Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Vol. II
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.


Already the British cabinet regretted the repeal of the stamp act; and the project of taxing America was again resumed. The extravagant demonstrations of delight, manifested by the colonists at the repeal, had been regarded by British statesman with ill concealed disgust. The still stronger exhibitions of joy upon the anniversary of the repeal did not abate this feeling; and when, in May, the news was received that Georgia, following in the wake of New York, had also declined obedience to the mutiny act, their chagrin at having yielded became open and undisguised. Pitt, Camden, and Conway, it is true, protested against taxation ; but the former, no longer the great commoner, but the Earl of Chatham, had lost, from the day on which he had taken his seat in the house of lords, his popularity, and with it his influence Camden and Conway were unreliable: and Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, with Grenville, was thus left to mature his favorite scheme of replenishing the finances at the expense, of the colonies. Accordingly, in May, Townshend, taking advantage of the absence of Chatham (caused by a temporary indisposition) introduced a bill into the house of commons, imposing a duty on all paper, glass, tea, and painter's colors, imported into the colonies. The preamble of the bill set forth that "it is expedient that a revenue should be raised in his majesty's dominions in America, for making a more certain and adequate provision for defraying the charge of the administration of justice, and the support of civil government, in those provinces where it shall be found necessary; and towards farther defraying the expenses of In its passage through parliament, the bill met with scarcely any opposition, and on the twenty-eighth of June, it received the cordial assent and signature of the king. This was shortly followed by another, "to establish commissioners of customs in America," and also by one "to compensate the stamp officers who had been deprived by the people." But by far the most important-in its consequences was still another, which received the royal assent upon the twenty-ninth, and which declared that the functions of the assembly of New York were henceforth annulled-the governor and council being forbidden to give their assent to any act passed by that body, " until the mutiny act was unequivocally acknowledged and submitted to." The rebellious people of the colonies, said the authors of this act, must be brought to unqualified submission, and the supremacy of parliament be maintained.

This latter act, by far the deadliest blow that had yet been struck at their liberties, excited the utmost consternation throughout the American provinces. It was at once seen, that if parliament could at pleasure disfranchise a sister colony, the same fate might at any moment overtake the others. " This act," wrote Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, " hangs like a flaming sword over our heads, and requires, by all means, to be removed." The citizens of Boston, sympathizing deeply with the people of New York, expressed in no measured terms their indignation of what they styled ministerial tyranny. Tyranny it indeed was, and of the moat inexcusable kind, inasmuch as it was not, as some have supposed, a tyranny into which the British ministry were led blindly, or through ignorance of the consequences. " It is strange," says an elegant English writer," that the British government should not have been apprehensive of the great and increasing danger of the predicament in which its colonial dominion was involved."1 It is not, however, strange. The British

1 Graham.

government did it with open eyes, and clearly foresaw the results toward which its colonial policy was fast tending; for while, in the spring of this year, the chancellor of the exchequer was pushing forward his schemes of taxation, General Gage was putting Port George, Ticonderoga, and Crown Point on a thorough war footing, and Carleton, the lieutenant governor of Canada, was adding new defences to Quebec. "These measures," wrote the latter; to the commander-in-chief, "will link these two provinces New York and Quebec so strongly together, as will add great security to both, and will facilitate the transfer, of ten or fifteen thousand men, in the beginning of a war, front one to another, as circumstances may require: and, in the same letter, the writer suggests that a "place of arms" should be immediately established in New York, "for," he adds, " no pains, address, nor expense is too great, that will give security to the king's magazines; divide the northern and southern colonies; and afford an opportunity of transporting our forces into any part of the continent."

The duties of his department left Sir William Johnson little time for relaxation; and he had scarcely dismissed an appeal of some Nahantics of Rhode-Island, praying his interference in an intestine, broil,2 when he received letters from Governors Sharp and Penn, requesting his influence

1 Lt. Gov. Carleton to Major General Gage, 15 Feb. 1767.

2 Shortly after the Narragansetts had become merged in the Nahantics, Ninigret, the sachem of the latter nation, made in 1709 a grant of a large portion of the lands of his people to the colony of Rhode-Island, very much against the wishes of a portion of his tribe. The dispute was encouraged by the whites, who wished to obtain more of their lands ; and when about the year 1650, Thomas Ninigret a descendant of old Ninigret made farther sales, the malcontents proceeded to depose him. An appeal was made by both parties to Sir Wm. Johnson in 1763; and the controversy and correspondence with Sir William continued for some years. The Baronet, however, though evidently inclining to the side of the sachem, continually declined to interfere; and the Rhode Islanders ultimately obtained the lands.-Manuscripts of Sir Wm. Johnson.

with the Six Nations in favor of their allowing commissioners to run a boundary line over the Alleghenies between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The running of this division line had been several times attempted, but had as often been prevented by the jealousy of the Indians, who regarded any movement of the kind with their habitual suspicion. The present time, moreover, was hardly less inauspicious. The winter, it is true, had passed away without the expected Indian outbreak, but the future still looked black, and it was evident that the Indians - especially the western nations-had remained quiet only for want of a leader, and that their resentment would take fire from the least spark. Notwithstanding this, however, the proprietaries of both Maryland and Pennsylvania were impatient for an adjustment of their boundaries: they were certain that the assent of the Confederacy could be obtained by the superintendent; and the latter, thus urged, had no alternative but to make the trial.

Accordingly, early in March, he sent runners to the different castles, inviting the Indians to meet him at the German Flats. Owing, however, to the recent murders on the frontier, they came in slowly, and it was not until May that the Confederacy was fully represented. On the twentieth, the Baronet laid before the Indians, who numbered nearly eight-hundred and were chiefly Senecas, the business which had called them together. The first interview gave little promise of success. The chiefs were surly and never, in all the Baronet's past experience, had they manifested so much discontent, or seemed so little inclined to a spirit of accommodation. It so happened, however, that while the negotiations were pending, the Baronet received letters from the minister, in answer to his complaints to the board of trade, in which he was assured that a stop should at once be put to the conduct of the borderers. The opportune arrival of these dispatches greatly facilitated the negotiations; and molified by their contents and also by the presents from the proprietaries, the Indians were finally induced to grant the desired permission; and deputies from among themselves were immediately sent to accompany the surveyors while running the boundary.

But permission to run the boundary was not all that was contemplated by this meeting; and before the Indians were dismissed, a. point was gained from those fickle people still more important, from its bearing upon the peace and quiet of the more southern provinces. It had long been the desire of Governor Fauquier, of Virginia, that the Six Nations should become reconciled with their hereditary enemies, the Cherokees; and within the last year the correspondence between himself and the superintendent upon this subject, had been frequent. Accordingly, as soon as the affair of the boundary had been adjusted, the subject of the proposed peace was laid before the chiefs, who finally promised, in the name of the Confederacy, that if a deputation from the Cherokees would meet them at Johnson Hall, they would ratify a solemn and lasting treaty with that nation.

Allusion has frequently been made in this work to the attacks of illness to which the Baronet was liable. For years he had been subject to dysentery, which often prostrated him upon his bed for weeks together. At such times, the wound, that he had received at the battle of Lake George, in 1755, and from which the ball was never extracted, became excessively painful, rendering him, for weeks after an attack, unable to ride on horseback or to endure any active exercise. Suitable medical attendance it was very difficult to procure; and it frequently happened that having exhausted the contents of his own medical chest, he was obliged to send to Albany, and sometimes even to New York, for a physician. It was during one of

1 Manuscript correspondence between the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Sir William Johnson, 1767. Manuscript letter ; Johnson to John Watts, 30 May, 1767.

these attacks, in the summer of this year, that he was induced to visit a medicinal spring,1 the peculiar properties of which had recently been brought to his notice by the Mohawks, who passed by it yearly in their hunting excursions.

Accompanied by his Indian guides, the Baronet set out on his journey, the twenty-second of August, and passing down the Mohawk in a boat soon reached Schenectady. At this place, Sir William, being too feeble either to walk or ride, was placed, on a litter, and borne on the stalwart shoulders of his Indian attendants through the woods to Ballston Lake. Tarrying over night at the log cabin of Michael McDonald, an Irishman, -who had recently begun a clearing on the shores of the lake, the party, accompanied by McDonald, plunged again into the forest; and following the trail of Indian hunters along the shore of Lake Saratoga, and its chief tributary, the Kayaderosseras, reached their destination. Close to the spring, for the comfort of the invalid, a rude bark lodge was erected; and in this primitive hotel, reclined the first white man, of whom we have any knowledge,-that had ever visited the Springs. Yet while the sufferer lay on his evergreen couch, did the fortunes of the general whom he had defeated twelve years previously occur to him? Perhaps so; for by a singular coincidence, while the conqueror of Dieskau was prostrated amid those forests where the wounds of both had been received, the French general was languishing on his death bed at a small town in the interior of France:2-

"The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

The Baronet had been but four or five days at the High Rock, when he received letters obliging him to hasten immediately home. Short as his visit was, however, the water, forest life, and change of air, restored his strength

1 Now known as the High Rock, at Saratoga Springs, N. Y.
2 Baron Dieskau died from the effects of his wounds received at Lake George, on the eighth day of September, 1767, at Saran, in France.

Far as to enable him to travel some of the way to Schenectady on foot; and again taking his water carriage, he arrived, on the fourth of September, at the Hall, to welcome his son, Sir John, who had just arrived from England.1

The popularity of Saratoga Springs, as a watering place, may be said to date from this visit. For although the Baronet was not benefited as much as he anticipated,- perhaps from the shortness of his stay-yet the fact of so distinguished a personage as Sir William, having been even partially restored by the water, soon became noised through the country; others were induced to make the trial; new springs were discovered; and, thenceforth, the Springs became the resort of those who were in pursuit of health or pleasure.

The letters, which had hastened the return of the Baronet, contained intelligence of the death of the chief sachem of the Seneca nation. As the latter had been for several years past sincerely attached to the English interest, his death, in the present excited state of the Indians, was considered a great calamity. The time, moreover, was close at hand, when the general yearly meeting of the Confederacy would take place at Onondaga; and accordingly upon his return, Sir William, under the guise of making a tour for his health, set out for the great fireplace, hoping that his presence would neutralize any attempt to incite sedition among the tribes. His influence prevailed; the meeting passed off quietly; and having by numerous gifts, and many tedious ceremonies, condoled the Seneca's death, he returned to the Hall, the middle of October.

Convinced by his past experience, and more especially, by his recent visits to Onondaga, of the necessity of the

1 Manuscript letter ; Johnson to Moore, 21 Aug. 1767.
Manuscript letter; Johnson to Gage, 6 Sept. 1767.
The descendants of McDonald are yet living (1862) in the vicinity of Ballston, N. Y.

mother country at once adopting a definite Indian policy, Sir William, upon his return, drew up, for the perusal of the lords of trade, a highly elaborate and carefully digested review of the past and present state of Indian trade and relations." This document consists of more than eleven hundred folios, and is accompanied with valuable suggestions for the improvement and amelioration of the Indian race, all of which are marked by the writer's characteristic vigor of thought, and strong common sense.

After adverting at length to the necessity of a well governed frontier trade, he proceeds "to a subject of the highest importance-religious instruction." This, he went on to say, had hitherto been greatly neglected, and up to this time had made little or no progress. The best channel, the writer thought, by which the truths of Christianity could be conveyed to the north, and north western tribes, was through the Six Nations, among whom as yet there was no missionary. The mission, which had formerly been established by Rev. Mr. Barclay at the lower Mohawk Castle, had latterly been of no benefit, as the missionary resided at Albany, and only occasionally delivered a sermon-" so that" adds the writer, " had not many of the Indians been furnished by me with religious books in their own language, they would now be almost entire strangers to the Christian religion. It was true, that some of the dissenters had occasionally sent a missionary to the Oneidas and Senecas, but they all, growing tired of the hard mode of life, had soon abandoned the field. Most of those, moreover, who had been sent, having just taken orders, either gave their hearers long discourses upon the distinctions of creeds or uttered long tirades against hunting, advising an agricultural life-than which nothing could have been more distasteful to the red man-so that the Indians had profited little by their instructions. Others again, well meaning but injudicious, had attempted to abolish at once many of their innocent customs-such as dances, and marriage feasts,-all of which was only calculated to inspire the Indians with disgust. What -was wanted, said the Baronet, were men of piety, ability, and experience, who would be willing to remain among the Indians long enough to become perfect masters of their language and disposition.

Another measure recommended was, that interpreters should be provided at the different posts, with salaries sufficiently large to make it an object for them to acquire a thorough knowledge of the Indian tongue. As the Indians considered it a mark of respect, to be spoken with through an interpreter, this measure was deemed very essential. Good interpreters, however, it was very difficult to find, and he was, therefore, often under the necessity of delivering his speeches himself. As an illustration of the mistakes committed by ignorant interpreters, the writer alluded to an occurrence of recent date. It so happened that a Boston divine, having expressed a desire to preach, to the Indians in the vicinity of Johnson Hall, chose for his text, "for God is no respecter of persons." The interpreter in explaining this sentiment told the Indians, "that God had no love for such people as they." Sir William, immediately interfered, and not only corrected the error, but interpreted the remainder of the discourse, to prevent farther blunders. "Had I not been present," he writes, "the error must have passed, and many more might have been committed in the course of the sermon."

One great cause, hitherto, of the difficulty which had been experienced in redressing Indian grievances, and bringing the offenders to justice, was the fact that no Indian was allowed to give testimony in court against that of a white. This injustice the Baronet proposed to remedy, by the passage of a law, providing that the testimony of all Indians who had embraced Christianity, should be admitted in civil and criminal actions; and farther, that the accusations of those, who did not profess the Christian faith, should be reduced to writing, to which juries might attach as much credit as their judgment should dictate.

If these several suggestions, added Sir "William in his summing up, were carried, out, a marked improvement in the condition of the Indians would soon be apparent, and the expenses of his department materially diminished.1

Although the Baronet was warmly attached to the church of England, he was by no means sectarian in his feelings; and at this time, he was in correspondence with Doctor Wheelock, in relation to the removal of the Moor Charity School into the valley of the Mohawk. Various reasons seemed to require a change in the location of the school, and Sir William was in hopes of having it permanently established in his vicinity. The jealousy, however, of the ecclesiastics of Albany, thwarted his wishes; and Governor Wentworth having, in the meantime, granted to the school a township on the eastern bank of the Connecticut river, it was removed thither in the fall of 1769, receiving a charter under the name of Dartmouth College, in honor of its chief patron, the earl of Dartmouth.

In December, three Cherokee chieftains-Little Carpenter, Great Warrior, and Raven King-accompanied by six warriors and an interpreter, arrived in New York, on their way to Johnson Hall. They were kindly received by the commander-in-chief, and sent forward in a sloop to Albany. Thence, accompanied by Colonel Philip Schuyler as an escort, they rode up on horseback to Fort Johnson; and on the last day but one of the year they reached the hall,- there to be domiciled, until the Confederacy, by belts and messages, should be notified of their arrival.

l Review of the progressive state of the trade &c.," by Sir William Johnson. N. Y. Cel. Doc.

Thanks to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on the internet.

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