SIR JOHN JOHNSON
1741-1830

From: "A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, St. Gabriel Street, Montreal"
By Rev, Robert Campbell, M.A., 1887


Sir John Johnson, baronet, of Johnson Hall, Pryon County, N. Y., finally of  Mount Johnson, County of Rouville, Canada, the third subscriber, who gave twelve pounds for the church building fund, of the St. Gabriel street church, was the son of the famous “Indian Tamer,” Sir William Johnson, “The Tribune of the Six Nations,” as he was called, from his great influence over that league of Indians, during the war between France and Great Britain, for the possession of Canada. By his father’s side, he was descended from the ancient Irish family, the MacSeans, or MacShanes. His mother was a Warren, sister of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, K.B. 

It was under Sir Peter’s auspices that he came to America, in 1784, when he was only 19 years of age. Settling first in New York, he was afterwards sent by his uncle, the Admiral, to take charge of some property which that gentleman had acquired through his wife, in the Mohawk Valley. Young Johnson set himself to learn the language of the Indians who occupied the district, and to master the elements of their character. In this he was eminently successful. The Indians took a liking to him, and he profited by their partiality, and rapidly added to the wealth which he inherited from his uncle, on the Admiral’s decease, by the trade in furs which he carried on. A good anecdote is told of the tact and farreaching skill which he displayed, in dealing with the Indians. When a great chief was on a visit to “Johnson Hall,” Sir William’s residence, his attention was arrested by a beautiful rifle, at which he stood gazing with greedy eyes. The chief said nothing at the time, but he came back the next day, and related to Johnson how he had dreamt that while he was visiting at, the castle, the grand “pale face” had made him a present of the beautiful gun that stood in the hail. Sir William took the hint, and the redskin went away happy with the coveted weapon. But all was not over; the “pale face” chuckled with delight, no doubt, while laying a plan to get even with the cunning chief. Sir William, in due time, returned Hendriok’s visit, and while they were smoking the pipe of peace together, he went on to tell that be too had a dream. He dreamt that while he was visiting the Mohawk chief, that great hero had made him a present of a large tract of land, lying contiguous to the Johnson property, naming its dimensions. As the story goes, Hendrick, not to be outdone in generosity, there and then made over the land in question, but significantly added: “me dream no more -'pale face' dream too big.”

When the hostilities between Great Britain and France, which led to the conquest of Canada, broke out, Johnson’s military skill and great influence with the Iroquois stood England in good stead. He was rewarded with a baronetcy and a grant of £5,000, in recognition of the victory he gained over Baron Dieskau, at Lake George, in 1755. But his greatest military achievement was the taking of Fort Niagara, on 25th July, 1759 - a success that contributed not a little to the fall of Montreal in the following year. 

On Sir William Johnson’s death, in 1774, he was succeeded in both the baronetcy and in influence with the Indians, by his son, Sir John Johnson, who inherited his father’s military instincts and insight into character. He took sides with the mother country, when the colonies revolted, raised two battalions in Canada, and with his large Indian following, was able to inflict serious injuries upon the revolutionary forces. It was Sir John that commanded the British loyalists and Indians at Oriskany, and in other minor engagements. 

On account of his loyalty he was treated with great injustice by the authorities of the State of New York. They confiscated his land and mansions, as well as the property of the other loyalists of the district, 700 of whom accompanied Sir John to Canada. And one of the most barbarous incidents of that fratricidal war, was the cruel incarceration, for several weeks, of  Lady Johnson, making her suffer on account of the military proceedings of her husband, contrary to all the rules of war. It was he who led the Mohawks from the State of New York to their Canadian possessions on the Grand River, near Brantford, granted them by the British Government. 

At the conclusion of the war, he was made Superintendent General and Inspector General of Indian affairs, with Montreal as his head-quarters. He erected a country house, “St. Mary’s,” at Mount Johnson, on the Richelieu. He was made Colonel-in-chief of the six battalions of militia that were enrolled in the eastern townships. Sir John, as Right Worshipful the Past Grand Master of Canada, laid the foundation stone of the General Hospital, with Masonic honours, on 6th June, 1821. 

He had married, in 1773, Mary Watts, daughter of Hon. John Watts, for some time President of the Council of New York. The family occupied Pews No. 83 and 84 from 1804 to 1814. Lady Johnson died at Montreal, on 7th August, 1815, amid the regrets of the entire community, with whom she was a favourite. The following tribute was paid to her memory in the Herald:
 

“Died on Monday, in her 61st year, the lady of  Sir John Johnson, baronet. This amiable and accomplished lady formed, for many years, one of the brightest and most distinguished ornaments of the city. To a mind highly cultivated, were united all those personal graces that exalt and adorn her sex. She was a truly sincere and pious Christian, and an affectionate and tender parent. To her respectable and inconsolable family, her loss will be irretrievable; and her memory will ever be held in esteem and respect by all who were honoured with her acquaintance. Her remains were deposited in the family vault, at Mount Johnson, on Wednesday last.”

Sir John was knighted by King George, in 1765, while his father was yet alive, so that there were two knights in Johnson Hall at the same time; and the patent which perpetuates the baronetcy in the family, contains a clause which gives the title of “Knight” to the eldest son on his attaining his majority,—an extraordinary clause, as knighthood, as a rule, is not hereditary, but is conferred for special services, and terminates with the life of the recipient. He owned the Seigniory of Argenteuil. Sir John took his seat as a member of the Legislative Council of Quebec, 24th January, 1797.

He was chairman of the committee appointed for building the Nelson monument, having  John Richardson and John Ogilvie, among others, for colleagues. 

He died at Montreal, on the 4th January, 1830, and as he was born in 1741, he must have been 89 years of age. His remains were taken across the river by the Indians in canoes, and conveyed to Mount Johnson, where they were interred in the family vault, with all the ceremonies which the Iroquois observe at the burial of their chiefs. 

Sir John had seven sons. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest surviving son, Sir Adam Gordon Johnson, who, dying with-out an heir, was succeeded by the present occupant of the family title, Sir William George Johnson, of  Twickenham, England, son of  John Johnson, of Point Oliver, Montreal, a younger brother of  Sir Gordon’s, who died before the latter.  A niece of  Sir John’s, became Lady Clyde, a granddaughter married Alexander Count Balmain, Russian Commissioner at St. Helena, and others of his descendants made distinguished alliances.


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