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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 38: Sir William Johnson and the Mohawk Valley — 1738-1748.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 534-544 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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William Johnson settles in present Amsterdam, south side — Marries Catherine Weissenberg — Buys land on north side — builds Mount Johnson in the present western section of Amsterdam and removes there — Made a justice of the peace of Albany County — Adopted as a chief of the Mohawk tribe — made Colonel of militia and the Six Nations.

The coming of William Johnson into the Mohawk Valley in 1738, has been mentioned in the previous chapter. Johnson was the eldest son of Christopher Johnson of Warrentown, County Down, Ireland, "of a family ancient in descent and honorable in its alliances". He was born in Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland, in 1715.

His mother was Annie Warren, sister of the brothers Oliver and Peter — afterward Sir Peter Warren, K. B. — whose names are identified with the naval glory of England in the first half of the Eighteenth century. Oliver Warren was a captain of the Royal Navy. Peter, the youngest son, (born in 1704) became a naval captain in 1727. In 1728, Captain Peter Warren sailed on naval service to the West Indies, being engaged in various activities along the American coast until 1745.

Early in this period he married a sister of James De Lancey, chief justice of the Province, later lieutenant-governor and one of the greatest political powers in the Colony. Captain Warren built himself a house at No. 1 Broadway, New York, which was the finest house at that time in the city. It fronted fifty-six feet on Broadway and had a banquet hall, 26 by 40 feet. The Admiral Warren house became the headquarters (1776-1783) of the British commanders of New York during the Revolution.

Captain Warren brought William Johnson to America, in 1738, to superintend the estate in the Mohawk Valley, which the Captain had bought shortly after his marriage. Warren was very fond of his young nephew, addressing him as "Dear Billy" in his letters, and giving him explicit directions as to the care and sale of the lands. The estate was called Warrensbush. It lay in the present township of Florida, Montgomery County, south of the present city of Amsterdam, of which Johnson was the first settler.

Captain Warren and Johnson were also in a mercantile partnership, the nephew opening a store and Indian trading station on his settlement in "Maquaas Landt." Johnson from the first, seems to have worked not only for his uncle's interest but for his own. Stone says: "Young Johnson likewise succeeded, beyond all other men, in winning the confidence and affection of the Mohawk Indians, whose most considerable town, Dyiondarogon, was but a few miles distant. His trade with them had already become considerable and the spirit of enterprise, which was rapidly to raise him to fortune, was manifested in the letter to his uncle just cited." Dyiondarogon was the lower Mohawk castle at Fort Hunter.

Young Johnson had acquired a very considerable education for his time, having a knowledge of French and Latin and a love of good books which early induced him to acquire the first considerable library collected in the Mohawk Valley. His orders for books, prints and music from London dealers indicate a love of art and music as well as a strong scientific bent. As Johnson developed into full maturity, he became one of the leading, most powerful and most remarkable characters of Colonial days in America. His power and prominence in the English colonies were analogous to those of General Washington in Revolutionary days. The coming and settlement of such a remarkable man in the Mohawk Valley — Gateway to the West, was an event of national importance and one of a combination of circumstances which had its influence in shaping the destinies of the world.

If William Johnson had not come from Ireland to live among the Mohawks it is reasonably certain that North America of today would not be an English-speaking continent. In that case it is very probable that two strong nations — one French, one English — would have developed, with incessant warfare which would have greatly retarded American development and the progress of civilization the world over.

William Johnson settled sixteen Irish families on the Warren lands in the present township of Florida, in 1740. These settlers are said to have moved out a few years later, being fearful of Indian attack in King George's war. Peter Warren Young was the first white child born in Warrensbush and he was named for its proprietor.

About 1739, Johnson married Catherine Weissenberg. She was a German girl who had been "bound out" to pay her ocean passage, to Alexander and Harman Philips who lived about a half mile east of "Johnsons", where their father, Philip Philips had settled in 1689 — nearly a half century before Johnson came into the Mohawk Valley. Catherine was a handsome, pleasant young woman. One day Lewis Groat, a friend of Johnson, asked him why he did not marry; Johnson replied "that he wanted to marry a girl in Ireland — that his parents were opposed to the match and that, since he could not marry the girl of his choice he had resolved never to marry." — (Simms) Groat then suggested that he get the pretty High Dutch girl at Philips' for a housekeeper. Johnson replied "I will do it."

Later Groat went to the Philips place and asked one of the brothers where their German girl was. Philips replied: "Johnson, that damned Irishman, came the other day and offered me five pounds for her, threatening to horsewhip me and steal her if I would not sell her. I thought five pounds better than a flogging; and took it and he's got the gal." Johnson married Catherine Weissenberg about 1741, [N.B. previous paragraph says 1739] and her first child John (later Sir John) Johnson, was born in 1742 at his Amsterdam location.

Her other two children, Anna and Mary, are supposed to have been born at Mount Johnson, the first north side house — not the one later known as Fort Johnson. William Johnson was very fond of his wife, Catherine, who died soon after their removal to present Fort Johnson about 1742. Some time after his wife's death, Johnson employed another Catherine as a housekeeper. She was a niece of King Hendrick, the great Mohawk chief. In this way, Johnson added to his growing influence over the Mohawks and other Six Nations Indians.

In 1739, William Johnson bought lands for himself on the north shore of the Mohawk in the western section of the present city of Amsterdam and in present Fort Johnson village. On this considerable tract, in 1742, Johnson built a stone house known as Mount Johnson from the hill which rose from the flats to the northward. On the creek to the west, where Fort Johnson now stands, the young Irishman built a grist mill and saw mill, storehouse and barns. The first Mount Johnson stood about a half mile east of the present Fort Johnson, which was erected by Colonel Johnson in 1749. Present Fort Johnson was known as Mount Johnson from 1749 to December 6th, 1755, when Johnson wrote the first letter dated "Fort Johnson." The same designation of Mount Johnson for two different houses, situated closely together, has given rise to much historical confusion. Johnson probably installed Molly Brant as his housekeeper in the first Mount Johnson, about 1755, after which he probably spent much time there, keeping Fort Johnson as his family and official residence. In 1763, Johnson gave his daughter Anna or "Nancy," the use of the first Mount Johnson, after her marriage to Colonel Daniel Claus. At this time, Sir William Johnson removed to Johnson Hall, at Johnstown, with Molly Brant and her children. On Sir William's death, in 1774, the first Mount Johnson was willed to Colonel Claus and his wife.

On the same year that Johnson built Mount Johnson, his son, John Johnson was born at Amsterdam and another male infant of a different color, who was to share the fortunes of the Johnson family, saw the light of day on the banks of the Ohio, far from the shores of the Mohawk, where he later was to play a dramatic and terrible part in the bloody scenes of the Revolution. This red infant was Thay-en-da-ne-ge-a, otherwise known as Joseph Brant. His father was a Mohawk chief and his parents were on a hunting expedition to the Ohio, when Joseph was born. Brant's father's name was Te-ho-wagh-en-go-ragh-kwin and he was a full-blooded Mohawk of the Wolf Clan. It is also probable that Tehowaghengoraghkwin was the chief called Brant or Nickus Brant. He was the son of one of the five Iroquois sachems who visited London in 1710. Thayendanegea and his parents resided at the Upper Mohawk Castle or Canajoharie Castle, whose Mohawk inhabitants were called "Canajoharies." Molly Brant was probably slightly older than her famous brother, who is called by Fisk, the most remarkable Indian in our history. Molly Brant later became housekeeper and mistress of Sir William Johnson, after which Joseph became a ward of the baronet.

In 1744, William Johnson opened a personal account with the important firm of Sir Wm. Baker & Co. in London, showing that he had prospered in his six years residence in the Mohawk Valley. From this time onward, until his death in 1774, the history of the Mohawk Valley is largely that of Sir William Johnson. This chapter largely covers Johnson's activities and rise to power and fame during King George's war (1744-1748).

Another event of 1744 was of great importance in the life of William Johnson. Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Clarke had been acting governor of the Province of New York since the death of Governor William Cosby in 1736 and until 1744, when Governor George Clinton arrived to supersede Clarke. Sir George Clarke, as noted in the preceding chapter, had been a summer resident of the Mohawk Valley at present Fort Plain, from 1738 to 1742. Clinton became a friend of Johnson, and it was largely because of this fact that Johnson rose to power and influence in Colonial affairs.

The fact that nearly every European war, which embroiled England in its bloody horrors, also carried the British-American Colonies into the conflict, probably strongly tended to eventually make the American people feel the necessity of Independence. European quarrels brought on King William's war and Queen Anne's war and now, in 1744, British America was again involved with New France in these foreign differences, which brought disaster and death to the French and English colonists on these shores. A contest had arisen between Maria Theresa, Empress of Hungary, and the Elector of Bavaria, for the Austrian throne. George II, King of England, took the part of the Empress, while Louis XV, King of France, took the opposite side, as was usual in the European quarrels which involved these two monarchs. Louis thereupon declared war, on March 31st, 1744, against George, and English and French colonists butchered each other on the distant shores of the Atlantic, in the futile Colonial warfare which followed. As one of the many bloody results of this royal quarrel, twenty young men of Schenectady met their death in battle and a number of Mohawk Valley settlers were murdered or made prisoners and their buildings and property were burned and destroyed.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut raised troops in 1745, which joined in an expedition against Louisburg, the stronghold of the French on the Atlantic, located on the island of Cape Breton. Admiral Peter Warren, uncle of Sir William Johnson, commanded the British fleet which cooperated in this movement. Warren's fleet defeated a French war flotilla and Louisburg was surrendered by the French on July 17, 1745. This was the outstanding event of King George's war in the American Colonies. The military force consisted mainly of American militia and was an object lesson to the colonists of their united strength. When Louisburg was handed back to the French in 1748, at the end of the war, the New Englanders were filled with wrath at the futile ending of their great efforts. On the other hand, Captain Warren achieved wealth and distinction and became an admiral and a baronet, because of his naval success, which probably reflected glory upon his keen and shrewd young nephew, William Johnson, then rising to fame in the Mohawk Valley. Johnson first enters prominently into public affairs during the four years of King George's war.

Aside from the one American-British success, King George's war was a long-drawn-out period of apprehension of attack on the northern frontiers, varied by a border warfare of the most savage kind, in which French and Indian war parties came down from Canada and massacred and burned in many frontier sections. One of the chief affrays of this series of border attacks was the battle of Beukendaal, fought on July 18, 1748, about three miles west of Schenectady, in which twenty young Schenectady militiamen were killed, and thirteen made prisoners.

New York and adjacent English colonies now suffered terribly from the weak British governmental policy which had allowed the French, unmolested, to build Fort St. Frederick at Crown Point.

The Provincial military policy was feeble throughout the war, the chief cause being the irrepressible conflict between the native American assemblys and the imported English governors. These quarrels were carried on even during the most dangerous periods and endangered the lives and property of the men, women and children of the frontiers, of which that of the Mohawk Valley was the most exposed.

This friction between royal governor and popular assembly was one of the many causes which brought on the War of Independence. The Six Nations were disgusted by the apparent weakness of a relatively great people in conflict with the few thousands of French on the St. Lawrence. Their friendship with William Johnson and his influence over them were the only factors which kept the New York Iroquois from joining the French.

In 1745, the Mohawks were disturbed by reports spread by a French agent that the English at Albany were planning to destroy them. The Mohawks of the Lower Castle at Fort Hunter fled to the Upper Castle (at present Indian Castle). Governor Clinton sent Conrad Weiser on a friendly mission to all the Iroquois to quiet these unfounded apprehensions, which he succeeded in doing, holding a council with the Mohawks at the Lower Castle. Weiser was the son of Conrad Weiser, the leader of the Schoharie Palatines who had removed to Pennsylvania and he was now the official interpreter of that state.

November 16th, 1745, a French-Indian Canadian raiding force of 500 struck the Saratoga settlements and killed thirty people and captured sixty, including a number of negroes. The raiders burned houses, barns, mills and a blockhouse and got away without a wound.

When Governor Clinton arrived in New York in 1744, he fell under the influence of Justice James De Lancey, then a great power in the colony, and an overbearing, crafty, arrogant but intellectual personality. It was because of William Johnson's relationship to Admiral Peter Warren, who married De Lancey's sister, that the Justice introduced Johnson to the Governor and probably recommended Johnson's advancement.

In April, 1745, William Johnson was made a justice of the peace and thus became a magistrate of Albany County, a position of considerable importance in those days. He was then a strong influence in keeping the Mohawks loyal to the English crown and accordingly the French had set a high price on his scalp.

In 1746, one of the many Colonial projects for the conquest of Quebec was set on foot, only to end in nothing, as usual. In this year De Lancey quarreled with Governor Clinton, because of his inability to absolutely control the executive's policies. Henceforth there was a bitter partisan fight between these two. Clinton turned for support to William Johnson who sided with the Governor in spite of the young Irishman's relationship to De Lancey. This quarrel ended only with the departure of Clinton in 1753, when De Lancey became Lieutenant-Governor and acting governor when he again became friendly with Johnson.

About April 9th, 1746, Johnson was selected to furnish supplies to the English garrison at Oswego, and in the same year succeeded Colonel Schuyler as head of the commissioners controlling Indian affairs in the province. This aroused the enmity of the Schuylers who were political partisans of Justice De Lancey. In 1746, Fort Williams was built at the carry between the Mohawk and Wood Creek, on the present site of Rome.

In 1746, Johnson, long a favorite with the Mohawks, was adopted as a chief of the tribe. Stone says of Johnson and his friendship with the Mohawks: "Familiar with their language and manners, he assumed their garb and mingled among them as one of their own people. He entered readily into all their athletic exercises, their games and all the varieties of their pastimes — prompted, it is likely, in part by his love of the picturesque and of wild adventure and, in part, it is but just to believe, by the sincere affection he had imbibed for the race."

A council was held with the Six Nations at Albany in August, 1746. It was only through the united efforts of Johnson, Rev. Thomas Barclay, the English missionary among the Mohawks, and Dr. Colden, that the Mohawks were induced to be present. The council was called because of the wavering of the Six Nations toward the French cause. It resulted satisfactorily in an offensive and defensive alliance between the English and the Iroquois, largely due to Johnson's influence with the Mohawks. The Mohawks marched on one side of the Mohawk River, to the council fire, while the five other Iroquois nations marched on the other shore, as there were then political divisions between these two parties. Stone says: "Both divisions entered Albany on the eighth of August — the Mohawks in full panoply, at the head of whom marched their new war-captain, Johnson, upon whom they had conferred the name of 'War-ragh-i-ya-gey', signifying, it is believed 'Superintendent of Affairs' — 'dressed, painted, and plumed as required by the dignity of his rank.' Another translation of Johnson's Indian name is given as meaning 'bringing two people together.'"

On August 28th, 1746, Johnson was appointed a colonel of militia and colonel of the warriors of the Six Nations. From this time onward, for a period of nearly thirty years, Johnson was one of the most powerful figures in the Colonial history of New York.

The Mohawk Valley suffered much in King George's war, inasmuch as it was on such an exposed frontier. The militia of the valley was often called into action, and it included every able-bodied man between the ages of sixteen and sixty. In Albany and Schenectady every militiaman had to go on watch every third or fourth night.

The years 1746, 1747, and 1748 were marked by frequent murders and barbarities in the Albany-Schenectady district and in the Mohawk Valley. These scalping parties were so numerous that they cannot all be detailed. No family was safe unless protected by blockhouse or palisade, and many settlers fled from the frontiers during these bloody days. In 1746, from April to August, there are records of thirty Canadian scalping parties which fell upon the settlements around Albany and Schenectady. Settlers were struck down almost at the gates of these towns and many were killed, scalped or captured. These bloody forays continued during 1746, 1747 and 1748.

In May, 1746, Simon Groot and two of his brothers were killed, about three miles west of Schenectady, by a Canadian war party which burned their house and barns and killed their cattle. A company of 106 militiamen from Schenectady pursued the enemy, without any marked result.

During 1746, Abraham Glen of Schenectady raised a company of 100 volunteers for the defense of the town and neighborhood.

It was reported, on May 7, 1746, that "The inhabitants along the Mohawk River have left their settlements, so that we are now reduced to great distress. As we wrote in our last, if a very Considerable Force be not Immediately sent to our assistance we must remove and look out for New Settlements. We have neither Men, Money nor Warlike Stores."

The Mohawks, as usual, did the most service in countering these savage blows of the enemy. In August, 1746, three Mohawks killed the French commander of Ft. St. Frederick at Crown Point. In April, 1747, a Mohawk war party went out toward Crown Point and defeated a French scouting party, bringing home six scalps. On June 1, 1747, a small war party of six Mohawk braves, under Chief Kintige, returned to the Lower Castle with seven prisoners and three scalps, taken below Montreal. King Hendrick, of the Upper Castle, led a scouting party of Mohawks and militiamen to Canada where they were ambuscaded. Nine Indians and four Schenectady militiamen were killed by the first fire. Hendrick and the rest of his followers escaped.

The Schenectady and Mohawk Valley militia not only defended their exposed frontier but they were compelled to furnish men for the defense of Fort Oswego. Colonel Jacob Glen of Schenectady, wrote, in 1747, that discipline was lax at Oswego and that the English officers were drunkards.

On April 25, 1747, Col. Johnson had addressed a council of the Six Nations. In a letter to Governor Clinton dated May 30, 1747, Johnson says "I am quite pestered every day with parties returning with prisoners and scalps and without a penny to pay them." He reported twenty-nine prisoners or scalps brought to Mount Johnson that spring. On the 2nd of July, Governor Clinton ordered Col. Johnson to build a fort at Canajoharie, but whether this means the castle or somewhere in the large district known by the name of Canajoharie, is not certain. It is not even known whether the fort was built at this time. On July 16, 1747, Colonel Johnson attended a council between Governor Clinton and the Mohawks at Albany.

In February, 1748, Clinton appointed Johnson commander of the New York Colonial troops along the northern frontier. From this time forward William Johnson, then only thirty-three years old, seems to have turned over the details of his business to others and devoted himself generally to governmental and military affairs. Says Stone: "Becoming favorably known both to the colony and the British government, he now assumed, as better suited to his improved standing, more dignity in his appointments, his manner of living, and his intercourse with the Indians."

Early in 1748, Johnson received orders to build forts at the Iroquois towns. On March 20th, he held a council with the Mohawks and then summoned the Six Nations to a council at Onondaga, which met April 24th to 26th. Its object was to retain the allegiance of the Iroquois which was considerably weakened by the usual futile and inefficient efforts of both the British government and the American colonies. Colonel Johnson conducted the council with his usual skill and diplomacy and after the distribution of presents, the conference broke up with completely successful results.

Governor Clinton later made a journey into the Mohawk Valley and westward summoning the Six Nations to a council at Albany, which was held from July 23rd to 27th. Arent Stevens of Schenectady was appointed Provincial Indian interpreter and for many years served as such under Johnson.

On July 18th, 1748, a raiding war party of French and Indians defeated a company of Schenectady militia at the bloody battle of Beukendaal, about three miles west of the city at the site of the old De Graff house. Twenty young militiamen were killed and thirteen made prisoners. This was the only conflict of the war in the Mohawk Valley and the Albany-Schenectady district. A description of this affray is given in the next chapter.

Before the close of the Old French war in 1748, and before the news of peace reached this country, the New York Provincial Assembly passed an act authorizing the building of two new blockhouses at Schenectady.

The treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 1748, concluded the third of the struggles between the French and English in America. The years from the end of King George's, or the Old French war, in 1748, to the beginning of the Great French and Indian war in 1754, were but an armed truce between the French and English colonists and their Indian allies. They were important years of development in the Mohawk Valley and in the career of its greatest Colonial citizen, Colonel William Johnson.

King George's war, in New York, was marked by much silly talk, dull plans and futile action. Projects were formed for alliance with New England but aid was refused the New England colonies when requested. It was a conflict which left the American colonies strong, but dejected and disgusted with English leadership. It was, however, a period in which William Johnson rose to great power and prominence and our Mohawk Valley, as his seat of residence and administration, took on a prominence in the affairs of the world, which has been constantly increasing in the two centuries since Johnson settled here.

Johnson's flour mill became one of the most important in the Mohawk Valley, which was rapidly becoming the wheat granary of the English Colonies. Johnson shipped flour to New York and the West Indies and furs to London, and the young and progressive frontiersman seems to have rapidly acquired wealth during his first years along the Mohawk River.

[Photo: Frey House.]

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