Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

From Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country
by John J. Vrooman, 1951
Published by Baronet Litho Co., Inc., Johnstown, NY


IF COLONEL GUY JOHNSON were to return today to live again in his old home, he would have little enough to complain about in the care bestowed upon it during the century and a half since that May morning in 1775, when, with his entire family, plus the servants and some 500 retainers, he fled to Canada.

Following the departure of the Guy Johnson family the estate was confiscated as enemy property and sold. It passed through several hands, during a part of which time it was used as a tavern. And a busy one it was, with its surrounding stalls and wagon sheds, crowded with teamsters and all manner of conveyances, for those were the days of the stagecoach and emigrant wagons bound for Western New York, the land of promise to thousands of settlers.

James Stuart bought the property in 1845 and with a nice sense of fitness and appreciation he repaired and restored the old building, adding in perfect harmony the two wings which seem to the casual visitor to constitute, with the central section, a unified whole. About 1905 the State of New York bought the property for canal purposes. The residence is maintained as an historic site, open to the public. The Amsterdam chapter of the D. A. R. use it as a headquarters.

While it is true the house remains - has even been added to - the grounds which once widely bounded it have been nibbled away until nothing more than a well-kept lawn separates its front door from the thundering passage of express trains and ten-ton trucks. At the back, on the bank of the Mohawk, where once Colonel Guy Johnson moored his fishing skiff to the wharf beside his summerhouse, is the Barge Canal. Great tows of barges led by a smoking tug, or perhaps a sleek black tanker, are gently raised or lowered to another river level by the turning of a few levers at the lock.

Guy Johnson was born in Warrenstown, Ireland, in 1740, the son of John, a brother of Sir William Johnson. When a lad of 16 he came to America and seven years later had married his cousin Mary, or "Polly" as she was nicknamed, a daughter of Sir William Johnson and Catherine Welsenberg. Sir William gave them a tract of land a mile square and built in the center of it their first house which was of frame construction. This building was struck by lightning in 1773 and burned but was immediately replaced by the present stone structure, after plans by Samuel Fuller of Schenectady.

Originally it had a four-square roof, similar to the original roof of Queen Anne's Parsonage, and was in many respects like Fort Johnson in its interior arrangements. This was altered when the wings were added. There remains the wide central hall at the side of which a simple but effective staircase leads to another spacious hall above. The rooms were mostly paneled and richly draped. There were beautiful carpets, silver, and massive mahogany furniture in Guy Johnson's day. It was the social center of this section of the Valley for ten years before the war.

Adjoining Colonel Guy's property lay that of another son-in-law of Sir William, Colonel Daniel Claus, who married Anne, sometimes called Nancy, the full sister of "Polly" Johnson. Neither stick nor stone of their house remains. Sir William gave them likewise a tract of land a mile square which completely filled the gap between Guy Park and Fort Johnson. The Claus home stood near the junction of Guy Park Avenue with the highway, at the western City limits. It burned during the Revolution. The Claus family, like all the Johnson connections, fled to Canada, and their estate was confiscated and sold to a James Caldwell in 1786. Col. Claus fought through the war with headquarters a good part of the time at Montreal, Canada, the adopted home of many Valley Tories. The Colonel died in November, 1787, at King's Castle, Cardiff, South Wales, and was buried in the Cardiff Churchyard. His wife, Nancy, followed him in death in 1798. Her last resting place is in the old cemetery on the Butler farm adjacent to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where lies old Colonel John Butler (for years her father's trusted emissary) and many of the Colonel's family connections.

At Sir William's death in 1774, Colonel Guy succeeded him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs and Guy Park became the scene of innumerable Indian pow-wows as had been the case at Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall during the days of Sir William. But not for long. Public sentiment ran counter to the Johnson viewpoint and Colonel Guy was forced to leave. Uncertain as to his future and unable to carry away his belongings, he left valuable papers and jewelry in a hidden closet in a bedroom on the second floor. These he never recovered during the war. But afterward, during the time the house was in use as a tavern, several unsuccessful attempts were made by a female agent sent by the Colonel to remove the treasure. Each time the room was occupied and when the agent tried in the night to enter the room its occupant would be awakened and arouse the landlord with the story of the "ghost" he had seen and describe it as the ghost of "Polly" Johnson. One day there came a stranger to the tavern and requested to be allowed to sleep in that room, saying he would put an end to the host if it appeared to him. His request was granted. During the night the household was awakened with a pistol shot. When the landlord reached the room he found the man dressed and about to leave, not willing to wait until daybreak. As he left he told the landlord he felt sure the ghost would never appear again and it never did, for beyond a doubt the stranger took with him whatever it was that attracted "ghosts."

Enroute to Canada, Colonel Johnson's first stopping place was Fort Stanwix, where he held a conference with his Indian allies. In his company were Colonel John Butler; the Colonel's son, Walter; Joseph Brant (whom Colonel Guy had named as his Secretary), and most of the Mohawk Indians. Following the council they continued on to Fort Ontario at Oswego, which was an abandoned post at the time. Here they received stores and supplies for the remainder of their journey but were forced to remain as the Colonel's wife "Polly" became ill. Adequate care was not in reach and she died. Colonel Guy continued his tragic journey to Montreal while the Butlers went to Niagara with the remainder of the force.

The following year Colonel Guy left for England but was back in New York in 1777, where for a time he had an interest and a part in the management of the Royal Theatre on John Street. He even acted in one of Coleman's plays. The War took him to Fort Niagara and in 1780 he was living there. He is described by one of the prisoners at the fort as "a short pussy man about 40 years of age of stern countenance and haughty demeanor dressed in a British uniform with powdered locks and a cocked hat. His voice was harsh and his tongue bore evidence of his Irish extraction."

In 1783, being replaced by Sir John as Inspector General of Indian Affairs, he returned to England and in London urged his claims in lieu of his lost estates along the Mohawk. But his wife (Sir William's daughter) was dead, as was Sir William, and Sir John was abundantly occupied in taking care of his own troubles. Thus Colonel Guy's pleadings, lacking the necessary "backing," were in vain. He died in poverty in Haymarket on March 5th, 1788.

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