Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



THE Revolution was approaching. New York constantly protested her loyalty, but still claimed her liberty. The people even in the valley of the Mohawk were in a ferment. A wise and observant man like Sir William Johnson could not but read the signs of the times. He was placed in a difficult position. Having built his own fortune and raised himself from the people, it was believed that he sympathized with the people in their grievances. But he had been honored and enriched by the crown, and would undoubtedly have sided with the crown. On the other hand, he was the one man who had a great influence over the Indians. King George was resolved to hold absolute power over England's great child, who had grown beyond the reins of her distant authority, and the stubborn monarch had no hesitation about using mercenaries and Indians in subduing rebels. Sir William Johnson would be compelled to exert his immense influence to turn savages with their war of fire and tomahawk upon the thriving settlements of the Mohawk, the "little world" which he had built up around him, as well as upon the whole frontier which he had labored so long to protect. The younger members of the Johnson family, Colonel Claus and Colonel Guy Johnson, who had married Sir William's eldest daughters, and Sir John Johnson, his eldest son, were hotly loyal to the king. They lived in handsome houses and with a great deal of splendor.

But Sir William Johnson was not destined to take part in America's fresh struggles. He was one day holding an Indian council under a burning July sun. He had been speaking for two hours when he was seized with a serious attack of the disease from which he had suffered for several years. His eldest son was sent for. Sir John Johnson mounted a swift blooded horse and rode for Johnson Hall with all speed. His horse dropped dead when he was yet three quarters of a mile away, and, having procured another, he reached the hall just in time to see his father dying in the arms of an old servant.

Great was the sorrow of the Indians at the loss of their friend. The Mohawks attended his funeral in a body. On the following day they made the speech of condolence customary among the Indians to his son and sons-in-law. With a belt of wampum they swept the fireplace clean, that they might continue to sit around it; with another they cleansed the mourners of their grief; with another they swept the black clouds from the sky, that the sun might be seen; and with still another they put the sun in its proper course again : all these disorders being supposed to have been produced by the death of their friend, Colonel Guy Johnson, according to the baronet's wish, became Indian Superintendent, while Sir John succeeded to his title and to ample estates. By his will his vast tracts of land were divided fit among his children and friends, and Miss Molly ; was amply provided for. Brant now became secretary to Colonel Guy Johnson.

The young men of the Johnson family thought to crush the rising spirit of liberty in their own neighborhood. One day some three hundred people had gathered at a neighbor's house to raise a liberty-pole. Before this object, most hateful in the eyes of loyalists, had been raised the meeting was interrupted by Sir John Johnson with his brothers-in-law, guarded by a band of servants and tenants, all well armed. Guy Johnson mounted a high stoop and made the assembled people a speech, endeavoring to show them their folly in opposing the King of England. He abused the rebels roundly. The people were totally unarmed. They boiled with indignation at being thus intimidated. At last a wealthy farmer's son, Jacob Sammons, called out in the midst of the colonel's speech, " You are a liar and a villain!" Where upon Johnson answered with an oath and seized Sammons by the throat. There was a scuffle between the two men, and the farmer was struck down with a loaded whip by one of the loyalists. He came to his senses to find one of Johnson's servants sitting upon his body. With a blow he knocked the fellow off, and, springing to his feet, pulled off his coat for a fight. Two pistols, however, were held at his breast, and he was knocked down and beaten with clubs. Most of the assembled people had gone home when Sammons again recovered his feet. Johnson's party now retired, having broken up the meeting. This was but a foreshadowing of the horror of civil war, that hatred of neighbors for neighbors which engenders the worst cruelties. But an older and a wiser man might have told the young loyalists that they could not thus stamp out the spirit of liberty in the people. The meetings were continued and enthusiastically attended.

The Indians, naturally enough, did not appreciate the causes which led the American people to a revolt. To Brant and his people it seemed but right that they should still hold to the covenant chain which had bound the Six Nations to the King of England for so many years. The Johnson family made the best use of their influence with the Iroquois on the side of Great Britain. Kirkland, a faithful missionary among the Oneidas, was instructed by the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts to use his influence among the Indians on the side of the colonies. Brant had been a great friend of Mr. Kirkland, but the Indian now feared his influence among the Oneidas, and plotted for the removal of the missionary. At Brant's instigation a dissolute Oneida chief made charges against Mr. Kirkland to Guy Johnson. The missionary, however, defended his character well, and the Oneidas supported him, so that the superintendent dared not remove him, though he forbade him to speak a word to the Indians, which of course he did not obey.

The remnant of the Hudson River Indians, known as the Stockbridge Indians, remained firm in their attachment to the colonists, and used their influence with the Six Nations in their favor.

" You remember when you first came over the great waters," said the Stockbridge Indians to the Colonial Congress, " I was great and you were little-very small. I then took you in for a friend, and kept you under my arms, so that no one might injure you. . . . But now our conditions are changed. You have become great. You reach to the clouds. You are seen around the world, and I am become small-very little. I am not so high as your heel. ... I am sorry to hear of this great quarrel between you and Old England. It appears that blood must be shed to end this quarrel. We never till this day understood the foundation of this quarrel between you and the country you came from. Whenever I see your blood running you will soon find me about to revenge my brothers' blood. Although I am low and very small, I will gripe hold of your enemy's heel. ... I have been thinking, before you come to action, to take a run to the westward and feel the mind of my Indian brethren, the Six Nations, and know how they stand--whether they are on your side or for your enemies. If I find they are against you, I will try to turn their minds. I think they will listen to me, for they have always looked this way for advice concerning all important news that comes from the rising of the sun. . . . One thing I ask of you, if you send for me to fight, that you will let me fight in my own Indian way. . . Only point out to me where your enemies keep, that is all I want to know."

" We have heard of the unhappy differences and great contention between you and Old England," said the Oneidas. " We wonder greatly and are troubled in our minds. Possess your minds in peace respecting us Indians. We cannot intermeddle in this dispute between two brothers. . . . The present situation of you two brothers is new and strange to us. We Indians cannot find nor recollect in the traditions of our ancestors the like case. We, the sachems and warriors and female governesses of Oneida, send our love to you, brother-governor, and all the other chiefs in New England."

The people were now exceedingly suspicious of the Johnson family. Sir John had fortified Johnson Hall. Upon either side of it stood two stone towers, and around it was a strong stockade guarded with artillery. The tenants and retainers of the family were all well armed. Meantime Colonel Guy Johnson had received some intimation that the New Englanders intended to steal upon him and capture him. He wrote letters to some of the chief magistrates complaining of this, and notifying them that if the superintendent of the Indians were tampered with they would take a dreadful revenge. Colonel Johnson and the Indians under his influence seem to have had an especial fear of the sly designs of Bostonians in particular, probably because they were the authors of the famous tea-party.

A letter written by Brant to the Oneida sachems was intercepted. It ran thus : " This is your letter, you great ones or sachems. Guy Johnson says he will be glad if you get this intelligence, you Oneidas, how it goes with him now ; and he is now more certain concerning the intention of the Boston people. Guy Johnson is in great fear of being taken prisoner by the Bostonians. We Mohawks are obliged to watch him constantly. Therefore we send you this intelligence, that you shall know it; and Guy Johnson assures himself and depends upon your coming to his assistance."

A council with the Mohawks was held at Guy Park, Colonel Johnson's mansion, in the spring of 1775. It was attended by some of the members of the county committees, who assured the Indians that their superintendent would not be molested. But Colonel Johnson was not satisfied with an Indian council under the eyes of the detested committees. He moved up the Mohawk accompanied by Brant and a large company of Indians, ostensibly to hold a council. The settlers on the Mohawk were in constant dread lest Johnson should return upon them and, in conjunction with Sir John, fall upon the settlements. They stopped his supplies, and thus embarrassed him as much as was possible. Colonel Johnson moved on west to Ontario, where he could hold a grand council away from the supervision of the rebellious colonies.

While the American people were resolving to die for their liberties the more powerful part of the Six Nations were, as Brant afterwards said, thinking of their time-honored covenant with the king, and saying, " It will not do for us to break it, let what will become of us.

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