Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 313
Sir William Johnson's Dream.--In my History of Schoharie County, etc., in 1845, I gave the following popular version of this story, as related to me by the venerable Henry Frey Yates.
The tract of land owned by Sir William Johnson, and called the Royal Grant, which contained nearly 100,000 acres of choice land, situated in the county of Herkimer, was obtained from Hendrick in the following manner: Being at the Baronet's house (Fort Johnson) the sachem observed a new coat, richly embroidered with gold lace, which the former intended for his own person; and on entering his presence, after a night's rest, he said to him, " Brother, me dream last night." "Indeed," responded the royal agent, "and what did my red brother dream?" "Me dream," was the chief's reply, "that this coat be mine!" "Then," said the sagacious Irishman, "it is yours, to which you are welcome." Soon after this interview Sir William returned his guest's visit, and on meeting him in the morning said to him, " Brother, I dreamed last night!" "What did my pale-faced brother dream?" interrogated the sachem. "I dreamed," said his guest, "that this tract of land," describing a square bounded on the south by the Mohawk, on the east by Canada creek, and on the north and west by objects familiar to them, "was all my own!" Old Hendrick assumed a thoughtful mood, but although he saw the enormity of the request, he would not be outdone in generosity, or forfeit the friendship of the British agent, and soon responded,"Brother, the land is yours, but you must not dream again!" The title to this land was confirmed by the British government, on which account it was called the Royal Grant.
Mr. Stone, in his Life of Sir William Johnson (vol. 1, p. 551), says; "The famous story of Sir William's dreaming with King Hendrick for the royal grant, or, indeed, for any other piece of land, is a pure fiction." That may or may not be so. The mere assertion of no one can, at this late day, be received as proof positive in this matter. Again, says Stone: "The romantic story of his dreaming away from King Hendrick the Royal grant-which even Mr. Schoolcraft, in his Notes on the Iroquois, gravely narrates as a fact-is false. Hendrick had been in his grave five years before this tract was given. Indeed, the uprightness. of Sir William's dealings with the Indians, which was the chief cause of his ascendency over them, sufficiently proves its falsity, even if we had not the above positive testimony. It is quite time that the numerous silly stories afloat in regard to Sir William Johnson, and resting solely on tradition, should be done away with."*
A number of late writers have given some version of this story, but Mr. Stone is only surprised at Mr. Schoolcraft's doing it. Mr. Schoolcraft seems to have had no idea of the extent of the royal grant, when he says it was 3,000 acres, + unless he meant to convey the idea that the dream was only for 3,000 acres of the tract. Mr. Stone designates the extent of the royal grant as 66,000 acres ; ++ but the will of the Baronet shows it to have contained nearly 100,000 acres, 70,000 acres being devised in three items.
Let us look at this matter dispassionately for a moment. As regards the truth or falsehood of Sir William's obtaining this or any other tract of land thus easily-and when he came into the country, it was a common thing for the Indians to give lands for a song to white adventurers whom they liked-this was a current story in the lifetime of the Baronet, which had it been "false," or without any foundation in truth, he would have been likely so to have characterized it. But the story came down from his own generation and the one following it, generally believed it. Who first published it, I cannot say, Spafford in his State Gazeteer issued in 1824-, under "The Royal Grants," says: "Everybody has heard the story of Sir William Johnson's dream, out it was new to me, quite lately, that this dream had any connection with the royal grants, the circumstances attending which were related to me by an old Dutchman, well acquainted with the facts. By that singular artifice, Sir. William obtained a grant of the Indian title to those lands, comprising all that lie between the above named creeks [East and West Canada creeks], afterwards confirmed to him and his heirs forever, by the crown of England."
Mr. N. S. Benton, who published this anecdote, thinks it should be illustrated: "although quite as unreal as most dreams are," In other words, he believes with the multitude that the story whether true or not, is too good to be lost. It certainly was characteristic of the man. Nor would it reflect at all on the "uprightness of his dealings with the indians." They always liked a joke if there was pith in it : hence his fair dealing
*Stone's Johnson, vol 2, p. 325. + Schoolcraft's Notes, p. 418.
++ Stone's Life of Johnson, vol. 2, p. 324.
was no evidence of the "falsity" of this story. Mr. Benton says: "Judge Haring, now living, who came to Johnstown in 1795, and at an early day was quite familiar with the inhabitants, old and young, says that Sir "William dreamed for the land known as the Kingsborough patent, where he built his own family mansion, and not for the royal grant."*
It is not improbable that the tradition of Judge Haring is the correct one since he lived more than 60 years amid the lifescenes of the Baronet; besides Hendrick's dream was said to have been at Fort Johnson. The title, however, if for a contract made long before and not confirmed until after Hendrick's death, would not be positive testimony that the transaction was not in fulfilment of a valid contract made years before, and then ratified by his brother chiefs. If such a grant was made and was elsewhere than at the royal grant, the very title in the lapse of time would seem to designate that, since the crown issued that patent, and most others came through colonial Governors. Lieut. Gov. Colden, in writing to the Lords of Trade, May 31, 1765 + to have so large a tract of land as the royal grant confirmed by the crown to Sir William Johnson, says: "I suspect the land is the same which the Indians Gave to Sir William Johnson, soon after the conclusion of peace, etc." This does not imply that King Hendrick may not have been the first to have promised him this gift.
I have given these correlative facts, that the reader might judge for himself, whether there was or was not any foundation for this story. Speaking of the confirmation of this contract as possibly being after Hendrick's death, I am reminded of a story of Joseph Brant, in Canada. He made a transfer of Indian lands, which it was necessary for the crown to ratify. After years of delay, which mortified the old chieftain's pride, the government confirmed the title. Had he died in the time pending the ratification, the latter would no doubt have been confirmed. When the news came that his action was honored, he was so elated, he got into a drunken frolic in which he died. Thus was I informed thirty years ago, by Isaac H. Tiffany, Esq., who visited Brant at his own home in 1806, the year before the old warrior died.
*History of Herkimer County, p. 24.
+Brod. Papers, vol. 7,. p. 742.
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