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Sketches Illustrating the Early Settlement and History of Glengarry in Canada
Chapter 2


Breaking out of the Revolutionary War.—The "Committee of Safety" at Albany Warned against Sir John Johnson, and notified that the Scotchmen were arming.-the Whigs "daily scandalized, provoked and threatened" by the Loyal Catholic Highlanders.—Correspondence between Sir John and Governor Tryon, and the latter and Lord George of Maine. — General Schuyler, of the Revolutionary Army, invades Tryon County.—Negotiations between him and Sir John and Mr. Macdonell (Collachie).—Sir John and the Highlanders escape to Canada.—-Lady Johnson taken prisoner.—Her letter to General Washington.

At the time of the arrival and settlement of the Glengarry people in the Mohawk Valley, affairs in America were, then, in a very unsettled condition. In order to meet the military expenditure therein, the British Parliament had a short time previously imposed a stamp duty on all legal documents. This was met with a denial on the part of the discontented colonists of the right of the Imperial Legislature to impose taxes upon them without their consent. The Stamp Act was repealed the year following its enactment, hut it was contended that the principle of taxation without representation was maintained by a light duty of three pence per pound which was placed on tea—one fourth of that paid in England at the time— and nominal duties on other articles. On the 16th December, 1773, occurred in Boston Harbour that episode which Mr. Erastus Wiman has lately designated as the "Boston tea party," when a number of persons disguised as Indians threw into the harbour from the East India vessels some three hundred and forty chests of tea. The port of Boston was thereupon closed, and troops sent to enforce submission.

A "Continental Congress" was then decided upon and convened at Philadelphia in September, 1774, and an effort made to induce the people of Canada, who had but lately passed under British rule, to join jn it by sending representatives. "The Quebec Act" Which was then in contemplation, however, and the principles of which Were known to the King's New Subjects, fully satisfied the French Canadians, guaranteeing to them as it did their own laws, language and customs, and they tacitly declined to participate in the proposed Congress, although some sons of sedition within the Province endeavoured to stir up their fellow countrymen to hostility against the form of government, and went to the expense of translating, printing and circuit ring the letter sent to them by the promoters of the Continental Congress.

In April, 1775, occurred the first collision between the armed Colonists and the soldiers of the King, and throughout the Thirteen Colonies measures were taken w ith a view to procuring their ultimate independence.

On the 18th of May the Provincial Committee of the Palitinate District or State of New York addressed the "Committee of Safety" at Albany, stating t'n^t the Johnsons and their powerful allies in the Mohawk District, had succeeded by threats, intimidation and an array of military strength, in preventing any open adoption of a declaration approving of the proceedings of the Continental Congress. Says the Palitinate Committee :—

"This County has for a series of years been ruled by one family, the several branches of which are still strenuous in dissuading the people from coming into Congressional measures, and have, even last week, at a numerous meeting of the Mohawk District, appeared with all their dependents armed, to oppose the people considering of their grievances ; their number being so large and the people unarmed, that they struck terror into most of them, and they dispersed.

Mr. Stone adds that:—

" The Committee further notified their friends in Albany that Sir John Johnson was fortifying the Baronial Hall by planting several swiveia around it and he had paraded part of the Regiment of Militi which he commanded on the day previous for the purpose of intimidation, as it was conjectured. It was likewise reported that the Scotch Highlanders, settled in large numbers in and about Johnstown, who were Roman Catholics, had armed themselves to the number of 150, ready to aid in the suppression of any popular outbreak in favour of the growing cause of liberty.

During the course of the summer, the tension became stronger. The Dutch or German settlers divided in their allegiance, Mr. Stone stating that the majority of them declared themselves as Whigs, as the American sympathizers were called—the Loyalists being termed by the Revolutionists, Tories. The first shot in the war West of the Hudson was fired when the Loyalist Sheriff of the County arrested a Whig named John Fonda, at whom he fired when he resisted arrest. It was immediately returned by the discharge of a number of firelocks of the rebels at the Sheriff, which, however, were not very deadly, as the only effect was a slight wound in his breast. The doors of the house were broken, and an effort made to seize the Sheriff, when a gun was fired at the hall by Sir John. " This was known to be a signal for his retainers and Scotch partisans to rally to arms, and as they would muster 500 men in a very short time, the Whigs thought it more prudent to disperse."

From this out, the relations of the neigbours to each other became more and more strained. The Loyalists threw every impediment in the way of the Committee, and no method of embarrassing them was left untried ; they called public meetings themselves, and chose counter-committees, covered the Whig Committees with ridicule, and charged them, most proptily, with illegal and tyrannical conduct —the consequence being mutual exasperation between near neighbours, and the reciprocal engendering of hostile feelings between friends, who ranged themselves under opposing banners. These incipient neighborhood quarrels occasioned, in the progress of the contest which ensued, some of the most bitter and bloody conflicts that ever marked the annals of Civil War.

On the 7th September, 1775, the Whig Committee wrote the Provincial Congress- in New York, denouncing the conduct of Sir John Johnson, and that of his associates—particularly the Highlanders, who, to the number of 200, were said to be gathered about him, and by whom the Whigs "were daily scandalized, provoked and threatened."

It appears that from the following correspondence in January, 1776, Sir John and the Highlanders took active preliminary steps towards armed resistance to the Congressional authorities:—

Governor Tryon to lord George Germaine.

"On board H.M.S. Duchess of Gordon, " New York Harbour, 3rd January, 1776.

"My Lord,

"The gentleman who delivered me the enclosed letter from Sir John Johnson, assured me that by Government complying with its contents Sir John could muster five hundred Indians to support the cause of Government, and that these with a body of regulars might retake the forts. If Sir John had the titlK'.of Superintendent of Indian Affairs it would give the greatest weight to His Majesty's Indian affairs, the Indians having the greatest a-lection for the son of their late benefactor. I wish Your Lordship may think as favourably of Sir John's proposals as 1 do. &c."

(Enclosure in the above.

SIR JOHN JOHNSON TO GOVERNOR TRYON.

"Sir,

"I hope the occasion and intention of this letter may plead my excuse for the liberty I take in introducing to Your Excellency the bearer hereof, Mr. Allan Macdonell, who \\ ill inform you of many particulars which cannot at this time be safely communicated in writing. The distracted and convulsed state that this unhappy country is now worked up to, and the situation that I am in here, together with the many obligations that our family are under to thei best of Sovereigns, induce me to fall upon a plan that may, I hope be of service to the country, the propriety of which I entirely submit to Your Excellency's better judgment, depending on the friendship which you have been pleased to honour me with, for your advice on, and representation to. His Majesty, of what I propose,

"Having consulted with all my friends in this quarter, among whom are many old and good officers, I have come to the resolution of forming a Battalion, and have named all the officers, most of whom have a good deal of interest in their respective neighborhoods, and have seen a great number of men ready to complete the plan. We must, however, not think of stirring until support and supplies of many necessaries to enable us to carry our design into execution are received —of all which Mr. Macdonell will inform Your Excellency.

" I make not the least doubt of the success of this plan should we be supported in time. As to news, I must beg leave to refer you to Mr. Macdonell, who will inform you of everything that has been done in Canada that has come to our knowledge. As I rind by the papers you are soon to sail for England, I despair of having the pleasure of paying my respects to you, but most sincerely wish you an agreeable voyage and a happy sight of your family and friends.

"I am, Your Excellency's

"Most obedient, humble servant,

"John Johnson."

Doubtless the organization and other preparations indicated in the above letter, some knowledge of which must have transpired, induced Congress in the same month to direct the expedition into Tryon County of General Schuyler of the Revolutionary Army, the forces under his command numbering some 3,000 men. He addressed a letter to Sir John Johnson from Schenectady, requesting an interview, and pledging his word of honour that he and the officers with him would come and go in safety. Sir John, attended by several of his leading friends among the Scotchmen, and two or three others, met him about sixteen miles from Schenectady. Negotiations were then entered upon in writing between General Schuyler on the one part and Sir John and Mr. Allan Macdonell (Collachie), as representing the Highlanders, on the other. The fourth article of the terms offered by General Schuyler was as follows :

"That the Scotch inhabitants of the said County shall, without any kind of exception, immediately deliver up all arms in their possession, of what kind soever they may be; and that they shall each solemnly promise that they will not at any time hereafter, during the continuance of this unhappy contest, take up arms without the permission of the Continental Congress or of their General Officers; and for the more faithful performance of this article, the General insists that they shall immediately deliver up to him six hostages of his own nomination."

Sir John having answered the written offer of terms, agreeing to deliver up their arms, but as to the fourth article declining on the part of the Scotch inhabitants to give hostages—no one man having command over another, or power sufficient to deliver such—Genera 1 Schuyler declared the answer to his terms to be wholly unsatisfactory, and required immediate compliance with his demands in all respects before midnight. Sir John Johnson is alleged by the Americans then to have given his parole of honour not to take up arms against America. General Schuyler was to be at liberty to take away sit of the Scotch inhabitants prisoners, without resistance, the others all to surrender their arms ; the six prisoners to be maintained agreeable to their respective ranks; to be allowed a few days to settle their private affairs, and, being gentlemen, to wear their side arms.

"Fifth: Neither Sir John Johnson nor the Scotch gentlemen can make any engagement for any other persons than those over whom they may have influence. They give their word and honour that, so far as depends on them, the inhabitants shall give up their arms and enter into the like engagement as the Scotch inhabitants."

To this General Schuyler agreed, stating that he would take six of the Scotch inhabitants prisoners, since they preferred it to going hostages, and undertaking on behalf of Congress to pay all deference due to their rank, they to be confined for the present either at Reading or Lancaster in Pennsylvania. They were eventually sent to the latter place, Mr. Allan Macdonell being one of the prisoners. On the same afternoon Sir John delivered up the arms and ammunition in his possession, Mr. Stone naively remarking that the quantity of both was much smaller than was expected:

"On Saturday, the 20th, General Schuvler paraded his troops at noon to receive the arms of the Highlanders, who to the number of two or three hundred, marched to the front and grounded their arms. These having been secured, the Scotchmen were dismissed with an exhortation to remain peaceable, and with an assurance of protection if they did.

The American authors allege that Sir John Johnson did not observe the compact of neutrality, nor the obligations of his parole, and further that General Schuyler was in receipt of information convincing him that Sir John was secretly instigating the Indians to hostilities. "To prevent such a calamity," says Mr. Stone, "it was thought advisable to secure the person of Sir John, and once more to quell the rising spirit of disaffection in the neighborhood of Johnstown, especially among the Highlanders," and in June following the events already narrated, Colonel Day ton, with a part of his regiment then on its way to Canada, was despatched by General Schuyler to prosecute the enterprise. Sir John, however, was warned in time of the proceedings of the enemy, and hastily collecting his friends, made his way to Canada, arriving after nineteen days of severe hardships at Montreal, "having encountered ail the sufferings that it seemed possible for man to endure.'' Mr. Sparks, in his life of Washington, states that Lady Johnson was removed to Albany, where she' was retained, but without any particular result, except the indignation offered to a gentlewoman of high station and in a delicate state of heath, as a kind of hostage for the peaceable conduct of her husband.

Lady Johnson was a daughter of the Honourable John Watts, for some t'me President of the Council of New York, and a first cousin once removed of General Schuyler, to whom she had so deep an aversion, as appears trom the following letter of hers addressed to General Washington, apprising him of her being taken prisoner: "Sir, " Albany, June 16, 1776.

"I take the liberty of complaining to you, as it is. from you I expect redress I was compelled to leave home, much against my will and am detained here by General Schuyltr, who, I am convinced, acts more out of ill nature to Sir John than for any reason that he or I have given him. As I am not allowed to return home, and my situation here made as disagreeable as it can be by repeated threats and messages from General Schuyler too indelicate and cruel to be expected from a gentleman, I should wish to be with my friends at New York, and would prefer my captivity under Your Excellency's protection to being in the power if General Schuyler, who rules with more severity than could be wished by Your Excellency's

"Humble Servant,

"M. Johnson.

"To His Excellency General Washington."

Lady Johnson was obliged, however, to remain at Albany for six months longer before she was allowed to proceed to New York.

Sir John and Lady Johnson had beer married in New York in 1773. She died at Montreal in 1815.


 


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