Page images
PDF
EPUB

Gloomy Prospect in the Mohawk Country. Patriotism of Colonel Willett. His command of the Tryon County Militia.

At this period every thing combined to cast gloom over the Mohawk country. Vermont, as we have noticed in a former chapter, had assumed an equivocal position, amounting almost, in appearance, to a treasonable rebellion against Congress. General Haldimand, with a large regular force, was menacing the northern country from his post upon Lake Champlain; the Johnsons, Butlers, and Brant were laying plans for an extensive invasion of Tryon county and the settlements near the Delaware; the forts that served for a defense for the people were weak from lack of provisions, ammunition, and men; the principal one, the key to the Mohawk Valley from the west, was destroyed; and, worse than all, a spirit of discontent and despondency was rife in that quarter, induced by the inefficiency of Congress in furnishing supplies, and the seeming hopelessness of the patriot cause. General Schuyler and others expressed their conviction that, if another invading army should come upon the settlements during the existing state of things, large numbers of the people would join the royal standard. The undisciplined militia, necessarily engaged in farm labor, and often insubordinate, were a weak reliance, and nothing but an efficient military force, either of paid levies or soldiers of the regular army, could give donfidence and real protection.

The expectation of such aid was but a feeble ray of hope at the beginning of the summer, for Washington and the French commander (De Rochambeau) were concocting plans far more important than the defense of a single frontier section of the vast extent of the colonies. Governor Clinton was greatly pained and embarrassed by the gloomy prospect in his department. In this dilemma, his thoughts turned to Colonel Willett, who had just been appointed to the command of one of the two regiments formed by the consolidation of five New York regiments. His name was a “tower of strength” among the people of the Mohawk Valley, and Clinton implored him to take command of all the militia levies and state troops that might be raised for the summer campaigns. He consented, left the main army, and established his head-quarters at Fort Rensselaer' (Canajoharie), toward the close of June. The spirits of the people were revived, although the forces of Willett consisted of mere fragments of companies hastily collected from the ruins of the last campaign. “I confess myself,” he said, in a letter to Governor Clinton, “not a little disappointed in having such a trifling force for such extensive business as I have now on my hands; and, also, that nothing is done to enable me to avail myself of the militia. The prospect of a suffering country hurts me. Upon my own account I am not uneasy. Everything I can do shall be done; and more can not be looked for. If it is, the reflection that I have done my duty must fix my tranquillity.”

While the enemy is threatening invasion and Willett is preparing to repel him, let us turn from the exciting chronicle, and resume our quiet journey, in the course of which some of the stirring incidents of the subsequent strife between the patriots and the enemy, in Tryon county, will come up in review.

1781.

* This was upon the Canajoharie Creek, near the junction of its two branches, in the town of Root. * Willett's Narrative.

Changes in the Mohawk Country. Present Aspect of the Mohawk Valley. Fultonville. Fonda,

CHAPTER XIII.

The earth all light and loveliness, in summer's golden hours,
Smiles, in her bridal vesture clad, and crown'd with festal flowers;
So radiantly beautiful, so like to heaven above,
We scarce can deem more fair that world of perfect bliss and love.
ANoNYMous.

Look now abroad—another race has fill'd
These populous borders—wide the wood recedes,
And towns shoot up, and fertile plains are till’d;
The land is full of harvests and green meads;
Streams numberless, that many a fountain feeds,
Shine, disembower'd, and give to sun and breeze
Their virgin waters; the full region leads
New, colonies forth, that toward the western seas
Spread, like a rapid flame among the autumnal leaves.
BRYANT.

HO that has passed along the Valley of the Mohawk, near the close of a 7 day in summer, has not been deeply impressed with the singular beauty */ of the scene 2 or who, that has traversed the uplands that skirt this fruit. ful garden, and stretch away to other valleys, and mingle with the loftier S. hills or fertile intervales within the borders of ancient Tryon county, is not filled with wonder while contemplating the changes that have been wrought # there within a life-span 2. When the terrible drama which we have been , considering was performed, almost the whole country was covered with the primeval forest. Clearings were frequent along the Mohawk River, and cultivation was assiduous in producing the blessings of abundance and gen: eral prosperity; but the southern portions of Herkimer and Montgomery, and all of Schoharie and Otsego, down to the remote settlement of Unadilla, were a wilderness, except where a few thriving settlements were growing upon the water courses. The traveler, as he views the “field joined to field” in the Mohawk Valley, all covered with waving grain, green pastures, or bending fruit-trees, inclosing, in their arms of plenty, elegant mansions; or watches the vast stream of inland commerce that rolls by upon the Erie Canal; or the villages of people that almost hourly sweep along its margin after the vapor steed; or rides over the adjacent hill-country north and south, enlivened by villages and rich in cultivation, can hardly realize the fact that here, seventy years ago, the wild Indian was joint possessor of the soil with the hardy settlers, and that the light of civilization was as scattered and feeble, and for a while as evanescent and fleeting in these broad solitudes, as is the sparkle of the fire-fly on a summer evening. Yet such is the wonderful truth; and as I passed down the canal at the close of the day, from Fort Plain to Fultonville, surrounded with the activity, opulence, and beauty of the Mohawk Valley, I could not, while contrasting this peacefulness and progress with the discord and social inertia of other lands, repress the feelings of the Pharisee. Fultonville is sixteen miles below Fort Plain, and it was long after dark when I arrived August 21, there. Early on the following morning I procured a conveyance to visit old Caugh* nawaga and Johnstown, north of the Mohawk. A gentleman of leisure and intelligence, residing at Fultonville, kindly offered to accompany me, and his familiarity with the history and localities of the neighborhood, and freedom of communication, made my morning's ride pleasant and profitable. Fultonville is upon the canal, and may be called the port of the village of Fonda, which lies upon the rail-road, on the northern verge of the valley.

[graphic]

Caughnawaga. John Butler's Residence. Johnstown. An Octogenarian. Biography of Butler

The Mohawk cleaves the center of the plain between the two villages, and is spanned by a fine covered bridge. Fonda and Caughnawaga (now Mohawk) lie in close embrace. The former has all the freshness of infancy, while the latter, with its gray old church,' has a matronly gravity in its appearance. It is only about half a mile eastward from its blooming daughter, at the foot of the hills over which winds the eastern fork of the road from Johnstown. On a commanding eminence, about a mile north of Fonda, we came to the house where Colonel John Butler resided,” which is believed to be the oldest dwelling in that section, and coeval with Caughnawaga Church. It overlooks the Mohawk Walley on the south, and commands an extensive prospect of a fine agricultural country in every direction. It is now owned by a Mr. Wilson, and is often visited by the curious, who are as frequently attracted by the eminently infamous as by the eminently good. It is a fair specimen of the middling class of houses of that period. The posts stand directly upon the stone foundation, without sleepers, and there are no plaster walls or ceilings in the house, the sides of the rooms being lined with pine boards. The bricks of the chimney are the small, imported kind which distinguished many of the edifices in the old states, that were constructed about a century ago. The village of Johnstown, which was included in the town of Caughnawaga, organized in 1798, lies pleasantly in the bosom and along the slope of an intervale, about four miles north of Fonda.” I met there a venerable citizen, John Yost, eighty years of age, who had been a resident of the vicinity from his birth. He was often dandled on the knee of Sir William Johnson, and has a clear recollection of the appearance of the baronet and the circumstances of his death. His father was an adherent of the Whig cause, and instructed him early in the principles of the Revolution. He was several times employed by Colonel Willett as an express to carry dispatches from Fort Plain to Tripe's Hill and other points in the valley, his extreme youth guarding him from suspicion. He was still an active August. man when I saw him, and his bodily health promised him the honors of a centenarian. ** Johnson Hall, the residence of Sir William and Sir John Johnson," is situated upon a

The BUTLER House.

* See page 263. * John Butler was one of the leading Tories of Tryon county during the whole war of the Revolution. Before the war he was in close official connection with Sir William Johnson, and, after his death, with his son and nephew, Sir John and Guy Johnson. When he fled with the Johnsons to Canada, his family were left behind, and were subsequently held as hostages by the Americans, and finally exchanged for the wife and children of Colonel Samuel Campbell, of Cherry Valley. He was active in the predatory warfare that so long distressed Tryon county, and commanded the eleven hundred men who desolated Wyoming in 1778. He was among those who opposed the progress of Sullivan in the Indian country in 1779, and accompanied Sir John Johnson in his destructive march through the Schoharie and Mohawk settlements in 1780. After the war he went to Canada, where he resided until his death, which occurred about the year 1800. His property upon the Mohawk, by an act of the Legislature of New York, was confiscated; but he was amply rewarded by the British government for his infamous services in its behalf. He succeeded Guy Johnson as Indian agent, with a salary of $2000 per annum, and was granted a pension, as a military officer, of $1000 more. Like his son Walter, he was detested for his cruelties by the more honorable British officers; and, after the massacre at Wyoming, Sir Frederic Haldimand, then Governor Jø. 2&ez&= of Canada, sent word to him that he did not wish to see him. It is but justice to Colonel Butler to say, that he was far more humane than his son Walter, and that his personal deeds at Wyo- SIGNATURE of Colonel John BUTLER, ming were not so heinous as the common accounts have made them. These will be considered when the attack upon that settlement shall receive a more particular notice. * The old jail in the village was standing when I was there, in August, 1848. It was built in 1762. and was consumed by fire on the 8th of September, 1849. ‘John Johnson was the son of Sir William Johnson by his first wife. He was born in 1742, and succeeded his father in his title and estates in 1774. He was not as popular as his father, being less social

[graphic]

Johnson Hall. Its Stair-case and Brant's Hatchet Marks. Progress of Western New York.

gentle eminence, about three fourths of a mile northward of the court-house in the village, and near the state road to Black River. This was probably the finest mansion in the province, out of the city of New York, at the time of its erection, about the year 1760. The hall, or main building, is of wood, and double clap-boarded in a manner to represent blocks

North Faont of Johnson Hall.

of stone. Its exterior dimensions are forty feet wide, sixty feet long, and two stories high. The detached wings, built for flanking block-houses, are of stone. The walls of these are very thick, and near the eaves they are pierced for musketry. The entrance passage, which extends entirely through the house, is fifteen feet wide, from which rises a broad stair-case, with heavy mahogany balustrades, to the second story. The rail of this balustrade is scarred by hatchet blows at regular intervals of about a foot, from the top to the bottom, and tradition avers that it was done by the hands of Brant when he fled from the hall with Sir John Johnson, in 1776, to protect the house from the torch of marauding savages, for he asserted that such a token would be understood and respected by them. The rooms in both stories are large and lofty, and the sides are handsomely wainscoted with pine panels and carved work, all of which is carefully preserved in its original form by Mr. Eleazer Wells, the present proprietor. He has been acquainted with the house for fifty years, and within that time one of the rooms has been neither painted nor papered." The

and less acquainted with human nature. His official relations to the parent government, and his known opposition to the rebellious movements

of the colonies, caused him to be strictly watched, and, as we have noted in the

text, not without just cause. Expelled %
from his estate, his property confiscated,

his family in exile, he became an uncom- - ZZe/,
promising enemy of the republicans, and -
until the close of the war his influence

was exerted against the patriots.

Soon after the close of the war Sir SIGNATURE or SIR John Johnson. John went to England, and, on returning in 1785, settled in Canada. He was appointed superintendent and inspector general of Indian affairs in North America, and for several years he was a member of the legislative council of Canada. To compensate him for his losses, the British government made him several grants of lands. He died at the house of his daughter, Mrs. Bowes, at Montreal, in 1830, aged 88 years. His son, Sir Adam Gordon Johnson, succeeded him in his title.

* In that room Mr. Wells was married in 1807, the house then belonging to his mother-in-law. Mr. Wells related to me a fact which illustrates the wonderful progress of Western New York in population and wealth within half a century. About the time of his marriage he went west, with the intention of purchasing a farm in the Genesee country, always so celebrated for its fertility. Among other places, he visited the site of the present large city of Rochester. Then a solitary cabin was there. The land was offered to him for two dollars an acre, but it seemed too wet for his purpose, and he refused to buy. “Had I purchased then,” said Mr. Wells, “it might have made me a millionaire, although such a result is by no means certain, for the original owner of all the land where Utica now stands was a tenant, and his descendants still are tenants, of other proprietors of the soil there.” The prize within the reach of the person to whom he alluded was allowed, through lack of prudence and forecast, to slip through his fingers, and not a rood of all the acres of Utica is now his own. | Sir William is said to have been the father of a hundred children, chiefly by native mothers, who were young squaws, or the wives of Indians who thought it an honor to have them intimate with the distinguished king's agent. He availed himself of a custom which Colden says was then prevalent among the Six Nations. “They carried their hospitality so far as to allow distinguished strangers,” he says, “the choice of a young squaw from among the prettiest in the neighborhood, washed clean and dressed in her best apparel, as a companion during his sojourn with them.” Sir William had two wives, although they were not made so until they had lived long with the baronet. Simms says, on the authority of well-authenticated tradition, that his first wife was a young German girl, who, according to the custom of the times, had been sold to a man named Phillips, living in the Mohawk Valley, to pay her passage money to the captain of the emigrant ship in, which she came to this country. She was a handsome girl, and attracted considerable attention. A neighbor of Sir William, who had heard him express a determination never to marry, asked him why he did not get the pretty German girl for a housekeeper. He replied, “I will.” Not long afterward the neighbor called at Phillips's, and inquired where the High Dutch girl was. Phillips replied, “Johnson, that tamned Irishman, came tother day and offered me five pounds for her, threatening to horsewhip me and steal her if I would not sell her. I thought five pounds petter than a flogging, and took it, and he's got the gal.” She was the mother of Sir John Johnson, and of two daughters, who became the wives respectively of Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus.* When she was upon her death-bed, Sir William was married to her in order to legitimate her children. After her death her place was supplied by Molly Brant, sister of the Mohawk sachem, by whom he had several children. Toward the close of his life, Sir William married her in order to legitimate her children also, and her descendants are now some of the most respectable people in Upper Canada. Sir William's first interview and acquaintance with her, as related by Mr. Stone (Note, Life of Brant, i., 387), have considerable romance. She was a very sprightly and beautiful girl, about sixteen, when he first saw her at a militia muster. One of the field officers, riding upon a fine horse, came near her, and, “by way of banter, she asked permission to mount behind. Not supposing she could perform the exploit, he said she might. At the word, she leaped upon the crupper with the agility of a gazelle. The horse sprang off at full speed, and, clinging to the officer, her blanket flying and her dark hair streaming in the wind, she flew about the parade-ground as swift as an arrow. The baronet, who was a witness of the spectacle, admiring the spirit of the young squaw, and becoming enamored of her person, took her home as his wife.” According to Indian customs, this act made her really his wife, and in all her relations of wife and mother she was very exemplary.

[graphic]

Only Baronial Hall in the United States. Sir William Johnson and his wives. The Dutch Girl. Molly Brant.

paper hangings upon it have been there that length of time, and are doubtless the same that were first put upon the wall by the baronet. Every thing of the kind is well preserved, and the visitor is gratified by a view, in its original aspect, of the only baronial hall in the Inited States.

Here Sir William lived in all the elegance and comparative power of an English baron of the Middle Ages. He had many servants and retainers, “wives and concubines, sons and daughters of different colors.” His hall was his castle, and around it, beyond the wings, a heavy stone breast-work, about twelve feet high, was thrown up. Invested with the power and influence of an Indian agent of his government in its transactions with the confederated Six Nations, possessed of a fine person and dignity of manners, and of a certain style of oratory that pleased the Indians, he acquired an ascendency over the tribes never before held by a white man. When, in 1760, General Amherst embarked at Oswego on his expedition to Canada, Sir William brought to him, at that place, one thousand Indian warriors of the Six Nations, which was the largest number that had ever been seen in arms at one time in the cause of England. He made confidants of many of the chiefs, and to them he

* These two daughters, who were left by their dying mother to the care of a friend, were educated almost in solitude. That friend was the widow of an officer who was killed in battle, and, retiring from the world, devoted her whole time to the care of these children. They were carefully instructed in religious duties, and in various kinds of needle-work, but were themselves kept entirely from society. At the age of sixteen they had never seen a lady, except their mother and her friend, or a gentleman, except Sir William, who visited their room daily. Their dress was not conformed to the fashions, but always consisted of wrappers of finest chintz over green silk petticoats. Their hair, which was long and beautiful, was tied behind with a simple band of ribbon. After their marriage they soon acquired the habits of society, and made excellent wives.

« PreviousContinue »