Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet

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Sir John Johnson
Sir John Johnson 1792.jpg
Sir John Johnson in 1792
Superintendent General of Indian Affairs
In office
March 14, 1782 – January 4, 1830
Preceded byGuy Johnson
Succeeded byDuncan Campbell Napier
Personal details
John Wysen Bergh

(1741-11-05)5 November 1741
Amsterdam, New York
Died4 January 1830(1830-01-04) (aged 88)
Montreal, Canada
Clarissa Putman

Mary Nicoll Watts
(m. 1773; died 1815)
Parent(s)William Johnson, Bt
Catherine Weissenberg
RelativesSir William Johnson, 4th Baronet (grandson)
EducationThe Academy and College of Philadelphia
Military service
AllegianceGreat Britain
Branch/serviceKing's Royal Regiment of New York
RankBrigadier general
Battles/warsRevolutionary War

Brigadier General Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet (5 November 1741 – 4 January 1830) was an American-born military officer, magistrate, landowner and colonial official in the British Indian Department who fought as a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War. He was the son of Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet, who was the first British Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

He inherited his father's baronetcy and estate in 1774. Sir John moved to Canada during the American Revolutionary War with his family and allies, as he was at risk of arrest by Patriot authorities. During the war, he led the King's Royal Regiment of New York and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1782. That year Sir John Johnson was also appointed as Superintendent General and Inspector General of Indian affairs, a position he filled until his death in 1830. After the war, he was appointed by the Crown to distribute lands in Upper Canada to exiled Loyalists, and estimated he helped resettle nearly 3800 in 1784. He also served in the Legislative Council of Lower Canada.

Early life[edit]

Johnson was born near Amsterdam, New York on 5 November 1741. He was the only son of Colonel Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet, and his common-law wife, Catherine Weissenberg, a Palatine German immigrant. As his parents never married, he was baptized John Wysen Bergh by Rev. Henry Barclay February 7, 1741/2 as an Anglican in the chapel at Fort Hunter.[a] His father was a military commander during the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War) who had promoted the British settlement of the Mohawk Valley and trading with the Mohawk, and founded the community of Johnstown in Tryon County in the Province of New York.[1]

His paternal grandparents were Christopher Johnson and Lady Anne Warren, sister of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Warren (who married his eventual wife's aunt, Susannah Delancey, a daughter of Stephen Delancey), descendants of King William the Conqueror.[1]

From 1757 until 1760, John studied sporadically at The Academy and College of Philadelphia. From 13 years of age, he accompanied his father on military expeditions and conferences with the Indians.[2]


In 1771, Johnson became the last Provincial Grand Master of Masons in the colonies of Province of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.[3] At his father's death in 1774, Johnson became a wealthy landowner and succeeded to his father's title of baronetcy, along with his extensive estates and 20 slaves.[4][5] In 1775, he was appointed doorkeeper of the New York General Assembly.

American Revolution[edit]

In January 1776, nine months after the outbreak of the American Revolution, Johnson gathered several hundred armed supporters at Johnstown. He sent a letter to Governor William Tryon, through Captain John McDonell, saying that he and his Loyalist neighbors had conferred about raising a battalion for the British cause. He also said he could raise 500 Indian warriors who, when used with his regular troops, could retake all of the forts captured by the rebels.

On January 20, 1776, Major General Philip Schuyler, with a force of Continental troops and the Tryon County militia numbering around 3,000, disarmed Johnson and about 300 of his Loyalist supporters; Schuyler paroled Johnson. Hearing in May 1776 of another force being sent to arrest him, Johnson decided to flee with his family and supporters to Canada. He led about 170 of his tenants and allies among the Iroquois Confederacy to Montreal, Quebec. Sir John's loyalty to King George III cost him his home in Johnstown and extensive property in the Mohawk Valley, all of which was confiscated after the war by the State of New York.[6]

Johnson and his followers formed the core of the British military regiment known as the King's Royal Regiment of New York, which had substantial action against the New York colonials under his command throughout the revolutionary war. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general on the American Establishment in 1782.

On March 14, 1782, he received the appointment of Superintendent General and Inspector General of Indian affairs from Sir Frederick Haldimand, due to the dismissal of his cousin Guy Johnson.[7][8] In 1781, General MacLean reported that Guy Johnson's wartime accounts were "Extravagant, wonderful & fictitious, and the quality of articles so extraordinary, new & uncommon". Guy Johnson was suspended as superintendent and summoned to Montreal, where Haldimand criticized his conduct as "reprehensible". Guy Johnson was disgraced and departed for London to defend his reports to the government, but met with no success. Sir John took over Fort Niagara as superintendent of Indian affairs in his cousin's absence, later to be appointed in full. The authority of the position extended over all northern First Nations allied with the Crown, including four of the Iroquois League nations, most of whom had relocated to Canada after having been allies of the British during the revolution.[9]

Post-war Years[edit]

John Johnson's Manor House in Williamstown, Ontario

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, establishing the independence of the American Colonies. Johnson and thousands of other Loyalists were in permanent exile in Canada. The British had transported some Loyalists from New York and New England for resettlement to Nova Scotia, including more than 3,000 Black Loyalists: African-American slaves whom they had freed as promised for their service during the war.

In 1784, Haldimand appointed Johnson to distribute Crown lands (purchased from First Nations) along the St. Lawrence River and the north shore of Lake Ontario (what became known as Upper Canada) to Loyalists who had come to Canada, as some compensation for their losses in the colonies. The government wanted to encourage development of this part of Canada, as it was lightly settled. The exiles faced severe conditions in the early years, as they struggled to create settlements out of frontier lands, and the British were not able to get adequate supplies to them on time. Johnson estimated that he had arranged the settlement of 3,776 Loyalists during the first years. From 1787 to 1788 he worked with his subordinate at the Indian Department Colonel John Butler on the Johnson-Butler Purchase in acquiring more land east of the Toronto Purchase.

In 1791, Lord Dorchester recommended Johnson as lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, but London turned this recommendation down.

In 1796, Johnson moved back to Montreal, then the seat of government, where he served in the Legislative Council of Lower Canada and as head of the Department of Indian Affairs for Lower Canada. He owned land in both Upper and Lower Canada, including the seigneuries of Monnoir and Argenteuil in Quebec.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Lady Mary Johnson, copied by Henderson, of Montreal, from a family painting

From 1765 to 1773, Johnson took as a common-law wife, fifteen year old Clarissa Putman (1751–1833) of Tribes Hill, New York, daughter of Arent V. Putman and Elizabeth Peek, of Dutch and Mohawk ancestry.[11] Before their relationship ended he married Mary Nicoll Watts. John and Clarissa were the parents of a daughter and a son:[12]

  • Margaret Johnson (1765–c. 1830), who married James Van Horne, the son of Sheriff Abraham Van Horne, in 1791.[12]
  • William Johnson (1770–1836), who was taken to Canada by Johnson where he was educated and became the lock master at The Cascades in Lower Canada.[12]

On June 30, 1773, Johnson married Mary Nicoll "Polly" Watts (1751–1815), a daughter of Hon. John Watts, President of the King's Council, of New York. After he escaped to Canada in May 1776 at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Lady Johnson was detained that year by the Whigs of New York as a hostage for the good conduct of her husband. After she was freed to join Sir John in Canada, the couple lived in Montreal during the winter and spent the summers on their seigneurie at Argenteuil, Ottawa on the Ottawa River. The couple also visited in England. Together, Mary and Sir John had ten sons, eight of whom served in the British army and navy, and eight daughters, including:[13]

Their last surviving child, an unmarried daughter, died in London on 1 January 1868.

Lady Johnson died in Montreal on August 7, 1815.[2] Sir John died, at the age of 88, in Montreal, while still Superintendent of Indian Affairs, on January 4, 1830. Both are buried in a vault at Mount Johnson, near Chambly, Quebec.[16]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Vault Sir John Johnson,
Mount Johnson, 1885


  1. ^ As his parents never married, he could not have legally become the second Baronet. However, as he had been Knighted he was Sir John Johnson in his own right. In 2013, it was brought to the attention of the Ministry of Justice at the House of Lords in London by a 5 x great grand daughter of Catherine Weissenberg.[citation needed]
  1. ^ a b Browning, Charles Henry (1883). Americans of Royal Descent. Philadelphia: Porter & Costes. p. 16. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  2. ^ a b "John JOHNSON (1741-1830)"
  3. ^ The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of New York: The History of the Grand Lodge of New York, New York Masonic Library.
  4. ^ Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, page 37
  5. ^ The Life and Times of Sir William Johnson, Bart, Volume 2, Page 512
  6. ^ The Mohawk Valley During the Revolution, by Harold Frederic, 1877.
  7. ^ "White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America", Fintan O'Toole, 2005.
  8. ^ "Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2016.
  9. ^ Sir John Johnson at Montreal and Niagara, Haldimand Collection.
  10. ^ Bryan, William (August 1874). "Sir John Johnson". American Historical Record. 3 (32): 340–344. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  11. ^ Gorgen, Paul F. (2017). "Ladies of the Valley: Molly Brant, Clarissa Putman and other women with Rona'sharón:nih (European) Partners". Iroquoia. 3: 7–40. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  12. ^ a b c Vrooman, John J. (1950). Clarissa Putman of Tribes Hill: A Romantic History of Sir William Johnson, His Family and Mohawk Valley Neighbors Through the Flaming Years 1767-1780. Baronet Litho Company. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Debrett, John (1839). The Baronetage of England; With Alphabetical Lists of Such Baronetcies as Have Merged In The Peerage, Or Have Become Extinct. And Also of The Existing Baronets of Nova Scotia and Ireland. Seventh Edition: Including The New Baronets Created at Her Majesty's Coronation in 1839, With The Arms Complete, From Drawings by Harvey. London: J. G. & F. Rivington. p. 176. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  14. ^ a b c Burke, J. Bernard (1854). Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. London, p. 558.
  15. ^ a b c Burke, J. Bernard (1854). Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. London, p. 559.
  16. ^ Morgan, Henry James (ed.). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto.
  17. ^ Sir John Johnson House. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada.
  18. ^ Sir John Johnson House National Historic Site of Canada. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada.
  19. ^ Sir John Johnson House. Canadian Register of Historic Places.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Superintendent of Indian Affairs
Succeeded by
Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by Baronet
(of New York)
Succeeded by
Adam Gordon Johnson