In the summer of 1760, Warren Johnson began a journey that would take him from Ireland to the Mohawk Valley. His ultimate goal was to spend time with his brother, Sir William Johnson, the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the 13 Colonies. He finally arrived at “Fort Johnson” near the end of October. “Fort Johnson” was the fortified homestead of Sir William, near modern day Amsterdam, NY.
It’s obvious that Warren was fascinated with all aspects of his trip and time in the Mohawk Valley. His journal reads like a “stream of consciousness” where he’s quickly taking note of things he’s seeing or learning in conversation before he forgets them. Often, every sentence covers a different topic. One of Warren’s common threads, however, is an intense dislike of the Dutch living in the Albany and lower Mohawk Valley area. This led him to carefully record various habits and customs of the Dutch which he particularly found fault with. His most often used word for the Dutch was “odd”: “The People mostly Dutch, & have something Odd about them…” ”Such of the Dutch Clergy as I have seen, seem very odd People…_“The Duch are an odd & very bad Sort of People, & there is noe Confidence to be put in them.”
Noting Dutch fashion trends, Warren had this to say: “The Dutch all wear their hair or Night Caps, they won’t be at the Expence of Wiggs…” “I see but 3 Dutchmen, who wore wigs, & them black.” “…their better Sort of both their Men & Women generally wear black…” “…their Cloths in Town are always of the Same Colour…”
Few Dutch habits escaped Warren’s scorn: “The Dutch not very polite, they Smoke in Ones Parlour, thoe not asked to sit down, & always seat themselves without bidding. Their Children at Seven year Old, Smoak, & their Parents think it a great Qualification.” Of their eating habits: “… Eat hogs Lard on their Bread, instead of Butter, with Tea; the Use the Grease of fryed Bacon with Sallets, in stead of Oil, & mix it up with their Hands for they never use forks…”
Warren did not spare the “fairer sex” in any way either, noting of Dutch ladies that: “…their Women very ordinary…” “If one gets a Dutch Girl with Child, ‘tis not minded.” “Dutch Girls get Noe fortunes, when they marry, nor, until their Fathers dies, the Estate being Equally Divided between the Sons.” “Dutch Ladies in the Country bring out their young Children visiting & have them in their Laps at Table cursedly disagreeable & not over modest in speech.”
Being with Sir William over the winter holidays also allowed Warren to scrutinize how the Dutch in the Albany and Schenectady area observed New Year’s: “The Dutch keep the New year always for 6 Days as holy Days, And ride in their Slays to one another’s Houses, they dance and lie all together let there be ever soe many men & Women, before the fire; the Men must have on their Breeches, & women their Petty Coats.”
Many cultures at the time observed some version of what has become popularly known as “The 12 Days of Christmas.” In the English calendar this ended with a Twelfth Night celebration and various agricultural/domestic holidays in the first weeks of the new year. It’s likely that what Warren Johnson recorded was the Dutch version of these extended holiday celebrations that went beyond the time frame of most of our modern winter holiday celebrations.
Warren Johnson’s dislike of the Dutch seems to be more of a personal dislike than any major long- reinforced cultural differences handed down through the centuries. There are many obvious personal biases with which Johnson flavors his observations, which we must strip away. Once we do, however, we are still left with some unique insights into the 18th century Dutch culture in the lower Mohawk Valley.
January 05, 2022
Last updated: January 5, 2022