Johnson, Sir John

views updated Jun 11 2018

Johnson, Sir John

JOHNSON, SIR JOHN. (1741–1830). Loyalist leader. New York. Born on 5 November 1741 near Amsterdam, New York, Johnson was the son of Sir William Johnson and one of his servants, Catherine Weissenberg. When only thirteen years old, he served under his father's command in the battle at Lake George. He also served later in the expeditions to Niagara and Detroit, attaining the rank of captain of militia. He also accompanied his father on his various conferences with the Indians. After seeing service in Pontiac's War he visited England in 1765, where he was knighted. On the death of his father in 1774, he inherited his baronetcy, nearly two hundred thousand acres of land; his father's residence, Johnson Hall; and his father's post as major general of militia. When news of Bunker Hill sent other prominent Mohawk Valley Loyalists flying north into Canada, Johnson remain behind as his wife, Mary Watts, was expecting a child. He entered into correspondence with Governor Tryon in regard to the possibility of organizing the settlers of the valley for the Loyalist cause. In January 1776 the Continental Congress, having learned that munitions were pouring into Johnson Hall, ordered Gen. Philip Schuyler to stop Johnson's warlike preparations. Johnson had mustered some two hundred Highlanders and, during the winter, had started fortifying Johnson Hall. Schuyler and Johnson initially reached an agreement aimed at avoiding violence under which Johnson consented to disarm his supporters and was placed on parole. In May, learning that he was about to be arrested, Johnson broke parole and fled with a large number of his tenants to Canada. Lady Johnson, again pregnant, was taken to Albany as a hostage.

On reaching Montreal, Johnson was commissioned lieutenant colonel and authorized to raise the body of rangers that became known as the Royal Greens. He participated without personal distinction in St. Leger's expedition but commanded the force that defeated the Patriots at Oriskany on 6 August 1777. In 1778 and 1780 he led successful raids into Tryon County. In the autumn of 1779 he was at Niagara and Oswego, engaged in Indian affairs. In September 1781 he commanded a column that was supposed to advance up Lake Champlain to the Hudson while another advanced from Oswego, but this offensive petered out around Lake George.

Johnson then went to England and returned with a commission as brigadier general and another as successor to his brother-in-law, Guy Johnson, as superintendent of Indian affairs. He held the latter position until his death. Settling in Montreal, Johnson devoted his energies to taking care of Loyalist refugees and championing the claims of Britain's Indian allies. He served on the Legislative Council of Quebec from 1786 to 1791 and of Lower Canada, as it was renamed, from 1796 to 1800, meanwhile rebuilding his personal estate to include more than 130,000 acres. He died in Montreal on 4 January 1830.

SEE ALSO Border Warfare in New York; Johnson, Sir William; Oriskany, New York; St. Leger's Expedition.


Thomas, Earle. Sir John Johnson: Loyalist Baronet. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1986.

                           revised by Michael Bellesiles

Sir John Johnson

views updated May 18 2018

Sir John Johnson

Sir John Johnson (1742-1830), American loyalist leader, engaged in military activities on the New York frontier during the American Revolution and was later a leader of the Tory refugees in Canada.

John Johnson was born in the Mohawk Valley, N.Y., the son of Sir William Johnson, a British colonial official. With his father's backing, John became a captain in the New York militia and fought during Chief Pontiac's rebellion. Sir William's prestige also accounted for John's being knighted during a visit to England in 1765. On his father's death, he inherited the title of baronet, lands estimated as high as 200,000 acres, and significant influence with the surrounding Indians and the British government.

Like his father, Sir John Johnson supported British authority along the frontier. In 1775, at the beginning of the American Revolution, Johnson began gathering ammunition and recruiting supporters. When threatened with force by Gen. Philip Schuyler, Johnson agreed to disarm his men, and when it became apparent that he would soon be arrested, he fled to Canada. He was promptly commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the British provincial forces and began raising a force of loyalist rangers.

Johnson marched with the British officer Barry St. Leger against Ft. Stanwix in 1777. But while St. Leger's men were successfully repulsing an American relief force at Oriskany, Johnson and his rangers were routed by a sortie from within Ft. Stanwix. Later, Johnson participated in Indian affairs and led a series of raids into the Mohawk Valley.

Whatever the limited value of his military activities during the Revolution, Johnson retained his prestige among British officials. Based in Canada, he was commissioned as Indian superintendent in 1782. He was compensated for the loss of his property in New York by grants of land and substantial cash payments. When the Revolution was over, he was given the task of explaining the consequences of the terms of the peace treaty to England's lroquois Indian allies. He also supervised the settlement of loyalist refugees along the St. Lawrence River and remained active in Indian and loyalist matters. His notoriety as a leader of British and Indian raiding parties along the frontier ensured that he would never be allowed to return from Canadian exile to New York. He lived on—relatively wealthy and still influential—in Montreal, dying at the age of 88.

Further Reading

There are numerous studies of Sir William Johnson which illuminate the early life of his son, John; perhaps the best is Arthur Pound and Richard E. Day, Johnson of the Mohawks (1930). For New York border warfare in general and Sir John Johnson's role in it see Howard Swiggett, War out of Niagara: Walter Butler and the Tory Rangers (1933).

Additional Sources

MacLachlan, Alan J., John Johnson (1742-1830), Toronto: Dundurn Press, c1977. □

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