History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 256
Johnson's Descendants visit Johnson Hall at a later day.--In the summer of 1838, Mrs. Farley, a daughter of Sir William by Molly Brant, visited Johnstown accompanied by Capt. Carr and wife, the latter being her own daughter. Capt. Carr was a son of Doctor Carr, who had married another daughter of Miss Brant, hence he and his wife were full cousins. With the party were a couple of grandsons of the old lady named Lafferty. These visitors spent some time in Johnstown and at the Fonda Hotel, then kept by Dr. Daniel B. Davis, dividing their time between the villages. Mrs. Farley being a minor could not forfeit her heirship in the royal grant, and came down, if possible to recover the dower of her father, who died before the war began.
The late Daniel Cady, than whom no man was more familiar with the laws affecting interests in real estate in the State of New York, investigated the matter for Mrs. Farley, and found that she was only debarred from recovering her interest in her father's estate by statute of limitation. She had delayed her application a little too long. I remember seeing this old lady repeatedly about the Fonda hotel. She was a large, though not tall, red-skinned woman, and looked to be over 70 years old. One of her grand-sons is remembered as not only good looking, but as quite a gallant. He was for a time smitten with the charms of a pretty girl in Montgomery county; but she chanced at the time to have "two strings to her bow," or rather two beaux to her string. She drew on the one in a neighboring county, and her Canadian admirer returned home with his grandmother, and the memory of a pleasing flirtation.
Said Mr. Wells, Mrs. Farley was several times at the hall, and to the female members of the family she chatted very agreeably her recollections of childhood's playful hours, and especially of the gala-days when presents from the King were distributed among many hundreds of Indians, assembled from far distant homes. She had left there at ten years of age, and could speak feelingly of the great changes which time had wrought thereabouts, in over 60 years. At one time, said Mr. W., while she was standing in front of the house and scanning its dimensions she exclaimed: "And is this--can this be Johnson hall? O how I have lied about this building! I have always told my friends in Montreal, that there was no house in all that town as large as Johnson hall. Why there are houses there as large as three or four of it." She had carried to Canada her juvenile remembrance of this house as compared with all others in its neighborhood; and in the waning years of her life that picture of magnitude remained, and would until dissolved by death, had she never again seen the building. Thus are early impressions for good or ill, indelibly stamped upon the human mind.
The Fish House and Summer House Point.-Soon after, Sir William was established at the hall, he opened a carriage road from thence to the Sacondaga, at Fish House, a distance of 18 miles, for his own convenience for hunting and fishing, where he erected a comfortable lodge. It was a framed building with two rooms, one of which was finished with a chimney and fireplace. This lodge was burned down in the Revolution. A little distance above where the Kennyetto,* or Vlaie creek as called there, runs into the Sacondaga + river, is a narrow strip of some 10,000 acres of marshy lands extending east and west six miles, and known as the Sacondaga Vlaie. At the upper, or westerly end of these drowned lands, which are covered by several feet of water in freshets, when the river sets back to flood them, there is a knoll of tillable table-land extending into the marsh, and elevated some 10 feet above it. It is oblong in shape, level upon the top and gently sloping all around to the marsh. It is some 600 feet long by about 150 in breadth.
This tongue of land is known as Summer-House-Point, from the fact that Sir William erected a neat little cottage upon it in 1772, and there spent much of his time for several seasons, often taking with him to this secluded and romantic spot his American and European guests. It was just 14 miles by his carriage road from the hall to this point, and while it was being surveyed, a tree was numbered at the end of every mile. The Nine-mile-tree was a large pine and continued to be a noted land-mark after all the others had disappeared, the stump of it being still visible in Mayfield, as late as 1850. The approach to the summer-house, was upon a strip of arable land, which in very high water was covered, making an island of the point. The Kennyetto passes along on its southerly side, and the Mayfield creek, another mill-stream along its northerly, those streams uniting at the extremity of the point.
Johnson's cottage stood in the centre of the point, and was a
signifies Little Water, says H. C. Goodwin, Esq., author of the History of
Cortland County, In a letter to the writer in 1858.
+ Saoondaga is said by Capt. Gill, an Intelligent Indian hunter, to signify Sunken or Drowned Lands.
tasty one story building fronting south, upon which side was its main entrance. The roof sloped north and south. A piazza supported by square columns extended around the sides and east end, with a promenade upon the top nearly as high as the eaves, access to which was gained by an outside stairway, near the hall door. It had a gable window at each end on the first floor, and two windows at each end on the second. A hall ran across the building in its centre, with a square room upon each side of it, handsomely finished and well furnished, each room being lighted by two front windows. The house had a nice basement, the entrance to which was on the west end, and in this cellar kitchen were always domiciled in the summer season, Nicholas and Flora, a trusty pair of the Baronet's slaves, who were there to keep everything in order for his comfort. The cottage was painted white, with its corners, doors, window casings and columns painted green, the whole contrasting beautifully with the wild scenery around. On the completion of this summer house, a festival was held there, when Sir William Johnson christened it "Mount Joy Pleasure Hall," so said one present.
A large garden was cultivated on the point, two cows kept there, and at the time of his visits, his carriage horses also. He planted fruit trees there, and two antiquated apple trees were still standing there in the summer of 1849, when I visited there in company with Dr. William Chambers, Judge Marcellus Weston, my patriotic old friend Jacob Shew, Col. John I. Shew, his son, and the lad Haydn Shew, of the third generation-all except possibly the last named, have gone to their rest. Of the elder Shew-who, with his father's family was residing near the Fish house at the beginning of the Revolution-standing upon this interesting spot, I was enabled to learn the particulars of the cottage and the fisherman's lodge below, as he had often been in them; and was exceedingly well posted on the habits and character of Sir William Johnson. The stone used in the cellar and well on the point, were brought up the Vlaie creek in boats from the Fish house, but settlers in the vicinity long since converted them to other uses. At the time of our visit the plow had removed all traces of the well, which was on the verge of the knoll south of the cottage, and had nearly obliterated the cellar. The cottage shared the fate of the Fish house, both having been burned, as believed in 1781, but by whom was never known; still as the Americans had occupied it as a military post in 1776 (as I have shown in my Trappers of New York), and as the probability of Sir John Johnson's ever returning to reclaim it was becoming chimerical; it was thought at the time that probably both were fired by some hostile invader at his instigation, so that their ownership should fall to no one else.
Besides the two streams named as falling into the Vlaie, Cranberry creek ran into it from the north and Frenchman's and Hans' creeks from the south. At the time of our visit there was a stunted growth of alder and swamp-willow around Summer House Point; but when it was occupied by Sir William, the bushes were an cut off and the margin of the streams kept clean. Here was kept moored a fine pleasure boat, in which he used to take his guests down to the Fish House-four miles distant by water-where they could enter the Sacondaga, and there indulge their piscatorial amusement. His greatest time for hunting and fishing was in the spring and fall. When the river flooded the marsh-the water rising six or eight feet above low water-mark-a boat would pass over it anywhere, and at such times the artificial lake was literally covered with wild ducks and geese, many of which fell before his double-barreled gun. At such times a view from the cottage promenade was exciting in the extreme, for nature was there in all her grandeur. At an early day wild ducks used to breed in the Vlaie. At the cottage, much of its larder in their season was made up of wild game and trout. But for any further details of this historic locality, with fishing anecdotes, etc., the reader is referred to my Trappers of New York.
Anecdotes of Sir William Johnson.-Many pleasing anecdotes are related of Sir William, who exerted an unbounded influence over a greater number of Indians, than it was ever the lot of another white man to obtain in North America. His general character was happily delineated by Paulding in his Dutchman's Fireside. When he had trinkets and other presents to distribute among the five nations, and they assembled around Fort Johnson, and afterwards Johnson Hall, his tenants and neighbors were invited to be present. He was extravagantly fond of a stage was erected for his accommodation and that of his friends. On those festivals not only young Indians and squaws, but whites, both male and female, were often seen running foot races, or wrestling for some gaudy trinket, or fancy article of wearing apparel. Men were sometimes seen running foot races for a prize, with a meal-hag drawn over their legs and tied under the arms. The ludicrous figure presented by the crippled strides and frequent tumbles of those competitors, was a source of no little pleasure. Not unfrequently a fat swine was the prize of contention. Its tail being greased, the hog was given its freedom, and the individual who could seize and hold it by the tail became its lawful owner. It required a powerful gripe to win, and many a hand did such prizes usually slip through. An old woman is said to have seized on one amid the jeers of the laughing multitude, after it had escaped the grasp of many strong hands, and firmly held it. The secret was, she had prepared herself with a handful of sand. On one occasion, half a pound of tea was awarded to the individual who could, by contortion of feature, make the wryest face. He once had a grinning match between an Irishman and a Dutchman for a quantity of tobacco, and Michael Gallinger, the Irishman, won the prize. He is supposed to have used the weed the longest, and got the hang of satanic contortions. Young girls of good families often ran foot races for ribbons and trinkets with young squaws; and as a lady informant-Mrs. Evert Yates, of Fultonrille-said to the writer, nearly 40 years ago, "Some proud ladies I know, would not like to be told that their mothers or grandmothers were among these contestants." Two old women were sometimes heard scolding most vehemently, the successful one to be rewarded with a bladder of Scotch snuff. The erection of a straight pole, after it had been peeled and well smeared with soft soap, with a prize upon its top worth seeking -and after which the young Indians, in a state of nudity, would climb-was an oft repeated source of amusement. Children were sometimes seen searching in a mud-puddle for coppers Sir William had thrown in. His ingenuity was taxed for new sources of merriment, and various were the expedients adopted to give zest to the scenes exhibited on those gala days. He was also a man of considerable taste, and discovered not a little in the cultivation of shrubbery around Fort Johnson.
The following anecdote is related of Sir William Johnson, who preferred retaining in himself the right of soil to his landed possessions. He one day visited a tenant who was engaged in chopping wood for him. After some little conversation, the chopper described a certain one hundred acre lot in Albany bush (now the eastern part of Johnstown), and asked the Baronet what he would take for it, and execute him a deed. The latter, supposing the man had very little money, named a sum which was about the real value of the soil. "I will take it," was the quick and emphatic reply of the laborer; and he began counting out the money to his astonished landlord, upon the very stump the last fallen tree had left. "I would rather not have sold it for twice that sum," said Sir William, "but, since you have fairly bought it, you shall have a title to it;" and taking the money he executed a deed to him. He was the patron of many laudable enterprises, and I must suppose him to have aided in establishing Queen's College, N. J., as be was the first trustee named in the charter.
A prisoner Runsomed.-On the 23d July, 1756, at a conference and treaty with the Indians at Fort Johnson, Sir William redeemed an English boy, taken prisoner the winter before at Juniata. The Indian, who brought him to the Baronet, had paid his captor £5 for him, which prevented his being taken to the French at the Ohio river. After paying the boy's ransom, Sir William clothed and armed the Indian for the prisoner's delivery, and gave his wife new clothes, which acts of generosity greatly pleased the dusky couple. The boy's name, age and former residence are not mentioned, but it is presumed he was restored to his friends. (Journal of Sir William's Secretary, Peter Wrexall, Brod. Papers, vol. 7, p. 172.)
First and last Sir William Johnson must have been instrumental in the return of many captives to friends, from whom they had been separated for longer or shorter periods.
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