Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 248

First Settlement of Johnstown.-The Kingsborough patent, which covered the lands in and around Johnstown, seems to have embraced two allotments. The title to one of those was secured June 23, 1753, by Arent Stevens, and 20 other persons, for 20,000 acres; but through whose name or names the other 30,000 was secured I cannot say: in his will, Sir William Johnson gave his son, Sir John, these lands as about 50,000 acres-hence it is safe to conclude that they had embraced that number of acres, as he had disposed of some parcels in fee.

In his effort to annul the Kayaderosseras grant which had been unfairly obtained of the natives; Sir William, having assigned to him as a reason for its non-settlement that it was so exposed to the incursions of the enemy said: "They do not choose to recollect that I settled 100 families during the heat of that war (the last French war), on my estate, which lies many miles distant from that tract to the northwest, and consequently infinitely more exposed."* This reference must be to the settlement of Johnstown, and is the first evidence I have found, going to prove when this settlement began and the number of its first locating families.

His tract instead of being many, was only a few miles to the westward of the Kayaderosseras, the Sacondaga patent lying between them, and his colony of Scotch, Irish and German adventurers, must have been planted between the years 1755 and 1758. Hemmed in, as he was, at Fort Johnson, near the river, and cognizant of the fact that his new purchase covered a beautiful country with a fertile soil only a few miles north of the Mohawk, and only eight or ten distant from Fort Johnson; Sir William Johnson resolved to build up the village there, which took his name, rightly anticipating that at no distant day he could get a new county organized, with Johnstown as the county seat. He resolved to settle upon this tract, and in the fall of 1762, we find him making ample provision for a new mansion, which, in the following season he pressed to an early completion; and under date of June 6, 17--*/63, he dated a letter at Johnson Hall: but he was probably there on business, for as late as July 1st-writing to the Lords of Trade-he still dated his letter at Fort Johnson. He is believed to have had removed his family thither in August of that year.

* Stone's Johnson, vol. 2, p. 301.

This was a large two story wooden structure, with an easterly frontage of 60 feet by 40 in depth-being just 200 feet in circumference. A hall 15 feet wide ran through the centre from front to rear, through which a horse and cutter could easily be driven. In this hall was a broad stairway with two landings to the chambers which were spacious and wainscoted, as were the rooms below. September 2, 1853, I visited this hall, with Mr. Decius Beebe, of New Orleans. The late Mr. Eleazsar Wells, father of its present proprietor, then owned and occupied the building; and as he had lived in its vicinity for many years, he was familiar with its traditionary history, and could relate many interesting events connected with it. Standing in one of the upper rooms, he remarked that the paper on its walls, which yet looked bright and cheery, was said to have been put on during the occupancy of its original proprietor.

The hand-rail upon the stair-balusters was of mahogany, and was hacked nearly its whole length, proving an interesting object to visitors, as it was merely varnished afterward. Mr. Wells gave us the tradition of this novelty. Beside the upper end of the handrail is a door opening into a room, in -which it is said Sir John Johnson and Brant were for a time closeted, while discussing some unpalatable subject, at the time of their invasion in 1780; and on leaving the room to go below, Brant drew his tomahawk from his belt, and with it began to deal blows in rapid succession on the handrail, as he descended the stairs. Johnson, close upon his heels, did his best to prevent the nefarious act; first begging him to desist and then threatening him with prosecution, if he did not-but all to no purpose, the blows continued to fall. On arriving at the foot of the stairs, Sir John was very angry and still threatening legal redress, when Brant cooly turned upon him and said: "You have told me you did not want the house burnt down." "I don't," replied Sir John, "nor do I want it hacked to pieces, for I expect to come back and occupy it again." "Well," said Brant, "I have now put my mark upon it, and when the young Indians go upon the war-path, I shall tell them that the house with hacked balusters is not to be burned." This was all the satisfaction the tory chieftain obtained, and his fond dream of again occupying the house, slipped from his grasp forever.

The hall had a basement, and from it said Mr. Wells, a door opened into a wine cellar on the north side of the front door, and Mr. W. remembered that the ground once caved in there, and the hole disclosed bottles, etc., mostly broken as appeared at the opening, but the cavity was filled up without an examination of either the room or its contents. He said, too, that when a fence post was being set not far from the northeast corner of the house, a lot of broken crockery, such as nice china platters, etc., was developed supposed to have been burried there when the family fled to Canada, which were all destroyed by a crow-bar in digging the hole. Most of the fragments were left in the ground. A stone wall originally occupied nearly the site of the fence.

Mr. Wells related the following incident, which transpired soon after the hall became his home. On stepping out of the western hall door early one morning, he confronted a stranger near it, who told him not to be alarmed, as he was not a robber. He said he was a merchant in Montreal, then on his way to New York-that Molly Brant Johnson had told him, or friends, that about the time the Johnson family fled to Canada, a lot of ornaments (of silver and brass) arrived there for distribution among the Indians; which, on leaving the hall, were placed in an iron pot with a flat stone over it, and secretly buried in the front yard a certain distance from a butternut tree, and had not been reclaimed. On his leaving, the Johnson family exacted a promise from him to visit the hall and make a search for the treasure. The stranger was trying to determine which was the front side of the house. Mr. Wells assured him he ever understood that the house fronted toward the village, but that he knew nothing of a butternut tree on either side. The visitor mistook the west side of the house for is front, because he thought it the most fanciful. On his return from New York, he wanted permission to make a search for the treasure, which was granted on condition that he left the grounds in as good order as he found them: but he did not return.

Not long after my visit to the hall, I met in Johnstown, Jacob Shew and Jacob Yost, of whom I inquired if there ever was a butternut tree near Johnson hall. They remembered that door-yard fence, southward of the well, there had stood in the Revolution, a butternut tree. Had Had it stood there when the Canadian called, he no doubt had instruction how far from it to make his search. An iron rod driven in early spring might possibly strike the covering of the pot if the treasure was still there.

Nearly opposite the rear corners of Johnson hall, and at a little distance from it, William erected two stone buildings; on of which was used as an office by his attorney and private secretary, Bryan Lefferty, while the other contained philosophical apparaturs, which at his death he possessed. When erected, they were intended, if needed, to prove as adjuncts in the deface of the hall. The northwest one was burned down in 1866. Besides taking means to build up a village nearly a mile distant, he gathered a little colony about him on the hall farm. He usually kept from 12 to 15 slaves at work on the farm, under the immediate direction of his bouw-master-farm-manager, Flood, an Irishman. These slaves, some of whom had families, lived in small dwellings erected for them across Cayadutta from the hall. They dressed much as did their Indian neighbors, except instead of wearing blankets, they wore coats made of blankets by the hall tailor. The hall black-smith, was also a man of no little consequence. Doctor Daly was his physician, whose practice was mostly restricted to the hall farm. He was a very companionable man, and accompanied the Baronet on many of his pleasure excursions. A dwarfish man who answered to the name of "Billy," who played a violin well, was for years his musician, and was ever on hand to entertain guests. On the removal of the Johnson family, instead of following its fortunes he went to New York. Johnson's surveyor was a man named Pickens.

Sir William kept a gardener, familiarly known as "Old Daddy Savage," who not only kept his garden, but the grounds around the hall as neat as a pin. He was very old when the Baronet died, and being abandoned by Sir John at his flight, he was supported by charity up to the time of his death, say in 1780, when he died as supposed at the age of nearly 100 years. He is believed to have been a fixture at Fort Johnson for some years, as doubtless were other members of the hall retinue. Samuel Rogers was given the use of a Tory farm by the whigs, to support Old Daddy Savage. It belonged to the Dorn family ; but two sons who had gone to Canada, returned after the war, and their father held it for them, and it was not confiscated. It was situated on the State road. He had a butler named Frank, an active young German, who for several years proved faithful and useful. He was about the hall until the Revolution began, when he went to Albany county. His body waiter and constant attendant when from home, was named Pontiac, an active and well disposed lad of mixed blood, negro and Indian, who is believed to have been thus called after the celebrated Ottawa chieftain of that name, as a compliment to the latter, when, in 1766, he pledged through Sir William Johnson, his future fealty to the English interest, against which he had stood out. He is believed some three years later to have been assassinated from motives of envy. All we can say of his coachman is, that he was a very careful reinsman. He had a pair of house-waiters, without which his home would have been incomplete. They were dwarfish-looking white men who catered for his own and his guests comfort; and their surname was Bartholomew-they are believed to have been brothers. The retinue of Sir William after his death remained with the son until the war began, when the greater part of it followed the fortunes of the latter to Canada.

On locating at Johnstown, Sir William Johnson, on a plot with several broad streets, at once set about building up a village. In 1764, he erected a good sized school-house on the corner of William and Main streets-where the late Lucius I. Smith so long traded-and not far from it a store and six dwellings, the latter all of one size, about 30 feet front by 20 in depth, one and a half stories high, with two square rooms on the first floor. These eight buildings were all painted yellow. The first merchant to occupy the store was Robert Adams, who with his brother William Adams, M. D. came from Ireland to the Mohawk Valley in their early manhood. The former was with Sir William, in come capacity, and the latter as surgeon in his army at Lake George. The facts gleaned about these Adams brothers were mostly from Jacob Shew and William Johnson Van Voast, the former of whom had known both well, while the latter, a namesake of Sir William Johnson, was related to Robert Adams.

On his arrival in the valley, Robert Adams, who had served as a merchant's clerk in Dublin,--and who had formed an acquaintance with Sir William in Ireland--opened a small store at Fort Hunter, as believed, with Sir William as a partner, and found it profitable to trade with the Indians. He went to occupy the new Johnstown store in 1764, about which time Doctor Adams settled there. John Van Voast, of Schenectada, married Mary Letitia, a daughter of Robert Adams ; and when Sir John Johnson invaded Johnstown in May, 1780, and recovered his plate, Van Voast was among the prisoners he took back to Canada. From his great intimacy with his father, Adams interceded with Sir John for the liberation of Van Voast, which he refused to grant: he remained a prisoner to the end of the war, and an estrangement was produced between the Adams and Johnson families ever after. Sir John wrote to Mr. Adams subsequently for some of his father's papers left with him when the family fled so hastily to Canada, which were formally delivered without a single line from the trustee.

An Affidavit.-Since the above was written, a lengthy affidavit has turned up which was evidently made by Robert Adams at the request of John Watts, Esq., after the Revolution, doubtless in the interest of the Johnson family ; but just what that was, cannot now be inferred. It sets forth the labor and faithful management of Sir William Johnson, in his position as Superintendent of Indian affairs. It states that said Adams kept the books of the Baronet from the year 1747 until the latter died in 1774, a period of 27 years ; in all of which time he witnessed his distribution of presents to the Indians in money and goods, many of them given in a private manner for services to frustrate evil designs-many outlays being made so that vouchers could not be produced, especially in settling difficulties about Indian land titles, etc.,-his account to the government for those disbursements resting not so much upon vouchers as upon Sir William's integrity. It stated that the Baronet generally made up the accounts of his Indian department himself, and his honor and integrity were a guarantee for their correctness without vouchers, which could not be shown for many of his outlays. During the long time he was with or served him, he never heard his integrity called in question. His accounts were made up after congresses, and regularly half yearly, and transmitted to his then Majesty's Commander-in-Chief, who gave warrants for their payment, which -were invariably looked upon as a final settlement of such accounts.

For some years before Sir William Johnson's death, deponent said he resided about a mile from Johnson Hall, and assisted him in posting his books ; and had frequently carried his half-yearly accounts from there to the Commander-in-Chief at New York, and received warrants thereon as before stated, which he believed made a final settlement of such accounts. He said he was with Sir William at Lake George in 1T35, and he believed that no person, except Sir William Johnson, could have kept the Indians in the English interest through that war ending in the conquest of Canada. Deponent stated that his successor as Indian agent-Col. Guy Johnson-took part of Sir William's papers ; and that others with books and private transactions remained in the office at Johnson hall until about the month of May, l776, when Sir John Johnson, the personal representative of his father, quitted the hall, and with a number of his tenants and royalists traveled through the woods to Canada, to avoid being made a prisoner by a party of Americans, soon after which the Americana took possession of the house, books, papers, accounts and furniture therein, and sent his wife and two small children prisoners to Albany ; the papers of father and son being scattered and lost, except some of them which Sir John, as was understood, had buried in the earth in an iron chest, which were carried to Canada four years later, but were found by moisture so destroyed as to be illegible and useless. Deponent had also heard that Sir John Johnson bad recovered a day-book or journal of his father, commencing some years before and continuing to the time of his death, which, if in deponent's handwriting, would explain many accounts between Sir William and the crown, beyond -which he did not believe any other papers or books recovered ever would.

The invoice of the personal effects taken from Johnson hall, and stored in Robert Adams' store-house by the commissioners of sequestration-Col. Visscher, one of the commisioners, being present at the removal-which is now before the writer, is dated September 10, 1777, showing that the personal effects must have remained there 16 months after the family abandoned the hall.

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