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Guest Contributors...        Jerry L. Patterson


Following in the Footsteps of

William Johnson and the Mohawks

Johnstown to Lake George
to Kanatsiohareke

By Jerry L. Patterson


Memorial to Sir William Johnson at Johnstown, New York


One of the joys of reading history is getting the opportunity to walk historic ground. 

I have walked in the footsteps of William Johnson and the Mohawks and I would like to share some of these experiences with you in this narrative.

The focus of the narrative is Johnson’s and the Mohawk’s participation in the Battle of Lake George in August of 1755.   I was fortunate to have explored this battlefield in August of 2000 with Jim Millard, the creator of this Web Site, as my guide.

Historical summaries will be presented to support the discussion of my battlefield tour and to amplify my descriptions of trips to Johnson’s home in Johnstown, New York, and to the Mohawk’s new village recently established at Kanatsiohareke in the Mohawk Valley near Fonda, New York.

I have long been interested in William Johnson and his life and times.  Here was a man who truly lived in two worlds  -- the colonial world of 18th century New York, and as Warraghiyagey, Mohawk Warrior.  My hope in writing this narrative is to stimulate you to visit the Historic Lakes region and, perhaps, to make your visit a little more interesting.

The narrative concludes with a selected bibliography for those readers interested in pursuing the subject in greater detail.

Historical Background

In 1604 Champlain sailed down the St. Lawrence River and became the father of New France.  Other French explorers followed and built the great French empire of New France, which extended through all of what is now Canada, through the old Northwest or, in that time, called the Ohio Country  -- the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.  French explorers like La Salle sailed down the Mississippi and founded New Orleans.

For about 150 years, the French continued to explore, trade with the many Indian tribes who inhabited this vast land and convert them to Christianity.

In forming their trading alliances with the Indians, sending their own trappers into the ever westward extending wilderness, and claiming land, the French established a huge lead on the English and it wasn’t until the early 18th century that the English colonists, seeking more land, began to look for pathways to the West out of their narrowly confined land base along the Eastern Seaboard east of the Allegheny Mountains.

But by that time, the French had gained a stranglehold on the major waterway/transportation routes into the interior of the continent.  Their fortress city of Louisbourg in the northeastern corner of what is now Nova Scotia controlled the entrance to the St. Lawrence River.  Quebec City was the guardian of the St. Lawrence and enabled the French to trade freely with the Indians at Montreal.

In addition to Fort St. Frederic (Crown Point) and Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) guarding the Lake George/Lake Champlain/Richelieu River eastern gateway to New France in the North, Fort Frontenac controlled access to the Great Lakes from the eastern end of Lake Ontario, Fort Niagara guarded the Niagara River waterway between Lakes Ontario and Erie, and Fort Duquesne, at the junction of the Susquehanna and Allegheny Rivers, protected New France’s major water route to the West – the Ohio River.

Further west, the French fort at Detroit closed the entrance to Lake Huron, and Michillimacinac guarded the point where Lake Huron is joined by Lakes Michigan and Superior.

This was the situation as we come to the beginning of the 18th century:  The French controlled the North American continent except for the 13 English colonies stretching along the Eastern Seaboard from Massachusetts to Georgia.   

The conflicting interests of the French, interested mainly in fur trapping and saving souls to Christianity, and the land-hungry English settlers were the major causes of three wars fought between the English and French between 1690 and 1748.

The Iroquois Confederacy (Mohawks, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga and Seneca with the Tuscarora coming in later as an adopted nation after total defeat in battle) controlled a huge land area in the 1600s, the peak of their strength, that was, essentially, in between the two colonial empires.  It extended from the Mohawk River Valley west to what is now Wisconsin, north into New France (now Canada) and south as far as the Carolinas.

The Iroquois became totally dependent on trade with the English and French in the late 17th century.  Their land base began shrinking at this time as the land demands of more and more English and Dutch settlers increased.  William Johnson, the subject of this narrative, was always fair in his land dealings with the Indians, but not so most of the other English and Dutch settlers.  Much land was lost through phony deals and traded away for supplies and rum as the Indians’ hunting grounds-- the Indians’ main resource for trading for what they needed from the white man -- decreased. 

But it was because of the two European powers that the Iroquois were able to hold onto their land for a longer duration than were the western tribes later on.  They were extremely adept in their role of power broker, playing off the English against the French to achieve their objective of securing the best trade deals.  By the time of white contact with the western tribes, it was just the Americans who held all the cards (with all the aces up their sleeves).

Iroquois power, especially the Mohawk’s, began to wane, however, during the fourth and most significant war between the English and the French – the French and Indian War, the war in which William Johnson played an important role.

The Mohawks, the easternmost of the six Iroquois Nations, were most affected by the encroaching English and their conflicts with the French.  They began scattering in the early 1740s mainly into Canada but also west and south.  It is ironic that some became “Mission Iroquois” or Catholics joining the descendants of the original Caughnawaga in Canada, the very tribe Johnson and his Mohawk Army would encounter in the Battle of Lake George, the first English win in the French and Indian War.

Please click here to turn to Page II for a brief introduction to William Johnson, a tour of his home in Johnstown, New York and a description of my exploration of the Lake George Battlefield with Jim Millard.

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