Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney
Chapter XII Johnstown, New York
Travellers on the New York Central Railroad probably are familiar with a small village called Fonda, situated on the Mohawk River about forty miles from Albany, at the mouth of the Cayadutta Creek. If their destination is Johnstown, they will change cars at this place and take passage on the F. J. & G. R. R., or an electric car.
If you stroll up the main street of Fonda a few rods west of the station you will come to a stream flowing from the north and bearing an Indian name---Cayadutta. A century and a half ago the banks of this stream were in all their primitive beauty and wildness, and in earlier times had been chosen by the Agniers (Mohawks) for the sites of two of their villages, one on the high ground forming its western bank and bearing the name of Ca-hani-aga, the other about three miles to the north, lately discovered and yet unnamed. If you wander still farther up this creek you will find a succession of rapids now marked with mill sites, and in a bowl-shaped valley, four miles from the Mohawk River, a flourishing village named in 1770, Johnstown.
This section was originally included in the Kingsborough Patent, as it was called, granted to Arent Stevens and others, June 23, 1753, and comprised twenty thousand acres of land. This land came into possession of Sir William Johnson, but at what date I have been unable to find any record. Probably he was one of the "others" mentioned in the patent, as we know that he had leased or sold land to over a hundred families who had settled in that locality before he built Johnson Hall in 1763.
Previous to the granting of the Kingsborough patent, William Johnson was in possession of a few thousand acres along the north bank of the Mohawk west of Amsterdam, but the notorious Kayaderosseras patent shut him off on the west and north, obliging him to take up lands north of them in order to secure a large tract. The Kingsland grant of land was given to Sir William by the Crown after he was made Baronet and subsequent to the battle of Lake George in 1755. Among those to whom he leased land with the supposed purpose of establishing a baronial estate, were Dr. William Adams, Gilbert Tice, innkeeper; Peter Young, miller; William Phillips, wagon-maker; James Davis, hatter; Peter Yost, tanner; Adrian Van Sickler, Major John Little, and Zephaniah Bachelor. He named the place Johnstown, built a courthouse, jail, church, taverns, and numerous dwellings for his tenants.
It would seem as though his baronial mansion, as Johnson Hall is sometimes called, must have been considered a temporary structure, being constructed of wood (although after nearly a century and a half it is in an excellent state of preservation), because his other and older home, Fort Johnson, and the home of his daughter, Guy Park, both on the Mohawk, are well built of stone, with interiors much better finished than Johnson Hall.
The 25th of March, 1898, was a typical spring day, although the weather was not such as we are in the habit of having in the Mohawk Valley in that windy month. However, it was pleasant enough to induce me to take a trip to Johnson Hall, Johnstown. Perhaps I was in a mood to dream of the past and on that account the route to the old historic village seemed to be void of all modern improvements, and I was being transported through forests and lonely settlements.
In passing Guy Park I saw the rough stone walls of the original building surrounded by forests and rude instruments of husbandry. Fort Johnson impressed me with its antiquity without any stretch of imagination. A short distance above, the mind recalled the palisaded Fort Hunter, with the stone walls of Queen Anne's chapel in its center, and I could see the group of dirty Indians crowding its wall and accepting a religion they knew nothing and cared nothing about. Looking across the Schoharie and over the hills to the west, I see the form of Father Jogues, with his long, black robe, tied around the waist with a rope, and his rosary hanging at this side, shrinking from warrior and squaw as though expecting some new cruelty or indignity. A little farther to the west on the north side I see the new village of Ka-nyea-geh (Caughnawaga), with its defensive palisades swarming with warriors defending their homes against hundreds of savage Mohicans, with the great Massachusetts Sachem, Chickatabutt, at their head. And in the midst of the Mohawks I see the form of Tekakwitha and the Jesuit Father De Lamberville.
Leaving Fonda I am recalled to the nineteenth century by asking a trainman if our train passed the old Indian site of Ka-nyea-geh and he answered that he had never heard of it. I put the same question to the conductor and he said he did not know.
Upon arriving at Johnstown I stepped up to a man with a badge on his cap and said: "Can you tell me what road to take to get to Johnson Hall?" "Johnson Hall?" he replied, "I never heard of it." "I mean," said I, "the old family mansion of Sir William Johnson, the place where he formerly lived." "Oh," said he, "you mean sire William Johnson's Hotel? It is right--" but I was around the corner interviewing some one else by that time, and did not hear what direction to take to reach the Sir William Johnson Hotel.
After receiving some intelligent instruction from a man in a blue uniform I started on my quest for Johnson Hall, which is situated about one mile northwest of the railroad depot. A bridge spans the Cayadutta Creek a short distance from the railroad, the waters of which were running red as if in commemoration of the blood of patriots shed by Sir John Johnson \, Brant, and Butler in their frequent raids on the settlements in the valley of the Mohawk.
Passing by the numerous handsome cottages that line both sides of the street, I approached a fork in the road, and on a tree observed a board, which, at a distance, I supposed to contain the necessary direction of reach Johnson Hall. Approaching nearer, the information I received was this: "STove wooD $1.75 Per corD."
Not obtaining the information desired, I took the road to the right, and soon saw the building in the distance.
Although the sun was shining brightly, and the atmosphere gave evidence that spring was here, the bare trees and dreary aspect of fields, made gray with the frosts of winter, and the occasional patches of dirty white snow on the hill slopes, reminded me of the "winter of our discontent," from which we were just emerging.
In the distance to the right of the Cayadutta winds its slow length along, to turn the wheels in the distant village, and near its left bank, partly hidden by stately oaks and maples, with lilacs and evergreen trees scattered here and there, stands the historic mansion, Johnson Hall, modernized by cupola, bay windows, ornamental porch, and roof of variegated slate.
|The Old Stone Fort at Johnson Hall, 1763|
I must confess to a feeling of disappointment, although the view from the standpoint of the nineteenth century is very pretty. Passing up a broad walk, about two hundred feet long from the entrance to this small park, lined with large maples, we reach the building. It is true that each maple has been pierced with a patent spile, from this drop by drop, the colorless sap is flowing into small tin pails, but when I raise my eyes and see the stone fort to the left and back of the building, I recall the object of my errand, and realize that I am at one of the homes of Sir William Johnson.
The house and adjoining land belong to Mrs. John E. Wells, and the occupants are very courteous to strangers who call to see the house. The present main entrance was formerly the rear of the house, and faces nearly southeast. Entering, I am ushered at once into a broad hall that extends the full depth of the house, at the end of which is a broad stairway with spacious landings that leads to a similar large hall above. To the left of the hall as you enter is a large room about eighteen by thirty-eight feet, with an ornamental wood cornice extending around the room, the side walls having paneled wainscoting about four feet high. The hall is about fifteen feet wide and thirty-eight feet deep, and to the right are two rooms about eighteen feet square, whose ceilings are also adorned with handsome wood cornice. Above, the space is divided into four rooms and a wide hall to correspond to the hall below. All of these rooms are finished with paneled wainscoting and shallow windows without weights. One of the rooms in the second story is pointed out as the council room of Sir William, and another as the place where St. Patrick Masonic Ledge was organized and its meetings held for a number of years. The basement is said to have been used as a stable, but is now fitted up with kitchen, dining-room, etc.
|Johnson Hall, Johnstown 1763|
The building is two stories high, and built of wood, the clapboards being so arranged as to represent blocks of stone. At present the interior has the appearance of a house of the present day, with its paneled work grained to represent oak, and the handsome belongings of a well-to-do family of refined taste, but it would take quite a stretch of imagination of people it again with Molly Brant and her half-caste children and her brother, Joseph Brant, in full war-paint and feathers, passing down from the council-room above, were it not for the defacement of the mahogany banister and rail at every step taken by the chief down the stairs that he was never again to ascend. Whether is was done in anger or not, we do not know, but the marks left by the hatchet seem to have been the work of a mischievous boy, rather than a savage. Outside and a little in advance of the original front, stands one of the small forts that formerly stood on each side of the building.
It is said that the two forts were connected with the basement of the building by an underground passage, all evidence of which has been destroyed, except the opening from the basement, which has been closed with masonry. Johnstown may well feel proud of Johnson Hall, St. John's Church, the courthouse, and jail, and the associations connected with Sir William Johnson, but the old stone buildings erected by him on the banks of the Mohawk, twenty years earlier, Fort Johnson and Guy Park, bear an impress of antiquity that the later buildings do not possess.
|St. John's Church and Grave of Sir William Johnson, Johnstown, N. Y.|
St. John's Episcopal church is the third edifice of that name built in the village. It is said that the first church edifice was erected in 1760, and was located on the ground now known as the old colonial graveyard on Green Street, the spot being marked by a cross erected October 15, 1897, to indicate the location of the first church, at which time appropriate services were held at St. John's church and at the old graveyard. This undoubtedly is the spot where the early missionaries officiated, dividing their time between Queen Anne's Chapel at Fort Hunter and the old church at Johnstown. The next church building was probably erected in 1771 or 1772. It occupied part of the lot on which the present church now stands, with its side to Market Street, and with front facing northward. In erecting this church Sir William gave a two-acre lot on which it stood and also a glebe of forty acres on the southeast side of the village. The fight for this glebe, between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians, after the war, is very interesting reading, but we have not space to record it at the present time.
It seems that Sir William had never legally conveyed the title to the property, which after his death reverted to his son, Sir John Johnson, and after the confiscation of the estate, the Presbyterians occupied both church and glebe. The Episcopalians obtained possession of the church years after, but the Presbyterian's claim to the glebe was confirmed by the legislature. St. John's Church was destroyed by fire in 1836. Under the chancel was found the tomb of Sir William. In rebuilding, the church's location on the lot was changed, the front facing the east. This change left the tomb outside the walls of the church, and its location was lost, until discovered in 1862 by the Rev. Mr. Kellogg, then rector of St. John's. The vault was found in good condition except that a few bricks of the roof had fallen. A plain gold ring bearing the date of June, 1739-16 was found in the fault, also the bullet which Sire William received in the battle of Lake George. The ring is supposed to have belonged to Catherine Weisenburg, his wife, and worn by him after he death. Portions of the skeleton remaining were sealed in a granite sarcophagus, and restored to the tomb with appropriate ceremonies conducted by Right Rev. Bishop Potter, of the State of New York, June 7, 1862. The grave may yet be seen in front of St. John's south of the entrance.
On a subsequent visit to this ancient village, many other places of interest were pointed out to the writer, including the courthouse on North William Street, and the jail on the corner of South Perry and Montgomery Streets, both built by Sir William Johnson in 1772. The courthouse, although nearly one hundred and thirty years old, is still well preserved and attractive in appearance. The brick of which it is constructed was brought from England, and transferred to a sloop at New York for voyage up the Hudson to Albany. From thence they were carried by wagons to Johnstown. In the octagonal tower which surmounts the courthouse is a substitute for a bell in the shape of a triangle made from a large iron bar, which is struck with a hammer by the caretaker whenever the court is called together.
|The Old Johnstown Jail, 1772|
The jail is of stone, with walls four feet thick, and is located on a slight eminence sloping gently to the south, north, and west. On the lawn are cannon and pyramids of shot and shell, leaving the spectator a little in doubt of the character of the old, well-kept building, flanked by modern structures for the sheriff's offices. The jail was begun at the same time with the courthouse, the legislature appropriating sixteen hundred pounds for their completion in 1774. Of the jail it is said:
Under the date of October 26, 1775, the Tryon County Revolutionary Committee inquired of Sir John Johnson whether he pretended a prerogative to the courthouse and jail, "and would hinder or interrupt the committee to make use of the same public houses to our want and service in the common cause." Sire John in reply claimed the buildings as his property until he had been refunded 700 pounds which Sir William had advanced toward their construction. The Committee at the same time respecting the claim, fitted up a private house as a prison, and sent some convicts to Albany and Hartford for safe keeping. Congress, however, was informed that Sire William had conveyed the buildings to the county, and the jail was used as a fort by the patriots during the Revolution, being fortified with palisades and block houses.
Of the early taverns of Johnstown the most noted were the Gilbert Tice's Inn, formerly on William Street, the Balck Horse Tavern, on the corner of William and Montgomery Streets, now known as the Younglove Homestead, and Union Hall, at the junction of east Main and East State Streets, or, as it was called in earlier years, in the angle of the Tribes Hill and Fondasbush roads. They were frontier inns and were at times scenes of lawlessness and brawls between hunters and trappers, and the Indians and half-breeds, who frequented them to exchange their stock of furs and drink deep in the proceeds. Shortly after the war, Gilbert Tice's Inn on William Street was kept by a Frenchman named Jean Baptists de Fonclaire, who was a very popular landlord, notwithstanding his excitability. It was in this building that Nick Stoner met the murderer of his father, the story of which meeting is told by J. R. Simms and others:
One day after the war a party of six of seven Canadian Indians who had come to the little settlement to exchange furs for firewater, were gathered in and about the kitchen and barroom awaiting the meal that was being prepared for them by the landlord's family. In the kitchen were three Indians drinking from bottles of whiskey that were on the table standing near the huge open fireplace where the meal was being cooked. On the hearth was a large platter of fried pork swimming in hot gravy, and dishes of vegetables ready for the meal. Major Stoner, in search of a friend, entered the kitchen, and being slightly under the influence of liquor he soon became involved in a quarrel with one of the halfdrunken Red Skins. Major Stoner's father having been killed and scalped by an Indian, the sight of a dusky savage was always enough to arouse murderous passion in his breast, and he instantly grappled the Indian and threw him on the table which overturned and landed his antagonist on the floor amid the debris of broken bottles, crockery, and part of the prepared feast. Springing to his feet while the room resounded with war cries and oaths of the combatants, the Indian leaped over the table and grappled Stoner again. But as in the former tackle the white man proved the most skillful and the Indian was soon at the mercy of his wiry, maddened antagonist, who in attempting to throw him into the open fireplace only succeeded in landing his half-naked body in the great trencher of sizzling fat, burning his back in a fearful manner.
While the fracas in the kitchen was going on, a stalwart half-naked warrior, aroused by hearing the name of Nick Stoner repeated, was dancing or rather shuffling around the barroom flourishing a scalping-knife on the handle of which were numerous notches, and boasting in a monotonous tone of the bloody deeds recorded on the handle. Nine marks indicated the number of scalps of white men killed during the war.
Nick Stoner in a frenzy of rage left the kitchen after throwing the Indian into the fire, passed through a hall on his way into the front part of the inn, and almost stumbled over an Indian called Capt. John, lying there in a beastly state of intoxication. Noticing an earring in the man's ear, he placed one foot on the man's neck and grasping the jewel tore the flesh apart and dropped the jewel on the floor. Unconscious of the injury done him the Indian turned over with a grunt, and Stoner passed into the barroom, just in time to see the painted red devil flourishing his scalping-knife with yells and gesticulations, and hear him say, as he pointed to a notch deeper than the other, "and this is the scalp of old Stoner." Crazed with liquor and stung to madness by the thought of being in the presence of his father's murderer, he spring to the fireplace, seized an old-fashioned wrought andiron, and with the exclamation, "You red devil, you will never scalp another one," he hurled it, red-hot as it was, at the head of the Indian, striking him squarely on the neck and laying him apparently lifeless on the floor, while his own hand was burned to a blister with the top of the andiron. At once bedlam seemed let loose and fears were entertained of other serious consequences, but the friends of Stoner succeeded in getting him to leave the house, while other induced the savages to leave town bearing their burned comrades with them.
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