Sir William Johnson

The year 1740, is signalized by the advent upon the Mohawk, of one who was destined to exercise an important influence, and occupy a conspicuous place in our colonial history. Sir William Johnson was a native of Ireland. He left his native country in consequence of the unfavorable issue of a love affair. His uncle, Sir Peter Warren, an Admiral in the English navy, owned by government grant, a large tract of land--15,000 acres--within the present town of Florida, Montgomery county. Young Johnson became his agent, and located himself in the year above named, at Warren's Bush, a few miles from the present village of Port Jackson. He now began that intercourse with the Indians which was to prove so beneficial to the English, in the last French war that soon followed, the influences of which were to be so prejudicial to the colonial interests, in the war of the Revolution. He made himself familiar with their language, spoke it with ease and fluency; watched their habits and peculiarities; studied their manners, and by his mildness and prudence, gained their favor and confidence, and an unrivalled ascendancy over them. In all important matters he was generally consulted by them, and his advice followed. In 1755, he was entrusted with a command in the provincial service of New York. He marched against Crown Point, and after the repulse of Col. Williams, he defeated and took Diesku prinsoner. For this service the Parliament voted him five thousand pounds, and the King made him a Baronet. The reader will have noticed his effective agency in keeping the Six Nations in the English interests, and his military achievement at Niagara.

From the following notice, which appeared in a contemporary publication - the London Gentleman's Magazine, for September, 1755 - it will be seen how well adapted he was to the peculiar offices and agencies that developed upon him. It is an extract of a journal written in this country: -

"Major General Johnson (an Irish gentleman,) is universally esteemed in our parts, for the part he sustains. Besides his skill and experience as an officer, he is particularly happy in making himself beloved by all sorts of people, and can conform to all companies and conversations. He is very much of the fine gentleman in genteel company. But as the inhabitants next to him are mostly Dutch, he sits down with them and smokes his tobacco, drinks flip, and talks of improvements, bear and beaver skins. Being surrounded with Indians, he speaks several of their languages well, and has always some of them with him. His house is a safe and hospitable retreat for them from the enemy. He takes care of their wives and children when they go out on parties, and even wears their dress. In short, by his honest dealings with them in trade, and his courage, which has often been successfully tried with them and his courteous behaviour, he has so endeared himself to them, that they chose him one of their chief sachems or princes, and esteem him as their common father."

Miss Eleanor Wallaslous, a fair and comely Dutch girl, who had been sold to limited service in New York, to pay her passage across the ocean, to one of his neighbors, soon supplied the place of the fair one in Ireland, whose fickleness had been the means of impelling him to new scenes and associations in the back-woods of America. Although taking her to his bed and board, and for a long period acknowledging her as his wife, he was never married to her until she was upon her death-bed, a measure necessary to legitimize his three children, who afterwards became, Sir John Johnson, Mrs. Guy Johnson, and Mrs. Col. Claus. His next wife, was Molly Brant, sister of the conspicuous chieftain of that name. He was married to her a few years before his death, for the same purpose that was consummated in the previous instance.

Colden says of Sir William, that "he dressed himself after the Indian manner, made frequent dances after their customs when they excite to war, and used all the means he could think of, at a considerable expense, to engage them in a war against Canada."

The liberal patronage of the English government, and the facility with which he could procure grants of the Indians, made him an extensive land-holder. He obtained one grant, in a manner which has made it the subject of a familiar anecdote, from Hendrick, a Mohawk chief, of one hundred thousand acres, situated in the now county of Herkimer. He had before his death laid the foundation of perhaps as large an individual landed estate, as was ever possessed in this country. His heirs taking sides against the colonies, in the Revolution, at its close, the whole estate was confiscated.

The Johnson family are so mingled with our early colonial history, and the border wars of the Revolution, that most readers will be familiar with a subject that has been introduced here, only to assist in giving a brief sketch of the progress of settlement west of the Hudson previous to the Revolution; and to aid a clear understanding of some local events in that contest.

Sir William Johnson died on the 24th of June, 1774--having for nearly thirty-five years exercised an almost one man power, not only in his own immediate domain, but far beyond it. In his character were blended many sterling virtues, with vices that are perhaps to be attributed in a greater degree to the freedom of a back-woods life, - the absence of restraints which the ordinances of civilization imposes, - than to radical defects. His talents, it must be inferred, were of a high order; his achievements at Niagara alone, would entitle him to the character of a brave and skillful military commander; and in the absence of amiable social qualities, he could hardly have gained so strong a hold upon the confidence and respect of the Six Nations, as we see he maintained up to the period of his death.

He died just as the great struggle of the colonies commenced. Had he lived to have participated in it he would probably have been found on the side of the mother country. In his case, to the ordinary obligations of loyalty, were added those of gratitude for high favors and patronage. Though it has been inferred that in anticipation of the crisis that was approaching, he was somewhat wavering in his purpose. Mr. Simms, the local historian of the Mohawk Valley, upon information derived from those who lived at that period, and in the vicinity, favors the conclusion that he died by his own hand, to escape a participation in the struggle, which his position must have forced upon him:- "As the cloud of colonial difficulty was spreading from the capital of New England to the frontier English settlements, Sir William Johnson was urged by the British crown, to take sides with the parent country. He had been taken from comparative obscurity, and promoted by the government of England, to honors and wealth. Many wealthy and influential friends around him were already numbered among the advocates of civil liberty. Should he raise his arm against that power that had thus signally honored him? Should he take sides with the oppressor against many of his tried friends in many perilous adventures? These were serious quesions, as we may reasonably suppose, which often occupied his mind. The Baronet declared to several of his friends, as the storm of civil discord was gathering, that 'England and her colonies were approaching a terrible war, but that he should never live to witness it.' (see Note 1) At the time of his death, a court was sitting at Johnstown, and while in the court-room on the afternoon of the day of his death, a package from England of a political nature was handed him. He left the court-house, went directly home, and in a few hours was a corpse."

While it must remain perhaps, a subject of speculation how Sir Willim Johnson would have used his powerful influence, had he lived, it is quite certain that it would not have been as hurtful to the colonies, as that portion of it was, which was inherited, with his title, by his son and son-in-law. While they were not his equals in talent - had not many of the good qualities he possessed - they used the influence that he transmitted to them in a manner that we are justified in inferring, it would not have been used, had he lived to exercise it.

Sir William was succeeded in his titles and estate, by his son Sir John Johnson; his authority as General Superintendent of Indian Affairs, fell into the hands of Col. Guy Johnson, his son-in-law, who had long been his assistant, as deputy; in which office he was assisted by Col. Daniel Claus, who had married another daughter of the Baronet.

Before the close of the French and English war, small settlements were begun in the neighborhood of the colony commenced by Mr. Lindsay. Previous to the American Revolution, a family of Harpers, distinguished in that contest, had left Cherry Valley and commenced a settlement at Harpersfield, Delaware county. The Rev. William Johnson had succeeded in planting a flourishing little colony, on the east side of the Susquehannah, a short distance below the forks of the Unadilla, and several families were scattered through Springfield, Middlefield, (then called New-Town Martin,) and Laurens and Otego, called Old England District. In the year 1716, Philip Groat, made a purchase of land in the present town of Amsterdam. He was drowned in removing his family to his new home. His widow and her three sons made the intended settlement. They erected a grist mill at what is now called Crane's Village, in 1730. One of the brothers, Lewis Groat, was captured by the Indians in the French and English war, and kept in captivity four years. In this war, these primitive settlers upon the Mohawk were often visited by the French Indian allies, and had a foretaste of the horrid scenes that were to follow, in a few years. The valley of the Mohawk was the theatre of martyrdom and suffering, in two wars.

In the year 1740 a small colony of Irish emigrants, located in the present town of Glen. The Indian disturbances alarmed them, and after a few years they returned to Ireland.

Giles Fonda was the first merchant west of Schenectady. His customers were the few settlers upon the Mohawk, and the Indians of the Six Nations. He had branches, or depots, at Forts Schuyler, Stanwix, Oswego, Niagara and Schlosser. His principal business was to exchange blankets, trinkets, ammunition and rum for furs, peltries and ginseng.

A church was erected at Caughnawaga, partly under the patronage of Sir William Johnson, in 1765. Churches were erected at Stone Arabia, Palatine and German Flats, before the Revolution. At an early period a small church was constructed of wood, near the Upper Mohawk Castle. A bell that was in use then, was brought away by the Mohawks, in their flight westward, and was used in the temporary Mohawk settlement at Lewiston.

Toward the close of the French war, the public debt of the Province of New York, obliged a resort to a direct tax. The amount levied upon the inhabitants of the "Mohawk Valley," which designation then embraced the whole State west of Albany, was 242,176 pounds.

In 1772, three years previous to the Revolution, Tyron county was taken from Albany. (see Note 2) It embraced all the present state of New York, west of a line drawn north and south nearly through the center of Schoharie county. It was divided into five districts. The first court of "general quarter sessions of the peace," was held in Johnstown, Sept. 8th, 1772. The Bench consisted of:

Guy Johnson, Judge
John Butler, Peter Conyne, Judges
Sir John Johnson, Knight, Daniel Claus, John Wells, Jelles Fonda, Asst. Judges
John Collins, Joseph Chew, Adam Loucks, John Fry, Francis Young, Peter Ten Broek, Justices

A glimpse has thus been furnished the reader, of the condition of things, in the county of Tyron, preceding a crisis which was to make it the theatre of sanguinary scenes; its few and scattered inhabitants, sufferers, and not unfrequently martyrs, in the harassing border war that came upon them to multiply three fold the ordinary endurances of the pioneers of the wilderness. (see Note 3)

Note 1: Col. Stone, in his life of Brant, rejects the inference that Sir William committed suicide; or that he was embarrassed in reference to the course he should pursue. He says, he "visited England for the last time in the autumn of 1773, returning the next spring. He probably came back with his loyal feelings somewhat strengthened."

Note 2: Named in honor of William Tryon, then Governor of the Province.

Note 3: "The population of Cherry Valley was short of three hundred, and that of the whole county of Tryon but a few thousand, when the Revolution commenced." - Campbell's Annals.

Source: Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York: Some Account of the Ancient Remains; A Brief History of Our Immediate Predecessors, The Confederated Iroquois, Their System of Government, Wars, Etc. - A Synopsis of Colonial History: Some Notices of the Border Wars of the Revolution: And A History of Pioneer Settlement Under the Auspices of the Holland Company; Includes Reminiscenses of the War of 1812; The Origin, Progress and Completion of the Erie Canal, Etc. Etc. Etc.

That is indeed the full verbatim title. The author was simply O. Turner; Buffalo: Geo. H. Derby and Co., 1850.

Contributed to our site in Memory of E. E.

This exceptional early article was carefully typed by Tamara Wilkinson, who surprisingly didn't complain about her eyesight after tackling the old typography (the unusual placement of commas was in the original). But Tammy did remind me to mention again that she's searching for her elusive DEWANDELAERs and her query is posted on our September 1997 queries board right at the top of the page. Neither Tammy or I own the orignal book.

And Tammy typed more. Enjoy the short articles below, both from Beer's "History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties", 1878.

Fort Johnson

Sir William Johnson, in the year 1742, purchased a lot of land on the Kayaderosseras (now Fort Johnson), creek, about 3 miles north-west from the mouth of the Chuctenunda, in the town of Amsterdam, "for the purpose," as he asserts, "of securing a valuable water-power, on which he proposed to erect a saw-mill, that would be certain to yield a profit of full forty pounds per annum." He soon after moved from Warrensbush, across the Mohawk, to his new possessions. In 1744 he erected a valuable flouring mill upon the brisk stream, and also built an elegant stone mansion for his own residence, conferring upon the estate the name of Fort Johnson. This massive stone structure, still standing, is 35 feet deep by 60 feet front, and two stories high, with lofty attic, and large dormer windows. It was elegantly finished for that period, as is evidenced by the richly ornamented carvings of oak and mahogany, paneled wainscoating, spacious halls and staircase. Standing, as it does, on the main thoroughfare from the East to the far West, on low grounds close by the creek, the hills rising abruptly in the rear, it bids fair, for many years, to be an interesting relic of earliest civilization. Here, after Sir William had built the "Hall" at Johnstown, and removed thither in 1763, his son (afterwards Sir John Johnson), continued to reside.

One mile east of Fort Johnson was the residence of Colonel Daniel Claus, a son-in-law of Sir William. This dwelling was subsequently burned and never rebuilt.

Rev. Gideon Hawley made a journey, in 1753, from Albany to Oghkwaga (now Windsor, Broome Co.), by way of the Mohawk valley. Forty years later he wrote a narrative of the trip, from which we take the following:

"At sunset we were politely received at Colonel Johnson's gate, by himself in person. Here we lodged. His mansion was stately, and situate a little distance from the river, on the rising ground, and adjacent to a stream which turned his mill. This gentleman was well-known in his civil military and private character. He was the first civil character in the county of Albany at that day; and after this, by means of the war which commenced in 1755, and his connection with the Indians, of whom he was appointed sole superintendent for that part of the continent, he arose to great eminence. In 1756 he was made a baronet. It was favourable to our mission to have his patronage, which I never lost. In the year 1765 I found him at another mansion about eight miles from this, and four from the river. This last was a very superb and elegant edifice, surrounded with little buildings for the accommodation of the Indians when down upon treaties or conferences with him. Mr. Woodbridge and I took our leave of him in the morning, rode up to the ford and crossed the river, and came over to the south side, and rode to what was called the Mohawk castle, near which was a stone chapel and village of Indians, situate on Scoharry creek, not far from the place where it discharges its waters into the Mohawk."

Guy Park

Still another mile east--each domain a mile square--was the low, two-story strongly-built stone mansion called, with the surrounding estate, Guy Park, where the nephew, as well as son-in-law, of Sir William Johnson, Guy Johnson, resided. The house continued to wear its stern, semi-prison appearance till 1846, when it passed into the hands of James Stewart, by whom it was considerably enlarged, its roof raised, and the whole building remodeled and converted into a handsome dwelling, still bearing the name of Guy Park.

These places were abandoned soon after the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, and were subsequently declared forfeited and confiscated by the Federal Gonvernment, and sold to other parties. E. Akin is now in possession of Fort Johnson, where he has resided for several years. A portion of the mile square originally belonging with it was first purchased by ___ Kyler, and afterwards transferred, successively, to Schuyler, Van Schoick, Maxwell, Smith, and, lastly, in 1840, to Lansing W. Sweet, the present occupant. Another portion, after passing through numerous hands, became the property of Joshua Wilde in 1845, and from him it passed, in 1854, to his son, James L. Wilde, who continues to occupy it. Still another part, now owned by Abram Lingenfelder, was first settled by Nathan Wells, and afterwards owned successively by Alphenbreck Putnam and Benj. Turney, who, in 1863, sold it to its present owner.

The glove factory of James Finehout and the skin mill of Coughnet and Moore are also located on this square, near Fort Johnson. A grist-mill, the third in order, now occupies the site of the one erected by Sir William, the two former having burned down.

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