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

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 214. Indian Relations and Sir William Johnson's increasingly important role.

For several years following 1746, and possibly for a little time before, the frontier settlements of New York were in a constant state of feverish excitement and alarm, owing to the restless condition of the six nations, which to win to their interest was the constant effort of the French in Canada, aided by the Jesuit religious element : and as steadily was such a contingency sought to be guarded against by the English colonial Governors. And that the six nations were retained in the English interest at that time, it was due more to the influence of Col. Johnson than to that of any other man ; a fact duly appreciated by Gov. Clinton. And at this period, so well did the Governor of Canada deprecate the influence of Johnson, that he offered a bounty for his scalp.* One of the great evils to contend with in retaining the New York Indians in the English interest, was, the frequent changing of the colonial Governors ; for some of them had hardly become familiar-with their duties toward the red man when they were recalled and others sent, who, in their ignorance, seemed almost to undo

* Brod. Papers vol. 6, p. 314.

what others had done. And, me thinks, that the residence of the white colonists in the English interest residing among the Mohawks-the heads of the confederacy-was one of the principal reasons why the six nations were not won over to the French interest. Had the French then gained an equal foothold in the Senecas' country, the condition of things here to-day might have been vastly different.

One has only carefully to read up in the Brodhead Papers, the correspondence of the officers of the colony with the mother country, to see the vacillating course of the six nations, influened today in the interest of the English and to-morrow coquetting with the French, as one party or the other seemed for the time being to neglect them to the advantage of the other-to learn the importance to the country for a number of years, of the unbounded influence Col. Johnson had over them in the vast range of their wild-wood homes. One of the sources of mischief operating against the management of the Indians, was the constant jealousies existing between the several Governors of the colony and the Legislative assemblies, and other legal office holders. So pernicious were those petty bickerings that constant difficulty accrued in not sustaining the Governor by voting supplies when most needed ; and this proved a. great annoyance to Gov. Clinton-often in the most critical periods of time for retaining the six nations in the English interest : and had not the young adventurer, Johnson, made his home in the Mohawk valley at the opportune period he did, and got established in a lucrative business, it is a matter of some doubt whether the six nations in a body had not followed the fortunes of their brethren, the praying Indians, then making so important a tribe on the St. Lawrence, near Montreal. Another incentive was, his taking a squaw from one of the best Indian families to his home, as the sharer of his joys and his sorrows.

Drake's Biographical Dictionary says that, in 1743, Col. Johnson was appointed sole Superintendent of the Indians. This mistake : he was appointed by Gov. Clinton to command them in 11746, and about the same time as believed, to the Indian Superintendency. He succeeded Col. Peter Schuyler, whose action was so mixed up with the fur traders of Albany that the Indians had lost confidence in him. In 1748, the Governor extended his duty as colonel so as to command the frontier colonial troops. In 1750, he was appointed by the Crown a member of the Provincial Council ; Which gave him a voice in many important matters. Toward the close of the same year he resigned his Indian Agency, fearing its continuance might affect him to bankruptcy ; a contingency envy had no doubt hoped for. Since he had been so zealously engaged in the Indian interest, he had from his own capital advanced large sums of money for the public weal, which the Legislature influenced by a hostile faction-had refused to liquidate, until the debt had swelled to $5,000. The Indian confederacy was at first very much excited over his declension longer to serve it. This cabal headed by Oliver De Lancey, in opposing the Governor, seemed for a time to be doing its best to drive the Indians of New York into the French interest.

In 1753 the Indians had so lost confidence in the colonial commissioners for their business, that King Hendrick, with several other Mohawk chiefs, went to "New York and laid their complaints before Gov. Clinton." Not entirely satisfied with his promises of future redress, Hendrick made a brief but sarcastic speech before he left, in which he said he would tell his brethren of the other five nations that the old covenant chain between them and the English was broken, and that they might hereafter look for no further news of their affairs. This coming from such a source, when serious trouble with Canada was anticipated, was a matter of too serious import to be disregarded; and on the Governor's placing it before the Legislature, both branches (and in the council were James De Lancey and David Jones the bitter foes of the Governor), urged his delegating as the most suitable person for the mission, to win them back, Col. Johnson. This must have been somewhat humiliating to their iron will. The Colonel at once took the matter in hand, summoned the Mohawk warriors to meet him at Mount Johnson, July 26th, where they came with alacrity, glad again to be called together by him ; when Hendrick assured him that for the summons of any other man he would not have moved a foot* By the shrewdness and tact of the commissioner, the old difficulties were truncated; and in a general meeting of

* Stone's Johnson, vol. 1, p. 425.

all the natives the next month at Onondaga, a better feeling toward the colony was there established. No other man in America could thus easily have brought about so happy a result.

A New but Unfortunate Governor.-As the health of Gov. Clinton was impaired, he was, after ten years of faithful service, recalled at his own request, and Sir Danvers Osborne sent as his successor, arriving at New York on Sunday, October 7, 1753, On the Wednesday following he -was sworn into office, with James De Lancey as Lieutenant-Governor. Soon after he saw his predecessor grossly insulted by his side, when he became dejected, which the recent loss of his wife, no doubt, increased, On Thursday he learned that his instructions from the crown would not be complied with-in the evening he called a physician-spent the rest of the night in arranging private affairs, and on Friday morning he was found hanging upon the garden fence dead. The mental strain upon his system was so great as to unhinge his reason, and he committed suicide. Thus he died before entering upon his prospective duties and difficulties.*

The Beginning of the Last Canadian French War.-The territory along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was claimed at an early day by both England and France. The French, through the energy of her people in Canada and the Jesuit influence, had made visits to those rivers, and were planting military posts along the Ohio, claiming the country by the right of discovery and pre-occupancy ; but it was not until after 1750 that the English colonists began to realize the gigantic effort the French were making to grasp those great thoroughfares by water communication, and hem them in upon a comparatively narrow belt of land along the Atlantic ; or, as Col. Johnson expressed it in the Albany Congress of 1754-crowding us into the sea. The English claimed their right to this disputed territory mainly through the six nations, whose claim was predicated on conquest, or the subjugation of its earlier Indian occupancy. Virginia was the first colony to attempt to root out the French intruders about the Ohio river, by sending the young Surveyor George Washington thither in the fall of 1753, with a protest against their encroachments.

* Stone's Johnson, vol. 1, p. 429.

Instead of abandoning a project that promised so much for the future, the French prosecuted with still more vigor their western enterprise, and early in the spring of 1754 Gov. Dinwiddie, of Virginia, having raised a regiment of troops for the occasion, gave their command to Col. Joshua Frey and Lieut. Col. George Washington, and sent them to the disputed territory. A few miles from the Great Meadows-Washington, being several days in advance of Col. Frey-met a body of the enemy under M. De Jumonville and defeated them, slaying that officer with a number of his men. About this time Col. Frey, who was advancing to join Washington, suddenly died, and the command devolved on the latter. He was in the act of building a fort at the Great Meadows, which he called Fort Necessity from the circumstances ; but, before it was tenable, it was invested by De Villiers, a French officer from Canada, with an army 600 or 700 strong, offering Washington liberal terms to surrender works he could not expect to retain. The terms were acceded to, and he led his men with flying colors back to Virginia, leaving the French in undisputed possession of the tabooed district. One thing had, however, been accomplished : actual war had been commenced in the colonies,which neither of the mother countries had declared a war, too, that was to eventuate in wresting the Canadas forever from French rule, and open the western country to English occupancy.

The First American Congress.-Simultaneous with the movements of the French at the west, their emissaries were using the hatchet and fire-brand along the frontiers of New England and New York ; and to devise a plan for their general welfare, a congress of all the colonies was assembled at Albany in the summer of 1754 ; conspicuous among its 25 members was Councilor Johnson, accompanied by a delegation of about 150 chieftains of the six nations. On this important occasion were assembled representatives from Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia and the Carolinas could not Bend delegates, but desired to be counted in for their share of responsibility in the proceedings of the congress. The convention was opened on the 19th of June and continued to the 11th of July inclusive, and its proceedings cover 39 pages (in vol. 6) of the Brodhead Records. Its first business was to heal up all Indian difficulties, and make a new deal with them, after which the great object of the meeting was freely discussed, which was the Plan of a proposed Union of the several colonies, for their mutual defense and security, and for extending the British settlements in North America. This plan embraced the following propositions :

" That humble application be made for an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of which, one General Government may be formed in America, including all the said Colonies [previously named], within, and under which Government each Colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said Act, as hereafter follows :

"That the said General Government be administered by a President General, to be appointed and supported by the Crown, and a Grand Council to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several Colonies, met in their respective assemblies.

" That within -- Months after the passing of such Act, the house of Representatives in the several Assemblies, that happen to be sitting within that time or that shall be specially for that purpose convened, may and shall choose, Members for the Grand Council in the following proportions, that is to say:"

Massachusetts Bay, 7 ; New Hampshire, 2 ; Connecticut, 5 ; Rhode Island, 2 ; New York, 4 ; New Jersey, 3 ; Pennsylvania, 6 ; Maryland, 4 ; Virginia, 7 ; North Carolina, 4 ; South Carolina, 4 ; total, 48.

The details of this plan of union foreshadowed what they hoped to accomplish. They wanted power delegated from the crown, under the administration of a President-General and the Grand Council of 48, to act independently of the home government, to hold or direct all Indian treaties, and make peace with or declare war against Indian nations. Also to make such laws as they should judge necessary for regulating all Indian trade ; make purchases and transfers of lands for the natives ; make laws to govern new settlements ; be empowered to build forts in any of the colonies, and raise and pay soldiers ; and equip vessels to guard the coasts-probably as privateers. They desired to have a general treasurer, and a particular one for each colony ; moneys to be paid from them by orders from the President-General and Grand Council. A quorum of the Grand Council was to consist of 25 members, and the place designated for meeting was at Philadelphia. The laws of England were to be their model in constructing theirs, and were to be subject to the crown. The President-General was to commission all officers, whether for land or sea service, subject to the approbation of the Grand Council.

Certain propositions and suggestions for the enlightenment of this congress were presented by J. Pownal and Wm. Johnson, relating more especially to the movements of the French and the management of the New York Indians ; which two papers Dr. Franklin moved a vote of thanks for-a resolution at once carried-soon after which this first Congress of the American colonies harmoniously adjourned. Capt. Peter Wrexall, who acted as its secretary, was for years after associated with Sir William Johnson in the management of Indian affairs. Conrad Weiser, whose acquaintance the reader made at a boys' foot race at Middleburgh about 40 years earlier, was present from Pennsylvania, and acted both as witness and interpreter.

I cannot refrain from noticing one important fact brought out at this, as in many other treaties with the Indians of different localities, which was their serious protest against having traders bring rum into their midst; * having learned, as they had too

* Let me here observe that Col. Johnson writing to Gov. Clinton, from his own home (Mount Johnson) May 7, 1747, said: " I would desire one favor of your excellency for the dispatch of business the good of the cause in hand, and ray greater ease, that there might be as soon as possible an act passed or order to prevent selling any kind of liquor to any Indians In the Mohawk country or at Canajoharie [meaning the upper castle]; for it is impossible to do anything with them while there is such a plenty of liquor to be had all around the neighborhood, being forever drunk. The worst of all is, one Joseph Clement, sells liquor within W yards of my house [just across the creek]; and as soon as they get their bounty money, and that for guns, hangers, etc., they immediately go to his house and spend all there, which leaves them as poor as rats, notwithstanding all they get of me. I have forbid him several times but in vain. Wherefore, am obliged to apply to your excellency about it in hopes you will stop that vile practice, which will save them a great deal of money for this reason; that when there are many Indians come to treat about anything, the having liquor so near, go and get drunk and continue so a week or more sometimes. I must maintain them all this time which Is very chargeable and delays the business besides." He also severely censured George Clock living near the Canajoharle castle, who by the sale of liquor he said robbed the Indians of the clothes, etc., which they got of him. I infer that Col. Johnson did not keep liquor for sale In his own store at this time: certainly not for the Indians.- Brodhead Papers, vol 6, p. 362.

fearfully in the preceding 50 years, its destructive influence upon their race. Indeed, it was assigned as a reason for greatly depleting their numbers ; and one manner of which was that, in their drunken quarrels, they would kill or maim one another, and to escape the revenge of friends, flee to their brethren in Canada ; and thus was the colony of Praying Indians strengthened, from time to time, by the influence of rum. This remarkable gathering at Albany was the prototype of the one assembled at Philadelphia in 1775, known as the Continental Congress; and the first tended very much to bring about the last, which is one reason why it finds prominence here. Only two of the distinguished men of the first were at the second assemblage : those were Stephen Hopkins, of Rhode Island, and Dr. Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania. Little Delaware, Virginia, Georgia and the two Carolinas were not represented in the first Congress.

Col. Johnson is Commissioned a General and Superintendent. -Gen. Edward Braddock came to America in the spring of 1755, to assume command of the British and colonial troops in the impending difficulties between the colonies and Canada; and at a military council held at Alexandria, Va., in April, it was resolved to commission Col. Johnson as a Major-General of the colonial troops of New England and New York, to act at the north, and especially against Crown Point and Niagara ; and he was thus commissioned both by Gov. Shirley, of Massachusetts, and his excellency, Lieut.-Gov. De Lancey, of New York, with the approbation of Gen. Braddock, April 16, 1755,* He was also appointed by Gen. Braddock at the same time and place, sole superintendent and manager of Indian affairs of the six nations and all their dependencies. That officer also placed in his hands £2,000 sterling, to be used among the Indians as his judgment should dictate, with power to draw on Gov. Shirley for more funds if needed.+

Gen. Johnson set out at once upon his varied and important duties to find that, since he had been out of the Indian agency, their matters had become wonderfully demoralized, perhaps for the want of a more abiding confidence in those looking after their welfare ; added to which no doubt the want of experience and a better knowledge of their peculiar characteristics had

* Doc. His. vol. 2, pp. 651, 553. + Brod. Papers vol. 6, p. 961.

much to do. But he was the right man in the right place as the Congress at Albany the year before had reason to know; and he was by his wonderful sagacity and tact, soon able to reunite much of the scattered strength of that sedate but impulsive people when aroused. But to follow the restored agent in his herculean task is not my design : be resigned his former position because-in part-of the envy and malice of certain persons, whose want of zeal and judgment properly directed, had not only deranged but nearly upset the prosperity of the frontier settlers of New York. Envy is the boldest and seems to thrive the most in the path of prosperity ; and no one was ever very popular with the multitude in any position who was not followed by somebody's green eyeballs. Among those who evinced the most marked envy of Johnson in his new position as Indian superintendent, as appears by a letter written by him at Lake George, September 3, 1755,* to the Lords of Trade, was Gov. Shirley, who had the year before pretended so much friendship for him. He now it seems was trying to seduce the Indians from their engagements with Gen. Johnson to act for his own particular benefit; telling them that all the latter officer was he had made him, a fact of his duplicity being certified to by King Hendrick in the presence of Maj.-Gen. Lyman and other officers, September 4, 1755.+ Gen. Braddock had now fallen in battle, which made Shirley the more envious and aspiring.

* Brod. Papers vol. 6, p. 993. t Brod. Papers, vol. 6, p. 998.

+ This officer was among those who met Gen. Braddock in Ohio, and his last words bore the following tribute to the present American commander: " Fight on my boys, Johnson commands here and not Braddock."-Brod Papers, vol. 6, p. 1005.

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