Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

1776 Briefly

From a page in the diary of King George III of England under date July 4, 1776: "Nothing Happened Today."

In the village of John's Town, County of Tryon, District of Mohawk, Province of New York, confusion, chaos, bitterness, hardship, fatigue and disillusionment prevailed throughout the years.

Sir William Johnson, illustrious founder and benefactor of the town, had died two years before, a sad and silent observer of the portending forces which were to bring calamity to his people.

The funeral took place July 13, 1774, and was the most solemn demonstration the colonies had ever witnessed. The service was conducted by the then resident rector, Reverend John Stuart, who had come originally to serve the area in December 1770 in response to Sir William's request for a "capable, intelligent and forceful rector." The body laid in state in the great drawing room at Johnson Hall prior to the funeral, then was followed to his own St. John's (the first church edifice north of the Mohawk River) by a procession numbering over two thousand bereaved persons. All had gathered to mourn the man who had established order and defended their lands and who had now returned to the soil from which he rose to greatness. He was buried in the Johnson family vault underneath the chancel of his "stone church."

Sir William had quite clearly intended the church and the twenty acres surrounding it, as well as the forty acre Glebe designated "for the use and support of a rector" for Church of England purposes. His will had been elaborately prepared legally signed and witnessed, six months prior to his death but the church, a private establishment, was without corporate jurisdiction to hold property. The land had been surveyed and set apart for church use, the Bishop of London who was acting as Bishop of America by order of Parliament, was too far distant to look after the grant. Title fell to Sir John, Inheritor of his father's landed estate.

One special injunction in the will demonstrates the character of the testator--it reveals his heart: "I do earnestly recommend to my son to show lenity to such of the tenants as are poor; an upright conduct with all mankind which will, on reflection, afford more satisfaction to a noble and generous mind than the greatest opulence."

This same benevolence is illustrated in the constant concern the Baronet manifested in fostering a parish for the needs and development of his people. His was the only church edifice for miles around and his, the only parsonage, built in 1770, said to have been a "comfortable" one just west of what is now St. Patrick's Church on East Clinton Street. Both church and rectory were used by any itinerant clergyman who could be persuaded to minister to the inhabitants.

In November of 1772 the Reverend Richard Mosely had been secured as the first resident rector. Within two years poor health caused him to leave and seek a warmer climate. Our second rector was the Reverend John Stuart, a close friend of Sir William's, who had endeared himself to the villagers during his previous missionary functions. He could preach to the Mohawks and read the liturgy in their own language. Indians fondly referred to him as the "little gentleman"--he was six feet two inches tall.

The American Revolution was not merely an uprising of oppressed and liberty-loving colonists against tyrannical English overlords, but a much more complex matter. In the area of the present Diocese of Albany it was an affair of many and crisscrossed lines. It was, in some sense, a war of Dutch and Palatines against English and Scots; it was a war of small landowners against the lords of the manor; it was a war of Anglican against dissenter. On all counts, the Church of England was on the losing side and soon experienced a sharp and severe persecution.

With the onslaught of the war and the stabilizing influence of Sir William removed, our church and our town were thrown into confusion. Sir John occupied the Hall for a short time but his hostility against the colonists necessitated his flight from the area in 1775, wreaking vengeance on the patriots of the Mohawk Valley. The Johnson tenants, some recent immigrants from Scotland and many settlers whom the Baronet had persuaded (some, with financial aid) to establish homes here, prone to follow Sir John's lead in politics, fled with him to Canada. The son of Sir William caused much harassment to the American forces and to many harmless people as well.

Population in our village decreased both by war casualties and withdrawal of Sir John's adherents. Our church people scattered far and wide; few remained in the settlement.

The bitterness and conflicts of war created an untenable situation for the Reverend Stuart. The church of England was frowned upon by most of the people remaining in the Valley. Our church was closed and Stuart moved from the village in 1776. With his departure the last Anglican priest was gone from this territory; and so, also, the last Anglican services to be held in the village for many years.

Thereupon ensued dark days for our parish. The building (65' by 45') -- the second church erected and supported at Sir William's expense -- had a tin-capped cupola, a beautifully toned bell and a famous organ with ten registers, or stops, unique for that era.

The abandoned stone church and Glebe, subjects of caustic controversy, were expropriated by people other than Anglicans; regained many years later after considerable strife and litigation.

From 1776 until the end of the century when services of the Church were once again resumed, the history of our parish is brief.

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