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Thousands attended funeral of Sir William Johnson

Thousands attended funeral of Sir William Johnson

More than 2,000 people gathered in Johnstown for the funeral of Sir William Johnson on July 13, 1774

More than 2,000 people gathered in Johnstown for the funeral of Sir William Johnson on July 13, 1774.

Wanda Burch, vice president of Friends of Johnson Hall and retired site manager of Johnson Hall State Historic Site, wrote that Johnson had spent the day on July 11 hearing grievances from a large group of Native Americans. That evening Johnson collapsed and died from the effects of a long illness.

Johnson came to America in 1738 from Ireland and built alliances between the British colonial government and the native nations. He became Superintendent of Indian Affairs. As a military leader, Johnson won a major battle against the French in 1755 at Lake George.

He constructed a fortified home in Fort Johnson and then a mansion in Johnstown, Johnson Hall. Both buildings are historic sites today.

Johnson and his Mohawk wife, Molly Brant, occupied a combination rear bedroom and study on the first floor of Johnson Hall. Johnson had a door cut directly between the bedroom and a front social room so he could enter the room without going into the hall. Colonials and Indians crowded the hall every day and Johnson would be delayed significantly by his guests if he ventured into the more public space.

Johnson’s will stated, “That ye sachems of both Mohawk villages [Canajoharie and Fort Hunter] be invited to my funeral . . . I leave to the direction of my executors to get such of my friends and acquaintances for bearers as they shall judge most proper.”

Burch wrote that Johnson’s body was carried from his home at Johnson Hall and laid to rest in the family vault under the altar of St. John’s Church Johnstown.

“I left the Hall last evening,” mourner Peter Van Schaack wrote to his brother Henry, “where everything wears the face of sorrow for the irreparable loss of that great and good man, Sir William Johnson, a loss at once to the public, and a numerous train of the indigent and unfortunate, who derived support from his unequalled benevolence and generosity. My jaunt up to Johnstown has given me an opportunity of seeing so many instances of his goodness; the settlement there compared with what it was a few years ago, so abundantly shows his greatness of mind, and the extensiveness of his views, where a little world has, as it were, been formed by his hand, that I own I consider him as THE GREATEST CHARACTER OF THE AGE.”

Burch recently posted a blog on a history website detailing Johnson’s active involvement with St. Patrick’s Masonic Lodge in Johnstown.

Burch wrote, “St. Patrick’s Lodge held its first meeting at Johnson Hall on August 23, 1766, with Sir William as Charter Master, his nephew Guy Johnson as Senior Warden, Daniel Claus as Junior Warden and John Butler as Secretary.”

Many members of St. Patrick’s and the Union Lodge in Albany attended Johnson’s funeral. Johnson’s will provided that several Masonic brothers — John Butler, Jelles Fonda, John Dease, James Stevenson, Henry Frey and Joseph Chew — act as guardians of Johnson’s eight children by Molly Brant.

Drun corps remembered

Amsterdam native John Donlon has provided new information on drum and bugle corps in Amsterdam. Donlon said the premier corps between the world wars were those of the James T. Bergen and John J. Wyszomirski American Legion posts. Most members were veterans of World War I who learned to march in the Army.

Donlon left Amsterdam in 1945 for the U.S. Naval Academy and a career as a nuclear submarine commander. His father was Hugh P. Donlon, longtime reporter and columnist for the Recorder, who wrote a history of Amsterdam, “Annals of a Mill Town,” in 1980.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or

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