Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet

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Sir William Johnson

Also Known As: "Warraghieyagey"
Birthplace: County Meath, Ireland
Death: July 11, 1774 (58)
Johnson Hall, Johnstown, Fulton County, New York, United States (Stroke)
Place of Burial: Johnstown, Fulton County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Christopher Johnson, Esquire and Anne Warren
Partner of Elizabeth Brant; Caroline Peters; Catharine Mary Weisenberg and Konwatsiasiaienni (Molly)
Father of Kaghneghtago Brant Johnson; Thomas Brant; Christian Brant; Caroline Johnson; William Of Canajoharie Johnson and 14 others
Brother of Anne Johnson; Peter Johnson; John Johnson; Katherine Johnson and Bridget Johnson

Occupation: Sachem, Fur Trader, Major-General, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs (northern district)
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet

William Johnson was born to Christopher Johnson - son of William MacShane and great, great grandson of Sir Turlough mac Henry Ó Néill - in County Meath, Ireland in 1715. The family was originally the O'Neills of the Fews in Armagh and thus a branch of the Uí Néill, but had been dispossessed by the Irish Confederate Wars and the Williamite war in Ireland. William's father was originally known as William MacShane (Ó Néill) but changed his name to the English version of MacShane: Johnson.

William Johnson is thought to have originally planned a mercantile or legal career, but in 1737 he emigrated to America to manage and settle a large tract of land granted to his uncle, Admiral Sir Peter Warren. This area was known as Warrensburg.[2] On June 30, 1739 Johnson bought a tract of land in New York in his own name, 1/4 mile long and one mile (1.6 km) deep for £180 on the north side of the Mohawk River, a house and small farm. Later he built a stone mansion which he referred to as 'Mount Johnson'.[3] After the outbreak of the French and Indian War, 'Mount Johnson' became known as 'Fort Johnson', a defence post to which Johnson added two blockhouses by the 1750s.[4]

The Mohawks, the local Indians, were the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois. When Johnson arrived, their population had collapsed to only 580.[citation needed] He learned from and lived with them; they adopted him and made him an honorary sachem (civil chief) around 1742. Eventually, he became a trader. He supplied traders with goods who were going to Fort Oswego and he bought furs from them when they returned downriver.[citation needed] He dealt directly with New York City merchants and cut out the previous middlemen at Albany.

In 1744 the British and French went to war (King George's War). In November, 1745 a force of 600 French and Indians destroyed Saratoga and took one hundred prisoners. In 1746, Johnson was appointed "Colonel of the Warriors of the Six Nations" to enlist and equip as many whites and Indians for a campaign against the French. The Iroquois had maintained a policy of neutrality in this war until Johnson's appointment. They then decided to enter the war in a limited manner on the side of the British. Johnson organized small Iroquois raiding parties which engaged in "scalping & burning them & their settlements." Johnson paid bounties for scalps, although he was aware this would result in the scalping of non-combatants of all ages and both sexes. He set the bounty for children at half the rate of adults. In June, 1748 Johnson was made "Colonel of the New York levies", a position that gave him additional responsibility for the colonial militias at Albany. In July, 1748 word was received of a peace settlement.

In 1750 he was appointed to the Province of New York Governor's Council. In 1751, at his Uncle Peter Warren's urging and because his bills had not been paid, he resigned as Indian commissioner. Warren died in July, 1752. In his will, he left nothing to Johnson. In addition he required that Johnson was to repay debts incurred while managing Warren's estates.

Some of Sir William Johnson's descendants argue that William truly endorsed the bounty and scalping of children, and that he was not a slave holder. According to Sir William Johnson's "Last Will and Testament", however, he referred to "slaves and servants" and provided for his children and Molly Brant to inherit his slaves and servants.[5]

In addition, Fintan O'Toole and other historians have documented Johnson's slave holding.

In April, 1755 Commander-in-chief General Braddock appointed Johnson Superintendent of Indian Affairs and also commissioned Johnson a major general in the provincial army. Braddock tasked him to lead militia forces against Crown Point. In September, his expedition defeated Baron Dieskau at the Battle of Lake George. Johnson captured the wounded Dieskau. Johnson was wounded in the hip by a ball which was to remain in his hip for the rest of his life.[7]

In October, he built Fort William Henry. In 1755, he re-established the Covenant Chain with the Iroquois. In December Johnson resigned his commission as Major General. Governor William Shirley recommended that he be removed from his position as superintendent of the Indians.

In November, King George in recognition of the victory at Lake George awarded Johnson £5,000 and made him a baronet. In January, 1756 the British government replaced Shirley as commander-in-chief. At the same time, it made Johnson sole Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies and had him report directly to the government in London. This gave him great influence and power in the colonies. His principal deputies in work with the Indians were his nephew Guy Johnson, George Croghan, and Daniel Claus.[8]

In August 1757, when the French started their siege of Fort William Henry, Johnson arrived at Fort Edward with 180 Indians and 1,500 militia. When General Daniel Webb overestimated the size of the French force, he did not send a relief force from Fort Edward and Fort William Henry surrendered. In 1758, Johnson was part of General Abercrombie's failed attempt at the Battle of Carillon to take Fort Ticonderoga.

In the summer of 1759, Johnson led a Six Nations and militia force as part of General John Prideaux's Battle of Fort Niagara. When Prideaux was killed, Johnson took command of the force and captured the fort. The conquest of Niagara drove the French line back from the Great Lakes. Sir Johnson was given the credit for bringing security to the area.[9] He accompanied General Amherst at the capture of Montreal in 1760.

After the war, King George rewarded Johnson with the grant of an additional tract of 100,000 acres (400 km²) north of the Mohawk River. As a reward for his services, Johnson was granted additional tracts of land in what are now Hamilton and Fulton counties.

In 1762, Johnson founded the city of Johnstown about 25 miles (40 km) west of Schenectady, New York on the Mohawk River. He named the new settlement, originally called John's Town, after his son John. There he established a free school for both English and Indian children.[10]

Outside the town in 1763 he built Johnson Hall, where he lived until his death. He recruited numerous Irish immigrant tenant farmers for his extensive lands and created almost a feudal manor. Slaves did most of the work on his estate. While embracing friendships and political alliances with the local Mohawks, Sir William Johnson owned many slaves. He became one of the largest slave owners in Northern New York State. “His own farming was done by ten of fifteen slaves under an overseer named Flood.” [11] Although free blacks also lived in the area, Johnson was an 'enthusiastic slaveholder'.[12]

He was a proponent of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forbade colonists west of the Appalachian Mountains. Johnson negotiated the details of the boundary defined in the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768. Against instructions from London, Johnson pushed the boundary 400 miles (640 km) to the west to provide for English settlement.

In 1764 at the end of Pontiac's War, Johnson, "by virtue of the powers and authority to him given by his Majesty" the king of England, signed a friendship and peace treaty with four delegates representing the Hurons of Detroit.[13] Pontiac's War strengthened the position of Johnson because a policy of compromise was required with the Indians, and this was Johnson's domain.

In 1766, Johnson formed a Freemason lodge at Johnson Hall and acted as the master. Sir William Johnson took the past master’s degree in 1766. Soon after he designated a lodge room at Johnson Hall. St. Patrick’s Lodge, No. 4 was granted from the Provincial Grand Master of New York, dated May 23, 1766 with Sir William Johnson as master.[14]

In 1771 Johnson built St. John’s Episcopal Church but complained that it was “small and very ill built”. Within five years, he arranged for a larger church of stone to be erected to accommodate the growing congregation in Johnstown.[15]

In 1772, Johnstown became the county seat of Tryon County. Johnson convinced William Tryon, the British Governor of New York, to separate the western portion of the state from Albany County. Johnstown and the surrounding area were defined as a separate county named for Governor Tryon.[10] That same year Johnson built a county courthouse and jail in Johnstown. These are still in use. He had the bricks imported from England, transported from New York to Albany by boat, then carried northwest by wagon.[16]

In September, 1773 a party of 425 people, led by the McDonnells, left the west of Scotland to become tenants on Johnson's large estate.

Having begun as an Indian trader, Johnson soon became one of New York's most prosperous and influential citizens. His business interests came to include various enterprises, including a lumber business and a flour mill. In acknowledgment of Johnson's successful business endeavours, the local Native American inhabitants dubbed him Warragghivagey, or "he who does much business."[17] Johnson's businesses, especially his lumber operations, benefited from the use of enslaved workers (slavery was still legal in New York State.) As the largest slaveholder in the county and perhaps in the state, Johnson had some sixty slaves working for him.[18] By the time of his death, Johnson had accumulated 170,000 acres (690 km2) and was the second largest land owner in British North America. He was surpassed only by the Penn family in the mid-Atlantic region.

Entertainment at “The Hall” included traditional 'Sport Days' in which local residents gathered on the Johnson’s manor to compete in sports such as boxing and foot racing. Other games included horse races with riders facing backwards, and competitors' climbing a greased pole and singing the worst song.

William Johnson died from a stroke at his home in Johnstown on July 11, 1774 during an Indian conference. Guy Johnson reported Johnson died when he was "seized of a suffocation".

His funeral was attended by 2,000 people. His coffin was carried by William Franklin, Governor of New Jersey, and the justices of the supreme court. He was buried beneath the altar in St. John's Anglican church, the church he founded in Johnstown. The next day the chiefs of the Six Nations performed their own memorial service.

His role as Superintendent of Indian Affairs was taken over by his nephew (and son-in-law) Guy Johnson.

During the American Revolution, the rebel New York legislature seized all of Johnson's lands and property, as his heirs were Loyalists. His manor house, Johnson Hall, was subsequently purchased by Silas Talbot, who commanded USS Constitution, or "Old Ironsides".

Many of these relationships were maintained concurrently.

In June 1739, William began a relationship with Catherine Weisenberg (1723 – April, 1759), an immigrant of German Palatine descent. She originally came to America as an indentured servant, but had run away, apparently with the help of relatives. She became a servant to a family called Phillips. William purchased her contract, and the couple had three children before her death. Their son John Johnson inherited his father's title and estates.[21]

Before Catherine's death, Johnson had already begun a similar unmarried relationship with Elizabeth Brant, a Mohawk woman by whom he had three children: Keghneghtago or Brant, born in 1742; Thomas (1744) and Christian (1745); the latter two boys died in infancy.

About 1750, Johnson had a son named Tagawirunta or William by a Mohawk woman, possibly Elizabeth Brant's younger sister Margaret.

He had three children with Caroline Peters, niece of the Mohawk chief known as King Hendrick. Their son was "William of Canajoharie" and each of their two daughters married British army officers.

In 1759, Johnson began a common-law relationship with Molly Brant, who moved into Johnson Hall. They had eight children together and many years together. She was the sister of Joseph Brant and brought him to live with her and Johnson when he was young. Johnson’s last will and testament acknowledged “Mary” (Molly) Brant (calling her his housekeeper) and named their natural children: Peter, Elizabeth, Magdalene, Margaret, George, Mary, Susannah, and Anne. Brant and William also received inheritances.[22]

Johnson was also known to have been intimate with the sisters Susannah and Elizabeth Wormwood (daughters of Henry Wormwood), an Irish woman called Mary McGrath (by whom he appeared to have had a daughter Mary), and several other Mohawk women.

Because of his personal relationships among Native Americans, and his ability to learn their language and culture, Johnson had enormous influence in the New York colony. He commanded a wide web of alliances and brought the Iroquois to work with the British.

In 1960 his manor house Johnson Hall in Johnstown, New York was named a National Historic Landmark. It is a designated New York State Historic site and open to the public.


ID: I28511

Name: William JOHNSON

Prefix: Sir

Suffix: , 1st Baronet

Sex: M

Change Date: 3 Sep 2004

Note: Of New York. Superintendant of Indian Affairs.

Birth: 1715 in Ireland

Death: 11 JUL 1774 in New York

Father: Christopher JOHNSON

Mother: Anne WARREN

Marriage 1 Spouse Unknown


William JOHNSON b: ABT 1745

Marriage 2 Molly BRANT b: 1736 in Canajoharie, New York


Peter Warren JOHNSON b: SEP 1759
Elizabeth Brant JOHNSON b: ABT 1761
Magdalene JOHNSON b: ABT 1763 in Montgomery, New York
Margaret JOHNSON b: 1765
George Jacob JOHNSON b: BET 1758 AND 1767
Mary JOHNSON b: ABT 1769
Susannah JOHNSON b: ABT 1771
Anne JOHNSON b: 14 FEB 1773
view all 24

Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet's Timeline

July 23, 1715
County Meath, Ireland
Age 24
November 5, 1741
Age 26
Johnstown, Tyron, New York, United States
Age 26
New York, United States
Age 26
Age 28
Age 28
Age 29
Age 34
Meath, Smith-Town, Ireland