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Proceedings of the Fourth Congress at Atlanta, GA., April 28 to May 1, 1892
An Early Ulsterman
By Mr. George H. Frey, of Springfield, O.


The Mohawk Valley, New York, was, for more than a century before the birth of our great republic, the border line of two struggling civilizations, and its history and legends possess an interest scarcely surpassed by that of any other part of earth, save perhaps the "Holy Land."

On that line occurred those two important engagements, which cannot be omitted from the historical series which eventuated in the firm establishment of the Republic of America: Johnson's victory over the French at Lake George in 1755, and Herkimer's stubborn resistance of the English under St. Leger, at Oriskany, which made possible the victory over Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777.

Prof. Parkman, in his summarizing upon the historical events connected with the French settlements in America, and the long and bloody conflicts, in which the aboriginal savage was made participant on both sides—the French and the English—makes it quite clear that more than a hundred years of such experience was but a schooling of the English colonists for the final effort of declaring and maintaining independence.

It was at a period of great doubt and uncertainty among the colonists of New England, New York, and the colonies southward, as to whether they could successfully resist the encroachments of the French, with Indian allies ever alert in destroying villages, hamlets, and homes on their borders, and fortified positions extending from Louisburg and Quebec along the line of the St. Lawrence and lakes, at Pittsburg— Fort Duquesne—and on to the Cresent City at the mouth of the Mississippi, when there came to the Mohawk Valley a young Ulsterman named William Johnson, a native of Warrentown, in the county Down. He was in the twenty-third year of his age, had been brought up to trade, was reputed to have suffered some disappointment in a love affair, and was persuaded hither by his uncle, Capt. Peter Warren, who achieved renown in the royal navy. He came to care for and develop certain lands which the captain had acquired in the Mohawk Valley. His equipment was: a good business education, thoroughly honest purposes, a relish for adventure, and manifest loyalty to his country and his countrymen.

In 1738 Mr. Johnson began, in that beautiful valley, a career which is totally without parallel in all its distinguishing features, and which made him a chief character in those achievements upon which Prof. Parkman places such high estimate.

Our young Ulsterman went at the duties of business life in heroic style—clearing lands and improving them ; building mills and houses (some of the latter still stand to this day to testify to his skill and energy)—and he entered upon a very successful trade in merchandise and peltry, soon establishing a character among the scattered settlements, and in business channels abroad, as well as among the aboriginal inhabitants, which endeared him to all, and likewise brought him abundant thrift. He became the largest land owner in all the colonies. Among the great variety of his acquisitions which are well authenticated, the following is selected as most characteristic of the man and worthy of narrating. He had gone among the Onandaga tribe of Indians to endeavor to defeat a scheme of the French Canadian governor, who had partly arranged with the Onandagas for the planting of a mission and fort on the shore of the Onandaga Lake. As a last argument he offered to purchase the debatable ground, and his offer was accepted. They conveyed to him, for a cash consideration of £300, a tract two miles in width around the whole of Onandaga Lake, embracing what is to-day the city of Syracuse and its wealth-producing suburbs.

Mr. Simms, in his "Frontiersmen of New York," gives an amusing version of one of Mr. Johnson's land deals with King Hendrick, a renowned chief of the Iroquois, who fell in battle fighting against the French at Lake George. King Hendrick resided at Canajoharia, only a few miles from Johnstown, the residence of Sir "William, and the two maintained most intimate relations, often paying visits to each other. On one of those occasions Sir William Johnson, who had been knighted and commissioned to various civil and military positions of prominence, was in receipt of a new uniform, just ordered from England, of a pattern and quality suited to the highest military command in the colony. King Hendrick looked upon the goodly apparel with wondering eyes, and as the sequel disclosed, with something of covetousness. He returned to Mr. Johnson after a few days and informed Sir William that he had had a dream, and dreamed that Sir William had made him a present of the fine military suit; which meant that, according to the usage among the Mohawks, Sir William must make true the dream, and this he did without reserve or hesitation. But before many moons had passed, as the story goes, Sir "William announced to King Hendrick that he had had a dream: dreamed that Hendrick had presented him lands fronting a league or more on the Mohawk, and extending to the farthest limits of the Iroquois possessions, embracing several hundred thousands of acres. King Hendrick promptly said: "The land is yours, Sir William, but don't dream any more dreams."

Hon. William L. Stone, in his well-authenticated biography of Sir William Johnson, is careful to repudiate this old legend as purely fiction.

Sir William was one of the very few distinguished white men adopted as chief by the Iroquois, and his influence was supreme with all the tribes east of the Mississippi River, and from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf. His supervision of Indian affairs, assisted by George Croghan, was advantageous to all colonial settlers alike, except to the traders who sold rum to the Indians, whom he perpetually worried; and his vast correspondence shows that the lords of trade in England who looked closely after colonial interests, and successive Premiers and Colonial Secretaries, easily regarded Sir William as the most valued representative of the British Government, and the truest and wisest friend of the colonists in America.

Without early military education, perpetual strife with the Canadian French and their Indian allies, had educated him in arms, and he in turn organized and instructed the rugged settlers of the Mohawk Valley in the arts of defensive warfare.

The purpose was finally formed in England to send a body of regular troops under Gen. Braddock, with authority to employ provincials and their Indian allies in such numbers as were needful to dislodge the French from various strategic points so dangerous to the colonists. Accordingly Gen. Braddock arrived early in the year 1755, and called a council of colonial Governors to meet in Alexandria in April following, which was attended by Govs. Shirley, of Massachusetts; DeLancey, of New York: Morris, of Pennsylvania; Sharpe, of Maryland, and Dinwiddie, of Virginia. Sir William Johnson was also present by invitation of Gen. Braddock.

Pursuant to his instructions from the Crown, Braddock, with the council, proceeded to plan four separate expeditions against the French. The first for the complete reduction of Nova Scotia, to be commanded by Lieut. Gov. Lawrence, of that province; the second was to recover the Ohio Valley by reducing Fort Duquesne, under command of Braddock himself; the third, under command of Gov. Shirley, was to capture Fort Niagara and form a junction with Braddock's forces; the fourth was to be under command of William Johnson, who was promoted a major general, and under instructions to proceed against Crown Point, on Lake Champlain. The latter to have under him the provincial militia and the warriors of the six nations.

All these expeditions sadly miscarried, except only that under Maj. Gen. Johnson, which achieved signal success in a battle, as sanguinary as decisive, on the shore of Lake George, September 8, 1755; the French being under command of the brave and accomplished Baron Dieskau, who was badly wounded and brought a prisoner into Johnson's camp. Johnson was himself badly wounded in the battle, but persistently declined the attentions of his surgeon until after the captive baron had been properly cared for. The brave King Hendrick, of the Mohawks, was killed in this engagement.

Another notable casuality in this engagement was the death of Le Gardeur de St. Pierre, who had defeated George Washington the previous year on the Ohio. His dying words to his comrades on the field were: "Fight on, boys; this is Johnson, not Braddock."

Rev. Cortlandt Van Rensselear, D.D., a native of Albany, in a commemorative discourse, thus estimated this important achievement of Maj. Gen. Johnson:

I. The battle of Lake George is memorable in defeating a well-laid scheme of the French., and in saving the provinces from scenes of bloodshed and desolation. If Dieskau had succeeded in overthrowing Johnson in his intrenchments, . , his march to Albany would have been triumphant. Old Hendrick, at the convention of the preceding year, had warned the province of its danger. "You are without fortifications," said he. "It is but a step from Canada hither, and the French may easily come and turn you out of doors." . . . The victory of Lake George undoubtedly rescued the provinces from injury and woe beyond computation. Considered, therefore, in its immediate strategical results, this battle was one of the important engagements in American history.

II. The battle of Lake George was remarkable for its influence in rallying the spirit of the American colonies. Much had been expected from the three expeditions sent against the French, but disappointment and sorrow had followed Brad-dock's terrible defeat. . . . All the provinces were amazed, awe-struck, paralyzed for a time. . . . Their hopes were turned to Lake George and Niagara. (Niagara proved another failure under Gov. Shirley.) Johnson's victory was received as the precurser of a recovered military position and fame, and was hailed as the means of deliverance from a bold and cruel foe. Few battles ever produced more immediate results in rekindling the martial enthusiasm of the colonists. Congratulations poured in upon Gen. Johnson from every quarter. Not only were the colonies tilled with rejoicing, but the influence of the triumph went over to England, and the deeds of our fathers at Lake George became familiar to the ear of royalty, and were applauded by the eloquence of Parliament. The moral effects of a battle . . . have rarely been greater and more decided in the whole range of military annals.

III. Viewed simply in a military aspect, the battle of Lake George was the only successful achievement within the thirteen colonies during the campaign of 1755................

IV. The victory of Lake George occurred in a series of campaigns that ended in the conquest of Canada and of the valleys of the great West......

V. The battle of Lake George was, furthermore, remarkable in its suggestions of provincial power and its lessons of warfare to the colonies preparatory to their independence. The battle was fought by provincial troops. . . . The veteran regulars of old England had been beaten in the forests of Western Pensylvania, or remained inactive in the Niagara expedition. . . . On these shores provincial power signalized its self-relying and unaided capabilities, and in this battle and in this war the colonies practically learned the value of union and the unconquerable energies of a free people.

The year 1776-77 passed by, witnessing no successes to British arms, by reason of the failures of Lord Loudon, Gens. Abercrombie, Amherst, Webb, Gage, and others, and the sudden death of the chivalrous Lord Howe. The trained and seasoned soldiers of Europe did not seem able to grasp the problems presented in American wilderness warfare. Johnson, meantime, was kept busy in Indian diplomacy, and fully communicated with the authorities of the home government across the waters; no step, offensive or defensive, seemed likely to succeed which had not at heart his sanction. In 1758 the campaign against Canada and the French was reopened with apparent spirit. Louisburg was captured by Admiral Boscawen and Gens. Amhurst and Wolfe. George Washington, a subordinate of Gen. Forbes, with his Virginia men, compelled the evacuation of Fort Duquesne, henceforth called Pittsburg, for the great minister of that date. But Abercrombie, with a splendid outfit, was defeated by Gen. Montcalm, in a movement against Ticon-deroga. So disgraceful and complete was this disaster that Johnson was presented with a Herculean task: to quiet the disaffection and heal the demoralization which was found to exist among the Indians, and extended to the region of the Ohio River, among the Delawares and Shawnees. But this chieftain of chieftains was everywhere successful, and the great body of the Indians of America were kept loyal to our colonies; in the year following (1759) Gen. Johnson joined Gen. Prideaux at Oswego with a large body of Indian allies, to move upon Fort Niagara, as it was, in his estimation, a very important military as well as trading point. Early in the siege Gen. Prideaux was accidently killed, and the command devolved upon Gen. Johnson, who achieved a signal triumph over D'Aubrey, taking him prisoner, together with the famous French partisan, Marin, and capturing Fort Niagara. Thus "was broken the last remaining link in the chain of fortresses which had served to unite Canada with Louisiana," and a fatal blow given the aspirations of the French in America. The brave, impetuous Wolfe completed the job and settled the question of American civilization on the Plains of Abraham.

The government of England and colonial authorities in America were lavish of their praises as well as rewards and emoluments bestowed upon Sir William, who devoted his remaining days most unselfishly to the well-being of the colonists; in building churches, establishing schools —himself educating young Joseph Brant—Thayendanagea, who badly distinguished himself, as did Sir William's son, in the Revolutionary War, on the side of King George.

The best informed and most intimate friends of Sir William Johnson, in the Mohawk Valley, the biographers and historians of the period, all agree that his well-known and ardent sympathies with the popular cause, had he lived, would have made him a leader on the side of Washington and the provincials. A wound received in the battle of Lake George, aggravated by constant labors, many journeyings and privations in Western wilds, in behalf of his countrymen, cut short his grandly useful life.

The "Cresap war," and the wanton butchery of the Logan family and other friendly Indians in the Ohio Valley, so wrought upon the "six nations" and their allies that Sir William was obliged to call into exercise all the power and influence he possessed for their pacification. He called a council meeting at his home in Johnstown, which was attended by six hundred Iroquois, and under a burning sun, July 11, 1774, he stood for over two hours addressing them, with a force of argument and appeal which, while very affective for the purpose he desired, proved an overtask for the baronet, and scarcely had his audience dispersed when he was seized with a sinking fit, from which he never revived. He died in his sixtieth year, amid the lamentations of the whole valley, and reaching through all the colonies.

May we not confess that we owe to the memory of this early Ulster-man, doubly our countryman, an expression of profoundest gratitude and praise?


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