History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 208. Young Johnson
From this digression let us for a time follow the fortunes of the young adventurer, Johnson, whom we briefly alluded to in noting some events of 1746. He had been in the country but a short time, when he purchased several hundred acres of land on the north side of the Mohawk, a few miles to the westward of his first settlement, and in the present town of Amsterdam, where he secured good mill privileges, on the Kayaderosseras, creek, * which in time came to be called Johnson's creek, or Old Fort creek, on which he soon erected a saw-mill. In 1744 he built a grist-mill on his late purchase ; about which time it is believed he erected a substantial stone mansion, which was the best private dwelling in the Mohawk valley-the place taking on the name of Mount Johnson. Ten years later when it came to be fortified, it was called Fort Johnson. This old landmark, the witness of many an interesting scene, is now owned and occupied by Ethan Akin, Esq., and is still in good condition. A railroad station has been established at this place called Akin.
* The Kayaderoseras patent of lands, through which this stream runs, took its name from the creek. Owing to alleged informalities in its transfer, this patent causes the Mohawks a world of trouble.
<--Fort Johnson--as seen in 1844.
My first visit to this grand old building was August 14, 1846, in company with young Erastiis Fields, of Laurens, N. Y. It was a square, two-story edifice, with a spacious hall through the middle, paneled three and a half feet from the floor, and lighted nights by a lamp suspended in its centre. The ascent from the hall to the second story was by a broad, oaken, unpainted stairway with mahogany balusters. The parlor was all panel work of black walnut, then (at my visit) painted white, while the upper rooms were wainscoted three and a half feet with cherry. There were two rooms upon each side of the hall, above and below. The frame for the roof was a very strong one. A few rods back of the dwelling was a stone building, used, at our visit, as a barn. The river road ran along a few rods from the front of the building which, in time, became the Mohawk turnpike. In front of the house, and near the road, tradition says that before the former was constructed, Johnson erected two small stone buildings, one of which he used for a store. Those buildings were torn down after the Revolution, when a store-a wooden edifice-was erected on the east side of the creek and occupied for many years, and until the growth of the village below diverted its trade. Among the customers at the Johnson store, in its time, were not a few of the pioneer settlers of Stone Arabia and Dutchtown, residing 25 or 30 miles above, some coining by water and others on horseback. Indeed, among his customers there must have been some of the Palatines, of the early Herkimer county settlers. The Kayaderosseras, which dashes down from the hills and enters the river here, although like many other streams upon the clearing up of the country has far less water than formerly, has still a gristmill upon the Johnson mill-site, which continues to do a good business.
Why this place should have been called Mount Johnson does not appear, for Sir William's buildings were all erected on the flats below the liill. A large black-walnut tree stands some 25 feet from the north east corner of the house, which is supposed to have been planted by the Baronet; while on a knoll back of the house there has been from time immemorial a locust grove, and several of its patriarchal trees are yet standing, which were doubtless planted by the original proprietor. This desirable residence has changed its ownership several times in the last century. There is still a good sized farm attached to the place, making it a very desirable residence. Mrs. Johnson died in this house about 1750, and as Mr. Groat assured me, she was buried in the north west corner of the garden, which was between the house and hill. Tradition has said that, a stone step at the front door had originally been at her grave. Anxious to know more about this stone, October 1, 1806, I visited this classic house with two friends, G. S. Dievendorf and Thomas Ireland.
It was supposed the lettered side of the stone was down, and -with iron bars we raised it up and with bated breath I examined its under surface. Alas ! it had never felt the keen edge of a chisel, and the looked for inscription, which was to tell us when Mrs. Johnson died, was not there : and I remember now with what disappointment I saw the rough surface of that stone sink back into its uneven earth-grooves, and a long cherished hope vanish into thin air. Tins stone is red freestone, unlike anything in the valley, dressed upon one surface no doubt for lettering and rounded upon its edges : it is some 4 by 6 feet and of such size and shape as are hundreds of old tablets of the same material to be seen in New England burying-[grounds, elevated two or three feet from the ground and resting upon mason work. The natural inference is, that this stone was brought here to be subsequently lettered, that it was placed over the grave without its having been done, and being a desirable door-stone ; some early occupant of the house appropriated it to that use. The hill to the westward of the mansion, affords a fine prospective view of the valley.
It may be of interest to the reader to know that among those who coveted Fort Johnson for a home, was the celebrated Aaron Burr, as is shown in Parton's well written life of him, pages 16 and 61. On the 2d of July, 1782, Burr married Mrs. Theodosia Prevost, of Paramus, N. J. She was a beautiful young widow ten years older than himself, with two small boys ; and by him she had a single child-a daughter who took her mother's maiden name : and as believed, in her day no girl in America had as much pains taken with her education. Not long after his marriage, Burr visited Fort Johnson, which lie talked of buying, but as his wife was not pleased with the idea, lie did not purchase. Here is an extract of a letter written from thence to his wife, which shows his own appreciation of the place :
" I should have told you that I am speaking of Fort Johnson, where I have spent a day. From this amiable bower you ascend a gentle declivity, by a winding path, to a cluster of lofty oaks and locusts. Here nature assumes a more august appearance. The gentle brook which murmurs soft below, here bursts a cataract. Here you behold the stately Mohawk roll its majestic wave along the lofty Appalachians. Here the mind assumes a nobler tone, and is occupied by sublimer objects. What there was tenderness, here swells to rapture. It it truly charming. * * * In short then my Theo., the beauty of this same Fort Johnson, the fertility of the soil, the commodiousness and elegance of the buildings, the great value of the mills, and the very inconsiderable price which was asked for the whole, have not induced me to purchase it, and probably never will."
As the reader may infer, Mr. Johnson had been doing a somewhat extensive and very lucrative business from the time he commenced, his fur trade with the Indians being a very profitable and important part of it ; and, I may add, that in the first seven or eight years of his successful mercantile career, he had not only been carefully studying the Indian character, but had been an apt student in learning their language, at the same time acquiring a sufficient mastery of the German and Dutch languages to enable him to trade with the white settlers in the valley, a majority of whom, at that period, spoke one or the other of them.
Gov. George Clinton arrived in the fall of 1743, and it was not long after his administration began that Johnson made his acquaintance, which, from a combination of circumstances, became a somewhat intimate one ; and in 1740, he first publicly engaged in the affairs of the Six Nations, in the interest of the colony, when he informed the Governor of the condition of this frontier, by stating to him that the white settlers for 20 miles above him, and below to Schenectada, were deserting their homes in anticipation of an invasion from Canada *- England and France being then at war. At this period of alarm, when the Indians were not in the best humor toward the colonial authorities, Gov. Clinton, knowing the confidence Johnson had gained among them-often at their meetings taking a part in their amusements, and appearing among them as one of their number in feather and blanket-appointed him as successor to Col. Schuyler in the Indian agency. Thus from 1746 we may date the successful public career of this pioneer tradesman, who dealt largely in furs, wheat and other then staples of the country, whose wonderful sagacity and after popularity made him for years not only the most influential man in Central New York, but, for a time, the most celebrated man in
* Stone's Life of Sir William Johnson, vol. 1, p. 204.
America : and whether from Europe, or any of the colonies, any traveler of distinction chose to penetrate the Indian country for the love of adventure, or to study the red man's character in his home, or spy out his hunting grounds with the view of speculating in their purchase, he was sure-whether he came with letters of introduction or recommendation from men of mark, or trusted to his own dignity of character, to enjoy the hospitality ever so freely dispensed at Mount Johnson.
The Mohawks, among whom Col. Johnson dwelt, became so attached to him, that they not only listened to his advice as to that of a father, but they adopted him as one of their nation with the name War-ragh-ii-ya-gey, supposed to mean the manager of Indian affairs. Painted, plumed and blanketed as an Indian chief, he at one time entered Albany to attend an Indian treaty at the head of a party of the Mohawk braves. In December, 1746, he was appointed Colonel of the warriors of the six nations* by Gov. Clinton, about which time his brother, Warren Johnson, was given the command of a company he had recruited at Boston for the royal service.
1 Brod. Papers, vol. 6, 314.
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