History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.
During the winter and spring session of the assembly, Colonel Guy Johnson distinguished himself as an active and prominent member. Instructed by his father-in-law, with whom he was in daily correspondence, he was especially energetic in framing and introducing measures for the improvement of the new county. "I this day moved," he wrote to Sir William, under date of February second, "for bringing in a bill for establishing ferries, and have already drawn the bill up, as I generally do, even before the motion. I have joined in a road bill with other counties, which is a better one than any before it. I have also carried through a pickling tavern-bill, a hungry wolf-bill, and a filthy swine-bill, to give them their due epithets - also a general excise-bill." He also was instrumental in passing a bill appropriating sixteen hundred pounds for the completion of the jail and courthou.se at Johnstown. Indeed, it appeared as if Tryon county would monopolize the whole business of the session. "The members," he wrote in the same letter, "look queerly at the time which the house has already given to my bills, which is without precedent." The house, however, were willing to extend to the new representative all due courtesy, and during the entire session, the greatest good will prevailed. Once only, it seemed as if the general harmony would be disturbed. The occasion was as follows. On the seventh of January, Colonel Seaman presented to the house a bill "to remedy the evils to which the colony was exposed, from the quantities of counterfeit money introduced into it.'' Colonel Johnson at once took issue with the representative from Queens, respecting the manner in which the bill proposed to remedy the evils and the house becoming divided, a warm debate ensued. The motives, which influenced the colonel in opposing a measure so judicious, will appear from the following passage, written by him to the Baronet, while the bill was in progress.
"The house has been hitherto quiet and friendly, but many circumstances now threaten an interruption of that harmony. In the first place, the governor in his speech, recommended some expedient to prevent the circulation of the false money of which above eight thousand pounds is now already in this province. The house prepared a bill for emitting a new set of bills on better paper, and calling in the rest. As this was in the face of a late British act of parliament which incapacitates any governor from ever serving in any capacity, military or civil, that shall pass a money bill, the house sent the bill in confidence to the governor to get his sentiments, who declared it would not be in his power to pass it, and that in delicacy they should not urge it farther, after receiving his private opinion. Most of the members say that it has already gone so far, that their constituents expect that it will be pushed up to the council, that the public may see where it meets with opposition. The arguments for it are, that it appears the best expedient for demolishing the bad money, and that it has already been committed without opposition, and is not a new emission, but an exchange. Those against it are, that after taking the governor's private opinion, it is indelicate to push it, and in case it is disapproved at home, we shall have no currency at all, as the old is Condemned. I spoke against it nearly half an hour, and was seconded by two of the best speakers in the house, with just success enough to stave off' the evil day. To day it came on again, and crowds attended on the occasion, but we got it adjourned.1
1 Manuscript letter; Guy Johnson to Sir William Johnson, 2d Feb., 1773.
Before, however, the final vote was taken, Philip Schuyler proposed as a substitute another bill, the peculiar feature of which was, that a committee should be instructed to have a plate engraved in such a manner as would render it difficult to be counterfeited. As a device, he proposed "an eye in a cloud-a cart and coffins-three felons on a gallows - a weeping father and mother, with several small children-a burning pit-human figures forced into it by fiends, and a label with these words: "Let the name of a money maker rot," together with such other additions as might be thought proper. Forty-four thousand copies of this design were then to be struck off on thin paper, and pasted, or affixed to each of the bills emitted ;- by the act.1 He also suggested, "that the engraver or printer should make oaths that the plates had not been out of his hands; the plates when the printing should be done, to be sealed up and given to the treasurer of the colony; the treasurer to give the commissioners a receipt for the paper copies struck off; no bill to be considered genuine without such paper upon its back; commissioners to take oath of fidelity; and a reward to be given for the detection of counterfeiters."2 This substitute gave general satisfaction. Colonel Johnson withdrew his opposition; and the bill thus amended, passed the council, on the sixth of March, without farther alteration.
Scarcely had this matter been amicably adjusted by the happy suggestion of Schuyler, when the introduction of an act, appointing commissioners to settle the boundary line between New York and Massachusetts, fanned anew the embers of controversy. The member from Orange- John De Noyelles, who had heretofore been a warm loyalist, and whose influence was very great, had recently taken offense at the governor's militia appointments, and now threw himself fiercely into the opposition.3 This was
1 Assembly journals.
2 Life of Philip Schuyler, by Lossing.
3 Manuscript letter; Col. Guy Johnson to Sir Wm. Johnson.
a source of considerable annoyance, for the boundary dispute had now been of such long standing, that it was the earnest wish of both Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York that it should be forever set at rest. The bill, however, was carried by a large majority in the house, receiving on the third of March, the sanction of the council. Accordingly, in the middle of May, Governor Tryon, accompanied by the New York commissioners, met the commissioners and governors of the other two states at Hartford. When there is a real disposition on both sides to settle a disputed point, an agreement is not far distant. A boundary line was therefore soon determined upon which should run parallel with the Hudson river, twenty miles eastward of that stream; and thus this controversy, which had been for many years productive of much irritation, and some effusion of blood, was amicably settled.
Meanwhile, the daily routine of Johnson Hall was varied by two incidents of a pleasing character. The first was the arrival, in February, of two young French Indians from Doctor Wheelock's school, who thus sought an opportunity of seeing and conversing face to face with their Great Brother of the Six Nations; and the second, was the marriage of Sir John Johnson to Miss Mary Watts of New York city. In reference to this latter event Sir William wrote to a friend as follows:
"I thank you very kindly for your congratulations on the choice my son has lately made, and am very happy to hear that the young lady appears so deserving in the eyes of my friends, having left it to his own discretion, without tying up his hands in a business on which his future happiness must so greatly depend.
"I feel all possible satisfaction at the approach of a period so interesting to his felicity, and, from the general character of the lady, so much to be wished for by myself, who have long desired to see him happily settled. The precarious state of my health, however, for some years past, with the
1 Sister to the late venerable John Watts, who died in 1836.
often unexpected calls for my presence in the country, put it out of my power to promise myself the pleasure with any certainty of bearing a part on the occasion, notwithstanding the powerful inducements of love and friendship I am nevertheless very sensible of the force of both."1
The pleasing event, here referred to, took place on the evening of the twenty-ninth of June, at the residence of the bride's father; and on the following morning, the young couple embarked in a schooner for Albany, reaching the Hall toward the close of July. On their arrival, Sir William, whose health was now very precarious, and who had only waited to welcome his son and his bride before going to the seaside, immediately set off for New London, leaving the care of the Indian department to his son-in-law, Guy Johnson.
While Sir William was endeavoring to recuperate his overworked system by the salt water, the complexion of affairs between the mother country and her colonies had again assumed a threatening hue. Blind to their own interests, the ministry thought only of reducing their "rebellious subjects" to submission. Mortified and exasperated at the signal failure of their attempt to foist the stamp act upon the colonists, they were ready to embrace any scheme which promised to soothe their wounded pride. An opportunity for doing this soon came. The East India Company were now suffering severely from the effect of the non-importation agreements. Unable to make their annual payments to the government of fourteen hundred thousand pounds, they found themselves in the spring of the present year, with seventeen millions of pounds of tea on their hands, on the very verge of bankruptcy. In this state of affairs, the company, in April, petitioned parliament for permission to export their teas to America, and other countries, free of duty. This request, however, the ministry, jealous of relinquishing in the least
1 Manuscript letter; Sir Wm. Johnson to Major Moncrieffe, May 23, 1773.
their right to tax the colonies, would, not grant, but, by a special act of parliament, passed, on the tenth of June; so allowed the company to ship their tea to America free of any export duty-thus putting it in the power of the company to sell their tea at a lower price in America than in England. No act that the home government had hitherto passed, showed more plainly its utter inability to comprehend the great principle for which the colonies were contending, than this. It was clear that the ministry supposed that the motive of the colonists in resisting taxation was merely of a sordid nature. This idea was in itself sufficiently humiliating; and now, when by making concessions to the East India Company, a direct attempt was made to buy them off by an appeal to their pockets, the indignation of the colonists was raised to the highest pitch.
The plan of union as proposed by Virginia, and which had now been adopted by all the New England colonies, rendered concert of action much easier than heretofore. Accordingly as soon as it was known that the tea ships were on their way to America, measures were immediately taken to prevent the landing of their cargoes. The non-importation agreements, which had of late grown lax, became again stringent; and the correspondence between the vigilant committees of the several colonies was renewed with greater activity than ever. On the eighteenth of October, the inhabitants of Philadelphia assembled in the State House; and having in several spirited resolutions denied the right of parliament to tax America, and denounced the duty on tea, compelled the agents of the East India Company, by the mere force of public opinion, to resign. In Boston, the patriots were no less active. Town meetings were constantly held, and committees appointed to confer with committees from the neighboring towns, upon the best method of "preventing the landing and sale of the teas exported from the East India Company." Unlike, however, the excitement produced by the stamp act, everything was now done "decently and in order." The burning of the Gaspee in the waters of the Naragansett on the night of the seventeenth of June, 1772, was suggestive. On the night of the sixteenth of December, three tea-ships which lay moored at Griffin's wharf, were boarded by a party of men disguised as Mohawk Indians, and their cargoes, consisting of three hundred and forty chests of tea, thrown into the waters of the bay.
Nor was New York behind her sister colonies in resisting this new feature of ministerial oppression. Two days after the meeting in Philadelphia, the Sons of Liberty held a public meeting, in which they denounced in unequivocal terms the importation of the hateful article; and declared with such effect, that tea commissioners were fully as obnoxious as stamp distributors, that the commissioners appointed for New York forthwith resigned. Public sentiment, moreover, was not confined merely to resolves. A remark of Governor Try on that "the tea should be delivered to the consignees, even if it was sprinkled with blood," was not calculated to pour oil upon the troubled waters; and so soon as it was known that consignments of tea would shortly reach the city, another mass meeting of the citizens was held at their old rendezvous -"the fields," - to devise measures for preventing the landing of the tea from the vessel which was hourly expected. Hardly had the people assembled, when Whitehead Hicks, the mayor, hastened to the meeting charged with a message from the governor, to the effect that when the vessel arrived, the tea should be publicly taken from the ship into the fort and there kept, until the advice of the council could be taken, or the king's order could be known. The moment was critical, but John Lamb,- by whose influence undoubtedly the meeting had been called,-at once saw through the artifice. He immediately arose and addressed the assembly. After giving a summary of the grievances which had brought them together, he read the act of parliament, which prescribed the payment of the duty if the article was landed, and then asked, "shall the tea be landed?" A unanimous No ! repeated three times clearly showed the mind of his audience.1
But this spirit of resistance to parliamentary usurpation was not shared in by the assembly, whose members were more subservient than ever. Notwithstanding the conduct of the governor, they did not hesitate in the spring session, to vote five thousand pounds toward rebuilding the government house which had been recently destroyed by fire; and in response to his opening speech, in which they were informed that he had been called home to confer with the ministry in relation to the New Hampshire grants, they expressed the hope that his return to a grateful people would be speedy. Indeed, as Mr. Dunlop remarks, if the number of compliments paid him upon his departure was any test, it would seem as if he was very much beloved. Several of the loyalists residing in the city gave him a public dinner; General Haldimand, who had succeeded Gage as commander-in-chief, honored him with a ball; corporations and societies vied in presenting addresses; King's College created him a doctor in civil law; and the general assembly tendered him an address, in which, after expressing their appreciation of the uprightness and integrity of his conduct, they added in yet more fulsome eulogy, that they thought it their duty, as the representatives of a free and happy people, to pay this tribute of applause and acknowledgment to a governor who had so eminently distinguished himself by his constant attention to their care and prosperity! The governor, in return, thanked them for their "truly loyal and affectionate address;" and having, on the nineteenth of March, summoned the general assembly to his house, gave his assent to the acts that had been passed, and closed the session by prorogation.
1 Leake's Life of General Lamb.
Thus ended the third session of the legislature of the colony, and the administration of Governor Tryon, without having in a single instance, come into collision with his excellency, or even with the legislative council, gave in the matter of a disagreement between the two bodies in respect to an amendment to the militia bill, proposed by the council, but to which the house disagreed. An attempt was made in the council, on motion of Mr. Smith, to obtain a conference, but the proposition was voted down. The amendment referred to, according to the reasons of dissent recorded by Mr. Smith, was an invasion of the royal prerogative ; and had the bill been passed in the shape insisted upon by the house, Mr. Smith maintained that it would have received the governor's negative. According to the reasons of dissent, the rejection of the amendment of the council, evinced a determination by the house to control the action of the governor in commanding the services of the militia, while there were indications that their services would be required to quell insurrection in the New Harnpshire grants. Mr. Smith set forth that a similar amendment sent to the house in 1772, had been concurred in by that body, and that no reason was perceptible justifying a change of sentiments upon the question; and he thought a friendly conference might induce the house to yield. Other reasons for his assent were given; and he referred to open surmises abroad, that the legislature was losing its confidence in the governor, and the loss of the bill with the provision in question might be viewed as an evidence that the legislature had not been "sincere in the testimonials they had given and justly awarded to his excellency, for an administration wise and impartial, fair and generous, and steadily conducted upon principles unbiassed by party feuds, and acknowledged to be equally friendly to the rights of the crown, and the weal of the colony." But the conference was not asked, and in fact there was no collision.
This profound tranquility which had succeeded the election of the present general assembly in 1770, was the more remarkable from the raging of the political elements all around New York, and from the circumstances under which the preceding assembly had been dissolved, and the feelings attending the new election. The preceding assembly had been dissolved for its strong declaration of those constitutional principles which had been planted in the bosoms of the colonists from their settlement, and which were striking deeper root every hour. And yet, neither under Sir Henry Moore, who had dissolved the preceding, and summoned the present legislature, nor under Lord Dunmore, nor under Governor Tryon, had a breeze moved upon the political waters, so far as the legislature was concerned, save only by its concurrence in the Virginia resolutions of May 1769; nor did that act of concurrence occasion any visible agitation. But it was the deep, solemn calm, which often precedes the lightning and the whirlwind!
to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on
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