As the largest single landowner and most influential individual in the settlement and development of the Mohawk Valley, William Johnson’s prestige and leadership extended well beyond that immediate region. His genius in working with the Indians had a lasting impact on their relationship with the English and largely influenced England’s victory in the Anglo-French struggle for control of North America. Though Johnson did not live to participate in the Revolutionary War, he left a legacy which greatly affected the events of that conflict.

Born in Ireland in 1715, William Johnson arrived in America at age twenty-two to oversee the development of his uncle’s lands in the Mohawk Valley. At the same time, he began a prosperous trade with the Mohawk Indians on his own behalf. About 1739 he moved into a home he named Mount Johnson, located near present-day Amsterdam, New York. He and Catherine Weissenberg had three children – Ann, John, and Mary.

In the collections of Johnson Hall State Historic Site. Trade with the Indians flourished, for Johnson was an efficient, diplomatic businessman. More importantly, he adopted, as custom and ceremony dictated, Indian customs and dress when among them, learned the language and dealt fairly in the exchange of both furs and advice. In 17i49 Johnson built Fort Johnson, a stone house still in existence.

During the long years of conflict which culminated in the French and Indian Wars, Johnson rose from the rank of colonel (1745) to major general (1755). His increasing influence with the Indians secured their assistance as powerful military allies. In 1755 with the help of the Mohawks, among them Joseph Brant, Johnson turned back the French at the Battle of Lake George. For his many years of faithful service, the British Crown made Johnson a baronet in 1755. The following year Sir William was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs north of the Ohio River, a position he held until his death.

With the removal of the French threat from the Mohawk Valley, Sir William began plans for a house that would reflect his new position. He contracted with the noted Boston-trained Schenectady carpenter Samuel Fuller on February 24, 1763. A Georgian house of wood made to look like stone, Johnson Hall became the nucleus of a working estate designed to encourage settlement and further Johnson’s control of his lands. Sir William ordered the latest books, acquired fine furnishings, and established formal gardens. A mill, blacksmith shop, Indian store, barns, and other necessary buildings were added, as well as housing for servants. Stone houses flanked the mansion.

For more than a decade Johnson Hall bustled with activity as Sir William’s home and business headquarters. An early visitor to Johnson’s baronial estate wrote, “Off the river about 14 miles back, Sir William Johnson has made a new Settlement and has built a very comfortable house, having a Good Garden and field, all cleared in an Absolute Forest…At this place he is generally crowded with Indians, mostly of the 5 Nations…

Albany, New York As Superintendent, Johnson’s job became increasingly difficult as white settlers pushed westward onto Indian lands. On July 11, 1774, during a tense conference with 600 Indians at Johnson Hall on offenses committed against the Shawnee, Sir William collapsed. He was taken into his bedroom where he died a few hours later. He was fifty-nine years old.

Upon Sir William’s death, Johnson Hall and title of baronetcy passed to his son, John, who planned to continue his father’s policies. The American Revolution radically altered the life of the Johnson family, however. By 1774 the Revolutionary movement had begun to affect the Mohawk Valley. Many residents opposed the aristocratic and conservative establishments Sir John represented. He chose to remain loyal to the Crown and fled to Canada. There he raised the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, known as Johnson’s “Royal Greens,” and participated in raids against the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley.

Johnson Hall was confiscated in 1779 by the State of New York as Loyalist property and subsequently sold at auction. The house remained a private residence until 1906, when New York State acquired it as an historic site.
of Johnson Hall
A Short History of Johnson Hall Historic Site
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Woodcut, Johnson Hall, from Historical Collections of the State of New York, Barber and Howe, 1841
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