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Guest 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


William Johnson

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 ways.

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, page 160).

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 Springs.

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.

Johnson Hall & Grounds
                                                           Historic New York Marker at Johnson Hall         


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, Mohawk Baronet:  “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 bibliography).

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 George.”

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 Quebec 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 was coming.

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. 

Ephraim Williams Burial site- click on the thumbnail to see a full-size photoThe stone under which the body of Ephraim Williams was hidden to prevent its mutilation by indians. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger photo.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.

Click on the thumbnail to see closeup of the monument where Col. Williams fell in battle.Closeup of MemorialMaking 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.

  Col. Ephraim Williams memorial  Col. Ephraim Williams Memorial Click 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 him.” 

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 opinion only.)

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 the Iroquois. 

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 European. 

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] drifted 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 quarters.

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.

Site of the Second engagement? Click on the thumbnail.

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.

Scene of the second engagement? Click on the thumbnail?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 victory.

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 Parliament.

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 historians 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 Indian War. 

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 III.

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