Contributors... Jerry L. Patterson
Following in the Footsteps of
William Johnson and the Mohawks
From Johnstown to Lake
George to Kanatsiohareke
By Jerry L. Patterson
I was first introduced to William
Johnson in Allan Eckert’s wonderful book Wilderness
Empire and was fascinated with
the story of this man who emigrated from Ireland to the New York Colony in 1738
with 12 families to settle land belonging to his uncle, Peter Warren, along the
Mohawk River Valley.
It didn’t take him long to seize the abounding
opportunities for trading with the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy.
Different from most of the other Indian Traders, merchant Johnson treated
the Indians honestly and fairly with genuine affection for them and for their
The Iroquois Nations quickly realized that Johnson was a
man to be reckoned with in the white world.
The Mohawks adopted him into their nation and gave him the name
Warraghiyagey – “a man who undertakes great things.” Johnson became their protector, their spokesman and even
their negotiator in deciding the issues of the day in the English Colonial world
and at the great joint councils held between the Iroquois and the English in
Albany, New York.
For his success in winning the Battle of Lake George,
which I will get to in the next section, Johnson was given a commission as
“Colonel, Agent and Sole Superintendent of the Six Nations,” an appointment
that came directly from the Crown. (Flexner,
With this commission Johnson became unique in the
English Colonial World of the 18th century – a very powerful man,
indeed, living in two worlds.
The reader interested in reading more about this
fascinating man is referred to Eckert and Flexner (see Bibliography).
My first trip in Johnson’s footsteps was to his home,
Johnson Hall, near Johnstown, New York, about 30 miles southwest of Saratoga
Carefully and meticulously restored by the New York
State Historical Society, the two-story house sits on a few acres of manicured
grounds. One’s first impression
of the house and grounds is impressive until memory brings back the fact that,
at one time, Johnson owned or controlled hundreds of thousands of acres of land
here and extending westward through the Mohawk Valley.
Hall & Grounds
New York Marker at Johnson Hall
Statue of William Johnson
Walking these grounds, you can picture Johnson hosting
hundreds of Indians on numerous occasions at Johnson Hall. They spoke of war and peace, land dealings and other important matters on
the spacious grounds. Rum flowed freely, the peace pipe was smoked, wampum was
thrown down, as Johnson, in his Indian Regalia, led wild dances that extended
far into the night.
Because Johnson Hall had been referred to as a mansion
in many references, I had pictured it as much larger than it really was.
But the house was no larger, maybe smaller, than the typical 3-bedroom
suburban home in today’s world. Still,
as Flexner points out in his biography of Johnson,
“Across the 15-foot-wide hall through which a horse and cutter could
have been driven, was the White Parlor which seems to have doubled as a dining
room. … (Johnson) shared two back rooms on the ground floor with
Molly (Molly Brant, his wife): one
was their bedroom, the other the nursery. The
four chambers on the second floor were for guests. Throughout were spread Indian souvenirs and animal skins; and
everywhere there were sleeping accommodations . . .”
Johnson Hall’s doors were always open to all – visiting aristocrats
from England, backwoodsmen, business associates and Indians – many a morning
the household awoke to a dozen or more Indians sleeping on the floor.
All guests were treated equally.
Johnson’s agenda for the Iroquois Nations was a
peaceful one and included establishing a land base which would be off limits for
the ever-growing English Settlers.
But even with all his power, he could not remove the
Iroquois to outside the boundaries of the upcoming and final war with the French
– a war that came to be known by the English as the French and Indian War.
Even though the ranks of the Mohawks had been decimated
by earlier colonial wars between the English and French, and even though the
Mohawks had been migrating out of the Mohawk Valley for many years to escape
being caught in the middle of these wars, Johnson’s good friend Hendrick was
still able to recruit 200 Mohawk Warriors for the Battle of Lake George.
William Johnson and the Battle of Lake George
It is not my intent to describe this battle in any great
detail here because excellent and comprehensive descriptions can be found
elsewhere on this Web Site and in the references herein cited (see
What I would like to describe for the interested
historic traveler, however, is my exploration of the battlefield with Jim
Millard, the developer of this Web Site.
It all started on my first visit to the Lake Champlain
and Lake George Historical Site in which Jim asks (referring to the visitors to
the Lake George area):
“Do many of the visitors to this
recreational mecca take the time to go a little further to the East? Past the
recreated fort with its small museum and large dummies of ‘recreated’
soldiers. Past the lovely steamships...across the long filled-in ‘great
morass’ or swamp to the high ground- to the Lake George Battleground park.
“ . . . . For only in this place can one still get the sense of
what the real Lake George was like.
“Here among the trees and the few
monuments can one see the real Lake George. The site of the lesser-known Battle
of Lake George. Lesser-known, but important, nonetheless. The ruins of Fort
George - built later upon the same place. The Jogues Memorial, the statue
commemorating the battles. The scattered graves of unknown soldiers.”
His words really hit home because, yes, I had been there before, but on a
hurried trip I never went beyond the usual tourist attraction of Fort William
Henry. I never saw the “Real Lake
Because I was so impressed with the historic lakes site, I decided to
contact Jim and maybe work something out for connecting with him and getting a
personal tour. I sent him an
article I had written about
City and promised to do another (this one).
He agreed to meet me at Fort William Henry early on a warm Saturday in
August; just about 245 years after the Battle had been fought.
I arrived on Friday night and checked into the King Hendrick Motel, a few
miles south of the lake.
On this sunny morning, with the beautiful south shore of the lake as a
backdrop, Jim and I started by taking the customary tour of Fort William Henry
(which I strongly recommend as an ideal starting place for your own journey over
these historic grounds).
Afterwards, Jim opened a leather bag and pulled out detailed maps of the
battlefield area. Our mutual
objective for the day was to explore each of the three engagements of the
battle: (1) The “Bloody Morning
Scout” by Hendrick and his Mohawk Warriors and Ephraim Williams and his
provincial soldiers (the ambush); (2) the Battle of Lake George itself; and (3)
“Bloody Pond,” the aftermath.
The First Engagement – the “Bloody Morning Scout”
The maps were crucial to my understanding of the French military
objectives and their associated geography.
Dieskau, the French commander, and his forces, mainly Canadian Soldiers
and Caughnawaga Mohawks, traveled south in canoes up the western side of Lake
Champlain to South Bay where they cached their canoes and proceeded south through
the woods towards Fort Edward, the English military supply base which was their
prime target. I came to understand
from this briefing that the Dieskau’s forces actually bypassed Johnson’s
army at the south end of Lake George and were proceeding unmolested towards Fort
Edward, their military objective.
The next morning the Caughnawagas informed Dieskau that they did not want
to attack Fort Edward because of the heavy artillery they would have to face,
preferring Johnson’s relatively unprepared army instead.
Turning back to the north, then, to attack Johnson’s army, Dieskau,
learning from a scout that Johnson had deployed a force to come after him, set
up an ambush hiding his Indians and Canadian forces in the woods on either side
of the road connecting Fort Edward with Lake George.
Even though Hendrick and Ephraim Williams were killed within feet of each
other, the ambush would have been much worse if the Caughnawaga Mohawks had not
warned their Mohawk cousins before the ambush was sprung.
Rushing back to Johnson’s camp, the remnants of Hendrick’s and
William’s forces spread their fear among the men and were all the reason
Johnson and his staff needed to start preparing for the Dieskau attack they knew
Over lunch in a restaurant overlooking the beautiful south end of Lake
George, as we watched the tour boats come and go and the para-sailors, floating
gracefully over the lake like giant butterflies, Jim Millard had reviewed with
me this sequence of events. Afterwards,
we set out to find the ambush site.
I informed Jim that Ephraim Williams’ gravesite was just across the road
from the King Hendrick Motel where I was staying and that became the first
objective of our afternoon exploration.
Sitting in the midst of overgrown grass and marked by a small stone, the
inscriptions on which had all but worn away, Ephraim Williams’ gravesite does
no justice to the brave man whose remains are buried there.
The site is easy to miss and apparently served the purpose of removing the
body from the vicinity of the ambush, thereby preventing its mutilation by the
Indians. Finding and examining the
gravesite motivated Jim, with me following in rapt excitement, to find the spot
where the ambush occurred. We knew
it had to be nearby. Driving south
back towards the village, Jim spotted a monument.
“That’s got to be it,” he said as I pulled over and parked along
the side of the road.
Making our way down the steep slope on the brush-infested path, we came to
the monument and found that it was dedicated to Ephraim Williams and was built
at or close to the spot where he was killed.
We knew we had found the location of the ambush.
We were on the old military road connecting Fort William Henry to Fort
Edward, still there, winding through the dense forests, after all these years.
It was exciting for us to stand on the same ground where history had
happened – sacred ground at that marked by the death of Hendrick and about 30
of his Mohawk warriors and Williams and about 50 of his provincial soldiers.
You can see pictures on this site right now, but be sure to come back here
and let me tell you the rest of the story.
on the thumbnails to see photos of the Williams memorial at the site of
"The Bloody Scout."
So ended our quest and accomplishment of finding the “Bloody Scout”
– the first engagement of the Battle of Lake George.
William Johnson’s role in this first engagement was minor.
It is interesting to me in researching this article that, with one
exception, I could find no criticism of General Johnson’s preparation for this
engagement, i.e. that he was apparently unaware of Dieskau’s movements and
strength. The exception was Robert
Leckie who commented, somewhat sarcastically, in “A Few Acres of Snow:”
“While Johnson lay at his leisure
at Fort William Henry, quaffing ‘French lemon-punch and the best of wine’
awaiting reinforcements the colonies would never send, Dieskau moved to surprise
That he did and, even though he was injured in the second engagement,
Johnson seemed to be more intent on caring for the captured and injured Dieskau
than he was in looking after the status of his Mohawks or grieving for his good
friend Hendrick. (Writer’s
The Second Engagement – the Battle at Lake George
Jim and I spent a leisurely hour walking the well-maintained ground of
Battlefield Park, which is . .
“Past the lovely
steamships...across the long filled-in ‘great morass’ or swamp to the high
ground . . ..”
(From Jim Millard’s open letter on this site to Lake George visitors.)
We started by visiting the statue of Father Isaac Jogues, a French
missionary slain by the Mohawks in 1646 whom they superstitiously blamed for a
crop failure caused by insects. Jogues
gets credit for attaching the first European name to the lake:
Lac du Saint Sacrement (a much prettier name than Johnson’s name
honoring the English King, don’t you think?).
Quite interesting that Johnson is looking north
towards the lake while Hendrick’s attention is focused, somewhat worshipfully,
on his English friend. A huge man
for his times, Hendrick was Johnson’s and the English’s strongest ally among
Hendrick was well versed in the English ways
having been to London twice as a young warrior mingling with royalty and
aristocrats while there. Hendrick’s
Indian garb conflicts with most pictures I have seen of him dressed as a
OK, now let’s get to the topography, both of us agreed.
Let’s find the battle site. Walking
south, we left the manicured grounds and found ourselves on a maintenance road
leading through a picnic table area and towards a cyclone fence separating the
park from the privately owned Lake George Campground.
From the history books, we knew that Johnson’s army had
stood their ground behind a crude barricade of logs, bateaux, and wagons
(Bellico, page 34) with the advantage of cannon fire over the musket-armed-only
French army (Flexner, on page 150, writes that the forest men [Caughnawagas]
off to scalp the casualties of the Bloody Morning Scout.”)
We knew all of this, but could we find the location of the “crude
barricade” and spot from which the cannon boomed?
We also knew that the spot had to be in close proximity to Johnson’s
In the middle of a copse of trees, slightly elevated from the surrounding
ground, covered by thick underbrush, the location revealed itself to us.
After examining it from various angles front, side and top, our
conclusion was that this must have been the spot where the cannon spewed out
grape shots mowing down the onrushing Canadians.
Part of Battlefield Park and in an out-of-the-way area, with little or no
tourist attention, protected somewhat from the weather by the surrounding trees,
after 246 years would the topography have changed to confuse us?
In this case, probably not, we both concluded.
Take a look if and when you visit this historic spot.
Do you agree or disagree? You
can find the spot easy enough. Walk
south in Battlefield Park until you see the picnic tables and the cyclone fence.
Then turn back looking slightly to the northwest.
You should be able to identify it.
In the early stages of this battle, Johnson would have been on top of this
slightly elevated ground running along the lines and encouraging his provincial
soldiers to keep firing at Dieskau’s French army. But he was hit early in the battle and turned his command
over to General Phineas Lyman who commanded the final stages of the English
The Third Engagement – Bloody Pond
This one proved the easiest to find, and, in finding it, Jim thinks he was
able to resolve a discrepancy between two conflicting historical accounts.
This third engagement occurred when colonial reinforcements coming up the
military road from Fort Edward stumbled into the retreating French and Indian
army and slaughtered as many as 200 of them, then threw their bodies into a
nearby pond. Blood from the victims
turned the pond red and it remained that way for weeks; it was known, ever
after, as Bloody Pond.
Bellico, on page 239, writes that this pond is located on the East side of
Route 9. Indeed, about two miles
south of Lake George Village, there is a pond and a marker identifying it as
“Bloody Pond.” Starbuck, on
page 113, writes that this modern pond was created by the town of Lake George
and that the original Bloody Pond was located farther to the east.
We found what appeared to be the actual
pond on our exploration of the old military road.
We believe that Starbuck probably had it
right and Bloody Pond is, indeed, alongside the old military road.
The aftermath of the Battle of Lake George, the first English win in the
seven-year French and Indian War, and their only win in 1755, was a baronet
title for Johnson from the Crown along with a prize of 5,000 pounds from
The reader interested in pursuing a study of the French and Indian War
from this point henceforward is referred to Eckert (see bibliography).
For a broader perspective of the Seven Years War, recognized by modern
as the First World War, and encompassing not only the French and
Indian War in North America, but also the war fought in Europe, the Caribbean,
and the Indian sub-continent, the reader is referred to Crucible of War by Fred Anderson.
My interest in William Johnson led naturally to an
interest in the Iroquois Confederacy and how it fared following the French and
The American Revolution blew the links among the six
nations apart when the Iroquois chose the wrong side, the English, to ally with.
Following the revolution, many of the Iroquois removed themselves to
Canada to escape the revenge-minded Americans; others moved west to the Ohio
country. Today, many Iroquois can
be found in Oklahoma mingling with the many other Indian tribes removed by the
U.S. Government to “Indian Territory.”
But the Iroquois 6 nations have survived a turbulent 250
years and are still with us as the 21st century begins, although not
as the confederacy they once were.
After coming to know William Johnson through my studies
and my visit to the town he founded and his home, I developed an interest in
finding the Mohawks, the tribe that adopted William Johnson.
Most of the Mohawk tribe now lives on the Akwesasne Reservation in upper
New York State and extending into the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
But, interestingly, I did find a Mohawk village
created within the past few years just a few miles from Johnson Hall in
Johnstown, New York.
For the story of my visit to the Mohawk village
of Kanatsiohareke, please click here to go to Page