Sir William Johnson 1715-1774
Johnson came from Ireland to America in the 1740's to manage his uncle's Mohawk Valley estate. A very enterprising man, Johnson was quick to grasp the possibilities that existed for accumulating wealth and land in the Valley. Along with overseeing his uncle's business affairs, he soon had his own trading business with the Indians. He was one of the few Englishmen to understand the benefits of assimilating Indian culture into his political and business dealings with them. This helped give Johnson more credibility with the Indians. His greatest influence would always be with the Six Nations, particularly the Mohawks. Johnson was eventually adopted into the Mohawk Nation and took Molly Brant, a Mohawk Clan Mother, as his second wife in a common law marriage.
With start of the French and Indian War, English political and military leaders recognized Johnson's talents in working with Indians. In 1775, Johnson was appointed as Superintendent of Indian Affairs and was given a dual military commission as "Colonel of the Six Nations" and Major General of provincial forces. Also in 1755, Johnson was given the task of leading a mixed colonial/Indian force against French Fort Fredrick (modern Crown Point, NY) on Lake Champlain. The French attacked Johnson's force while it was encamped at Lake George, and Johnson was wounded. The resulting Battle of Lake George gave England its only victory against the French that year. To reward him, King George II knighted Johnson and made him a Baron. Johnson was the only colonist ever to be knighted, and the title is still in existence today. In 1759, Johnson was assigned to raise and lead a colonial/Indian force to support the British during their attack against French Fort Niagara. During the siege of the fort, the British commander was killed, and Johnson claimed command by virtue of his senior rank. This put him at odds with the regular British officers who did not feel that provincial commissions were on par with royal ones. In spite of this, Johnson retained command and finally forced the French to surrender.
Johnson worked tirelessly throughout the war to ally the Six Nations with England. This job was made all the more difficult due to England's lackluster performance against the French during the war's early years. Most Six Nations support for the British during the war would come from the Mohawks, due to Johnson's personal influence with them. It wasn't until near the end of the war, when it was obvious that France would lose, that Johnson's efforts bore full fruit and brought the Six Nations onto England's side as official allies. In 1764, a year after the end of the French and Indian War, a united Indian uprising known as Pontiac's Rebellion broke out in response to illegal colonial settlement on the frontier. It was largely through Johnson's influence that the Six Nations did not join in this rebellion.
While Johnson did usually keep the interests of the Indians at heart, he was not above using his position for personal gain. In 1768, he acted as the official Crown representative to negotiate a boundary line treaty of the frontier between England, the Six Nations, and other affiliated Indian nations. During these negotiations, Johnson overstepped his authority and pushed the boundary line further west then had been agreed to by the British government. Except for Johnson and some close friends, this treaty left everyone else (Indians, colonists, and the British government) unhappy.
Johnson was the driving force behind the creation of Tryon County in 1772. Situating the county courthouse and jail in his developing village of Johnstown allowed him to control virtually most of the political life of the new county. It was this power and influence in the daily workings of the county that kept rebellious activity nearly non-existent in the Mohawk Valley for many years directly prior to the American Revolution.
A combination of his old war wound and various sicknesses began to take a toll on Johnson's health as he aged, but he was not one to rest. In the midst of an Indian conference at his home in July of 1774, Sir William Johnson died. His death would leave a gap in royal authority over both the Indians and the colonists at a time when England needed it most.
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John Butler 1728-1796
Sir John Johnson 1741-1830
In 1760 at only eighteen years of age, John Johnson, son of Sir William Johnson, became Captain of a company of the Tryon County Militia. While studying in England, Johnson had his father's hereditary title confirmed by King George III, and he was knighted Sir John Johnson in 1765.
When his father died in 1774, Johnson also became Major General of the Tryon County Militia. With the coming of the American Revolution however, he was forced to flee to Canada in 1776 to avoid being arrested. His crime was being a loyalist in patriot territory. The patriots also feared Johnson would use his strong influence to rally both loyalists and members of the Six Nations Indian Confederacy to the British cause.
Once in Canada, Johnson raised the King's Royal Regiment of New York. Much of the regiment was composed of men from the Mohawk Valley who, like Johnson, had been forced to flee to Canada because of their loyalist sympathies.
Johnson and his regiment were with Barry St. Leger while they besieged Fort Stanwix in August of 1777. They also fought in the Battle of Oriskany against former friends, family, and neighbors. Johnson and his followers had planned on regaining their homes and lands once the British took Fort Stanwix. When the British were forced to retreat, this dream was destroyed. Later in the war, Johnson carried out raids throughout the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys that destroyed crops and villages and spread terror throughout the patriot inhabitants of the valleys. Johnson had an intense hatred for these people who had driven him out of his home and his beloved Mohawk Valley.
Johnson never returned to New York after the war, and his home was sold by the Americans to help pay off their war debts. Johnson remained in Canada and eventually took over his father's role as superintendent of Indian affairs and during the War of 1812 he served as Brigadier General for a portion of the Canadian Militia.
The members of his regiment would help to found and settle the modern day Kingston, Canada area. Upon his death in 1830 people of all classes and sorts in Canada gathered at his new home in Kingston to mourn him as a man of the people.
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Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) 1744-1807
Born a Mohawk, Joseph Brant was a man of two worlds. His sister Molly was the common-law wife of Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British. Brant was thus exposed to the English culture, becoming a regular part of the Johnson household, while still retaining some ties to the Mohawk way of life.
In 1755, at age 13 he accompanied Sir William Johnson to the Battle of Lake George. Brant observed the negotiations that brought about the Boundary Line Treaty in 1768 at Fort Stanwix. Traveling to England in 1776, Brant met King George III. Voicing his concerns over the colonists' failure to abide by the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty, Brant was assured that the land disputes would be dealt with one the war with the colonies was over. Before leaving England Brant accepted the war belt, meaning that he had decided to support the King in this "family dispute" with the colonies. Brant's actions, along with his sister's influence, would be a factor that brought about the split of the Six Nations Confederacy.
Once home, Brant raised a group of loyalists and Indians. American General Nicholas Herkimer met with Brant in June of 1777. They had been neighbors, and for two days Herkimer tried to convince Brant to stay out of the war. Brant refused, and reasserted his intention to support the British. These men would meet again on August 6, 1777 at Oriskany, as Herkimer attempted to come to the aid of Fort Stanwix. Brant would be on the other side, as part of the force that ambushed Herkimer and his militia.
At the war's end, the British gave Brant's people land along the Grand River in Canada. This area became known as Brant's Town. Today it is known as Brantford, Canada. Brant often traveled back into the United States; however, on a trip from Philadelphia he stopped by the home of Peter Gansevoort. On another visit, in an ironic twist of fate,Marinus Willett ended up deterring a stalker who had been determined to assassinate Brant. In 1793, he even carried out a mission of peace to the Miami Indians on behalf of George Washington that helped secure peace between the two nations.
Brant died estranged from both the British and his people. He had made many enemies as he dealt with land disputes and tried to sell off property to make some money for his people to live by. Forty-three years after his death however, his body was carried back to Brant's Town, where he was laid to rest beside the Mohawk church.
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Mary (Molly) Brant 1736-1796
Mary, commonly called Molly, Brant was born in 1736 in the Ohio Valley. She grew up in Canajoharie and was educated in a European fashion, possibly at a mission school.
At age 18, she accompanied a delegation of Mohawk Chiefs to Philadelphia to discuss fraudulent land transactions. This was her first introduction into the world of political responsibility. She eventually became a Clan Mother.
She probably knew Sir William Johnson as an acquaintance during the 1740's and 1750's, but it was not until the 1759 that they became romantically linked. She bore him eight children, seven of which survived, and was officially referred to as William Johnson's "housekeeper" but was relied upon for much more.
Like her brother Joseph, she assimilated both European and Indian culture into her life and was equally at home in both worlds. She spoke Mohawk and dressed in Mohawk fashion all her life and encouraged her children to do so. Her position as Clan Mother helped in Johnson's success as Indian Superintendent.
After Sir William's death in 1774, she moved her family from Johnson Hall back to Canajoharie and established a trading post. During the American Revolution she sheltered and fed loyalists and supplied them with arms and munitions. In 1777, it was Molly that sent word to Sir John Johnson's and Joseph Brant's forces that Herkimer was marching to rescue the besieged Fort Schuyler. As a result of these actions she was forced to flee her home in the Mohawk Valley, leaving it behind to be plundered and occupied.
Her family fled to Fort Niagara and Molly began to direct her attention to keeping the Six Nations (particularly Mohawks) on the side of the British. Her position as a Clan Mother and her former relationship with Sir William Johnson meant that she exerted even more influence over them than her brother. A British was once recorded to have said: "their uncommon good behaviour [was] in great measure to be ascribed to Miss Molly Brant's influence over them, which [was] far superior to that of all their Chiefs put together." She also used her position to promote the interests of her people while increasing her own power.
After the war, Molly settled at Kingston, Canada and received a substantial military pension for her wartime services. In 1785, on a trip to Schenectady, NY the Americans offered her financial compensation for her return. This was rejected "with the utmost contempt." She remained staunchly pro-British and pro-Haudenosaunee the rest of her life.
Molly Brant died in 1796. The exact site of her burial remains unknown, but it is thought to be somewhere near Mohawk Church.
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Barry St. Leger approximately 1737-1789
John Burgoyne 1722-1792
Walter Butler 1752-1781
Butler was born in 1752 in the Mohawk Valley. He studied law and entered into practice in Albany. When his father, John Butler, fled to Fort Niagara, he followed and received a commission as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of Foot.
Last updated: February 26, 2015