- Historic Sites
Father To The Six Nations
Only Sir William Johnson, living among them in feudal splendor, won and kept the confidence of the Iroquois.
April 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 3
Two years would see the piano room scored by the hobnails of the insurgent Americans. The Johnson dynasty would be shattered, Sir John and Guy and their dependents in flight to Canada, followed by the Mohawks under Joseph Brant. Sir John was to stand once more in despoiled Johnson Hall in 1780, but this time for a few hours only as a fugitive raider harrying the land where his father lay buried. Appointed colonel of the King’s Royal Regiment, better known as Johnson’s Greens, he swept down the Mohawk Valley from Montreal, turning the region into a smoking waste. The son’s raids, raids which the father could never have countenanced in his beloved valley, have clouded Sir William’s reputation.
Yet, looked at in perspective, Johnson’s and Brant’s valley forays were not the capriciously wanton acts that they seemed afterward to Americans. Like Sheridan’s Civil War raid down the Shenandoah Valley, their primary object—justified so long as war is justified—was to deny the food supplies of this rich valley to the enemy. General John Sullivan’s ravaging of the Seneca country was equally brutal, and equally justified.
That Johnny Johnson did not approach his father’s stature was as clear then as it is now. Yet adversity brought out stout Johnson qualities in him. He devoted himself to helping the impoverished Loyalists in Canada, and later as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for British North America he showed much of his father’s capacity for dealing with the Indians. The Mohawks kept to their family allegiance. They never returned to the valley of their name.
With the peace the Mohawk Valley lay open to the West. Afoot, by flatboat, by covered wagon, the settlers and adventurers and old soldiers and soured New England farmers of the new republic trekked up the valley. At Fort Johnson they might stop for a moment to admire the massive empty stone structure, but its name meant little to them. Sir William Johnson was no concern of theirs. He was part of the past; and to them it was the future that mattered.