Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

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

Sir William Johnson's Failing Health, Masonic Lodge, Religious Affiliations, Indian Castle Church. (vol I, pg. 272)

----August 14, 1767, the Baronet wrote to the Earl of Shelburne, as follows: "Having for these five years past been much troubled with a billious complaint, and the ball in my thigh giving me more uneasiness as it descends, for all of which I have as yet met with very little relief, I am induced to visit some new discovered spring about 80 miles from here, where I purpose to spend a few weeks to try their efficacy, etc" (Brod. Papers. vol. 7) September 22d he again wrote to Shelburne, when he spoke of having returned from the spring sooner than he proposed, on account of some letters arriving at his home in his absence. October 20th following, he wrote to the Lords of Trade, in which letter, speaking of his health, he says: "Which has been of late very indifferent, being more than ever attacked by my wound in 1755, etc." Thus we perceive that his physical powers were giving way under the constant drain upon them, and the corroding care of increasing mental excitement.

I had supposed this visit of the Baronet was to Ballston instead of Saratoga, because nearer to the white settlers, who, as well as the Indians, had discovered the medical properties of those "healing waters." Mr. Stone however, speaks of his going to the High Rock Spring at Saratoga, though on what authority is not shown. He was so debilitated that the was taken from Caughnawaga to Schenectada in a boat, and was borne from thence to the springs on a litter. This is probably the earliest recorded visit of any one to the springs of Saratoga county for their health. Although he could stay but a few days, he considered himself benefited.

From Guy Park, January 20, 1767, Guy Johnson, the Baronet's deputy in Indian affairs, wrote the Earl of Hillsborough, as follows: "Sir William set out on the 24th of April for the sea coast of New England [near New London, Ct.] by advice of his physicians, having for some time labored under a violet disorder of the bowels, as well as severe pains from his old wound, with both of which he has been much afflicted for some years past. This last attack was occasioned by cold he caught in attending the late general congress with the northern Indians and Cherokees, which was held in the open air at a severe season, etc." He also stated that Sir William was being benefited by the excursion, and would return in about three weeks. (Brod. Papers, vol. 8)

Sir William, writing himself to the Earl of Hillsborough, July 20, speaks of his having returned from the sea side somewhat recovered from his late indisposition. (Brod. Papers, vol. 8) Mr. Stone says on this occasion the Baronet returned via Saratoga Springs, which was no doubt so, if his previous visit was at Saratoga instead of Ballston. In 1770 Sir William declined to embark in a new enterprise because of his failing health; his constitution, as he said, being greatly impaired through the hardships and fatigues he had undergone in the public service. In 1771 we find him again trying the waters of Saratoga county. September 1, 1773, in a letter from Sir William to the Earl of Dartmouth, he assigned as a reason for not sooner writing him: "My later ill state of health having rendered it necessary that I should to to the sea side in order to make use of the sea water."

Sir William, at an early period, erected a gristmill on the Cayadutta, which flowed through the Hall farm not far from the village of Johnstown; and not long after, he erected a small gristmill in Mayfield, and another--which was of stone--on the Garoga, near the present village of Ephratah. These mill privileges, no doubt, tended greatly to encourage the settlement of his lands. To promote the welfare of his growing village, in 1766 he also fitted up a room for a Masonic Lodge, just organized, with his son Sir John as its grand master. It was called St. Patrick's Lodge, and was, no doubt, the first one established to the westward of Albany.

Although accustomed by his associations with the British government to favor the Church of England, or the Episcopal worship, yet Sir William was not sectarian in his religious notions, and treated clergymen of all denominations, calling upon him, with the same urbanity: indeed, he not only sent Joseph Brant and other young Indians to the Moor's Charity School in Connecticut, but in 1767 he had some correspondence with the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister in charge of it, about removing it to his neighborhood in the Mohawk valley, nor was it owing to any fault of his that it did not come there. It went to Hanover, New Hampshire, from controlling circumstances, and finally became Dartmouth College. In 1771 the Baronet erected an Episcopal church in Johnstown, the foundation for which was first laid in the southwest corner of the old village burying ground; and after the walls, which were of stone, had risen several feet, the site was changed to a more central one,though the size and form of the first were observed in the second foundation. Under the altar of this church, at his death, Sir William was buried. Said Judge Haring, the Rev. Richard Moseley was its first settled pastor. In a destructive village fire in 1836, this church shared the fate of a score or more of surrounding buildings. When the Caughnawaga Reformed Dutch church was erected--about the time he settled in Johnstown--he not only gave liberally toward building it, but retained for his family the best square pew in it. At this period he also held supervision of the Fort Hunter church, erected more than half a century before for the especial benefit of the Mohawks.

In 1769 Sir William Johnson erected, of wood, a small church at his own expense of nearly *1,150 at the Canajoharie, or Upper Castle, 50 X 32 feet, mainly for the benefit of the Indians. This edifice is still standing, but its interior, as also its steeple, have been modernized. The Indians were always found of bells, and, at their earnest solicitation, this church was furnished with one. It also had a gilded ball on the steeple above its weathercock. On its completion the Rev. Harry Munro, of Albany, preached its dedicatory sermon in June, 1770. Its desk was occasionally supplied by the Episcopal clergyman from Queen Anne's chapel or some other; but for the want of a clergyman of its own, it could have accomplished but little, when, a few years later, the Indians in a body removed to Canada. Spafford, in his Gazetter of 1824, in speaking of this church bell, says: "The Indians were so fond of it that, on retreating to Canada, they tried every effort of art to carry it away with them." He added: "The church is repaired, and still has the old bell, an object of no little curiosity or interest. It ought to be returned to the Indians as an act of Christian charity, and recommended its being sent to them as an example of Christian tenderness, etc., and thought it would prove a better missionary to send among them than troops of young theologians:" and he was probably more than half right. The tradition about the bell is as follows: The Indians got the bell down from the church in the night--its weight was less than 100 pounds--and fortunately concealed it until such time as it could be spirited away. Thinking that time had arrived, they started one night with it on a pole; but having failed to muffle or fasten its clapper, they had not proceeded far when its ding dong betrayed it whereabouts, and several armed neighbors rallied in pursuit for its coveted wondership, and the natives abandoned it and fled. Another tradition says they were in the act of placing it in a canoe to transport it by water, when its clapper betrayed its position, and being pursued, the Indians threw it overboard and abandoned it, and that before they could fish it out and start with it again, the white citizens in the neighborhood recovered and restored it to its former place in the church tower. As the church and bell were provided for the Indians, I think they should have had the bell. This "Castle Church" has for many years been occupied by a Calvinistic or Reformed congregation. I stated in 1845, on what seemed good authority, that the Indians succeeded in obtaining the bell, but it appears they did not.

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