaps the name of the man who Schenectady delights to honor, Arent Van Curler. A man beloved by the Mohawks, as a man to be trusted, an honest man.
And you will also recall, if you have read much of those early days, that the Mohawks could bestow no higher honor on the provincial Governors of New York than to address them as "Brother Corlear."
In the early years of the 17th century, the Algonquins of New France and the Iroquois of the Mohawk Valley gave to the successive Governors of New France the name of "Onnontio," meaning "Great Mountain."
During the war of the Revolution, most of the Iroquois and all of the Mohawks fled to Canada, and were located by the British Government, on Reservations on Grand River, and at Descronto on the Bay of Quinte, where they remain to this day, prosperous farmers and mechanics.
They call the Governors of Canada "Brother Kora," which is undoubtedly a corruption of the term "Brother Corlear" used by them more than two centuries ago in the Mohawk Valley.
There were two other men in later years who had the confidence of the Mohawks, Peter Schuyler and William Johnson, afterward known as Sir William Johnson.
In the Mohawk language there are no labials. The letters "b," "p" and "m" being unpronounceable by the Mohawks, they called Peter Schuyler "Quidder."
But the man most honored by the Iroquois was William Johnson, a young Irishman born in the County of Meath, Ireland, in 1715, coming to the Valley of the Mohawk in 1738.
in 1726 Admiral Peter Warren, wrote of this young man, his nephew:
"William is eleven years old. He is a spritely boy, well grown, of good parts and keen wit, but 'most onruly and streperous.' I see the making of a strong man. Shall keep my 'Weather Eye' on him." And he did, to the great profit of both of them.
At the dawn of a beautiful day in the autumn of 1737, a young man, whose every motion gave evidence of virile manhood, with grace of movement and strength of limb, was striding along a country highway leading to the port town of Drogheda.
The gray of dawn barely disclosed the flitting forms of trees whose bare trunks rose in small clusters form the bogs on each side of the road. The young man walked with long swinging strides, switching his high top boots with a riding whip at every step.
As the gray of the horizon gave way to the crimson and gold of a perfect morning, it disclosed the bright colors of the garments of the traveller. His straight and vigorous limbs were seen to be encased in buff knickerbockers and high top boots, while his broad shoulders and well turned arms were clothed in a green coat and long buff waistcoat, so commonly worn by the Irish gentlemen of the eighteenth century. The hat that adorned his head was of conical shape with broad band ornamented with a bright silver buckle of large size, and on the lapel of his coat was a bow of orange ribbon.
The sun arising above the bleak moor disclosed the handsome features of a young man of twenty-three, whose gray eyes and full crimson lips broke into a happy smile as he espied the drooping form of a comely girl leaning on a stile constructed in a break of the hawthorn hedge which formed a border to the road he was travelling.
Pale and trembling, and with eyes disclosing the agony of grief and a long night's vigil, the young maiden swiftly approached the young man, and with the abandon of perfect love flung herself into his outstretched arms, exclaiming: "O, Will, my darling, I cannot, cannot let you go; take, oh take me with you, do not leave me to die, as I surely will if I am left alone with my grief."
Pressing her yielding form close to his breast and arresting her frantic words with a long clinging kiss, he replied with intense fervor in his voice: "Ah, Mavourneen, do not grieve, do not look upon this as a final parting; it is true that America is a long way from dear old Ireland and the wilderness will be dreary without your dear presence, but if there is a way of reaching its distant shores, there is also a way of returning. Cheer up, my darling, through the kindness of old Uncle Peter I am to be placed in a way to make my fortune and a home for us two in this grand New World to which so many are hastening."
"Think of the happiness to come, when I am rich enough to build a home for you, my love. What will the terrors of the forest amount to when with a home for you and me, we will be safe from the stern edicts of parental authority. Kiss me, dear, and give me Godspeed and a cheerful good-bye."
Stifling her tears, she raised her eyes to his, and with one hand on his breast, clasped closely in his own and with the other pointing to the golden disk of the sun, whose rounded edge was illumining the dreary moorland, she said: "Will, as surely as that sun will rise, and at the close of day sink from sight in the west, so surely are you going out of my life in your voyage to the western world, but not out of my heart, love, not out of my breaking heart. Kiss me, dear, I hope your dreams will prove true."
He clasped her in his arms again, protesting that he would prove true to his Irish lassie, and that he would build a home for her in the forest lands of the beautiful Mohawk.
Gently disengaging herself from his strong arms and with a smile on her lips more expressive of grief than her tear laden eyes, she leaned against the stile and watched his form disappear in the distance. Then with arms outstretched towards the sea she exclaimed in an agonizing whisper: "Oh my love, my sweetheart, will never come back to me, never come back to me;" and sank unconscious on the dew-laden turf at her feet.
We know not the name of this maiden; we know not the reason why Sir Peter Warren offered the superintendent of his lands on the Mohawk River to his nephew William Johnson. All we are told is, that on account of an unfortunate love affair, he was induced by his uncle to emigrate to America.
Four years after his arrival in the valley of the Mohawk William Johnson built for himself a house, a home.
This mansion stands today practically the same as w hen built by English architects and English artisans in 1742 on lands he purchased and named Mount Johnson. It is a substantial structure built of stone, with many large windows. Most of the large rooms are paneled with birch from floor to ceiling, but the wide halls ar e wainscoted at the usual height.
There is nothing about the building that would lead one to suppose that it was built as a fortification, as the name it now bears, "Fort Johnson," would seem to indicate. A palisade thrown around the building in 1755, however, caused its name to be changed form Mount Johnson to Fort Johnson. There never was a battle in its vicinity, nor was it ever threatened with attack.
The building is now the property of the Montgomery County Historical Society as a gift of the late General John Watts de Peyster, late of Rosehill, N. Y. It has also been endowed by the Hon. Stephen Sanford of Amsterdam, N. Y.
In studying the history of Sir Wm. Johnson in the light of the 20th century my mind frequently reverts to the heart-broken Irish lass lying on the dew-laden turf in the dawn of that summer day so long ago. How true was her prophecy; her lover never came back!
Catherine Wiesenburg, the white wife of Sir William Johnson, and the mother of Sir John and his two sisters Anna (Nancy) and Mary, is the one pathetic character of all the inmates of Sir William's household. It seems to me that it must have been some dire necessity that induced this mild young German girl to cross the Atlantic in the small sailing vessel of those days, indentured to the captain for her passage money, to be sold by him to some farmer or planter for a number of years' servitude.
On the arrival of the ship in New York the passengers, many of whom were young girls seeking homes in the New World and indentured to the Captain for servitude, found friends or masters and gradually left the dock, but Catherine had failed to find a purchaser.
Homeless, friendless and forlorn, she approached the only man left on the dock. To him she applied for help, begging that he take her as a servant in the usual way.
This man proved to be Lewis Phillips, a near neighbor to William Johnson, the superintendent of the Warren purchase.
Mr. Phillips' household was so ordered that he did not need another servant, but taking pity on the poor girl, he bought her indentures from the Captain for fifteen pounds, and took her to his home on the Mohawk River.
William Johnson, his neighbor, needing a housekeeper, paid Mr. Phillips fifteen pounds and took the girl. Four years after we find her mistress of Mount Johnson.
Yes, we are proud of this old stone building; proud to be the possessors of the first baronial mansion in New York State; proud of its frontier history, but the domestic life within its walls was, to say the least, extraordinary.
Just when Johnson married Catherine Wiesenburg there is no record, but it is conceded that she became his wife after the removal to Mount Johnson in 1743.
His son, John Johnson, afterwards Sir John, was born at the Johnson settlement on the south side of the Mohawk River previous to the removal.
The mystery of the advent of Caroline Hendrick, a niece of "King" Hendrick, into the domestic life of Sir William Johnson or rather the positive knowledge that such a person did exist, has been furnished me within the past four years by one of the descendants of that unique union, and the date of her death, 1753, solves the question, "When was Molly Brant installed at Mount Johnson (Fort Johnson)?"
When Caroline Hendrick died, in 1753, her three children were left to the care of her young niece, Molly Brant, so we must assume Molly became Caroline's successor very soon after her death.
The Molly Brant regime is so well known to historians that I will mention briefly that she bore to Sir William seven daughters and one son, George Johnson, each of whom was well provided for in Johnson's will. It will be remembered that in his will he speaks of these children as "my natural sons and daughters of Molly Brant, my prudent and faithful housekeeper." It is said however that she did the honors of hostess at Johnson Hall, to distinguished guests of Sir Williams's, with unexpected dignity and grace.
The only child of Caroline Hendrick that is provided for in his will is Teg-ge-unto, ,or William of Canajoharie. It is safe to assume, therefore, that the girls Charlotte and Caroline must have received their portions upon their marriage, which occurred while Sir William was yet alive.
Returning to old Fort Johnson, we have an other extraordinary and pathetic incident to relate, in the brief supremacy of a beautiful girl named Clara Putnam, whom Sir John Johnson wooed and won but did not wed, and who was hurriedly displaced, to make room for the beautiful Polly Watts, a scion of the first families of New York City, who came to Fort Johnson as the bride of Sir John Johnson, the only member of the household of Sir William Johnson entitled to the name of "Lady Johnson."
Sir William Johnson died at Johnson Hall, Johnstown, N. Y., June 11, 1774.
Source: Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, held at Kingston, N.Y., September 12th, 13th and 14th, 1911. Vol. XI, 1912. pp. 56 - 61.