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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor

 



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Sir William Johnson

JOHNSON, Sir William, bart., British soldier, born in Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland, in 1715; died in Johnstown, New York, 11 July, 1774. He was a younger son of Christopher Johnson, an Irish gentleman of good family. William was educated for a mercantile life, but his career was entirely changed by the refusal of his parents to permit him to marry a lady with whom he had fallen in love. His uncle, Admiral Sir Peter Warren. had married a daughter of Stephen De Lancey, of New York, and received with her a large landed estate in that colony, which he increased by purchase, chiefly in the valley of the Mohawk, and at this juncture he offered his nephew the management of his entire property in New York if he would undertake its improvement, and settlement. Johnson accepted, and in 1738 established himself on a tract of land on the south side of Mohawk river, about twenty-four miles west of Schenectady, which Sir Peter had called "Warrensburgh." He began to colonize this tract, and also embarked in trade with the Indians, whom he always treated with perfect honesty and justice. This course, added to an easy but dignified and affable manner, and an intimacy with them which he cultivated by accommodating himself to their manners and sometimes even to their dress, soon won for him their entire confidence and gave him an influence over them greater than that ever possessed by any other white man. He became a master of the Jr language, and was thoroughly acquainted with their peculiar habits, beliefs, and customs. The Mohawks adopted him, chose him a sachem, and named him "Wariaghejaghe," or "Warraghiaghy," meaning "he who has charge of affairs." In 1744, on the resignation of the Albany Indian commissioners, Governor George Clinton appointed Johnson colonel of the Six Nations. In 1746 he was made commissary of New York for Indian affairs, and was active against the French. In February, 1748, he was placed in command of all the New York colonial forces for the defence of the frontier, andprepared a plan of campaign; but the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle stopped all operations. In April. 1750, he was appointed by the king a member of the governor's council. the revival of the Albany board of Indian commissioners in 1753 led to a quarrel between the colonists and the Indians, and the council and assembly of the province urged Colonel Johnson to effect a reconciliation. The governor granted him a special commission, 5 July, 1753, and he went to Onondaga, where he held a council and succeeded in settling the difficulty, but declined having anything further to do with Indian affairs, he lived then at Fort Johnson, a large stone dwelling that he had erected on the north side of the Mohawk, directly opposite Warrensburgh, and which he had fortified in 1743, shortly before the beginning of the war with the French. It is still standing in good preservation, about three miles west of the present village of Amsterdam. In 1754 he attended, as one of the delegates from New York, the congress of Albany and the great council that was held with the Indians on that occasion, at which they strongly urged his reappointment as their superintendent. At the council of Alexandria, 14 April, 1755, he was sent for by General Braddock, and commissioned by him "sole superintendent of the affairs of the Six United Nations, their allies and dependants." He was also, according to the determination of that council, created a major-general, and appointed commander-in-chief of the provincial forces for the expedition against Crown Point. At the head of these forces, in September, 1755, Johnson utterly defeated Baron Dieskau at Lake George. He was wounded in the hip early in the action, but remained on the field of battle. This victory saved the colony from the ravages of the French, prevented any attack on Oswego, and went far to counteract Braddock's disastrous defeat on the Monongahela. General Johnson received the thanks of parliament for this victory, was voted £5,000, and on 27 November, 1755, was created a baronet of Great Britain. It was on his arrival at Lake St. Sacrement on this occasion, and a few days before this battle, that he gave to that lake the name of Lake George, "not only," in his own words, "in honor of his majesty, but to assert his undoubted dominion here." In March, 1756, he was commissioned by George II. "colonel, agent, and sole superintendent of the affairs of the Six Nations and other northern Indians," with a salary of £600, which was paid by Great Britain. He held this office for the rest of his life. In 1756 and 1757 he was engaged with his Indians in the abortive attempts of the British commanders to relieve Oswego and Fort William Henry; and in 1758 he was present with Abercrombie at the repulse of Ticonderoga. In General Prideaux's expedition against Fort Niagara in 1759, Sir William Johnson was second in command, and on the death of Prideaux by the explosion of a gun before that fort, he succeeded to the command in chief. He continued the siege with great vigor, routed the French force under Aubry that had been sent to its relief, and then summoned the garrison, which surrendered at discretion. In the following year, 1760, he led the Indians in the Canadian expedition of Amherst, and was present at the capitulation of Montreal and the surrender of Canada, which ended forever the French power in America. The king granted to Sir William for his services a tract of 100,000 acres of land north of the Mohawk, which was long known as Kingsland or the Royal Grant. His influence alone prevented the Six Nations as a whole from joining Pontiac in the war of 1763, though he could not prevent some acts of hostility by the Senecas. In 1764 Sir William built "Johnson Hall" (which is shown in the accompanying illustration), a large wooden edifice still standing near the village of Johnstown, a few miles north of "Fort Johnson." This village, called after his own name, had already been laid out by him, and the building of stores, an inn, a court house, and an Episcopal church, all chiefly at his own expense, soon followed. Numerous settlers were brought in, the surrounding country was improved, and in three years Johnstown became a thriving village and in 1772 the shire town of Tryon county. Sir William gave great attention to agriculture, and was the first that introduced sheep and blood-horses into the valley of the Mohawk. He lived in the style of an English baron, exercising the most unbounded hospitality. As head of the Indian department he concluded the great treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, and his death actually resulted from over-exertion in addressing an Indian council on a very warm day. In 1739 he married Catharine Wisenburgh, daughter of a German settler on the Mohawk, who died young, leaving him with three children, a son, John, who was knighted in 1765, and two daughters, Anne and Mary, who married respectively Colonel Daniel Claus and Colonel Guy Johnson. Sir William never married again. He had for some years afterward many mistresses, both Indian and white, and one of his earlier ones, a German, has been the probable cause, from being confounded with his wife, of the erroneous statement that has been made that none of his children were legitimate. Mary, or as she is generally called "Molly," Brant, the sister of Thayendanegea, or Joseph Brant, the Mohawk sachem, whom later he took to his house, and with whom he lived happily till his death, has sometimes been termed his wife; but they were never married, he had eight children by her, whom he provided for by his will, in which he calls them his "natural children." The church under which he was buried was burned in 1836 and rebuilt, but not exactly on the old site. In 1862 the vault was discovered with its top broken in. His remains were removed, the vault, repaired, and were then reinterred therein on 7 July, 1862, Bishop Horatio Potter, of New York, officiating. Sir William was the author of a valuable paper entitled "The Language, Customs, and Manners of the Six Nations," written to Arthur Lee, secretary of the Philosophical society of Philadelphia, and published in their "Transactions" for November, 1772. His voluminous correspondence with the British and the colonial governments, published in the colonial and documentary histories of New York, are extremely well written and absolutely necessary to a correct understanding of the history of New York and of America in general. His life has been written by William L. Stone (2 vols., Albany, 1865).--Sir William's son, Sir John, bart., born in "Mount Johnson," on Mohawk river, 5 November, 1742; died in Montreal, Canada, , 4 January, 1830, was educated under his father's direction by clergymen of the Dutch church and Church of England, chiefly at Albany and in the city of New York. He was not so popular as his father, being less social and less acquainted with human nature. As a youth he spent some time in England, during which he was knighted by George III. as a compliment to his father. Hence both bore titles at the same time. He accompanied his father on several of his expeditions, and saw in his youth considerable militia service. Soon after the close of the French war he was sent at the head of a body of militia and indians to arrest Captain Bull, who had been charged with stirring up war among the Indian tribes, in which enterprise he was successful. At his father's death, in 1774, he succeeded him in his baronetcy and estates, as well as in his post of major-general of militia, to the latter of which he was appointed in November, 1774. In the spring of 1776, learning that General Philip Schuyler was about to seize his person, he fled with about 300 of his Scotch Tory tenants through the woods into Canada, reaching Montreal only after the severest hardships. He did not, however, as has been charged, violate his parole by this flight, as a letter from General Schuyler to himself, in Peter Force's "Archives," discharging him from his parole proves conclusively. On arriving in Canada he was commissioned colonel, raised two battalions known as the "Queen's royal greens," and in August, 1777, at their head, under command of Colonel Barry St. Leger. took part in the latter's investment of Fort Stanwix, now Rome, New York A detachment of his corps took part in the battle of Oriskany, on 6 August, 1777, a few miles east of that fort, with General Nicholas Herkimer (q. v.), who was approaching with the design of raising that siege. The siege was afterward resumed, but on the approach of Arnold to the relief of the fort, on 22 August, St. Leger and Johnson fled in haste and confusion to Canada, and their Indian allies, fearing to meet Arnold, deserted them. In May, 1780, he desolated Cherry valley with fire and tomahawk, and in October of the same year, with Brant and Cornplanter, he made a raid into the Mohawk valley. At Fox's Mills they fought General Henry K. Van Rensselaer, both sides retreating by different ways at the close of the action. At the end of the Revolution, Sir John, whose estate had been confiscated by the New York act of attainder, retired to Canada, receiving from the crown the appointment of superintendent-general of Indian affairs in British North America. He went to England in 1784, residing during his stay at a country-seat at Twickenham, but returned the following year and made his home in Canada. He was the last provincial grand master of the Masonic order for the colony of New York, and was a member of the provincial council of Canada, but was never governor of that province as has been stated. He married, 30 June, 1773, Mary, daughter of John Watts, of New York, of whose loveliness Mrs. Grant, of Laggan, has left us a charming pen-portrait in her "Memoirs of an American Lady" (Albany, 1876). By her he had eight sons and three daughters. His last child, an unmarried daughter, died in London, England, 1 January, 1868. Of the sons, seven were in the British army and one served for a time in the British navy. His eldest son, William, a colonel in the British regular army, married Susan, daughter of Colonel Stephen de Lancey, of New York. In appearance Sir John was imposing, well proportioned, and muscular. His complexion was fair, his eyes dark blue and penetrating. He was particularly fond of children, a characteristic that seems at variance with the shocking cruelties that were perpetrated with his alleged consent by his Indian followers at the Cherry valley massacre. He was succeeded in his title by his son, Sir ABACI GORDON, who, dying in 1843 childless, was in turn succeeded in the title by his nephew. Sir WILLIAM GEORGE, the present baronet (1887), who resides at Mount Johnson, near Montreal.--Sir William's nephew, Guy, superintendent of Indian affairs, born in County Meath, Ireland, in 1740; died in London, England, 5 March, 1788. Upon the refusal of Sir John Johnson to accept the succession to his father's dignities and offices in connection with the Indians, they were conferred upon his cousin, Guy, who exercised them from Sir William's death and throughout the Revolutionary war, a circumstance which has caused the careers of the two cousins frequently to be confounded. He married his cousin, Mary, a daughter of Sir William, and during the latter's life was his deputy superintendent of Indian affairs. He served against the French in 1757, and again in 1759, when he commanded a company of rangers under Sir Jeffrey Amherst. He built for his residence a substantial stone mansion, which is still standing near Amsterdam, New York, and known as "Guy park." At the beginning of the public excitement in 1775 the park was abandoned by its owner, who, accompanied by his family and a few faithful Indians, fled by way of Oswego to Montreal, whence he embarked for England. Returning the following year, he remained several months in New York, during which he was one of the British officers who managed the John street theatre in that city. In 1778 he was with Brant in his raids upon the Mohawk valley. In October, 1779, he was attainted and his estates confiscated by the New York colonial assembly.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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