History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Volume 1, pg. 262 Benevolence of Sir William Johnson.--Here is an authentic anecdote going to prove the kind nature of the Baronet. At a treaty held with the Indians by him after the conquest of Canada, a sprightly lad about a dozen years old was given up who had been captured several years before on the frontiers of New York. The supposed orphan had been taken so young that he could give no satisfactory account of either his parentage or birthplace. The sympathy of Sir William was at once enlisted in his behalf, and he took him into his own family. He had him christened by the name of Simon Clark by an Episcopal clergyman, himself standing as his godfather. Clark grew up to be a likely man, and married a very pretty and amiable daughter of Martin Waldruff, who then lived on the farm where Jacob Yost was residing in 1851. In some manner his godfather settled upon Clark the first farm east of Waldruff's, and adjoining the hall farm in Johnstown, where he resided until the Revolution began, when he manifested his gratitude to the father by adhering to the fortunes of his son, with whom he fled to Canada, where he remained, confiscating his Johnstown estate.--Facts from Jacob Shew, who knew Clark well.
In the summer of 1764, says the Gentleman's Magazine, published soon after,
"Sir William Johnson, with a body of regular and provincial forces, to which more than one thousand friendly Indians have joined themselves, has lately marched to visits the forts of Oswego, Niagara, Detroit, Pittsburg, etc., in order to strike terror in the Western nations, and to reduce them to reason; many of these nations are unknown to their brethren, and some formidable of those who stand out, and the friendly Indians express great eagerness to attack them. Since the march of these press great eagerness to attack them. Since the march of these troops, the back settlements have enjoyed prefect tranquility; and the Senecas have sent in a great number of English prisoners, agreeable to their engagement."
In the May number of the same magazine, for 1765, I find the following additional notice of the Baronet:
"Sir Sir William Johnson, at his seat at Johnson Hall, in North America, has had a visit lately paid him by upwards of a thousand Indians of different tribes, all in friendship, greatly to the satisfaction of his Excellency, as tending to promote a good understanding with those nations for the good of his Majesty's subjects.
The Children of Sir William Johnson--By his white wife, as I shall call her, he had a son named John, and two daughters named Anne and Mary. Neither of the three could have had the advantage of much, if any, schooling at that period beyond that possibly of private tutelage. Although not handsome, tradition says, nevertheless, that they were all well-favored, well-formed and good-looking. They were seldom away from home, especially the girls, and had few advantages to learn refinement beyond that afforded by cultivated visitors; and few such were women in their days of childhood and youth, beyond the wives of now and then a military officer or a clergyman. Hence, we may suppose the girls were not only rustic in their manners, but were far from being votaries to fashion, and widely removed from fashionable vices. The son saw more of the world, but his scholastic advantages were limited. The girls, however, grew up plain, unostentatious, modest, and retiring in their habits, and are said to have made good wives and useful citizens. Anne, (Stone, in his Life of Sir William Johnson, vol. 2, p. 169, erroneously states her name as Nancy, although he copies it correctly from her father's will elsewhere.) the elder, married Daniel Claus in 1762, of whom we can say but little beyond his public life. The venerable John L. Groat, who knew him, said he was of German origin. We first hear of him at Fort Johnson, in 1756, as the secretary of Sir William. In 1758 he is named as a Lieutenant, and in to 1763, as a Captain of colonial troops under the Baronet, by whom he was afterwards promoted to Colonel. He is said to have well understood the Mohawk language, which made him for years a valuable deputy to Sir William. He followed the fortunes of the Johnson family to Canada in June, 1775.
Mary Johnson, daughter of Sir William, married Lieut. Guy Johnson in the spring of 1763. He was born in Ireland, was a nephew of the Baronet as his compeers said, and came to live with him early in life. In 1761, he is mentioned as a lieutenant, and in 1772 as a colonel of militia. He was long associated with Sir William as a deputy; and at the suggestion of the latter became his successor in the Indian agency at his death, in 1774. He, too, went to Canada, prior to the going of Sir John and his retainers. He died in London, March 5, 1788, whither he had gone in straitened circumstances to petition for relief in lieu of his forfeited estates in Tryon county. His wife is said to have died in Canada, a short time after she went there.
Sir John Johnson, who succeeded his father in the titles civil and military at his death, it is said, was born in 1742, and died at Montreal June 4, 1830. He accompanied his father on some of his expeditions, although it does not appear that he held any particular office until after his father's death. He was not the amiable tempered, social and companionable man that his father was, and hence he was not the welcome guest in all society that his father had been. Like the sons of too many men of wealth, having little incentive to action, he lacked the complacency, ambition and energy requisite to make up that better manhood which shapes society, and while doing it if needs be, subdues forests, builds up populous towns and sends navies to the whole habitable globe.
On the early life of Sir John Johnson, comparatively little is known, but he is believed to have been indulged by his father in having his own way too much to result in his becoming a good business man. When a young man he courted Miss Clara Putman, a very pretty girl of a good family at Tribes Hill, by whom he had a son and daughter, named William and Margaret. Said Mrs. Magdalena Becker, Miss Putman was keeping house for Sir John; and before his return from New York with a wife she and her children were sent into the town of Florida. Miss Putman was of good descent; her mother being a Staats, and her grandmother a Schuyler, both of Albany. The sons was nicely established by his father in Canada, in some kind of business; and Margaret Johnson, who grew up to be a tall and beautiful girl, was for a time quite a bell in the valley. She had dark hair and eyes, was a brunette in complexion, and was graceful in her carriage. She was much admired and her friendship sought by the elite. She married James Van Horne, by whom she had one or more children. Only a few years after her marriage, she was on a visit to Tribes Hill friends, when she ate freely of plums, became sick in consequence and died suddenly at that place much lamented.
Clara Putman, who made Schenectada her home, was never married, and Sir John Johnson, whose breast was moved by a spark of manhood later in life (for he was then 67 years old), sent word to her to come to Canada at a certain time (which was chosen in the absence of his wife), and he would give here come property. She went there in the summer of 1809, and at the door inquired for Sir John: a servant announced a lady at the door. Go and learn her name, said the Baronet. It was reported and she was at once admitted to his presence: but to the scene which followed of mingled tears and old memories revived, we can not admit the reader. He gave her $1,200 in money, and told her on her return to send him the dimensions and terms of a certain house and lot in Schenectada, and he would purchase it for her future home; which terms were all complied with. Some one has said that he also gave her and annuity during the remainder of her life. She died about the year 1840. I am happy to record this redeeming trait in the character of this man, whose military record was one of blood, evidently waged against his old neighbors, in a struggle to retain place and honors won by his father. The particulars of this Canadian visit were communicated to the writer in 1850, by Mrs. Rebecca Veeder (a Miss Staats of Albany in her girlhood), and Mrs. Van Debogert and Mrs. Thompson, sister of the late Andrew J. Yates, of Fultonville, who were reared in Schenectada. Those ladies were all acquainted with Miss. Putman and greatly respected her, notwithstanding this liaison. Jacob Shew also stated that Sir John Johnson settled a property in Schenectada, on Miss Clara Putman. Mrs. Veeder died in the spring of 1851.
His Knighthood and Marriage.-- In October, 1765, on the return of Lord Adam Gordon to England, after his visit to the Baronet at Johnson Hall, the latter sent his son John with him to England, as he said" to wear off the rusticity of a country education." On being presented at court by such a dignity, he was at once knighted as the son of Sir William who was afterwards much gratified on hearing of the fact. June 29, 1773, Sir John was married to Miss Mary, a daughter of John Watts, esq., of New York city, and went to reside at Fort Johnson. This would place his age at 31 years. Here he resided until his father's death in 1774, when he made the hall his home. He, with his brothers-in-law, took sides with the mother country against her colonies in the struggle just approaching, in which position Col. John Butler (a colonial officer under Sir William), and his infamous son Walter, joined them; and in May, 1776, they all with several hundred neighbors, many of whom where interested retainers, and others who were made such by the promise of having, on their return, the confiscated farms of their Whig neighbor, fled to Canada.
On his arrival Sir John was given a colonel's commission in the British service. He at once set about raising troops among the Tories who had followed his fortunes, and the result was two regiments were organized denominated Royal Greens, from the color of their uniforms, one of which he was given the command, while the other was assigned to Col. Butler who had aided in its formation. The nefarious and desperate acts of these partisan officers, will be developed in my second volume.
Sir William had nine children by Miss Mary Brant; one died young, in 1772, and the others survived him. Their names seem to be given in his Will in the order of birth, and are as follows: Peter, Elizabeth, Magdalene, Margaret, George, Mary, Susannah and Anne. They all went with their mother to Montreal in 1777, and of their after life we know but little. Several of the girls were respectably married, perhaps all were. In his will the Baronet remembers two young Indians of Canajoharie, or the Upper Castle, Brant, alias Kagh-nech-ta-go, and William, alias Ta-ga-wi-run-te, who we conclude were two of the half breed children tradition says he was the father of.
In 1766, Sir William Johnson erected two stone dwellings for his sons-in-law below Fort Johnson. One of those built for Guy Johnson, and known as Guy Park, is still standing on the bank of the river half a mile to the westward of Amsterdam, and is now owned by the family of the late James Stewart, who added two large wings to it about the year 1850. Mr. Stewart was killed by an express train in front of his house, Saturday morning, July 28, 1860. The first building erected upon the site of this mansion was a wooden structure, which was struck by lightning and burned down. Guy Park, with high ceilings for that period, had a piazza extending the length of it upon both the river and road sides. Indeed, there was a carriageway around the house. Like Fort Johnson, it was finished in paneling, and on its completion it was the scene of a magnificent housewarming. At the time of our visit to Fort Johnson in August, 1846, we also visited this place, then occupied by Mr. Henry Bayed,who had owned it the preceding ten years. At this time the parlor was in its original condition, except in its papering. His predecessor was Mr. John V. Henry, who had followed Judge Miles in its occupancy. From Mr. Bayard I learned that, after the Revolution, it for years became a public house known as a stage house. The front room on the east side of the hall was the barroom. While occupied as an inn, the house was literally surrounded by sheds, a custom of the times, to accommodate the large wagons then transporting merchandise and produce. The dwelling is said to have been built by mechanics from Europe. The stone barn across the road was erected when the house was. At the time of our visit, Mr. Bayard named $6,000 as his price for the place, with 154 acres of land, 20 acres of which were river flats, and it was only the want of the purchase money that prevented its becoming our future home.
The mansion erected for Col. Claus was a mile to the westward of Guy Park, and nearly equidistant from that and Fort Johnson. It was a large building on the ground, but being only one and a half stories high, it presented a less imposing appearance than did the other Johnson dwellings. It had one peculiar feature not possessed by either of the others, which was a fire proof, and intended to be a bomb proof cellar; constructed in a double arch, or two cylindrical arches, of heavy and well cemented stone. I am not aware that this house ever had any historic name, though it might not inaptly have been termed Bomb Proof Hall. Each of these dwellings had a farm attached to them of 640 acres, one square mile. In the Revolution, Fort Johnson was occupied by Albert Veeder, Guy Park, by Col. John Harper, until it accidentally took fire from a defect in a chimney, and burned down in the day time. The New York Central railroad ran along between this ancient cellar and the river, which was an object of interest to antiquarians until 1874, when the tops of the arches were literally broken up with much labor and removed. It was so unique a structure of its day, and of such historic interest, that it seems a pity it should not have been allowed to remain until time had become its destroyer. In 1866, one hundred years after its erection, we visited this landmark, and were satisfied that if no Vandal hands were raised against it, it would probably stand for another century. As the lower part of the arches yet remain, we hope they may not be disturbed.
Rather Spookish.--Tradition says that a black ghost appeared several times during the Revolution, in a room in the northwest part of Fort Johnson, while occupied by Beeder. In one of the rooms at Guy Park, a female ghost resembling the then deceased wife of Guy Johnson is said to have appeared, to the great annoyance of the credulous Kennedy family. Even in the day time, they were more than once alarmed. About this time a German, a stranger to the family, called there, and inquired if the lady of its former proprietor had not been seen; and when answered in the affirmative, he requested permission to tarry over night in the haunted room. It was readily granted, and he retired at an early hour. In the morning before his departure, he told the family they need be under no further apprehension, that the ghost would not again appear; and in truth she did not. The mystery of the visits to those dwellings, which was a favorite theme on the tongue of the marvelous for many years, has never been revealed, and some of the old people living in the vicinity still believe that the visitants were supernatural beings, real ghosts. The truth probably is, that the black ghost seen at Fort Johnson, was not the ideal, but the flesh and blood person of the confidential slave of its former proprietor; who, by showing his ivory to some purpose, took advantage of the fears of the family, to bear off some valuable article secreted in some part of the building by its former occupants. Nor is it unlikely that a similar mission prompted some female to visit Guy Park, for ghosts never travel by daylight, that she could not find the article sought for, and that consequently a man, a stranger to the family, whose agent she may have been, knowing she had failed to obtain the treasure, visited the house, and by gaining access to the room, found the object desired, and could then tell the family confidently that the ghost would not reappear. Many valuable articles were left behind by Tories in their flight, who expected soon to return and recover them; and when they found the prospect of their return cut off, or long delayed, they then obtained them by the easiest means possible, and surely none were easier than through the mystery of superstition.
The Guy Park Mystery Explained.--In company with G. S. Dievendorf, Esq., August 2, 1879, I visited Guy Park, and learned from Mrs. Stewart,who had years ago been informed by Mrs. Horace Shepard (that was Miss Sally Ramsay), a key to the spook story connected with this house. On the west side of the hall were tow rooms. In the corner room toward the road on its west side was a fire place, and each side of it the sealed up from floor to floor. In this ceiling on each side of the fireplace was a small closet several inches deep and several feet long, the door of which closed with a spring concealed from observation. In one or both of these closets were placed, on the flight of its owner to Canada, some valuables, supposed to have been papers and jewelry. An attempt was made, as above stated, by a female agent taking advantage of the credulity of the family to obtain those treasurers, but not succeeding, a male agent was employed, who came to the Park just at dusk to enjoy the hospitality of the family as any guest would. He inquired particularly about the ghost and the haunted room; and at bedtime begged as a favor that he might occupy that room, saying he was well armed and was not afraid of ghosts. This proposition met with favor, and he retired for the night. Before daylight a commotion was heard in the haunted room, procuring a light, the stranger was found up and dressed. He pretended to have seen or heard the ghost at which he had discharged his pistol, thought he would not go back to bed, ordered his horse and left before daylight, saying at his departure that the family would not again be annoyed by that ghost, and it was not. When Mr. Stewart remodeled that part of the house, the chimney was removed and with it the ceiling, not only disclosing but forever destroying those little secret chambers. The floors of this building are all pitch pine, a lasting material, and the house, for the period, was well constructed. It is today one of the most desirable homes in the Mohawk Valley.
While removing part of the cellar wall, Mr. Steward found an iron staple in it never used, and as bright as when made and mislaid. Buried in the orchard west of the house, were also found a few years ago, a quantity of leaden weights, intended for lifting windows. They were buried when Johnson when to Canada, to prevent the Whigs from molding them into bullets. They weighed about 10 pounds each.
These Johnson mansions and estates, with those of Col. John Butler, one of the King's justices for Tryon county, were all confiscated to the United States and sold at different periods.
The commissioners appointed March 6, 1777, for disposing of confiscated personal property in Tryon county, were Col. Frederick Visscher, Col. John Harper, and Major John Eisenlord. The latter was, however, killed in the Oriskany battle, early in August following, and his place supplied by one Garrison.
When the personal property of Sir John Johnson was sold, which was some time before the sale of his real estate, his slaves were disposed of among the "goods and chattels." Col. Volkert Veeder bought the confidential one with whom the Knight left his plate and valuable papers, who buried them after his former master left. He kept the concealment of those valuables a secret in his own breast for four years, until Sir John visited the Mohawk Valley in 1780, and recovered them and the slave. I can only account for his leaving his slaves at the general exodus, by supposing his faith so strong that he would return to possess his estates,that he chose not to be cumbered with them, and perhaps, thought rather to make spies of them upon the doings of his old neighbors.
The commissioners for selling real estates in Tryon county, were Henry Oothout and Jeremiah Van Rensselaer. They sold Johnson Hall, with 700 acres of land, to James Caldwell, of Albany, for 6,600 pounds, who soon after sold it for 1,400 pounds. Caldwell paid the purchase in public securities, bought it up for a song, and said he made money in the speculation, although he disposed of the property for 5,200 pounds less, "on paper," than he gave for it. This transaction will serve to show the state of American credit at that period.
On the back of a paper relating to the business of the commissioners is the following memoranda, supposed to be the estimated value of certain confiscated property. Whose farm was called Caughnawaga does not appear:
Fort Johnson, 490 acres. 3,500 pounds
Caughnawaga, 234 acres. 1,800 pounds
Henry Vrooman, 212 acres. 600 pounds
Butler's, 155 acres. 1,000 pounds
Part of Butler's, 100 pounds
Lafleler's, 250 acres. 900 pounds
William Wallace's, 690 pounds
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