Copyright
W. Max (William Max) Reid.

The story of old Fort Johnson online

. (page 1 of 17)
Online LibraryW. Max (William Max) ReidThe story of old Fort Johnson → online text (page 1 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


c-c M«

974.7

1129693.^5 GENEALOGY COLLECTION



ir'Tlimii99,ynT,i',f?,UBLIC LIBRARY



3 1833 01068 6563



GENEALOGY

974.7

R27S



2








By W. MAX KEID

TKe MoHa-wK Valley

{Its Legends and its History.)

Large Octavo, with 70 Illustrations from
Photographs by J. Arthur Maney. Net,
$2.50.

The Story of Old Fort
JoKnson

{A Companion Book to "The Mobawk
Valley.")

Large Octavo, with 40 illustrations from
Photographs by J. Arthur Maney. Net,
$3.00.



G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

New York — London



The Story of

Old Fort Johnson

By

W. Max Reid

Author of "The Mohawk Valley."
Illustrated by

John Arthur Maney




G. P. Putnam's Sons

New York and London

Zbc 1?ntcKerbocfter press

1906



CoPYRfGHT, 1906
BY

W. MAX REID



1129693



To

MY RESPECTED FRIEND

Major-general JOHN WATTS DE PEYSTER

through whose generosity

Old Fort Johnson became the property of the Montgomery County

HisTORiCi^L Society

this book is lovingly dedicated



^



PREFACE

THE acquisition of the old baronial mansion of
Sir William Johnson through the success-
ful efforts of a few members of the Montgomery
County Historical Society and the generosity of Maj.-
Gen. J. Watts de Peyster, to whom this volume is
dedicated, suggested the idea of a short account or
history of Old Fort Johnson, as this stone building
on the Mohawk has been named. It has been called
by various names: Castle Johnson, Mount Johnson,
and, lastly, Fort Johnson, each one, in a way, a
misnomer. '

The few pages of statistics that I had in mind has
unaccountably grown to a generous-sized volume,
with numerous illustrations by my dear friend and
companion in many a delightful outing on stream
and plain and in the forest, John Arthur Maney.

The title, The Story of Old Fort Johnson, indicates
the character and purpose of this work. It is not
intended as a history of the life of Sir William
Johnson, the grand old man of frontier literary fame,
but as I reread the manuscript which is before me,
I find that his name dominates nearly every page.

It seems strange that a valley that was and is the
highway to the great west, the Gate to India, has
not had more attention from historians and writers
.of fiction, until this, the twentieth century.






vi Preface

It is true that W. L. Stone, Sr., and Col. W. L.
Stone, Jr., have given us an authentic history of
the valley in The Life of Joseph Brant and of
Sir William Johnson (from both of which books
I have quoted freely), but until the advent of Harold
Frederic and Robert Chambers, novelists, and of
Augustus C. Buell, historian, the valley seems to have
been neglected. Augustus C. Buell is dead, but I
desire at this time to express my appreciation for
many kind words and great assistance from the
author of Sir William Johnson, Paul Jones, William
Penn, and other successful books. He died while
his last book, William Penn was in the hands of
the publisher.

It would be a considerable task to enumerate all
of the early writers to whom I am indebted for
valuable information in regard to the dates and
material used in this volume. It is sufficient to say
that every man, be he novelist or historian, who
writes a book must take advantage of the researches
of others, if he is to give to his readers trustworthy
information; and I may close this preface with the
remark that a history would be of very little value
if all of its pages were evolved from the mind of one
individual.

W. M. R.

Amsterdam, N. Y., July, 1906.



CONTENTS

PAGE

Chapter I i

Sir William and his Irish sweetheart — His leave-taking — Arrival in
the New World — An account of his boyhood days — Resume of
his life from 1738 to 1774.

Chapter II 19

The domestic affairs at Fort Johnson — Catherine Weisenburg —
Caroline Hendrick — Molly Brant — Personality of Sir Wm,
Johnson — Fort Johnson fortified — Order of defence.

Chapter III 27

Sir William Johnson at the battle of Lake George.

Chapter IV 39

Pontiac — Devil's Hole — Ambuscade at Bushy Run — Johnson's life
threatened — Anger of Mohawks.

Chapter V 54

Vagaries of men's minds — Sir John Johnson.

Chapter VI 69

Mohawks at Oghwaga and Oriskany — Molly Brant driven from
Indian castle by the Oneidas — Interview between General
Herkimer and Joseph Brant.

Chapter VII 01

Old documents found in Glen-Sanders house — Resume of history of
war in the valley of the Mohawk — Diary of Wm. Colbraith
at Fort Schuyler — The first raising of the Stars and Stripes
over an American Fort.

Chapter VIII 100

Capture of Walter N. Butler — Han Yost Schuyler and others —
Escape of Butler.



viii Contents

PAGB

Chapter IX iii

Sir John Johnson's second raid 1780 — Battle of Stone Arabia —
Battle of Klock's field — British account of the raids of Captain
Joseph Brant (Thayendanaga).

Chapter X 123

Colonel Marinus Willett — Battle of Dorlach (Sharon Springs).

Chapter XI 134

Lady Johnson — Her captivity and escape — Sir John's first raid in
1780 — Recovery of the silver plate and its subsequent destruction
— Wounding of Major Stephen Watts.

Chapter XII 149

Will of Sir William Johnson.

Chapter XIII 161

Genealogy of the Johnson family.

Chapter XIV 165

Major-General J. Watts de Peyster, Donor, Philanthropist — De
Peyster family — Richmond collection — Hon. Stephen Sanford.

Chapter XV 174

Land grants : Royal, Kingsborough, Sacandaga.

Chapter XVI 182

Summer rambles — Schoharie Creek from source to overflow —
Skeletons of aborigines — Photographs of forest and lake — A
boulder that walked away — Historic characters of Tribes Hill —
The historic copper kettle.

Chapter XVII 189

The early Mohawk Indians' idea of the Creation.

Chapter XVIII 198

Episode at the siege of Fort Schuyler — The murder of the maidens.

Chapter XIX 225

A visit to Dadanascara, the summer home of Alfred de GrafiF —
Charming views and historic scenes thereabout — Ancient Indian
camp on the Vrooman farm revisited.



ILLUSTRATIONS



Old Fort Johnson and the Kayaderosseros Creek

Frontispiece

The Valley of the Mohawk from Highlands at
Hoffman, N. Y.



The Great Falls of the Mohawk, Cohoes, N. Y.
The Bluff below the Falls, Cohoes, N. Y.
Old Fort Johnson in 1753 ....

Drawn by Col. Guy Johnson.

Ghost Room and a Ghostly Vision, Old Fort
Johnson ......

Sir William Johnson, Bart. ....
From an old print.

Fort Johnson. — The Grove of Locusts

Foot Hills of the Adirondacks. Near the Sac
andaga .......

Upper Falls of Adriutha ....

The Mohawk at Schenectady ...

The Islands of the Mohawk. A Vista from
"The Antlers" .....

A Corner in a Cellar under Old Fort Johnson

Sir John Johnson, Bart. ....



16
22

26

30
36
38

46
50
56



Illustrations



PAGB



Midwinter in the Mohawk Valley ... 58

Deep-Casemented Window in the Lady Johnson

Room ........ 60

Fireplace and Oven, Guy Park .... 66

Captain Joseph Brant ...... 72

Skull and Thigh-bones and Broken Pottery Found
IN Mound Grave at Fort Hunter, N. Y. Also
Copper Beads and Shell Ornament Found in
Indian Grave near Coxsackie, N. Y.



Junction of the Mohawk and Schoharie Rivers
WITH Erie Canal Aqueduct . . . ,

A Corner of Old St. George's Churchyard, Soke
nectady, n. y. .....

Glen-Sanders House, Scotia, N. Y., 1713

Col. Barry St. Leger .....
From an old print.

Upper Onega Creek .....

Old Mile-Square Road, Onega Creek

The Old Klock House, St. Johnsville, N. Y. — 1750

Ornamented Window, Church at Stone Arabia

Lady Johnson, "Lovely Polly Watts," Wife of Sir
John Johnson, Bart. ....

The East Room, Old Fort Johnson

The Doorway, Old Fort Johnson .



74

76

80
84
88

92
98

no
114

132
136
150



Illustrations xi



PAGE.



A Door AT Old Fort Johnson .... 152

The Hall, Old Fort Johnson .... 154

Old Fireplace, Guy Park ..... 156

West Room, Old Fort Johnson .... 158

A Corner of Guy Park ..... 160



Statue of Sir William Johnson, Bart., Johnstown
N. Y



J. Watts de Peyster ......

From a steel engraving.

Memorial Tablet Erected in Honor of Major
General John Watts de Peyster

Part of Richmond Collection of Aboriginal An
tiquities ......

Hon. Stephen Sanford .....

An Attic Window, Old Fort Johnson

Johnson Hall, Johnstown, N. Y. .

Cayadutta Creek, Running through the Battle
field of Johnstown ....

The Mohawk in the Chilly Grasp of Winter .

Mound at Fort Hunter where a Number of Indian
Skeletons were Uncovered

Great Turtle Pond, Fort Hunter, N. Y.



162
166

168

170
172
174
176

178
180

182
186



Xll



Illustrations



PAGB

The Jelles Fonda Copper Kettle. A Revolution
ARY Relic ......



The Author Restoring the Great Mohawk Jar

A Colonial Doorway, Guy Park

Wine Vault Cellar, Old Fort Johnson

Club House OF "The Antlers. "

Abandoned Highway to Albany, Leading to Da
danascara ford ......

Dadanascara Gorge .....



i88
190
196
202
224

228
230



The
Story of Old Fort Johnson



The
Story of Old Fort Johnson



CHAPTER I

THE EARLY LIFE OF SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON — HIS

IRISH SWEETHEART — RESUME OF HIS LIFE

FROM 1738 TO 1744

WE call the valley in which we live the Beautiful
Mohawk and glory in the varied scenes of
beauty that meet our eyes at each successive change
of season. When the Ice King has bound river
and rivulet in his chilly grasp and the deep azure
of running streams has given place to his mantle
of white, when the bordering hills, clad no longer
in verdure bright, but dotted here and there with
patches of sombre green, and whose slopes reflect
back to the eye all of the rays of the spectrum com-
bined like a huge cloak of ermine, we marvel at its
beauty and are proud of its grandeur.

In the spring, with its budding freshness, and in
summer, with its maturity of verdure, we find delight
in sunshine and in storm ; but autumn, which brings
with it thoughts of the dying year, changes the valley
into a veritable garden of beauty — not with the sear



2 The Story of Old Fort Johnson

and yellow leaf of Old England, but with the m^^riads
of shades of green and brown and crimson, and all
the innumerable tints of gray and olive.

Rocks, rills, and ravines, hills, valleys, and fiat
land, vistas of higher grounds, and misty outlines of
distant mountains add color and majesty to the
distant landscape.

Did you ever pay an extended visit to the level
lands of Ohio or the rolling plains of the prairie
lands of the far western States ?

And when, on your return, you struck the narrows
of the Mohawk Valley at Little Falls and at the
Nose, did not your heart swell with pride as you
quoted in a whisper — for you dare not trust your
voice —

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
" This is my own, my native land " ?

Into this valley in all its pristine loveliness came
William Johnson, in the leafy month of June, 1 738.

In the county of Meath, Ireland, and on the upper
waters of the river Boyne, whose outlet forms the
Bay of Drogheda and whose shores in the eighth
century gave foothold to the Scandinavian pirates,
is the small village of Smithtown, the birthplace of
Sir William Johnson. Not many miles away, but
across the border of the adjoining county of Down,
lies the estate of the family of Sir Peter Warren and
called Warrentown, the home of the mother of Sir
William.

At the dawn of a beautiful day in the autumn of
i737> ^ yoimg man, whose every motion gave evi-



Sir William Johnson 3

dence of vigorous manhood, with grace of movement
and strength of limb, was striding along a coimtry
highway leading to the port town of Drogheda.

The gray of dawn barely disclosed the flitting
forms of trees whose bare tnmks rose in small
clusters from the bogs on each side of the road. The
young man walked with long, swinging strides,
switching his high top-boots with a riding whip at
every step. As the gray of the horizon gave way to
the crimson and gold of the perfect morning, it dis-
closed the bright colors of the garments of the trav-
eller. His straight and vigorous limbs were seen to
be encased in buff knickerbockers and high top-
boots, while his broad shoulders and well-turned
arms were clothed in the green coat and long buff
waistcoat frequently worn by the Irish gentlemen
of the eighteenth century.

The hat that adorned his head was of conical shape,
with broad band ornamented with a polished silver
buckle of large size in front, and on the lapel of his
coat was a bow of orange ribbon.

The sun rising above the bleak moor disclosed
the handsome features of a young man of twenty-
three, whose dark gray eyes and full crimson lips
broke into a happy smile as he espied the drooping
form of a comely girl leaning on a stile constructed
in a break in the hawthorn hedge which formed a
border to the road he was travelling.

Pale and trembling, and with eyes disclosing the
agony of grief and a long night's vigil, the young
maiden swiftly approached the young man, and
with the abandon of perfect love flung herself into his



4 The Story of Old Fort Johnson

outstretched arms, exclaiming: "O Will, my dar-
ling, I cannot, cannot let you go; take me, oh, take
me with you! do not leave me to die, as I surely will
if I am left alone with my grief." Pressing her yield-
ing form close to his breast, and arresting her frantic
words with a long, clinging kiss, he replied, with in-
tense fervor in his voice: "Ah, mavoumeen, do not
grieve so, do not look upon this as a final parting.
It is true that America is a long way from dear old
Ireland, and the wilderness will be dreary without
your dear presence, but if there is a way of reaching
its distant shores there is also a way of returning.
Cheer up, my darling: through the kindness of dear
old Uncle Peter I am to be placed in a way to make
my fortune and a home for us two in this grand New
World, to which so many are hastening.

"Think of the happiness to come, when I am rich
enough to build a home and then return for you, my
love. What will the terrors of the forest lands
amount to, when, with a home for you and me, we will
be safe and happy from the stem edicts of parental
authority? Kiss me, my love, and give me God-speed
and a cheerful good-bye."

Stifling her tears she raised her eyes to his, and
with one hand on his breast, clasped closely in his
own, and with the other pointing to the golden disk
of the sun whose rounded edge was illuming the
dreary moorland, she said:

"Will, as surely as that sun will rise and at the
close of day sink from sight in the west, so surely are
you going out of my life in your voyage to the west-
em world — but not out of my heart, love, not out of



Sir William Johnson 5

my breaking heart. Kiss me, dear, I hope that your
dreams will prove true."

He clasped her in his arms again, protesting that
he would prove true to his Irish lass and that he
would build a home for her in the forest lands of the
beautiful Mohawk. Gently disengaging herself from
his strong arms, with a smile on her lips more ex-
pressive of grief than her tear-laden eyes, she leaned
against the stile as she watched his form disappear
in the distance. Then, with arms outstretched toward
the sea, she exclaimed in an agonizing whisper,
"Oh, my sweetheart, my darling, will never come
back to me; never come back!" and sank tmcon-
scious on the dew-laden turf at her feet.

We know not the name of this maiden; we know
not the reason why Sir Peter Warren offered the
superintendence of his lands on the Mohawk River
to his nephew, William Johnson. All that we are
told is that, on account of an unfortunate love
affair, he was induced by his uncle to emigrate to
America.

Very little has been written of the boyhood of
William Johnson, but the late Augustus C. Buel, a
descendant of Sir William by one of the daughters
of Caroline, his first Indian wife, has given us some
facts not hitherto printed.

It is said that he was the son of Christopher
Johnson and Anna Warren, a sister of Admiral
Warren. Christopher Johnson may have been a
school teacher in his younger days, but from 1692
to 1708 he was an officer in a cavalry regiment then
known as Cadogan's Horse.



6 The Story of Old Fort Johnson

At the time his son William was bom (17 15), he
was a local magistrate for Carlingford, It is said that
he was a "cripple," as the result of a woimd from
a French bullet received at Oudenarde.

In May, 1726, Admiral Peter Warren wrote in his
diary: "Visiting me Mistress Nancy (Anna) John-
son with her Young Son, William, aged eleven.
William is a Spritely Boy, well grown, of good parts,
Keen Wit but most Onruly and Streperous. I see
in him the Makings of a Strong Man. Shall keep my
Wether Eye on this lad."

From the little that we can learn of his school days
it would seem as though the opinion of his Uncle
Peter, that he was most unruly and "Streperous,"
was correct. His family wished to make a soldier
of him, but he declared against this scheme and
announced that he wished to become a barrister.
He grew rapidly, but the development of his body
seems to have outrun that of his mind, and his school
days at the Academy ended suddenly in expulsion.
It seems that an attempt on the part of the modera-
tor to chastise young William resulted in failure
on the part of the instructor, and the haling of the
lad before a magistrate on a charge of assault and
battery, who was fined seven guineas and "put on
the limits" for twenty-one days, followed by a
flagellation from his crippled father upon his return
home.

For the next three or four years he studied law
with a barrister named Byrne and was listed for
examination in the spring of 1737, but a month or
two before the assizes met he received an offer from




The Great Falls of the Mohawk, Cohoes, N. Y.



Sir William Johnson 7

his uncle Peter to go to America and take charge
of a large tract of land, consisting of 14,000 acres
situated in the Mohawk Valley and now known as
the town of Florida, N. Y.

Late in the summer of 1737 he sailed for America,
arriving in New York in December. The young man
spent the winter in New York as guest of his aunt,
Sir Peter Warren's wife.

Lady Warren was a daughter of Stephen De
Lancey, one of the richest merchants in New York,
whose family held leadership in the most refined and
aristocratic society of the provincial metropolis. It
was in this social environment William passed the
winter, and it is said that "he bore himself with tact,
dignity, and grace worthy of wider experience and
maturer years "; during which period he met many
influential men and women whose interest and
influence were vastly useful to him in later years.

Although young Johnson was not knighted until
about eighteen years later, in order to save confusion
I will in future pages speak of him as Sir William,
a title by which he is so well known in history.

We have seen that Sir William came in contact
with men of influence in the affairs of the colony,
particularly the De Lanceys. Hon. James De Lancey,
a brother of Lady Warren, was commander-in-chief
of the province of New York, and Lieut. -Gover-
nor in 1754, '55, '57, and became a firm friend of
Sir William.

Although his school days ended somewhat dis-
astrously, the months he spent in the law office of
barrister Byrne prepared him for the various duties



8 The Story of Old Fort Johnson

he was called upon to perform as land agent for
various persons on both sides of the Atlantic; and
although, perhaps, the diction of his letters to the
Lords of the Board of Trade does not compare very
favorably with those of Secretary John Pownell and
others, his letters were models of good reasoning
and rare judgment, and his suggestions in regard
to the conduct of his affairs as Indian Commissioner
received the utmost consideration of that august
body and were generally adopted.

In most of the stories of the life of Sir William
Johnson the early years of his sojourn in the valley
are disposed of in a very few words, and even then
the writers show a lamentable ignorance of the
geography of the valley.

Some content themselves by stating that he built
a trader's store west of Schenectady, and others
locate his headquarters near Fort Hunter. W. L.
Stone's statement would naturally convey that
impression.^

The facts are that the location selected by Sir
William for his storehouse and dwelling was about
half a mile east of the Mohawk River bridge at
Amsterdam, on the south side, his nearest neighbors
at that time being Alexander and Hamilton Phillips
, about two miles farther east, and Philip Groat on the
opposite or north side of the river at Adriutha or
Cranesville. In time other buildings were erected,
until the place was dignified with the name of
"Johnson's Settlement." It was so called during
the Revolution and as late as 1 795. Somewhat later,
or after the construction of the Erie Canal, a Roman



Sir William Johnson 9

Catholic chapel was erected there or in that vicinity,
which was the beginning of the immense parish
of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church of Amster-
dam, N. Y.

Here Sir William lived for five years, when he
moved into the large stone house at Akin which
he called Moimt Johnson imtil 1755, when the place
was surrounded by a palisade and renamed Fort
Johnson.

While living on the south side Johnson diligently
worked to improve and develop the large estate of
his uncle Sir Peter Warren, who desired to keep its
14,000 acres intact by renting sections of the lands
to tenants on long leases. Sir William, however, early
found that such a scheme was impracticable, and
with the consent of his imcle soon sold a large portion
of it in farms of 150 to 300 acres.

(W. L. Stone quotes a letter from Sir Peter to Sir
William in which is this sentence, "My love to
Mick." He says: "This name occurs twice, but I
do not know who Mick is." It was probably Michael
Byrne, who somewhat later was closely connected
with Johnson, and whose son married one of Sir
William Johnson's daughters by his Indian wife
Caroline.)

It is said that the rude storehouse and dwelling
were completed in 1738, and a housekeeper secured
of Lewis Phillips in the person of a young Dutch
girl whose services the said Phillips had secured by
paying fifteen pounds due the captain of the ship
that brought her across the Atlantic, as passage
money. At the suggestion of Phillips, Sir William



lo The Story of Old Fort Johnson

paid his friend the fifteen pounds and took the girl.
This girl, whose name was Catherine Weisenburg,
afterward became the mother of his son John and his
two daughters Anna and Mary, and at some subse-
quent period, the exact date of which is not known,
was married to William Johnson by the Rev. James
Barclay, missionary of Queen Anne's Chapel at
Fort Hunter.

Very soon after Sir William had erected his
buildings at "Johnson's Settlement" he purchased
land on the north side of the Mohawk River on both
sides of the Kayaderoseros or Old Fort Creek, for
the purpose of erecting a grist-mill. In 1742 the mill
was erected, and also the substantial stone building
now known as Fort Johnson.

The thought has often come to me, for whom
did he build this stone structure? Was it for his
servant Catherine, or was it to be a home for his
sweetheart in old Ireland ?

Suffice it to say that Mount Johnson, as it was
then called, was constructed in a style that in those
days may well have been termed magnificent, and
even to this day bears the impress of the brand of an
experienced architect. Here his daughters Anna
and Mary were bom and here his first wife, Catherine,
died. His son, known after Sir William's death as
Sir John Johnson, was bom at the "Johnson Settle-
ment," on the south side.

It was while living in this grim, gray stone mansion
that nearly all of the notable events of this notable
man's strenuous life transpired.

It was here that his two daughters received their



Sir William Johnson ii

educational instruction from governesses, and were
married. Here also he installed King Hendrick's
niece Caroline as companion, by whom he had
three children, two daughters who married white
men, and one son, the half-breed Teg-che-un-to or
William of Canajoharie, mentioned in Sir William's
will. It was in this bmlding in 1752 that Caroline
died and was succeeded by Molly Brant, the majority
of whose children were bom here.

In 1746 Johnson was made Indian Commissioner,
having by kindness and tact obtained almost com-
plete control of the warlike Iroquois. One of the
historians of the valley says :


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryW. Max (William Max) ReidThe story of old Fort Johnson → online text (page 1 of 17)