History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 290.
Death of Sir William Johnson.--From a chain of circumstances, many of the acquaintances and personal friends of Sir William, believed that he took measures to shorten his own life; and 35 years ago I shared that belief; but the publication of the foreign documents transcribed by Brodhead, showing his failing health for several years, which drove him to the sea shore and mineral springs to find recuperation, has convinced me that his death came from over working an impaired and enervated constitution. And I can see why he, with seeming and prophetic anticipation, could say to his old neighbors and warm personal friends: "The colonies are approaching a terrible war with the mother country, but I shall not live to witness it;" for his infirmities were increasing and his physical strength was failing, with no seeming prospect of permanent relief. In anticipation of a sudden calamity, he had named his son-in-law, Guy Johnson, as his successor in the Indian agency, and taken other precautionary measures.
Such was the condition of things with" shadows going before," when in June 1774, he summoned the Indians to Johnson hall for his last business relation with them. Hundreds of Indians had assembled in the latter part of June, and by the end of the first week in July, the Congress continuing, the gathering numbered 500 or 600, with whom his efforts were constant and laborious in the complicated duties which had convened them. One of Sir William's difficulties for several years had been a chronic diarrhea, which, from his constant labors, increased with virulence; until on Monday afternoon, July 11th, at which time a court was in session at Johnstown, when he had just closed a long and fatiguing harangue in the open air with the Indians-he was seized with convulsions, and died soon after. The members of the court were at the tea-table, when a messenger from the hall announced the sad intelligence. When he was first stricken down, a courier was sent upon a fleet horse to Fort Johnson, seven miles distant, to notify Sir John of his father's illness, who mounted a very valuable horse and ran him all the way, via Albanybush, to the bridge over the Cayadutta-half a mile from the hall, where he had to leave him and he soon after died. The weather was exceedingly warm, the horse fat and he melted down. Sir John hastened on to the hall-to find his father had already expired.
From the American Archives, a Documentary History of the American Colonies published at Washington*.-I learn that Gov. Penn, of Pennsylvania, under date of June 28, 1774, wrote to Sir William Johnson, that owing to the difficulty between the inhabitants of Virginia and the Western Indians, particularly the Shawnese, he feared it would end in a general war, unless some prudent measures were speedily taken to prevent it-that a great part of the settlers had already fled from the frontiers, etc. He stated that he had convened the Assembly
*American Archives, 4th series, vol. l p. 645.
at Philadelphia on the 18th of July, 1774, to enable him too afford the panic stricken settlers what relief he could. He says: " Your interposition and influence in this matter may possibly have the most salutary effects. If a rupture can be prevented, it appears to me it must be through the Six Nations; however, I submit the matter entirely to your consideration, etc. "
this letter the new Indian agent thus replied:
"GUY PARK, July 22, 1774.
" Sir :- Your dispatch of the 28th ultimo, to Sir William Johnson, arrived when that worthy man was, through the fatigues occasioned by the late general Congress (which is just ended), very much indisposed; he nevertheless continued all that day [July 11th), to do business with them [the Indians], but in the evening was seized with a relapse, which carried him off in a fit that night. As it was a very critical period, and that he had strongly recommended me for his successor to his Majesty's Ministers, I continued to conduct the business of the Congress at the earnest entreaty of the Indians, and brought it, I think, to a happy termination, and have now received his excellency Gen. Gage's appointment to the Superintendency, till his Majesty's pleasure is known. I enlarged, during the conference, on the unhappy situation of your frontiers, and represented it as the duty of the Six Nations, to bring those they call their dependants to reason. They have accordingly agreed to send deputies from each nation to the southward, who will set out to-morrow, but they complain very much of the ill treatment they receive from the frontier people of Virginia, etc., and their encroachments, and demand redress.
"The hurry in which the late sudden accident has engaged me, and the number of dispatches I must now necessarily make up for the post, who is waiting, will not permit me to be more particular at present; but you may be assured, sir, that whilst I have anything to do in these affairs, I shall use my utmost endeavors for the peace and happiness of your Province, and, from true personal regard, shall always be glad to serve or oblige you, as I am with real esteem, sir, your most obedient and humble servant. G. JOHNSON.
"P. S, I have taken the liberty to enclose a letter to Mr. Mc Kee, on occasion of the present troubles, as I understand there is no post at Fort Pitt, and that it might meet with great delay. I shall be glad to have any further information respecting your frontiers. "
Attached to Col. Johnson's letter to Gov. Penn in the form of a note, was the following sketch of the life and character of Sir William Johnson, and the particulars of his death and burial, which I copy for the benefit of the reader: "On Monday evening 11th of July, 1774, departed this life at Johnson hall, in his sixtieth year, to the inexpressible concern of his family, and the infinite loss of the public, particularly at this critical juncture the Honorable Sir William Johnson, Bart., his Majesty's Superintendent of Indian affairs, and one of the oldest Council of this Province, he had long labored under a complication of disorders, the consequences of his former fatigues and severe services in defense of the country in general, and this Province in particular. Still persisting in the exertion of all his faculties, and at the expense of health, ease, and domestic concerns, discharging the laborious duties of a most troublesome and difficult department, he, though much indisposed, attended and transacted business with the Six Nations, who came to Johnson hall on account of the murders committed by some of the frontier inhabitants of Virginia. [The murders alluded to were committed by Cresap in Ohio.] The fatigue and hurry of spirits occasioned by the difficulties he found in accommodating these affairs, at least obliged him to retire to his room, when he was immediately seized with a violent attack, which carried him off in an hour's time.
"The impartial public well know and enjoy the fruits of his distinguished services, while crowds have experienced his benevolence and private bounty; and his united talents as a defender and improver of this country, will ever preserve his name among the most distinguished personages of the age he lived in, In 1737 he came from Ireland under the auspices of his uncle, Sir Peter Warren, and lived many years in the Indian's country, where he learned their language and gained their affection by his great generosity and humanity. In 1755 he stood forth in the defense of this province-then in the most imminent danger from the rapid progress of the French arms and, with a force consisting entirely of provincials, totally routed the army of Baron Dieskau. That victory proved highly acceptable to his Sovereign, who created him a Baronet; and he was rewarded by the Parliament of Great Britain with a present of five thousand pounds sterling. In 1758, he, by an intimate acquaintance with the genius and temper of the Indian tribes, who had been debauched by France from the interest of Great Britain, effected a reconciliation with 15 different nations of that people, which paved the way for the future success of our arms in Canada. In 1759 he defeated the French army-destined for the relief of Niagara, under M. D'Aubry presently after which the garrison surrendered that important post to the besiegers. These glories were obtained by dint of innate courage and natural sagacity, without the help of a military education; and what remarkably enhances those endowments, is the circumstance of his having taken, in both actions, the commanders of the enemy. In 1760 he assisted at the taking of Montreal, and the conquest of the French empire in that part of the continent; since which he has acted at the head of the Indian Department, over whom he early acquired and constantly maintained a surprising ascendancy by the influence and authority of his justice, benevolence and integrity. In short, our gracious Sovereign never sustained a heavier loss in the demise of any subject than of Sir William Johnson, whose character was a continuation of good qualities, and whose memory will be highly revered to the end of time.
"His remains were decently interred in the church of his own building at Johnstown, on Wednesday, the 13th, attended by upwards of 2,000 people, in the following order:
"The Clergy; J. Duncan, Esq.; Capt. Chapman; P. Livingston, Esq.; Judge Jones; G. Banyar, Esq.; R. Morris, Esq.; Major Edmonston; Governor Franklin-supporters of the pall. Chief mourners: Sir John Johnson, Baronet; Colonels D. Claus and G. Johnson; John Dease, Esq.; the physicians; [his own] family; Mohawks; Canajoharies [having reference to the Upper Castle] ; High Sheriff, followed by above 2,000 persons from the neighboring country; the chiefs and warriors of the Six Nations, who then attended the congress, numbering several hundreds more;
"Where it was interred, and a suitable discourse delivered by the Rev. Mr. Stewart, missionary to the Mohawks at Fort Hunter.
"The Indians exhibited, on the occasion of Sir William Johnson's death, the most extraordinary signs of distress and sincere affection that ever were before observed among that people. "
There seemed, at Sir William Johnson's death, no one either in his own family or out of it-to fill his place; a fact that was anticipated by his friends years before his death, as the following letter of Co!. Duncan, dated in November, 1769, will show." "Your friend, Sir William Johnson, is sore failed, he is every now and then in a bad way, wherefore is thought not to last many years more, which will be a great loss to mankind in general, but particularly to this neighborhood, and I don't see that anyone of the family is capable of keeping up the general applause when he is gone," *
It has ever been a matter of speculation since his death, what his course would have been had he lived to witness the rebellion of the colonies. It was, however, believed among those who knew him personally, that his position would be a most trying one; for, although then too much enfeebled to lead an army, still, in his position as Indian Agent, he would have been expected to have controlled the action of the Six Nations of Indians. One thing is certain, he would never have manifested the arrogance and hostility toward his former neighbors and personal friends that his own son, Sir John, did; nor do we believe he would have been found in hostile array against the colonies. He had done much, in his life-time, to bring about that love of liberty so rife in the land. True, the British crown had bestowed honor and wealth upon him; but had he not bravely and gloriously won them, if any man ever did? To say the least, I think his course would have been one of chosen neutrality. I say this in the absence of anything in his foreign correspondence to favor a different conclusion.
The Will of Sir William Johnson and its Proof:-Nearly 30 years ago I copied, at the clerk's office of the Court of Appeals, in Albany (book A, page 35), the will of Sir William Johnson, with its proof, by Dr. William Adams; and although it occupies
Doc. His. vol. 2, p. 957
much space, still, as it shows his position as a land-holder, his family relations and other matters of importance, I here insert it for the reader's benefit. I suppose the will to have been drawn by his secretary, Lefferty.
The Proof.-" Be it remembered, that on the first day of August, in the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, Peter Smith, by John Platt, his attorney, brought into court the last will and testament of Sir William Johnson, late of Johnson hall, in the county of Tryon, and colony of New York, Baronet, deceased, and prays that the same may be proved and recorded according to the statute in such case made and provided; and due notice of this application having been given to the heirs of the said Sir William Johnson- THEREUPON, William Adams, one of the subscribing witnesses to the said will, was examined upon oath in open court, who did depose and say:
"That Sir William Johnson, the said testator, signed, sealed, published and declared the testament now shown to him as and for his last will and testament, in presence of the said examinant, Gilbert Tice, Moses Ibbitt and Samuel Sutton, who, in presence of the said testator, and of each other, and at the request of the said testator, subscribed their names as witnesses thereto. That the said Sir William Johnson, at the time of executing the said will, was of full age, of sound mind, memory and understanding, under no restraint. That he has been informed, and verily believes, that the said Gilbert Tice, Moses Ibbitt and Samuel Sutton, the other subscribing witnesses to said will, have departed this life, and that said testator is also dead:
"THEREUPON ORDERED, that the said last will and testament be recorded, which said last will and testament is in the words and figures following to wit:
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