This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.

SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 52

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 52: 1759 — Settlement of Johnstown and Building of Johnson Hall.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 660-679 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go back to: Chapter 51 | ahead to: Chapter 53

1755, Planning and settlement of Johnstown — 1762, Johnson Hall built — Sir William Johnson moves to Johnstown from Fort Johnson — Life at Johnson Hall — Johnson's progressive farming methods — His Scotch Highlander retainers — 1772, Tryon County and Johnstown its county seat — Sir William's family — John Johnson, Anna and Mary Johnson — The Tory aristocracy of Tryon County — The Butlers — Joseph and Mollie Brant, housekeeper for Sir William Johnson — The "brown lady" of Johnson Hall.

The settlement of Johnstown, 1755-1760, and Sir William Johnson's removal to Johnson Hall, in 1762, mark the beginnings of the development of present Fulton County and its present township of Johnstown, which includes the important cities of Johnstown and Gloversville. These years also may be generally considered to have inaugurated the historical period of Fulton County, just as the settlement of Schenectady by the Dutch in 1661-2 marks the beginnings of Schenectady County; the location of Frey at Palatine Bridge, in 1689, marks the start of Montgomery County; the settlement of the Palatines on the Schoharie, in 1712, inaugurated the history of Schoharie County; the location of Palatines, in 1723, on the German Flats started Herkimer County; and the erection of Fort Stanwix in 1758 on the site of present Rome, was the beginning of Oneida County.

The present cities of Johnstown and Gloversville lie in the township of Johnstown, Fulton County. The lands comprising this town were originally included in the following patents: Stone Arabia, 12,700 acres (1723); Walter Butler, 4,000 acres (1735); Sacondaga, or Gansevoort, 28,000 acres (1741); Kingsborough or Stevens, 20,000 acres (1753). Sir William Johnson purchased his Johnstown lands from the owners of these patents but principally from the last.

The Johnstown section probably appealed to Johnson because it gave him an opportunity to create a town and a large baronial estate, somewhat removed from the Mohawk River, along which the lands were generally taken up at this period. The location of this new estate was sightly and healthful and the farm lands were generally good. An Indian trail ran through the proposed town from Tribes Hill to Timmerman Creek at the site of present St. Johnsville. It cut off a considerable distance, compared with the river road, and avoided the generally miry King's Highway, which ran along the Mohawk in this twenty-six mile stretch of the important Mohawk Valley transportation route. Johnstown was the center of other Indian trails which added to its value as a trading and Indian council center. One trail ran from Saratoga to the West Canada Creek at present Middleville and from thence to the Black River Road at Remsen; another trail ran northward to the Sacandaga and from there to Lake George and so on to Canada. Trails branched from Johnstown to Mohawk River points at or opposite to present Tribes Hill, Fonda (Caughnawaga), Stone Arabia, Canajoharie-Palatine Bridge, Fort Plain — Nelliston, Palatine Church and St. Johnsville.

Sir William Johnson began to plan Johnstown and Johnson Hall as early as 1755, but he could not give his new location much of his attention until after his return from the Montreal expedition with Amherst. He was back at Fort Johnson on October 11, 1760, and doubtless then began active planning and building operations in connection with his proposed town and baronial hall. Probably he already had in mind the creation of a new county, of which Johnstown would be the county seat, and in which he would be the unofficial overlord.

Johnson was always seeking to enlarge his landed estate and, on January 6, 1761, applied for a patent for Canajoharie land. On March 11, 1761, he was commissioned by King George III as superintendent of Indian affairs for all the English colonies.

On March 28th, 1762, Sir William gave 50 acres of land to the Johnstown Episcopal Church, when the first frame church was erected on the site of the Colonial cemetery. He was then busily engaged in the construction of Johnson Hall, which was probably nearly finished about this time.

[Photo: Johnson Hall, 1762.]

Johnson Hall is a frame building, sixty feet long, forty feet wide, and two stories high, facing southeastwardly across lands sloping to the neighboring creek. On each side and slightly to the rear two stone blockhouses were built as part of the defences of the Hall. They were constructed in 1763, when Pontiac's war began. The northern one was burned, but the southern one still exists and is the only blockhouse now standing in the Mohawk Valley, where scores of them once served as refuges from the enemy.

Life at Johnson Hall was picturesque and interesting. The story of this baronial mansion, on the Mohawk uplands overlooking the Cayadutta, is one of the most entertaining chapters in Mohawk Valley history.

Sir William appreciated the value of education and made early provision for a school in his new town. In 1763 he built a house for Peter Drumm which is still standing. This became the site of Johnson's free school. Johnson endeavored to secure the removal of the Moor Charity School from Lebanon, Connecticut, to Johnstown, without success. In 1771 he advertised in the newspapers of New York and Philadelphia for a person "Proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic" to teach a free school which he was about to open in the village. The teacher engaged was an Irishman named Wall, who, it is said, did not spare the rod, except with the offspring of his employer, the baronet. The Johnstown free school has been erroneously stated to have been the first free school in the Province of New York.

The schoolhouse was an oblong yellow building, standing on the corner of Main and William Streets. In the streets before it stood the public stocks and whipping post, in the former of which the delinquent scholars sometimes figured. Forty or fifty children attended this school, among them being three children of Molly Brant and the baronet. Mr. Godfrey Shew, who lived a mile west of the Hall, sent his children to the school. In passing the Hall they were sometimes frightened by the Indians, who often were lounging about Sir William's house. Johnson quickly put a stop to this.

The following "list of scholars at the free school Johnstown" is given in Vol. IV, Documentary History of the State of New York, with no date appended:

Richard Young, Peter Young, Hendrick Young, Richard Cotter, Hendrick Rynnion, James Mordon, Daniel Cammel, Samuel Davis, Renier Vansiclan, Jacob Veder, Randel McDonald, John Foilyard, Peter Rynnion, Peter Potman, Jacob Doran, David Doran, Jeromy Doran, Adam McDonald, Abraham Boice, Caleb McCarty, Hendrick Colinger, Jacob Servos, John Servos, John Miller, James McGregar, George Binder, Christian Rider, Bernard Rider, Simeon Scouten, Frencis Bradthau, John Everot, Sarah Connor, Lany Rynnion, Betsy Garlick, Baby Garlick, Rebecca Vansiclan, Caty Cammel, Caty Garlick, Mary McIntyre, Peggy Potman, Eve Waldroff, Leny Waldroff, Margaret Servoss, Catherine Servoss. — 45.

The school was free but education was not compulsory and these scholars formed only a small part of the children of the Johnstown neighborhood. About 17 of these names are British (English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh), about 19 are Holland Dutch and about 8 are Palatine German. These figures give a fair idea of the proportionate racial strains in the Johnstown neighborhood as well as the names of some of the pioneer families.

The first settlers, merchants, shopkeepers and tradesmen of Johnstown, are known to a certain extent. Sir William Johnson erected the first grist mill, on the Hall Creek to the north of Johnson Hall. Peter Young was probably the first miller. Gilbert Tice kept the first tavern. Robert Adams was one of the first storekeepers. He built a house on the site of the later Sir William Johnson Hotel. Johnson willed Adams this "dwelling house, other buildings, and the lot and one acre, whereon he now lives, the potash laboratory and one acre of land with it; also the farm which he holds by deed from me." William Phillips was a wagon maker. Adrian Van Sickler was the Johnson Hall blacksmith, in Sir William's day. Peter Yost conducted the tannery. Edward Aiken built and operated the first carding mill. James Davis was a hatter. Dr. William Adams was a physician.

Among others who lived in or near Johnstown from 1760 to 1774 were Daniel Claus, John Butler, Hugh Fraser, Bryan Lefferty, Hugh McMonts, William Crowley, Major John Little, Zephaniah Batchelor. The following were a few among the many pioneer farmers of the present township of Johnstown: John Hollenbeck, Johannes Wert, John Boshart, Henry Gross, Douw Wemple, Sampson Sammons. Col. George Croghan, Col. Daniel Claus and Col. Guy Johnson were deputy Indian agents under Johnson. Croghan was at Fort Pitt a large part of the time, keeping in touch with the affairs of the western tribes. Joseph Brant, the young Mohawk chief, was secretary to Sir William at one time. Croghan subsequently settled on the site of Cooperstown.

The pre-Revolutionary Johnstown settlement, of about a dozen buildings, was small, although it was a neighborhood center for a great extent of country, even before it became the county seat, in 1772. The Hall and its outbuildings probably held as large a population as the village, in Sir William's day. A guard of British soldiers was kept at the Hall, making its headquarters in one of the blockhouses.

St. Patrick's Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was constituted by warrant, dated May 23d, 1766, granted by the Provincial Grand Master of New York, to Sir William Johnson, Baronet, Master, Guy Johnson, S. W., and Daniel Claus, J. W., of Johnstown, New York. The lodge was organized at Johnson Hall on the 23d day of August, 1766, and worked under the supervision of Sir William Johnson, as Master, until the 6th day of December, 1770, when (he having been elected Master of the "Ineffable Lodge at Albany") Col. Guy Johnson was chosen in his stead, which station he occupied until the 5th day of May, 1777, although he was in Canada as an active Tory from 1775 to 1777. The Hall room in which these meetings were held has been fitted up as a lodge room and is a place of especial interest to Masons.

During the Revolution (1775-1783) and for a period of about ten years, the meetings of the lodge were discontinued. Many of its members were engaged in the military service, on one side or the other, both as officers and privates. Among the officers in the American army were Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, of Oriskany battlefield fame, Majors Peter Ten Broeck and Jelles Fonda. Samuel Kirkland, a missionary to the Mohawk and Oneida Indians, and the founder of Hamilton College, was also one of the early members of this lodge. Of the forty-three members when the war commenced only three remained after its close to assist in its reorganization. Some, of course, fell on the battlefield, while others, having taken sides with the Royalists, under the lead of Sir John Johnson, had their property confiscated and left the country. Sir John, on leaving for Canada, took the original charter and jewels of St. Patrick's Lodge. These have since been returned, so that a visitor to the lodge may now see the first charter, the first Master's jewel and all of the minutes of the earliest meetings.

In 1762, Sir William Johnson moved from his former baronial fortress to his new home, Johnson Hall on his great baronial estate at Johnstown. For twenty years the Fort Johnson location had been the seat of William Johnson, Colonial general, member of the Governor's Council and finally Sir William Johnson, Indian agent, commander of the Six Nations and of the frontier militia. Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall are the only two baronial mansions standing in America today. Johnson had made his home at Fort Johnson during the most eventful period of his life. It was there that he held his chief councils and from it he went forth to his greatest diplomatic triumphs and military successes.

Johnson Hall was the scene of Johnson's later years when he reaped the reward of his earlier efforts. It was the baronial seat of the chief citizen of the great county of Tryon, which he later created when his Johnstown became the county seat.

Sir William's first letter from Johnson Hall is dated March 30th, 1762. He probably did not move into his new home at that time, as a number of his letters within the next few months are dated from Fort Johnson. His son, John Johnson, who was then twenty years old, became an ensign in the 4th Battalion, Royal Americans and succeeded to Fort Johnson in 1762.

The following relates principally to Sir William Johnson's days at Johnson Hall and the development of Johnstown as a social and trading center and county seat, together with some reference to Johnson's family life. Johnson's activities, in connection with the Mohawk Valley and the Province of New York, are given in the former chapter. It is impossible to enter into much detail with regard to Sir William's public life, within the limits of this history, so numerous were the Baronet's activities and so far reaching were his governmental works. Only the briefest summary of Johnson's life and deeds during this important period is possible here. For further information, the reader is referred to "Life and Times of Sir William Johnson, Bart.," [Vol. 1 | Vol. 2] by William L. Stone, "The Papers of Sir William Johnson" published by the University of the State of New York, and to other publications regarding Johnson.

In 1763 Johnson Hall was fortified at the beginning of Pontiac's war. The two stone blockhouses were erected on each side and just to the rear of the Hall and it was surrounded by a stockade. Secret underground passages were dug, leading from the Hall to the stone blockhouses. Like many other frontier homes, the Hall had a well in the cellar, to ensure a water supply in case of siege and to avoid all possibility of an enemy poisoning the water, which could be done if it was brought from outside. Johnson kept all the Six Nations, except the Senecas, true to the English cause, during the Pontiac Indian uprising, and in 1766 concluded a treaty, with that great Indian leader, at Oswego, which ended this bloody border conflict.

"Whatever time Sir William's official duties left him, was actively employed in the improvement of his estate and the condition of agriculture in the settlement. We find him obtaining superior seed oats from Saybrook, Conn., scions for grafting from Philadelphia, fruit trees from New London and choice seed from England. He delighted in horticulture and had a famous garden and nursery to the south of the Hall. He was the first to introduce sheep and blooded horses in the Mohawk valley. Fairs were held under his supervision at Johnstown, the baronet paying the premiums. His own farming was done by ten or fifteen slaves under an overseer named Flood. They and their families lived in cabins built for them across Cayadutta Creek from the Hall. They dressed very much like the Indians, but wore coats made from blankets on the place. Sir William's legal affairs were conducted by a secretary learned in the law, named Lefferty, who, it seems, was the surrogate of the county at the time of his employer's death. A family physician named Daly was retained by the Baronet, serving also as his social companion in numerous pleasure excursions, and a butler, a gardener, a tailor, and a blacksmith were among the employes at the Hall, across the road from which the last two had shops.

"Sir William took a constant and lively interest in the welfare of his tenants, not only extending his bounty to their material needs, but providing for their intellectual and spiritual wants in many ways. * * * One of his devices for their entertainment was the institution of `sport days' at the Hall, at which the yeomanry of the neighborhood competed in the field sports of England, especially boxing and foot racing. In the latter, the contestants sometimes ran with their feet in bags, and more amusement was afforded by horse races in which the riders faced backward; by the chase of the greased pig and the climbing of the greased pole; and by the efforts of another class of competitors to make the wryest face and sing the worst song, the winner being rewarded with a bearskin jacket or a few pounds of tobacco." (Frothingham.)

Johnson Hall had a picturesque and dignified mistress in the full-blooded Mohawk, Molly Brant, who was the housekeeper of Sir William Johnson, and by whom he had several children. Molly Brant, "the brown lady of Johnson Hall," was the sister of Joseph Brant, the famous Mohawk chief, who is said to be the "most remarkable Indian of history." Johnson educated the young Mohawk and made his lithe and beautiful sister the mistress of Johnson Hall. Regardless of all this, both Brant and his sister revealed their native savage traits during the Revolution.

"Sir William Johnson was an empire builder, like several other strong Americans of Colonial days. Beloved by his red and white neighbors, his fine manly figure looms large and clear in the light of history. William Johnson founded a school, churches, forts and a town; he built roads and aided his neighbors to improve their conditions and their farming methods. He imported seed, plants, trees and animals into the Mohawk Valley. His battles for his country found a record in a bullet in his thigh."

Johnson gradually succeeded in getting the local farmers to raise hay. Himself a progressive farmer, he bewailed the obstinate backwardness of his neighbors. A keen mind, and a true student, Johnson possessed probably the only library west of Schenectady and made frequent purchases from London bookstores.

On August 21st, 1767, Sir William visited Saratoga Springs. His health was not good and his Indian friends had told him of the healing virtues of the mineral waters of Saratoga. He is said to have been the first important person to visit the springs and his visit is stated to have first given Saratoga publicity as a health resort. Saratoga was then only a wilderness.

February 22, 1768, Johnson was made Brigadier General of the Militia of the northern district of New York — the region north of the Highlands of the Hudson.

On January 3d, 1769, Johnson accepted election as a member of the American Philosophical Society, and, on April 12th, he was, by dispensation at Johnson Hall, raised to the Sublime Degree of Perfection, Scottish Rite. About the same time he was elected Master of the Ineffable Lodge, A. A. S. R. of Albany. On December 27th, St. Patrick's Lodge and the Ineffable A. A. S. R. went to church, St. John's Day, Johnson and Dr. Stringer accompanying as the two grand inspectors. On December 6th, 1770, Sir William declined reelection as Master and he was succeeded by Col. Guy Johnson.

Before 1760 Johnson brought in some eighty families of Scotch Highlanders, numbering about 400 people, who were generally settled in the northern part of the present township of Johnstown in the Kingsboro section. They formed the chief Loyalist or Tory support of Sir John Johnson at the beginning of the Revolution, when many of them removed to Canada, where numbers of them enlisted in the British army. In 1770 the village took the name of Johnstown, in honor of Sir William. In 1770 Sir William Johnson was made a trustee of Queens (now Rutgers) College. On March 23d Johnson suggested a New York Provincial department of forest preservation. On June 17th he presented the Indian Castle Church as a mission chapel for the Mohawks of the Canajoharie Castle.

In 1771 Johnson planned St. John's Protestant Episcopal Church of Johnstown and in 1772 the first church of stone was built, which was burned in 1836. In this year Johnson promised aid for an academy at Schenectady. The creation of Tryon County and the building of the Johnstown Court House and Jail in 1772 belong to the chapter on Tryon County.

[Photo: Johnstown Jail.]

[Photo: Johnstown Court House, 1772.]

Mr. John T. Morrison, the well known historian of Johnstown, has kindly furnished the following sketch of the Johnstown of 1772, which he has especially written for this work:

The advent of the white man, and the founding of the Johnstown settlement, dates back to 1755 or 1756, or seven or eight years before Sir William Johnson erected Johnson Hall and removed thither from Mount Johnson, or Fort Johnson as it is now called. The original white settlers were Scotch, Irish, German and Dutch — mostly Scotch, or "Highlanders," as they were popularly called, who were induced to immigrate to this country by Johnson and take up their residence on lands north of the Mohawk river and embraced within the bounds of the Kingsborough patent. In seeking an annulment of the Kayaderosseras grants, because of gross frauds which had been perpetrated upon the Indians by dishonest and unscrupulous whites, in a letter addressed to General Gage, dated May 14, 1769, Johnson declared that during the heat of the French and Indian war, he settled one hundred families on lands north of the Mohawk river and within the bounds of the Kingsborough patent. This fixes the date of the original white settlement approximately at 1755 or 1756.

The original Johnstown settlement was widely scattered and had no definite bounds. The Butler house on Switzer Hill, home of the notorious Tories, Col. John Butler, and his infamous son, Major Walter Butler, and other places of equal or even greater distance from the Johnstown of today, were included in the original Johnstown settlement. It was not until Sir William Johnson took up his residence at Johnson Hall that a plan for an orderly settlement was adopted and carried out. In 1770 Johnson caused several streets to be laid out, including Melcher, William, Johnson (Market), Globe (Perry), Old Sacandaga (Green), New Sacandaga (Main), Clinton and Montgomery. These streets all intersected at right angles and were of uniform width, 66 feet, except William Street, which was made wider and more spacious, and was intended for the principal business street, and while it has lost this distinction, it has evoluted into the most attractive residential section.

On January 2nd, 1772, Sir William Johnson forwarded to the Colonial Assembly, through James De Lancey, a petition from the inhabitants of this section, praying for a division of Albany County, and on March 12th of the same year the prayer of the petitioners was granted. A new county was created to which the name "Tryon" was given in honor of Sir William Tryon, one of the Royal governors. On May 10th, Johnstown was named as the county seat of the newly created county. Sir William immediately commenced the erection of a court house and jail. The former was completed in August, and the first court of Quarter General Sessions was held therein on Tuesday, September 8th, 1772. (The 150th anniversary of the "setting up" of Tryon County was fittingly celebrated at Johnstown, September 8th and 9th, 1922, and one of the most interesting pageant features connected therewith was an enactment of the scenes incident to this first court session in Tryon County.)

Let us for a moment draw upon our imaginations and take a retrospective view of the quaint little village scattered largely along William Street more than 150 years ago. At the southeast corner of William and New Sacandaga streets stood Sir William's free school, an oblong, framed gable-roofed building, painted yellow, the front gable-end facing William Street, the first absolutely free, non-sectarian school in the Province of New York. In front of the school building stood the stocks and whipping-post, common and popular instruments for the penalizing and punishment of culprits and violators of the criminal law a century and a half ago. It was not an infrequent sight in the early days to see a motley crowd of whites and Indians congregated in front of the school house, watching the high sheriff or one of his subordinates, plying the lash with great vigor on the bare back of some unfortunate, who had been adjudged guilty of violating some provision of the penal law. Nor was it an infrequent sight in those early days to see large numbers of Indians, sometimes hundreds, including the most distinguished of the race, passing silently through the village, following the trail, leading from the Grand Central Trail of the Iroquois at Tribes Hill, to Ko-lan-e-ka (Johnson Hall), enroute to the latter place, for the purpose of conferring with their beloved white brother, War-ragh-i-ya-gey (Sir William), Superintendent of Indian Affairs for all of British North America.

At the head of William Street, at the intersection of Old Sacandaga Street, stood the residence of Edward Wall, the old schoolmaster, an Irish pedagogue, who presided efficiently, with great dignity, and maintained the strictest discipline and decorum at Sir William's free school. This building is one of six, erected by Sir William at the same time, in 1763, all of the same size and style of architecture, and all like the schoolhouse, painted yellow. All have long since disappeared except the residence of the old schoolmaster, which survives and is now known as the "Drumm House."

At the northeast corner of the intersection of William and Clinton streets stood the famous tavern of Gilbert Tice. The original owner, Tice, a zealous and over-bearing Tory, after the Tryon County Committee of Safety directed that he and Joseph Brant (Thayendenegea) be apprehended, fled with Col. Guy Johnson, Brant and the Butlers to Canada. Tice's tavern is noted principally because of the fact that it was from this building that the first shot in the War of the Revolution west of the Hudson River was fired. This shot was fired by Alexander White, the first high sheriff of Tryon County, another over-bearing and offensive Royalist, and was aimed at Sampson Sammons, an indomitable patriot, one of a mob, organized for the purpose of arresting White and liberating John Fonda, a brother of Jelles (Giles) Fonda, who was incarcerated at the jail because of an assault committed on the person of White, during a heated argument between the two men over political questions that at the time were agitating the minds of the inhabitants and dividing the people into two hostile camps, Whigs and Tories. Following the flight of Tice to Canada, his property was confiscated, and the tavern was sold by the Committee of Forfeitures to Michael Rawlins, who continued the same under the name, Rawlins House.

Just northerly of the court house stood the store of Robert Adems, Johnstown's pioneer merchant, and for twenty-five years the confidential agent, private secretary and bookkeeper for Sir William Johnson. Robert Adems, and his brother, Dr. William Adems, natives of Dublin, Ireland, accompanied Major General Johnson (Sir William), in the expedition against Crown Point (1755) and Dr. William Adems, in the capacity of army surgeon, rendered invaluable medical and surgical aid to both General Johnson and Baron Dieskau, the French commander, and dressed the gunshot wounds both received in the battle of Lake George. During the Revolution, the Adems store building was used as a Colonial warehouse, and in it were stored the personal effects of Sir John Johnson, and which were found at Johnson Hall subsequent to the hasty flight of the baronet in 1775.

Directly opposite the Adems store, at what is now the intersection of Church Street, stood the private entrance of Sir William to St. John's churchyard. The original St. John's Church, on the site of the present church edifice, erected in 1772, faced northerly and the Colonial cemetery, and the churchyard were enclosed by an iron fence. At the spot indicated stood two large stone pillars, supporting two massive iron gates, used only by Sir William, members of his family, and distinguished guests. The site of the first St. John's church is in the Colonial cemetery, just easterly of the Drumm house. This was erected in or about the year 1760.

* * * * *

On June 26, 1872, at Johnstown, was held the centennial celebration of the erection of the court house and the jail which was the Johnstown fort of the Revolution. Gov. Horatio Seymour was the chief speaker. The following extract, from the address of this truly great Mohawk Valley orator, gives a vivid picture of the first days of the little frontier village of Johnstown in its role as the shire town or county seat of Tryon County:

The edifice and its objects were in strange contrast with the aspect of the country. It was pushing the forms and rules of English jurisprudence far into the territories of the Indian tribes and it was one of the first steps taken in that march of civilization which has now forced its way across the continent. There is a historic interest attached to all the classes of men who met at that time [the laying of the corner stone of the court house in 1772]. There was the German from the Palatinate, who had been driven from his home by the invasion of the French and who had been sent to this country by the Ministry of Queen Anne; the Hollander, who could look with pride upon the struggles of his country against the powers of Spain and in defense of civil and religious liberty; the stern Iroquois warriors, the conquerors of one-half the original territories of our Union, who looked upon the ceremonies in their quiet, watchful way. There was also a band of Catholic Scotch Highlanders, who had been driven away from their native hills by the harsh policy of the British government, which sought by such rigor to force the rule of law upon the wild clansmen. There were to be seen Brant and Butler and others, whose names, to this day, recall in this valley scenes of cruelty, rapine and bloodshed. The presence of Sir William Johnson, with an attendance of British officers and soldiers gave dignity and brilliancy to the event, while over all, asserting the power of the Crown, waved the broad folds of the British flag. The aspects of those who then met at this place not only made a clear picture of the state of our country, but it came at a point of time in our history of intense interest. All, in the mingled crowd of soldiers, settlers and savages, felt that the future was dark and dangerous. They had fought side by side in the deep forests against the French and Indian allies; now they did not know how soon they would meet as foes in deadly conflict.

* * * * *

The following is a brief sketch of the three children of Sir William Johnson by his wife, Catherine Weissenburg — John Anna, Mary.

Sir John Johnson, second baronet of Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall, was born in 1742, at the first house built by his father, Sir William Johnson, at the eastern limits of the south side section of the present city of Amsterdam. Sir William Johnson, on October 22d, 1760, made a recommendation for the division of a company of valley militia of 160 men, then commanded by Capt. Hendrick Hansen and recommended his son, John Johnson, as captain of one of the three companies into which the original company was to be divided. John Johnson became colonel of a regiment of cavalry in the northern district of New York in 1773 and major-general of the northern district militia in 1774, on the death of his father, its prior commanding officer. His escape to Canada in 1776, and service in the British army is described in later chapters of this work, relative to the Revolutionary War. After Sir William removed to Johnson Hall, John Johnson succeeded to Fort Johnson. When he was knighted in 1765, Fort Johnson became Sir John Johnson's baronial mansion, while Johnson Hall was the baronial seat of Sir William. Thus there were two baronial mansions in the Mohawk Valley in the ten years from 1765 to 1774. Sir John was knighted on a trip to England made especially for that purpose.

Johnson inherited but few of the traits which made his father a popular favorite with all classes in the Mohawk Valley, Republicans as well as Royalists. When Sir John succeeded to Fort Johnson, he installed Clara Putman, a beautiful Mohawk Valley girl, as mistress of his household, and by her had several children. On June 30, 1773, he married Mary (Polly) Watts, daughter of John Watts, one time president of the governor's council of New York. Polly Watts was a member of one of the wealthiest and most socially prominent families of New York. She was the fourth daughter of John Watts and Anne De Lancey, youngest daughter of Etienne (Stephen) De Lancey. Anne was a sister of Lady Warren, wife of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, uncle of Sir William Johnson. Anne's and Lady Warren's mother was a daughter of Stephanus Van Courtland. By these marriages, Sir William Johnson and Sir John Johnson became connected with some of the leading Colonial families of New York, a fact which caused complications during the Revolutionary War. This is noted in Gen. Van Rensselaer's pursuit of Colonel Johnson during his great Mohawk Valley raid of 1780. One of the most peculiar historical works, relative to the Mohawk Valley, is the "Orderly Book of Sir John Johnson," which is an elaborate attempt to make a hero out of the unpromising material afforded by Sir John Johnson's character. It is also extremely poor history, being a rabid glorification of Revolutionary Tories and Toryism with various misstatements of facts to accomplish that end.

Sir John Johnson died in Montreal, Canada, January 4th, 1830, aged 88 years. Lady Johnson died August 7th, 1850. The baronetcy descended through Sir John's son, Sir Adam Gordon, 3d Baronet, John Jr.'s son, Sir William George, 4th baronet, to Sir Edward Gordon Johnson, 5th and present (1925) baronet of Montreal.

Mr. John Fea, of Amsterdam, says that Johnson moved to Mount Johnson on the north side in 1739 and that his three white children were born there.

In 1762, Anna or "Nancy" Johnson, Sir William's eldest daughter, married Captain, later Colonel, Daniel Claus. Johnson installed them in the first small stone house which he built at "Mount Johnson" about one-half mile east of Fort Johnson and which was burned in the Revolution. Sir William presented Nancy with the house and a square mile of land. Claus was born in Germany. Johnson called the low hill, east of present Fort Johnson by the name of "Mount Johnson" and so designated his first two north side houses. Fort Johnson was called "Mount Johnson" until late in 1755. Fea says that the first Mount Johnson was not built by Johnson but bought by him from one of the Phillips family who first built it.

September 4th, 1763, Guy Johnson and Mary or "Polly" Johnson were married. Guy was a nephew of Sir William who had appointed him a deputy in the Indian department. Johnson presented Polly Johnson, Guy Park which, like his wedding present to Nancy, consisted of a plot of land one mile square.

Guy Johnson, the husband of Mary or "Polly" Johnson, was born in Warrenstown, Ireland, about 1740. Johnson was a lieutenant in the Independents. He made an unsuccessful attempt to be appointed secretary of Indian affairs, and soon after was seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He then exchanged his commission for lands in the Mohawk Valley.

Elma Strong Morris, in the pamphlet on "Fort Johnson and Guy Park," says:

"Sir William's daughters were busy the following days planning for their new homes. Each 'plantation' was one mile square and both were east of Fort Johnson on the King's Highway. Great consideration was given to the gardens and to the fruit trees. The cherry, plum and pear trees had arrived in good condition from England and also 'an apple of a curious sort.' The gooseberry bushes had been packed with the rose bushes an magnolia shrubs and the same shipment had also brought the sun dial. The gardener had been engaged and in the spring they were to plant seeds from Cuban melons that had been successfully grown at Niagara. Sir William was looking after the building and he wanted Mr. Samuel Fuller to understand that he would not pay more than five shillings per day to any man whom he, the builder, might employ. * * * The one for Guy Johnson was destroyed by fire — it is said that it was struck by lightning. The main part of the stone house, now standing, was built [in 1766] to take its place. Later the furnishings for the house began to arrive. 'The fashionable furniture,' carpets, crimson damasks, etc., came from London as did also the silverplate and dishes and, somewhat later, Guy Johnson purchased the organ in New York City. Most of these articles came by sloop up the Hudson to Albany and were poled up the Mohawk River."

Guy Johnson, his wife and a little two year old Polly were settled in the new stone Guy Park in 1766. Johnson became a Mason in Union Lodge No. 1, in 1766 and Master of St. Patrick's Lodge No. 4, of Johnstown, in 1770. On the formation of Tryon County, in 1772, Guy Johnson became Judge of the Court. In 1773 he became a member of the Assembly. In 1767 Guy Johnson became a colonel of the northern New York department under his uncle, Brig.-Gen. Sir William Johnson. The Six Nations seem to have much esteemed Colonel Guy, and, after the death of Sir William, he was appointed superintendent of the northern Indians, as he said, "at the agreeable desire of the Indians." His activities as a Tory at the beginning of the Revolution belong to later chapters.

For his day Guy Johnson was a talented man of considerable education, who inherited much of his uncle's shrewdness in his diplomatic dealings with the Indians. Johnson was skilled in map-making and was also clever as an artist. His sketch of Fort Johnson, printed in this volume, shows his ability. In 1777 he is described as "a short, pursy man about forty years of age, of stern countenance and haughty demeanor, dressed in a British uniform, powdered locks and a cocked hat."

Johnson Hall, Fort Johnson, Guy Park and the Claus home [the first Mt. Johnson] were centers of aristocratic Colonial social life in the Mohawk Valley during the ten years before the Revolution, and, particularly, in the pre-Revolutionary period following Sir William Johnson's treaty with Pontiac at Oswego in 1766, which removed the menace of Indian invasion along the Mohawk.

Guy Park was designed and built by Samuel Fuller, the Colonial architect of Schenectady, who built the Johnstown court house, Johnson Hall, St. George's Church, Schenectady, the General Herkimer Home and other historic Valley buildings.

The account of Johnson Hall and Johnstown, prior to the Revolution, would not be complete without reference to Brant and the Butlers.

Joseph Brant was the strongest supporter of the Tory cause among the Iroquois. He was a full-blooded Mohawk. His father was a chief of the Mohawk nation and had three sons, including thirteen-year-old Joseph, in the army with Sir William Johnson, under King Hendrick, in the battle of Lake George in 1755. Joseph Brant, his youngest son, whose Indian name was Thayendanegea, which signified "a bundle of sticks," or, in other words, strength, was born on the banks of the Ohio in 1742, whither his parents went hunting from the Mohawk Valley. His mother returned to Canajoharie Castle with Mary or Molly and Thayendanegea or Joseph. His father, Tehowaghwengaraghkwin, was a chief of the Wolf Tribe of the Mohawks. Thayendanegea became known as Joseph Brant. Sir William Johnson sent the young Mohawk to the school of Doctor Wheelock of Lebanon Crank (now Columbia), Connecticut, and, after he was well educated, employed him as secretary and as agent in public affairs. He was employed as a missionary interpreter from 1762 to 1765 and exerted himself for the religious instruction of the tribe. When the Revolution broke out, he attached himself to the British cause, and in 1775 left the Mohawk Valley, went to Canada and finally to England, where his education, and his business and social connection with Sir William Johnson, gave him free access to the nobility. The Earl of Warwick commissioned Romney, the eminent painter, to make a portrait of him for his collection, and from this celebrated painting most of the pictures of Brant have been reproduced. Throughout the Revolution, at the head of the Indian forces, he was engaged in warfare chiefly upon the border settlements of New York and Pennsylvania in connection with the Johnsons and Butlers. He held a colonel's commission from the King, but he is generally called Captain Brant.

Joseph Brant was engaged in nearly all the military movements and raids of the enemy into the Mohawk Valley, during the Revolutionary War. His chief and most terrible exploits of the war were the ambuscade he prepared for Herkimer's men at Oriskany and his share in the Cherry Valley massacre. Brant was a terrible, desperate and bloodthirsty savage. It is difficult to understand the latter day efforts to make him a hero. He posed as a merciful foe, but he slaughtered dozens where he spared one for theatrical effect. For a century after the Revolution, the names of Brant and Butler were justly despised by the people of the Mohawk Valley. They were not soldiers but wholesale murderers and assassins.

After the peace in 1783, Brant again visited England, and on returning to America devoted himself to the social and religious improvement of the Mohawks, who were settled upon the Grand River, in Ontario, or Upper Canada, upon lands procured for them by Brant from Haldimand, governor of the province. This territory embraced six miles on both sides of the river from its mouth to its source. He translated the Gospel of St. Mark into the Mohawk language and in many ways his efforts for the uplifting of his people were successful. He died at his residence at the head of Lake Ontario November 24, 1807, aged 65.

Col. John Butler was one of the leading Tories of Tryon County during the war of the Revolution. Before the war he was in close official connection with Sir William Johnson and, after his death, with his son and nephew, Sir John and Col. Guy Johnson. When he fled with the Johnsons to Canada, his family were left behind and were subsequently exchanged for the wife and children of Col. Samuel Campbell of Cherry Valley. He was active in the predatory warfare that so long distressed Tryon County, and commanded the 1,100 Tories and Indians who perpetrated the infamous Wyoming massacre in 1778. He was of the Tory and Indian force that fought Sullivan and Clinton in the Indian country in 1779. He accompanied Sir John Johnson in his Schoharie and Mohawk Valley raid of 1780, which ended so disastrously for them at Klock's Field. After the war he went to Canada. His property upon the Mohawk was confiscated, but he was made a Canadian Indian agent, succeeding Col. Guy Johnson at a salary of $2,000 per year, and was granted a pension, as a military officer, of $1,000 more. Like his son, Walter, he was detested for his cruelties by the more honorable English officers and, after the massacre at Wyoming, Sir Frederic Haldimand, then Governor of Canada, sent word that he did not wish to see him. Col. John Butler died in Canada about 1800.

Capt. Walter Butler, son of Colonel Butler, was slain in the battle of Butler's Ford on West Canada Creek, October 30th, 1781. There is a strong suspicion that Walter Butler was mentally diseased and that his abnormal mind found delight in murder and bloodshed. He is one of the most grewsome, abominable and revolting characters of American history.

[Photo: Coach of Col. Guy Johnson.]

Go to top of page | back to: Chapter 51 | ahead to: Chapter 53

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 52

http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/resources/mvgw/history/052.html updated May 3, 2011

Copyright 2011 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library