Tory, Allied Indian, & British Military Leaders in New York

painting with heavy brushstrokes shows a man in a bright red jacket embroidered in gold. he wears a wig.
Sir William Johnson, ca. 1760

Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1989-407-1

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

Born in London, CT in 1728. He moved to the Mohawk Valley with his parents. In 1755, he served under Sir William Johnson at Crown Point, under Abercromby at Ticonderoga, and under Bradstreet at Ft. Frontenac.

At the capture of Ft. Niagara, He was William Johnson's second in command. Because of his connections to the Johnson family in 1759, he became Deputy Superintendent of Indians Affairs. In 1760, Butler commanded the British allied Indians in the Montreal Campaign.

As war approached the Mohawk Valley he organized an Indian Department of British loyalists to work in conjunction with the Six Nations. Because of this, in 1775, he was forced to flee to Ft. Niagara, Canada with his son Walter. Because of the Canadian governor's dislike of the Johnson family, he was put into an Indian affairs leadership position.

He was leader of the Indian Dept. Rangers that besieged Fort Stanwix in 1777. He is the man that is credited with the loyalist ruse of turning their coats inside out to fool the weary Tryon County Militia at Oriskany.

He raised Butler's Rangers in 1778, organized and lead raid on the Wyoming Valley. He organized the resistance to the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign in 1779, and fought in the Battle of Newtown. He took part in the Johnson raids on the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys in 1780.
After the war he settled in Canada and helped to create Niagara-on-the-Lake.

He died in approximately 1794.

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portrait of an old white haired man witha small, round, pale face and sharp blue jacket. he has big round dark eyes
Sir John Johnson

Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1938-34-1

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)

National Archives

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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Brevet Gen. Barry St. Leger

National Archives

Barry St. Leger approximately 1737-1789

Barry St. Leger (often pronounced 'sil-len-ger') was born a Huguenot descendent in Ireland in approximately 1737. He was educated in Cambridge, England. In 1756 he joined the British Army as an Ensign in the 28th Regiment. The next year the 28th was shipped to the Americas to participate in the French and Indian, or Seven Years War.

In 1758, he had already achieved the rank of Captain, now in the 48th Regiment, and took part in the Siege of Louisbourg. In 1759 as a Brigade-Major he participated in the British capture of Montreal.

He achieved rank twice more in two regiments over the next decade before ending up as Lt. Col. of the 34th Regiment. In 1777 he was appointed brevet Brig. General to lead the western branch of Gen. Burgoyne's three pronged New York invasion force. This lead to his failed siege of the now American Fort Stanwix. St. Leger vastly underestimated the Americans' ability to defend themselves, and in the end attempt to force the garrison to surrender was routed by low morale and Benedict Arnold's approach from the east.

Although he is usually remembered for this failure he was promoted to colonel in 1780 and given command of a group of rangers based in Canada. For the remainder of the American Revolution they led secretive expeditions into the colonies, including two attempts to capture Philip Schuyler and conducting negotiations with Ethan Allen to secure Vermont's loyalties as a free and independent British colony.

In 1780 St. Leger's Journal of Occurrences in America was published in London. In 1785 his name disappeared from the British Army lists in Canada. He is thought to have died in 1789.

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a stylish looking man grins daringly into the distance
"Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne

National Archives

John Burgoyne 1722-1792

The man known as "Gentleman Johnny" to his peers was born in 1722, a descendent of the Lancashire family. He was educated in his youth at the Westminster School. In 1740, he became a cornet in the 13th Light Dragoons and bought a lieutenant's commission the next year.

In 1743, the young gentleman eloped with Lady Charlotte; sister of a close friend from Westminster and daughter to the Earl of Derby. Her father was not pleased and gave them a small amount of money as a dismissal from the family. With this, Burgoyne purchased a captaincy in the 13th Dragoons. However, after a short while, their money was gone and the commission had to be sold. The couple moved to France just to get by.

After seven years in financial exile Burgoyne had mastered the French language and literature. His father-in-law had also come to see family in a different light and worked to get John a captaincy in the 11th Dragoons. In 1758, Burgoyne trade that for a commission as a captain and Lt. Col. in the Coldstream Guard. Between his military prowess and Lord Derby's influence, Burgoyne became an important part in the British campaign against the French coast during the Seven Years/French and Indian War. He was also the key figure in the formation of the first two British light horse regiments, one of which he was given command in 1759. For the rest of the war he lead these men in a brilliant and just manor earning the nickname "Gentleman Johnny" from his soldiers for his leadership.

During this time he also served in the Parliament and was considered a true politician, helping to bring about reform in the East India Company with the Regulating Act. He was also considered a reckless gambler, an amateur actor, a playwright, but still true to the Tory cause.

At the outbreak of the American Revolution, in 1775, Burgoyne was shipped to Boston with Gen. Wm. Howe and Henry Clinton to help British Gen. Gage assess the situation in the harbor. He became more of a hindrance that a help, however, becoming the over-eager butt of American and British jokes and over-analyzing Gage's tactics to the point of discredit. Before shipping back to England in November 1775 he witnessed the Battle of Bunker/Breed's Hill first hand.

In May 1776, Burgoyne was sent back with just enough men to halt the American invasion force at Quebec. While participating in the Battle of Valcour Island he began to envision the workings of a New York invasion, the Campaign of 1777. His campaign began well early in the summer of 1777 with the hopes that Gen. Howe (already in New York City) and Barry St. Leger (coming from the west through the Mohawk Valley) would be able to successfully divide the colony in half and meet him at Albany, NY. His branch quickly made it to the area of Stillwater, NY by September, never knowing the other two commanders would not be making the rendezvous. After two hard fought battles in the next month, Burgoyne surrendered his army of 6,000 men to the American Gen. Horatio Gates on October 17. After his parole back to England and much controversy he was able to convince his peers that much of the blame lay with others for lack of proper planning and support of his plan.

He was returned to some power throughout the British Empire in the years to follow but began to retreat more into his private life, focusing on the writing and release of his plays. The most famous of these is The Heiress. In 1776, his wife Lady Charlotte died, yet Lord Derby continued to raise four of Burgoyne's children from illegitimate relationships. The eldest of which, Sir John Fox Burgoyne, went to participate in the Battle of New Orleans.

Seemingly healthy the day before, John Burgoyne died on June 4, 1792. On August 13 he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

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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.

Butler served with the detachment of the 8th Regiment that besieged Fort Stanwix in 1777. During the siege he was given permission to take a small party of British, Loyalist and Indian troops down to German Flatts (modern Herkimer) in an attempt to recruit support for St. Leger's army. With the belief that traveling under a white flag would protect them, the group made no effort to conceal its activities. While meeting with residents in a local tavern, Butler's group was quickly captured by the American garrison at Fort Dayton. A court martial board headed by Lt. Col. Willett sentenced Butler, and several more of the group, to death as spies. Yet instead of being executed, Butler was sent to prison in Albany. Aided by loyalist sympathizers in the city, Butler eventually escaped and rejoined his father at Fort Niagara. Once there, he accepted a captain's commission in his father's newly raised regiment of loyalist rangers.

Butler organized and led the loyalist/Indian raid on the settlement of Cherry Valley in November of 1778. Whether due to a thirst for revenge or a lack of experience in commanding Indians, Butler separated his forces and gave the Indians free reign through the settlement. This led to a large number of civilian deaths and the raid became known as a "massacre." One of the families killed had been close friends of the Butlers prior to the war, and even Butler's father expressed dismay over his son's conduct during the operation. Walter Butler would be forever blamed for the "Cherry Valley Massacre" and tales of his bloodthirstiness (whether fact or fiction) would grow as the war went on. Walter Butler soon became the most hated man in the Mohawk Valley.

Butler took part in the resistance efforts against the American invasion of Six Nations Indian lands in 1779. He also took part in Sir John Johnson's raids of the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys in 1780.

In the fall of 1781, Butler commanded a party of rangers during the last large scale loyalist/ Indian raid into the Mohawk Valley. Attacked by Col. Willett's forces at Johnstown, the loyalist/Indian force began a retreat through the Adirondack wilderness to reach Canada. Pursued closely by Willet's troops, Butler was placed in charge of the rear guard as the main force crossed West Canada Creek. In the brief exchange of shots between Butler's and Willett's forces, Butler was killed. Willett's sentence of death from 1777 had finally been carried out.

Word of the British surrender at Yorktown reached Albany at the same time as the news of Butler's death. It is said that the report of Butler's death caused even more rejoicing than the news of Yorktown.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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