History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.
Chapter X. 1749-1750.
The exchange of prisoners still continued to he the subject of a lengthy correspondence between the royal governors. The Six Nations yet retained in their possession several of the French, uncertain-as in turn they were influenced by the French emissaries, or by Colonel Johnson-to which of the governors to yield them up. To the Confederates at least, the final disposition of their prisoners was a subject of grave consideration. Should they treat directly with La Galissoniere, they were fearful of incurring the displeasure of Governor Clinton; while on the other hand, should they yield up their prisoners to Colonel Johnson, they feared that by BO doing, they would lose the power to redeem their braves from their captivity.
To Colonel Johnson this delicate matter of effecting a transfer of the prisoners into his hands, was entrusted; and after considerable negotiation, rendered necessary by their vacillating course, the Mohawks were induced to yield up twelve of their prisoners. This transfer, however, was accompanied by a request, on the part of the Mohawks, that the colonel would not allow the Frenchmen to return home, until those of their warriors, who yet languished in the jail at Quebec, should be brought down to Crown o Point, and delivered into his hands. The success of his negotiations, the colonel immediately communicated to Mr. Clinton in a letter, which the latter at once laid before his council for its action. Several months elapsed before farther orders touching the final disposition of the prisoners were received from the governor ; during which interval, the colonel received them into his own house, treating them with much kindness and consideration.
Meanwhile the Mohawks, always suspicious, and not understanding the delays and forms of diplomatic intercourse, began to be apprehensive lest the object they had in delivering up their prisoners might not be attained. These apprehensions were likewise increased by messages which the wily La Galissoniere, "with artful tact, continued to send to the Mohawks, inviting them to come to Quebec, and treat in person for their braves. This, as it was designed, only increased their ill temper,-conscious that they had lost the power to do this, when they allowed the Frenchmen to go out of their hands. Their discontent at first manifested itself in angry looks and dark hints, until finally, unequivocal symptoms showed that they designed taking the matter into their own hands, by wresting back by force that which they had so unwillingly granted. So deeply rooted had their disaffection become, and so widely had it spread, that the colonel himself feared that even his influence would not much longer avail for the protection of the prisoners. In this strait, he at once wrote to Mr. Clinton, stating the situation of affairs and his own fears. The governor immediately replied as follows:,
"NEW YORK June 7, 1749.
"I have the favor of yours of twenty-sixth of last month, and am well pleased with the accounts you give me of your conduct with the Indians. You may assure the Mohawks that the reason of my not sending back the French prisoners which you have in your hands, is in order to secure the return of their people who are prisoners in Canada, and that their people shall not have their liberty on any conditions but that of the liberty of the Indians who are prisoners in Canada; that all these messages from the governor of Canada are only an artifice to draw them to Canada in order to make mean and shameful submissions to him there. And in order to prevent any of their people making such a shameful step, so disgraceful to their nation, you must endeavor to persuade them to deliver the remaining prisoners into your hands that they may be kept safe till the liberty of the Indians he secured. And for this purpose, if you have any apprehensions that the French now at your house cannot he safely kept there, you are to send them to Albany to the sheriff, there to be kept in jail till such time as he shall receive my orders for their liberty. If you think it may be attended -with any inconvenience to keep the French in prison at Albany, then yon may send them down to New York where I shall take care to have them secured.
Enclosed is an order to the sheriff to receive the prisoners from you, and to keep them in safe custody.
"But as the Indians are frequently very humorsome, and there must be some regard had to it, you are allowed to take some latitude in the execution of these orders, by delaying the full execution of them, till you inform me of any inconvenience which you may apprehend may attend the strict observance of them. I have received no orders from court relating to the liberty of prisoners, and I delay sending to Canada for their liberty in expectation of receiving such, and am,
" Sir, Your very humble servant,
On the reception of this letter Colonel Johnson summoned both of the Mohawk castles together, and used all his influence to divest them of their suspicions, and persuade them to leave the exchange of the prisoners entirely with Mr. Clinton. In this he succeeded; but only after great effort, and by the payment to the Indians of large sums of money out of his own purse. The Mohawks were also induced at the same time to deliver up to him the remainder of their captives, thus increasing the number under his protection to nineteen.
Scarcely had this affair been amicably arranged, when another difficulty arose, which for a little while threatened to mar the harmony between the Indians and the English. This time, however, the trouble had its origin in the indiscreet conduct of a few whites. It seems that some traders from Albany and the adjacent settlements, in going their yearly rounds among the different cantons of the Confederacy, had taken several Indian children as pawns or pledges for the payment of the goods sold to the parents. Notwithstanding the latter came at the appointed time to redeem their children, the traders refused to deliver them up,-designing to keep them as security for future purchases. The chiefs of the several tribes, justly indignant at this breach of faith, came in a body to Mount Johnson, and laid their grievances before the colonel, who thereupon informed Mr. Clinton of these facts. The result was a proclamation from the governor directing that the children should at once be restored to their homes. Most of the traders forthwith obeyed, but a few were obstinate and refused compliance. The French, ever ready to seize upon anything which might be turned to their advantage, used this circumstance to inflame the minds of the Indians, adducing this as a proof that the English wished only to reduce them to slavery. Finally, however, through the exertions of the colonel all the children were restored and the wound healed, though not until several council fires had been rekindled and many belts of wampum exchanged.
It was not until the following year that a general exchange of prisoners was effected. During the interval Colonel Johnson was chiefly occupied in soothing the temper of the Six Nations, and in preventing them from committing themselves to the French. This was not an easy task. The Jesuit priests were busy among them endeavoring to undermine their attachment to the English; for notwithstanding the solemn assurances given by the Indians that these emissaries should be given up, a few continued to reside at the different castles. The colonel, however, was not discouraged. Well aware of the character of his opponents he was not satisfied with pursuing merely a negative policy, but set himself vigorously to work to thwart the machinations going on around him. He therefore labored more earnestly than ever to strengthen his influence, over the Indians. At times I find him taking part in their ceremonies and condoling with . them upon the death of some chief: at another, he is wearing their dress, dancing and smoking their pipes, and entering, -with seeming zest into their games: while again he is found addressing their chiefs in council, and instigating an incursion upon one of the French settlements. Yet with all this adaptation to their habits, there was withal a certain dignity of mien which ever commanded respect, and secured him from that familiarity which with the red, as well as with the white race, always breeds contempt.(1)
The energy of Colonel Johnson-always remarkable- was perhaps never more displayed than at this period of his life. A. few years later he relinquished business and devoted himself entirely to the service of the crown. At this time, however, beside the duties incident to the care of the Indian department he was assiduous in the prosecution of his private business relations. Numerous letters to his agents in London, filled with orders for goods, are still in existence, copies of which were filed away with that accuracy which was so characteristic of him during his entire life. On the same day he is found ordering from London lead for the roof of his house; dispatching a load of goods to Oswego; bartering with the Indians for furs; and writing to Governor Clinton at length on the encroachments of the French-doing everything with neatness and dispatch. Yet amid all the cares incident to his mercantile business, which had now grown very extensive,
(1) It was in this year that Kalm, the distinguished Swedish naturalist visited Mount Johnson bearing a letter of introduction from Cadwallader Golden. Johnson received his visitor with warm and courtly hospitality, and on his departure gave him a letter to Captain Lindesay at Oswego and furnished him with a guide to Niagara. Kalm wrote to Johnson from Oswego thanking him warmly for his kindness.
he still retained his contract for supplying the garrison at Oswego ; while at the same time he superintended the militia, attended to the affairs of the Six Nations, and as "ranger of the woods',' for Albany county-an office conferred on him by Mr. Clinton-kept a diligent watch upon those who were disposed to cut down and carry, off by stealth the king's timber.
It will readily be seen, however, that with all this energy, it required great tact to maintain an ascendancy over the Iroquois. Any one other than Johnson would have failed; nor was; it an ordinary mind that could so successfully baffle the whole power and influence of La Galiasoniere and his wily priests. Indeed had it not been for his influence, it is difficult to see how the Six Nations at this period could have withstood the seductive allurements of the French. By every appliance in their power the latter strove to shake their confidence in the English-by presents; by the influence of priests; by stories circulated among them of English treachery; by stirring up petty jealousies,-in short nothing which cunning or strategy could devise was neglected. Yet all these arts, through the vigilance of the colonel, signally failed; and the Iroquois still continued the firm allies of the English crown.
The autumn of this year was marked by the encroachments of the French in Nova Scotia, which were soon to plunge the colonies into another bloody and disastrous war. La Jonquiere, the successor of Galissoniere, had watched the English settlement at Halifax with considerable solicitude; and in November, he dispatched a party of the St. John and River Indians against Minas, -with no other effect however, than the killing and capturing of eighteen men. At the same time, La Corne, a bloody and desperate soldier of fortune, was ordered to the isthmus of the peninsula, which position he occupied during the winter, making his headquarters at the village of Chiegnecto.
Anxious to dislodge these intruders, Cornwallis, the governor of Nova Scotia, sent Major Lawrence in April with. a force of four hundred regulars and rangers upon this service. Scarcely had the fleet appeared in sight, when La Come burned the town, and, retreating across the river with the inhabitants, planted upon its dykes the lilies of France. This position was too strong to be attacked with any prospect of success. Major Lawrence, after holding an interview with the French commander, in which the latter avowed his intention to defend himself to the last extremity, turned the prows of his vessels toward Halifax. A swift vessel conveyed the intelligence of this event to the parent government, and simultaneously a messenger was dispatched to the colonies of New Hampshire and Massachusetts to inform them "of the audacious proceedings of the French, and to invite them to join in punishing La Corne as a public incendiary."(1)
England, however, reaped, in the lukewarm reception of these tidings by the New England colonies, the first fruits of her pusillanimous surrender of Cape Breton. Those colonies already saw the folly of spending so much blood and treasure in aid of a government which had shown itself so incapable of profiting by their victories, and consequently they took no measures for the defense of Nova Scotia. In midsummer another expedition was planned at Halifax to retake Chiegnecto. The attack was successful, though several of the English were killed; and thus was the first blood shed of that sanguinary contest, which was soon to involve the continents of the old and new world in such long and deadly strife.(2)
In May of this year, Colonel Johnson took his first step toward the prominent and influential position which he was destined to occupy in later years. This was no less than his appointment by the crown to a seat in his majesty's council for the province of New York in the room of
Phillip Livingston deceased.(1) A new phase of life was now to open upon him, in which, a wider scope was to be given to his peculiar and extraordinary talents, Hitherto, although lie had been appointed in 1748 to the command of the New York colonial troops with the commission of colonel, yet he still occupied the position of a private citizen, fast rising, nevertheless, in influence, by a steady attention to his business. Henceforward he is no longer a citizen, but a public man. From a trader in furs, daily bartering for pelts in a country store, he is soon to become the most prominent man in his majesty's colonies.
To Johnson, this appointment, though unsought, was by no means a surprise. Mr. Catherwood, in April of this year, had written him from London, stating that Governor Clinton had recommended and urged his appointment to the council in place of Colonel Moore;-"I urged your appointment;" Mr. Catherwood writes," to be in the room of Mr. Livingston, as you seemed desirous to take place next to Mr. Holland; but Sir Peter Warren secretly asked it as a favor to place you before Mr. Holland, which was not your own desire, nor do I think it just, wherefore I have been under a necessity of praying that Mr. Holland may take place according to his appointment at New York." Although Mr. Clinton's recommendation undoubtedly arose in part from a personal attachment and a desire to advance the interests of his young friend, yet selfish considerations entered into it in a large measure. The faction in the assembly, far from growing weaker by frequent dissolutions, had, under the lead of the chief justice, waxed more powerful, until the executive was fast verging into a subordinate position. The governor, secure in the friendship of Johnson, hoped by this measure to bind the latter still more firmly to his interests and thus
(1) Mr. Dunlop in his History of New York, makes the date of Johnson's appointment to the council two years later. This is incorrect. Johnson, it is true, was not sworn in till the next year.
strengthen, his own hands, at the council board.(1) Still Mr. Clinton, though an unlettered man, possessed considerable sagacity, and had he not seen in the colonel the promise of ability which would be of service to the crown, he would not have recommended him for this important position merely to sustain his own interests.(2)
Meanwhile the wranglings between the governor and his assembly continued. The former, it will be remembered, rather than yield to the wishes of the faction, had in great wrath prorogued that body in 1748; and by successive prorogations, he had prevented it from sitting for nearly two years, until the affairs of the colony, from lack of funds, were now in an alarming condition. The executive during this entire period, had been wholly destitute of money with which to carry on the government. The post at Oswego was in danger of being given up, from its garrison having threatened to disband through lack of pay; and the public credit, by means of which funds had been obtained for the defense of the frontiers, was nearly if not quite exhausted. In this critical juncture, the governor did not think it advisable to longer delay calling his legislature together. He therefore declared his old assembly dissolved on the twenty-first of July, and issued writs for a new one returnable on the fourth of September. In his opening speech to the house, Mr. Clinton recommended that immediate provision should be made for meeting the arrears of the pay now long due to the garrison at Oswego, and for the expenses incurred in meeting and congratulating
(1)Thus in a letter from Catherwood to Johnson in May of this year informing him of his appointment, the former writes ;-"I have the pleasure to tell you that you are appointed a councilor for the province of New York pursuant to his excellency's recommendation, and as he is very ready upon all occasions to oblige his friends, I hope nothing will move you to drop your attachment inviolable to him; but that you will try now as a member of the legislature to serve him and yourself with the assembly."
(2)In the same way, Governor Fletcher had raised Schuyler to the council board, on account of his like judicious Indian service.
the Indians upon the conclusion of peace. He informed it of the rapid advances the French were making in the affections of the Confederates, and -the urgent necessity there was for making larger presents to the Indians if these advances were to be successfully met. He then urged it to provide for the payment of the salaries of government officers long since due; and concluded by reminding it of the colony's debt to Colonel Johnson still unpaid. The assembly responded to this address by immediately voting the sum of 800 pounds for presents to the Indians; and by passing two acts-one for the payment of the debts of the colony, and the other for the payment of the government salaries. It also allowed the sum of 686 pounds ll shillings to Mr. Johnson, for provisions supplied by him to the militia and regular troops posted at Oswego during the previous year from September 1748 to 1751. To these acts the governor gave his consent, although they were all passed in the same irregular manner as formerly, and in such a way as to encroach upon the prerogative. Still Mr. Clinton dared not refuse his assent, dreading lest his refusal should cause the loss of the post at Oswego, which on account of its trade with the Indians would have been equivalent to the loss of the friendship of the Six Nations.(1) The assembly shortly after the passage of these acts was prorogued to the second day of the following April.
It will be noticed, however, that with the exception of the £686 11s. allowed for provisioning the Oswego garrison the assembly during their session never once alluded to the debt now so long due Colonel Johnson. So cautious was the assembly, as we have already seen, of doing anything which could be construed into yielding to the wishes of the governor, that it was led into an act of great injustice, not to say ingratitude, in thus allowing this claim to pass-unrecognized. Especially was this the case, since the greater part of the debt was not or services rendered,
(1) Governor Clinton to the board of trade, published in N. Y. Col. Doc., vol. vi.
but for private advances made in treating with the Indians, and in the defense of the frontiers. It was in vain that for nearly three years Governor Clinton in turn entreated and besought. It was to no purpose that he represented the injustice of allowing Johnson's services to he so poorly requited, to say nothing of the moneys advanced by him from his own funds for the protection of the colony. The assembly, instigated by the De Lancey faction, were stubborn and would not yield. There was also another influence at work, which to a great extent was the cause of this injustice. It will be remembered that previous to the colonel assuming the supervision of the Six Nations, their affairs had for along time been entrusted to a hoard of commissioners at Albany. The commissioners were mostly Dutch; and in the love of gain so characteristic of that nation, they had used their office chiefly to monopolize the Indian trade, and thus make it a source of great private profit. Having finally through their grasping disposition, lost all influence over the Indians, the governor committed the whole management of Indian affairs to Mr. Johnson. The commissioners inflamed with resentment at the loss of authority which they had so long held, and the consequent loss of their trade-no inconsiderable source of emolument,-joined the faction against Clinton. Instigated by petty jealousy of the man by whom they had been supplanted, they used every artifice to prevent his claims from being recognized.(1) Various were the expedients resorted to by the assembly for deferring action upon this matter, many of them frivolous, all of them contemptible. Sometimes it was by directing that payments should be made out of funds which it well knew were exhausted; and again it was by cutting down his accounts, without assigning any reason for so doing.(2) It even charged him with peculation, and accused him of bringing in bills for provisions for the Oswego garrison
(1) Manuscript letter; Doctor Cadwallader Colden
to Colonel Johnson
(2) Manuscript letter; Colonel Johnson to Governor Clinton.
which were never sent. To such a length did the spirit of faction lead.(1) Colonel Johnson was thus placed in an exceedingly embarrassing position. For nearly three years past he had himself advanced almost all the money needed for the defense of the frontiers and for treating with the Indians, until there was now due him the sum of £2000. Fearing therefore that his private fortune would be ruined should this draft upon his funds continue, and there being no prospect of having his claims and services recognized, he sent in to the council his resignation as superintendent of Indian affairs,(2)-dispatching, at the same time, belts to the different Indian castles informing them that he no longer had the charge of their affairs. To Governor Clinton this step was not entirely unexpected, but among the Confederates the announcement, as was natural, carried surprise and consternation; so much so that that they made it the subject of a special belt at the next council, held at Albany the following summer.(3)
(1) Manuscript letter; David Jones (at this time
speaker of the house) to Colonel Johnson.
(2) Colonel Johnson to Governor Clinton.
(3) It is true that Cadwallader Colden in a letter to Governor Clinton (published in the N.Y.. Col. Doc. vi, 189) seems to hint that this action on the part of Johnson, was unexpected; yet in a manuscript letter before me from the latter to Mr. Clinton, he clearly notifies the governor that he will not advance money longer and must soon resign. In the course of this letter, after suggesting that Colonel Lydius should be appointed in his place, and giving some information in relation to the Indians, Johnson adds, "as this is perhaps the last item of Indian news I shall ever have occasion to trouble your excellency with, I should be very glad if it were made the best use of." In another letter to Governor Clinton, also, Johnson writes, "there will be some expense attending my resignation which I think should not be borne by me." Mr. Colden must therefore be mistaken.
Thanks to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on the internet.
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