Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Vol. II
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.

CHAPTER XX.
1774.

Sir William Johnson was too observing and sagacious a man not to note the signs of the times. He saw the gathering tempest, and it is believed to have given him great uneasiness. His sympathies, according to the testimony of those who knew him, were undoubtedly with the people. He was from the body of the people himself, having been the architect of his own fortunes; and those who were acquainted with him,1 represent the struggle in his bosom to have been great, between those sympathies and his own strong principles of liberty on the one hand, and his duty to his sovereign on the other-a sovereign whom he had served long and faithfully, and who in turn had loaded him with princely benefactions. And yet, there can be no doubt-judging from the passages which have been quoted in the course of this work, and also from the numerous expressions running through the entire correspondence of his later life -that had he lived until it was necessary to have taken a decided stand, he would have boldly espoused the cause of the colonies.

Most unfortunate was it, however, that, just at this conjuncture, while all sagacious men saw by the shadows what events were coming, and all good men were solicitous for the preservation of the character and augmentation of the physical strength of the country, a small baud of bad ones adopted a course well fitted to awaken the jealousy

l A portion of my father's early life was spent in the valley of the Mohawk; during which period lie conversed with several persons of character who had known Sir William intimately-all of whom reiterated the statement made in the text. The statement therefore does not rest on mere tradition.

of the whole Indian race, and exasperate a portion of them to the highest pitch of anger and revenge. It was evident that the colonies were about to measure swords with one of the strongest powers in Christendom, and to strike for freedom. True wisdom, therefore, required that the clouds of Indians darkening more than a thousand miles of our border, and in the north forming an intermediate power between our own settlements and the country of the anticipated foe, should be at least conciliated into neutrality, if not courted into an alliance. But a contrary course was taken by some of the frontier-men of Virginia, awakened by a succession of outrages, unprovoked and more cruel than savages, as such, could have committed. The well informed reader will at once anticipate that reference is now had to the hostilities upon the northwestern frontier of Virginia, commonly known as CRESAP'S WAR, and one striking event of which has rendered every American ear familiar with the name of Logan, the celebrated Mingo chiefs.

Among the many families that the Wars and conquests of the Six Nations had been the cause of transplanting over the countries subjected to their arms, was the family of Logan, the son of Shikellimus, a distinguished Cayuga sachem, who had removed from the particular location of his own tribe, to Shamokin or Canestoga, within the borders of Pennsylvania, where he executed the duties of principal chief of those of the Six Nations residing on the Susquehanna. He was a man of consequence and humanity, and one of the earliest to encourage the introduction of Christianity by Count Zinzendorf. He was a great friend of the celebrated James Logan, who accompanied William Penn on his last voyage to America, and who subsequently became distinguished in the colony for his learning and benevolence. Hence the name of the famous son of Shikellimus.

1 Mingo, Menque, Maquas, and Iroquois, are all only different names applied to the Six Nations.

Logan had removed from his father's lodge at Shamokin to the Shawanese country on the Ohio, where he had become a chief. He was a friend of the white men, and one of the noblest of his race, not only by right of birth, but in consideration of his own character. During the Indian wars connected with the contest with France, he took no part, save in the character of a peacemaker.

The circumstances which transformed this good and just man from a sincere friend into a bitter foe, were as follows : In the spring of this year a party of land agents, under the lead of Captain Michael Cresap, were engaged in locating and opening farms in the valley of the Ohio, near the present towns of Pittsburgh and Wheeling. Hearing that the Indians in the vicinity were bent on hostilities, Cresap and his party determined, on the twenty-sixth of April, to make war upon them without investigation, and irrespective, as a matter of course, of the guilt or innocence of those whom they should attack. On the same day, falling in with two Indians on the Ohio river, Cresap and his men killed them. Espying, moreover, upon the following day, some canoes of Indians passing down the river, chase was given; and having driven them on shore near Grave creek, the land agents came suddenly upon them and fired into the group. A skirmish ensued; but the Indians were soon forced to retire with the loss of one man, leaving their canoes in possession of Cresap and his party. Not satisfied with this achievement, the party were for marching at once against the settlement of Logan, situated thirty miles up the river near the mouth of Yellow creek- They had proceeded, however, but five miles, when Cresap, having reflected upon the gross outrage about to be perpetrated on an inoffensive clan, refused to go farther, and to his honor be it said, finally prevailed upon his companions to abandon the undertaking. 1

1 See Brantz Mayor's address on Logan and Captain Cresap, delivered before the Maryland Historical Society in 1851. This address, which is characterized throughout by elaborate and patient research, will well repay its perusal..

Others however, were troubled with no such scruples. On the east bank of the Ohio, opposite Logan's encampment, was a white settlement, among the leading men of which was one named Daniel Greathouse. The Indians of the opposite camp, having heard of the atrocities committed by Cresap and his party, determined to avenge their death,- of which resolution Greathouse was admonished by a friendly squaw, who advised him to escape, while he was reconnoitering for the purpose of ascertaining their numbers. He had crossed the river with thirty-two men under his command, and secreted them for the purpose of falling upon the Indians; but finding that they were too strong for him, he changed his plan of operations, recrossed the river, and with a show of friendship, invited them over to an entertainment. Without suspicion of treachery the Indians accepted the invitation, and while engaged in drinking - some of them to a sate of intoxication - they were set upon and butchered in cold blood. Here fell two of the family of Logan - a brother and sister. The Indians who had remained at their encampment on the other side of the river, hearing the noise of the treacherous attack, ran to their canoes to rescue their friends. This movement had been anticipated; and sharpshooters, stationed in ambuscade, shot numbers of them in their canoes, and compelled the others to return.

These dastardly transactions were soon followed by another outrage, which, though of less magnitude, was not less atrocious in its spirit, while it was even more harrowing to the feelings of the Indians. The event referred to was the murder, by a white man, of an aged and inoffensive Delaware chief named the Bald Eagle. He had for years consorted more with the white people than with his own, visiting those most frequently who entertained him best. At the time of his murder he had been on a visit to the fort at the north of the Kanawha, and was killed while alone paddling his canoe. The man who committed the murder, it was said, had been a sufferer at the hands the Indians; but he had never been injured by the objects upon whom he wreaked his vengeance. After tearing the scalp from his head, the white savage placed the body in a sitting posture in the canoe, and sent it adrift down the stream. The voyage of the dead chief was observed by many, who supposed him living, and upon one of his ordinary excursions. When, however, the deed became known, his nation was not slow in avowals of vengeance. Equally exasperated, at about the same time, were the Shawanese against the whites, by the murder of one of their favorite chiefs, Silver Heels, who had in the kindest manner undertaken to escort several white traders through the woods from the Ohio to Albany, a distance of nearly five hundred miles.

This last outrage was, moreover, the less excusable, from the fact that while in defiance of the treaty at Fort Stanwix, in 1768, the borderers had been rapidly settling upon the lands expressly reserved for the Indians, the Shawanese, as a nation, restrained by the influence of Sir William Johnson, had witnessed these aggressions upon their territory in silence; and until the murder of Silver Heels, they had, with unusual self-discipline, refrained from avenging the murders committed by Cresap and his associates.1 The murder, however, of their favorite chief thoroughly aroused the sleeping lion of their nature; and regarding the scalping of the Bald Eagle as a declaration of war,2 the Delawares and Shawanese under Cornstalk, and the Ohio Senecas, led by Logan, threw themselves with fire and tomahawk upon the Virginia border.

As soon as the intelligence of these wanton murders reached the chiefs of the Six Nations, they signified to

1 Manuscript letter; Alexander McKee to Sir William Johnson, 6th May, 1774.

2 The Indians always regarded the scalping of a murdered person as a national act and a declaration of war. Johnson to the Minister, 29th June, 1772.

Sir William their desire to hold a congress with him, without delay, upon the critical situation of affairs. "When it is recollected that Logan, the principal sufferer, "was of their own blood, nothing, perhaps, shows more clearly the extraordinary influence of the Baronet over the Confederacy, than the fact that their first impulse was not to seize the tomahawk and commence an indiscriminate butchery of the whites, but to solicit a conference, that they might calmly state their grievances and wait for his advice. The request was of course granted; and by the nineteenth of June, two hundred Onondagas had arrived at the Hall, bringing the intelligence that four hundred more of the Confederates were on their way thither.

The efforts of Sir William Johnson, at this crisis, were indefatigable. From early in the morning until late in the night, he was in conversation with the principal sachems as they arrived from day to day ; and all his persuasive powers were exerted at this critical juncture to induce them to take a firm stand at the approaching Congress against participating in the war, which was even then raging fiercely on the border. In addition, moreover, to these personal labors, he was in constant communication with Croghan, McKee, and their subdeputies, residing on the Ohio and Illinois; and not a day passed without the arrival of faithful Indian runners at the Hall, bringing valuable information, and keeping him thoroughly cognizant of all that was occurring upon the frontiers. "I have daily," he wrote at this time to the colonial secretary, "to combat with thousands, who, by their avarice, cruelty, or indiscretion, are constantly counteracting all judicious measures with the Indians; but I shall still persevere. The occasion requires if; and I shall never be without hopes till I find myself without that influence, which has never yet forsaken me on the most trying occasions."1

By the seventh of July, nearly six hundred Indians having assembled at the Hall, their chiefs earnestly

1 Manuscript letter.

requested that the congress might no longer be delayed. Sir William was in no condition, physically, to grant this request. The exhausting labors of nearly a month had brought on a severe attack of his old complaint--dysentery-to which, especially in the summer months, he was always subject when overworked. Hitherto, when laboring under this difficulty it will be remembered, his practice had been to resort to the sea side for relief; but the arduous duties before him at this time did not allow of such a course. Yet, although greatly prostrated by the complaint, such was the alarming situation of affairs, and the consequent necessity for immediate action, that, dismissing all personal considerations, he held a preliminary conference on the eighth, and on the ninth opened the congress in due form.

The first day was principally occupied by Senhowane, a Seneca chief, in a relation of the grievances to which the Six Nations had been subjected, both by the infringement, on the part of the whites, of the treaty of Fort Stanwix, and also by the utter confusion into which the Indian trade had been thrown, since its management had been entrusted to the colonies. In reference to the first mentioned source of complaint, the speaker said: "It seems that your people entirely disregard and despise the settlement agreed upon by their superiors and us; for we find that they, notwithstanding that settlement, have come in vast numbers to the Ohio, and have given our people to understand that they would settle where they pleased. If this is the case," added the Seneca, "the Confederacy will, hereafter, look upon any engagement at that time made with them as void and of no effect." He hoped, however, that this was not the design of the English as a nation and he implored that if in future the whites insisted on settling so near their territory, they might at least be made subject, to some authority that would control them. Altogether, the speech was temperate, and evinced a better state of feeling than the most sanguine could have anticipated. When the speaker had ended, he was followed by a Cayuga war chief, who, in a feeling manner, spoke of mischief occasioned among his people by the rum, which the traders, in spite of entreaties, continued to sell urging, in view of this, that no trader should hereafter be allowed to come to Cayuga upon any pretense whatever. By the time the Cayuga chief had finished his remarks, it was late in the afternoon, and the Congress was thereupon adjourned, the Indians retiring to their encampment.

The next day was the Sabbath. Sir William accordingly deferred his answer until Monday, the eleventh of July. At half past nine in the morning, the Indians had all assembled; and at ten o'clock the Baronet began his speech. His remarks were chiefly directed to the encroachment of the whites upon the Indian territory; and with all the persuasiveness of his eloquence, he assured the chiefs that the outrages which had been committed were the acts of a few individuals, and not of the government, which would take immediate measures to ferret out and punish the guilty parties. At the same time, he reminded them that they themselves were not wholly without blame, and that they, too, must control their own people, and prevent their being led astray by the wily Shawanese. This speech, delivered with all the fire and vivacity of an Indian orator, lasted for more than two hours; and although the Indians were seated under a burning July sun, yet they listened throughout with grave attention. As soon as Sir William had ceased speaking, pipes and tobacco were distributed among the Indians, and the meeting was adjourned for the purpose of giving them an opportunity to prepare their reply.

This last effort of the Baronet was too much for his already overtaxed system. Scarcely bad his audience dispersed, when he was seized with an aggravated attack of his disease, which obliged him to be supported to his library. At the time that he was seized with this relapse, Sir John was absent at the old fort, distant nine miles. An express was sent for him, and, mounting a fleet English blood-horse, he rode for the Hall with all possible haste. His horse fell dead when within three quarters of a mile of the house, having run upward of eight miles in fifteen minutes. Sir John hired a horse of some one standing by, and pushed forward to the Hall. On entering the room, he found his father in the arms of a faithful domestic, who attended upon his person. He spoke to his parent, but received no answer; and in a few minutes afterward the Baronet expired-in the sixtieth year of his age. This was early in the evening. While the judges of the circuit court were at supper in the village, one mile distant, a young Mohawk Indian entered their apartment, and announced the event.1

Upon the first announcement of Sir William's decease,

1 It was reported by Sir William's enemies,-or rather by the enemies of the crown,-that he perished by his own hand, in consequence of the clouds which he saw darkening the political sky; and such an impression is yet very generally entertained. The tradition is, that on the day of his decease, he had received dispatches from England, which were handed to him while sitting in court, and with which he immediately left the courthouse and walked to his own house. These dispatches, it was afterward reported, contained instructions to him to use his influence with the Indians on behalf of the crown, in the event of hostilities. Another version of the tradition is, that on the day in question, he had received dispatches from Boston, the complexion of which, in his own mind, indicated that a war was near and inevitable. In such an event, he saw that he must either prove recreant to his principles, or take part against the crown ; and, to avoid either alternative, it has been extensively believed that he put an end to his life. But there is no ground whatever for this uncharitable conclusion, even if we had not the official account to the board of trade lately given the world in the New York Colonial History-which crushes forever this foul suspicion. The immediate cause of Sir William's death, is called, in Guy Johnson's letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, "a suffocation," and in the official record of the last congress held by the Baronet, "a fit." By these terms, however, it was only meant a difficulty of breathing, amounting at times to almost a spasm, which, in Sir William's case, always accompanied his disease. This is evident from the following letter written to Sir William by his physician a year before his decease. I find it among my collection of the Johnson manuscripts.

the Indians appeared stupefied, and in the greatest confusion and doubt, were on the point of sending belts throughout the Confederacy to publish their loss, and their apprehensions that they were left without a protector. Before, however, their design could be carried into effect, Colonel Guy Johnson came among them, and having promised that, as deputy of the late superintendent, he would take charge of their affairs until his majesty's pleasure was known, they became calm, and departed to their encampment to prepare the usual ceremony of condolence for the death of their GREAT BROTHER.

"ALBANY, 22d June, 1773.

"Dear Sir:

" My return home was not soon enough to be able to forward you the medicines you requested, by the post, since which I have wanted an opportunity. ''

"Four or five of the pills, more or less, maybe taken every morning and evening, so as to keep the body moderately loose , and the electuary I would advise you only to use at those times when you are apprehensive of the fits coming on, from a sense of compressure and tightness across the stomach; at which times the quantity of a large filbert may be taken every two or three hours, made into pills, accompanied with small draughts of warm whey, which will probably remove the cause in the course of a few doses, by opening the obstructed passage of the gall; which should afterwards be carried downwards by gently purging medicines taken in frequent draughts of warm whey. Perhaps a drachm of cream tarter in fine powder, to which a drop of anise seed oil is added, taken in draughts of whey, sweetened with manna, (the disagreeableness of which would be taken off by the acidity of the cream of tarter,) every hour until it purged, would answer the intention better than any other.

"Soap has been looked upon as improper to be given to persons troubled with scorbutic ulcers. But I have seen it administered in such cases without producing any sensibly ill effects ; and undoubtedly Dr. McGrah would not have prescribed it as an ingredient in the pills with the rhubarb, as he did for you, if he had been apprehensive of any bad consequences from the use of it.

"Should these medicines, or any others that may be recommended, prove efficacious in the removal of your disorder, it would give an inexpressible pleasure to "Dear Sir,
"Your most obedient and very humble servant,
SAM. STRINGER.
"Sir William Johnson, Bart."

The obsequies of the late Baronet took place on the thirteenth, which was Wednesday. The funeral cortege, consisting of nearly two thousand people from the surrounding country, moved from the Hall early in the afternoon. The pall was borne by Governor Franklin of New Jersey, the Judges of the Supreme Court of New York, Goldsbrow Banyar and Stephen De Lancey; and the remains were deposited, after appropriate services, in the family vault, under the altar of the stone church which he had erected. The Indians also attended the funeral in a body, and "behaved," adds the official record transmitted to the lords of trade, "with the greatest decorum, and exhibited the most lively marks of real sorrow." As soon as the funeral rites were finished, the sachems waited upon Colonel Johnson, and informed him that they would perform the ceremony of condolence on the following day.

Accordingly, early the next morning, the chiefs of the Six Nations having assembled in presence of Colonel Johnson, Colonel Claus, Goldsbrow Banyar and other persons of note, Conoghquieson, chief of Oneida, began the touching ceremony. Having with three strings of wampum cleared the sight and wiped away all tears, the Oneida, with a double belt covered the body, and with another large belt of six rows covered the grave. Then turning to Colonel Johnson, he thus addressed him:

"Brother: It yields us vast pleasure to find that the fire which was in danger of being totally extinguished by the great loss we have sustained, is for the present rendered bright by you,-the good words which you spoke to us yesterday having revived us, and kept our young men within reasonable bounds, who otherwise would have lost their senses. We rejoice at it, and accordingly, with this belt, we cause the fire to burn clear as usual at this place, and at Onondaga, which are our proper fireplaces, and we hope the great king will approve and confirm it.

A Belt of Seven Rows.

"Brother: With this belt we sweep the fireplace clean, removing from it all impure and disagreeable objects, so that we may sit around it, and consult as usual for the public good.

A Belt of Seven Rows.

"Brother: With these strings we request that when our ceremonies are performed, you will apply your attention to our affairs, and continue to give good advice to the young men as your father did.

A Bunch of Strings.

"Brother: We know that you must be loaded with grief on this melancholy occasion; we therefore now cleanse your body, and wash your inside with clean water so that you may once more attend to and proceed upon business.

"Brother: The heavy clouds which have hung over you and us, have prevented us from seeing the sun; it is therefore our business with this string to clear the sky. And we likewise with this string (giving Colonel Johnson another) put the sun in its proper course, that it may perform the same as before, so that you may be enabled to see what is doing and pursue the good works of peace.

Three Strings.

"Brother: Since it has pleased the Great Spirit to take from us our GREAT BROTHER "WARRAGHIYAGEY, who has long desired at our request to put you in his place, we very much rejoice to find you ready to take this charge upon you, without which we should be in darkness and great confusion. We are now once more happy, and with his belt we expect you to take care of our affairs; to follow his footsteps; and as you very well know his ways and transactions with us, that you will continue to imitate them for the good of the public.

A Belt of Six Rows.

"Brother: We now speak in the name of our whole confederacy and dependents, expressing our thanks that, agreeably to our former request to Sir William Johnson, we now see you taking care of our affairs. We earnestly expect you to take due care of them as that great man did, who promised you to us; and we now desire that you will send these our words to the great king, who, we hope, will regard our desires, and approve of you as the only person that knows us and our affairs, that business may go on as it did formerly. Otherwise, in this alarming time of trouble, without your care and attention, our affairs will fall into great confusion, and all our good works will be destroyed. We beg, therefore, you will accept our good wishes, and that you will continue to take care of the great business in which we are all concerned."

A Large Black Belt of Nine Rows.

Thus closed this affecting ceremonial - affecting, because the last and only tribute which the faithful Iroquois had it in their power to pay to the memory of him, who, for upward of forty years, had been their steadfast friend and benefactor.

Sir William was succeeded in his title and estates by his son, Sir John Johnson; but the reins of authority as general superintendent of the Indian department, fell into the hands of Colonel Guy Johnson, who, in accordance with the Baronet's request, made a few months prior to his death, received that office from the king, shortly after his uncle's decease.1 This officer was assisted by Colonel Claus, who, having been his father-in-law's deputy in Canada for a long series of years, was well qualified to give advice. On the decease of his father, Sir John also succeeded to his post as major general of the militia.2

1 This request was made in a letter to Dartmouth, dated April 17th, 1774. It would seem that Sir William was impressed with the idea that he would die suddenly, as the chief ground upon which the request is made is, that "the infirmities which have often threatened his life, renders it, attest, very precarious." The Indians, also, evidently perceived that his health was failing, for they requested him to have Guy Johnson appointed his successor in case of his decease.

2 It may be well to state here, that the tradition of Sir William having visited England and Ireland in the fall of 1773, is erroneous. My reason for this statement is as follows: In a manuscript letter, now before me, to Colonel Massey, under date of, June 15th, 1773, Sir William Johnson writes: (continued)

The distinguishing feature of Sir William Johnson's character was strict integrity. In this, is to be found the great secret of his marvelous ascendancy over the Indians. Cajoled and cheated by the English traders for a long series of years, the red man had learned to regard the name of Englishman as a synonym of fraud and deceit. From the time, however, of the Baronet's settlement in the valley of the Mohawk until his decease, they had ever found him true to his word and conscientious in his dealings. "Sir William Johnson," said they, "never deceived us." 3 To the Indians, not only of the Six Nations but "those far in the west beyond, who had fallen within the circle of his influence after the conquest of Canada and the subjugation of Pontiac, he had been as a father, and, they looked up to him with veneration. To the nations of the Confederacy, more especially, Sir William seemed apart of themselves. His joys and griefs were shared in equally by them ; and when, in 1772, one of his children by Molly Brant died, the chief of the Senecas waited upon the commanding officer at Niagara, and -with tears in his eyes announced the loss which his BROTHER had sustained. This feeling, moreover, was not confined to the. Indians alone. Long association with him, and great respect for

"My health has been for several years past so much impaired that I cannot have the least prospect (were it otherwise convenient) to visit Ireland; and therefore one great satisfaction of my life is to hear of the happiness of my friends there, since I cannot he a witness of it." And in another letter, in the state library at Albany, written but a few weeks previous to his decease, Sir William distinctly says that he has never visited his native country since the first time he came to America.

For a copy of Sir William Johnson's will, see No. viii, of appendix. A perusal of this document will give the reader a correct idea of the domains of the Baronet-domains larger and fairer than probably ever belonged to a single proprietor in America, William Penn only excepted.

See also appendix No. ix and x, for a sketch of Sir John Johnson, and an account of the disinterment and reburial of the remains of Sir William Johnson in the summer of 1862.

3 " I always followed your great example, and am certain no Indian can ever say, I deceived him or told him a lie." Manuscript letter; B. Roberts to Johnson, 3d. Aug., 1772.

his character-which, from its blunt honesty, frankness and generosity, was well calculated to secure the attachment of such people-had also given his opinions the force of legal authority among the colonists; and no public or private enterprise was undertaken in the northern colonies, concerning which his advice was not solicited.

Nor were the colonists singular in bowing to his opinions. His indomitable energy, his industry, the method which he introduced into all his transactions, his untiring devotion to British interests, and his zeal in the duties of his department, rendered him invaluable to the crown. The British ministry hesitated before taking a single step in reference to the Indian department, until they had consulted the Baronet. No measure affecting Indian relations was adopted by them without his advice; and more frequently their policy was suggested by himself. Indeed, it is safe to say, that no person in the British realm, other than Sir William Johnson, could have deviated so entirely from the royal instructions at the treaty of Fort Stanwix with impunity. A cabinet minister, under similar circumstances, would have been forced to resign, or have been dismissed in disgrace. Sir William neither resigned nor was dismissed; his services could not be dispensed with; and royalty for the time acquiesced. A man, who, from an humble origin, could rise by his own exertions to a position, in which from the back woods of America he controlled the British parliament, was of no ordinary mold.

Another trait of Sir William's character and which added not a little to his influence over the Indians - was his power of adaptation. This he possessed in a remarkable degree. He was at ease, whether entertaining in his baronial mansion the polished sicon of nobility, or the rude savage; whether mingling in the saloons of wealth and fashion, or seated on the earthy floor of the bark wigwam. The same faculty was also shown in all the varied relations, which, in the course of his life, he was called upon to sustain. A trader in peltry, he was upright and affable; a counselor, he -was sagacious and prudent; a major general, courageous but cautious; superintendent of the Indian department, wise and discerning ; a Baronet of the British realm, courtly in his hospitalities; a large landed proprietor with a numerous tenantry, kind and just.

Sir William is described by modern historians as having a "coarse mind," and withal as "vain of his rank and influence." Both of these allegations, however, rest solely upon the writings of those who were his violent personal and political enemies. At the time in which he lived, political animosities ran high between New England and New York, and the latter province, in the person of Sir William Johnson, happened to be arrayed against the former, in Governor Shirley. Those of the New England troops who had come in contact with him at Lake George in 1755, admired, it is true, his many personal and soldierly qualities, and confessed that they had been egregiously deceived in his character. Their testimony, however, could not allay the jealousy which was cherished by the partisans of Shirley against the conqueror of Dieskau; and hence the rancor which pursued him through a portion of his life. I have read carefully all of the Baronet's correspondence extant, consisting of upward of five thousand letters - many of them written to his most intimate friends - and can find nothing to warrant the above allegations. In none of these letters does he speak of the honors of which he was the recipient.1 Although compelled, in the exercise of his department, to take a prominent part, and to see that his commands were obeyed, yet, in private life, he was unostentatious and even retiring; and at home - where, if in any place, the true character of a man will appear--he placed himself in the back ground, causing his guests and dependents to feel that they were the persons conferring the obligation.

The charge of coarseness is equally unjust. His early

1 1 do not, allude here to his official letters, which from necessity must savor somewhat of egotism.

opportunities for self-improvement, it is true, were few. His life was spent apart from civilized society and scholastic culture; and his exterior, perhaps, at times exhibited some of the roughness characteristic of the frontier. Still, coarseness - when it exists - is inherent, and is frequently found under the garb of polished manners and courtly address. Many acts of kindness, evincing a high native delicacy-noted down, by way of memoranda, in his private diary, designed for no eye but his own-show a fineness of organization incompatible with a coarse mind. I do not write in the spirit of eulogy. The office of the historian and biographer is to state facts, and draw inferences after a careful sifting of the evidence. Faults, Sir William undoubtedly had, but they were faults incident to a border life. Moreover, a century ago, a certain laxity of personal morals was fashionable in Europe, and the American colonies were by no means slow in copying the old world; and many things were tolerated in society then, which would not be at the present day.

In temperament, Sir William was genial. The importance of preserving the health of the body by a cheerful frame of mind was by him fully appreciated. His practice of seeking relaxation in the pleasures of angling at Castle Cumberland, on the banks of the Sacandaga, has been, already alluded to. Once every year he invited the warriors of the Six Nations down to the Hall, where a tournament of Indian games would be held for several days. Having himself a fondness for athletic exercises, he took special pains to introduce among his tenantry all the old English field sports. He was, also, in the habit of appointing "sport-days" at Johnstown, at which the yeomanry from the neighboring country, contended in deeds of personal prowess for the prizes of the victors. On such occasions, boxing and foot-racing were: the most common. The Baronet had, also, a keen sense of the ludicrous. The exercises would frequently be varied by races on horseback - the riders seated with their faces toward the horses' tails. Young men, almost naked, chased guinea pigs whose tails were shaved and greased-those who were able to catch the pigs by the tail and hold them, winning the prize. Others ran races, with their feet tied up in bags; and again, matches would be made up between those who could sing the worst song, or contort their faces into the most hideous expressions - the victors in these encounters receiving a bearskin, jacket, or a few pounds of snuff and tobacco.

With a view of creating a generous rivalry among the farming community, and thus developing the resources of the country, fairs were annually held at Johnstown, under his own immediate supervision. On such occasions, the live stock and produce brought in by the farmers would be carefully inspected by a competent committee; and those who raised the best cattle, or grew the most upon the acre, would be liberally rewarded out of the Baronet's private purse.

Sir William, also, had a lively sense of injustice; and nothing seemed to rouse him more than any act of oppression coming within his knowledge. Although, by virtue of being a member of the council, he was a civil magistrate, yet, waiving the slow forms of the law, he would frequently take the matter into his own hands. The following anecdote, illustrating his summary manner of correcting wrong, is in point: One of his tenants - Daniel Rushel by name - struck and otherwise abused his aged father. This fact becoming known to the Baronet, he sent for the man, and inviting him into his private office, in the course of conversation, remarked, "How is your father, the old man ? I have heard that he is troublesome. If such is the case, I don't know as you could do better than to chastise him a little." "I have done it," was the reply. Sir William immediately locked the door, put the key -in his pocket, took down a horsewhip from the wall, and gave the man a sound whipping. Then opening the door, he said, " Go home, you villain, and flog your father again !"

The Christianizing of the Indians-as before observed seems to have been ever uppermost in his mind. My, object in once more adverting to this, is to keep before the reader the fact, that amid all his personal and political cares, the welfare of the Indians was never lost sight of. Indeed, his correspondence upon this subject is so voluminous, that without frequent reference to that which formed a large portion of his thoughts, the history of the man would not be complete. There is scarcely a letter of his to the board of trade which does not urge the importance of converting the Indians, as well upon religious as on political grounds. Nor can can it be alleged: that he was actuated merely by a desire to make proselytes for the Anglican church. The contrary is shown by his numerous letters to Dr. Wheelock and other dissenting divines; and also by the cordial support which he ever gave to missionaries of whatever Protestant sect, who were willing to labor in the Indian field. It is not contended that his zeal sprung from those higher and purer principles which actuate the true disciple of Christ, for a Christian in its strict evangelical sense he was not; but that he earnestly desired a higher toned civilization for the red man, from motives of pure benevolence, cannot be doubted.

By the death of Sir William Johnson, the indigent and unfortunate lost a kind friend and benefactor. His acts of kindness to his tenantry were numerous; his attention to their interests and welfare was unremitting; and many there were, both in Ireland and America, who experienced daily his private bounty. In his family he was a kind and fond father; and to his parents, while they lived, he was an affectionate and dutiful son. "By his death," said the address of the field officers of the militia to Sir John, "the poor and indigent have lost their munificent benefactor; and most sincerely do we sympathize with those whose merit attracted his notice even amid the frowns of adversity."1 "I left the Hall last evening," wrote Peter Van Schaack to his brother Henry, a few days after the Baronet's decease, "where everything wears the face of sorrow for the irreparable loss of that great and good man, Sir William Johnson,-a loss at once to the public, and a numerous train of the indigent and unfortunate, who derived support from his unequalled benevolence and generosity. My jaunt up to Johnstown has given me an opportunity of seeing so many instances of hisgoodness; the settlement there compared with what it was a few years ago, so abundantly shows his greatness of mind, and the extensiveness of his views, where a little world has, as it were, been formed by his hand, that I own I consider him as THE GREATEST CHARACTER OF THE AGE."

1 For this address see appendix No. xi.

Thanks to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on the internet.

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home