I. Sir William, baronet, a British general and colonial officer, born at Warren-town, county Down, Ireland, in 1715, died near Johnstown, N. Y., July 11, 1774. He was a younger son of Christopher Johnson, an Irish gentleman of good family. Educated to a mercantile life, his career was entirely changed by the refusal of his parents to permit him to marry a lady with whom he had fallen in love. His uncle, Admiral Sir Peter Warren, had married a daughter of Stephen De Lancey of New York, and received with her a large landed estate in that colony, which he increased by purchase, chiefly in the valley of the Mohawk, then a wilderness. Sir Peter offered his nephew the management of his entire property in New York, if he would undertake its improvement and settlement. Johnson accepted the offer, and in 1738 established himself upon a tract of land on the Mohawk, about 24 miles from Schenectady, which Sir Peter had called Warrensbdrgh. In addition to the settling and improving of the country, he embarked in trade with the Indians, whom he always treated with perfect honesty and justice. He would never deal with them when they were under the influence of liquor, nor yield to them anything when he had once refused.
This course, added to his easy but dignified and affable manner, and the intimacy which he cultivated with them, by accommodating himself to their manners, and sometimes even to their dress, soon won for him their entire confidence, so that he acquired an influence over them greater than was ever possessed by any other white man. He became a master of their language, speaking many of their dialects perfectly, and was thoroughly acquainted with their peculiar habits, beliefs, and customs. He was adopted by the Mohawks as one of their own tribe, chosen sachem, and named Wariaghejaghe, or Warraghiaghy, "he who has charge of affairs." Complaints against the Indian commissioners and local quarrels led to their resignation, upon which Gov. Clinton appointed Johnson, already justice of the peace, colonel of the Six Nations. In 1746 he became commissary of New York for Indian affairs, and as such was very active in sending out war parties against the French. In February, 1748, he was placed in command of all the New York colonial troops for the defence of the frontier, and showed ability in organizing and preparing for a campaign. No important operations took place, as peace ■ was soon after made at Aix-la-Chapelle. In April, 1750, he was appointed a member of the provincial council.
The revival of the Albany board of commissioners in 1753 led to a quarrel between the colonists and the Indians, and the council and assembly urged Col. Johnson to effect a reconciliation. The governor having granted him a new commission, July 5, 1753, he proceeded to Onondaga, held a council, and succeeded in settling the difficulty, but declined having anything further to do with Indian affairs. He lived at Fort Johnson, a large stone dwelling which he had erected upon the N. side of the Mohawk, directly opposite War-rensburgh, and which he had fortified in 1743 shortly before the commencement of the war with the French. It is now (1874) standing in good preservation, about three miles west of the present village of Amsterdam. In 1754 he attended as one of the delegates from New York the celebrated congress of Albany, and also the great council held with the Indians on that occasion, at which they strongly urged his reappointment as their superintendent. At the council of Alexandria, April 14, 1755, he was sent for by Braddock and commissioned by him "sole superintendent of the affairs of the Six United Nations, their allies and dependants." He was also, pursuant to the determination of that council, created a major general, and commander-in-chief of the provincial forces destined for the expedition against Crown Point. At the head of these forces, in September, Johnson utterly defeated Baron Dieskau at Lake George. He was wounded in the hip early in the action, but remained on the field of battle.
This victory saved the colony from the ravages of the French, prevented any attack on Oswego, and went far to counteract Braddock's disastrous defeat on the Monongahela. Gen. Johnson received the thanks of parliament for his victory, was voted £5,000, and on Nov. 27,1755, was created a baronet of Great Britain. It was on his arrival at Lake St. Sacrement a few days before this battle that he gave to it the name of Lake George, " not only in honor of his majesty, but to assert his undoubted dominion here." In March, 1756, he received from George II. a commission as "colonel, agent, and sole superintendent of the affairs of the Six Nations, and other northern Indians," with a salary of £600, paid by the mother country. He held this office for the rest of his life. In 1756 and 1757 he was engaged with his Indians in the abortive attempts of the British commanders to relieve Oswego and Fort William Henry; and in 1758 he was present with Abercrombie at the repulse of Ticon-deroga. In Gen. Prideaux's expedition against Fort Niagara in 1759, Sir William Johnson was second in command, and upon the death of Prideaux before that fort succeeded to the command in chief.
He continued the siege with great vigor, routed the French army under Aubry sent to its relief, and then summoned the garrison, which surrendered at discretion. He led the Indian allies the following year in the Canadian expedition of Amherst, and was present at the capitulation of Montreal and the surrender of Canada to the British arms in 1760. The war was now at an end, and the king granted to Sir William for his services a tract of 100,000 acres of land, north of the Mohawk, long known as " Kings-land" or the "Royal Grant." His influence alone prevented the whole Six Nations from joining Pontiac in 1763, though he could not prevent some acts of hostility by the Senecas. In 1764 Sir William erected Johnson hall, a large wooden edifice still standing near the village of Johnstown, a few miles north of Fort Johnson. The village of Johnstown had already been laid out, and the building of stores, an inn, a court house, and an Episcopal church soon followed. Numerous settlers were brought in, the surrounding country was improved, and in three years Johnstown became a thriving village, and in 1772 the shire town of Try on co.
Sir William gave great attention to agriculture, and was the first who introduced sheep and blood horses into the valley of the Mohawk. He lived in the style of an old English baron, and exercised the most unbounded hospitality. He continued active in his duties as head of the Indian department, made the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, and his death resulted from over-exertion at an Indian council. About 1740 he married Catharine Wisenburgh, a German girl, who died young, leaving him a widower with three children, a son, John, knighted in 1765, and two daughters, who married respectively Col. Claus and Col. Guy Johnson. Sir William never married again. He had for some years many mistresses, both Indian and white, by whom it is said that he had 100 children; and one of his earlier ones, also a German, has been the probable cause, from having been confounded with his wife, of the erroneous statement that none of his children were legitimate. Mary, or as she is generally called "Molly" Brant, the sister of Thayendanega or Joseph Brant, the great Mohawk sachem, whom he took to his house, and with whom he lived happily till his death, is by some termed his wife, but they were never legally married.
He had eight children by her, whom he provided for by his will, in which he calls them his natural children. The church in a vault of which he was buried was burned down in 1837; but in 1862 the vault was discovered, and his remains were removed and reinterred. His life has been written by W. L. Stone (2 vols., 1865). II. Sir John, son of the preceding, born in 1742, died in Montreal, Canada, Jan. 4, 1830. He succeeded to his father's title in 1774, and was at the same time appointed a major general in the British service. In the revolutionary war he remained loyal to the crown, and used his influence with the Indians to inflict frequent injuries upon the frontier settlements of New York, in retaliation for the sequestration of his large estates in the Mohawk valley. He was governor of Upper Canada for several years subsequent to 1796.