Sir William Johnson, Indian Superintendent: Colonial …

The Role of Sir William Johnson In the Colonial Development of America and His Involvement in the Expansionist Policies of the British Imperial Government.

AS THE TITLE STATES, this essay will look closely at Johnson’s role in the colonial development of America, and particularly the key concern over westward expansion. This became fundamentally linked with the differing views the British government and the colonial authorities held, over how this expansion should be managed, and in particular the financial cost of such a policy. This led, inexorably it seems, to the wider issues that then escalated into the Revolution and the fight for independence. Although Johnson died before the Revolution actually started, he was a key participant in the events that led up to this break with Britain, and as such the motives and actions of this man can give a picture of how the colonies and Britain viewed the future of America.

This essay will look briefly at his early life in America, and then in more detail at the military and political career of Johnson, and particularly his involvement with the Indians, in his capacity as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, which was central to the British concerns over colonial expansion, and how that was to be managed. The military career of Johnson naturally evolved around his relationship with the Indians, especially the Six Nations, and earned him great success and wealth, after his victories at Lake George and Niagara. His political career progressed alongside his military one, and again was linked to his relationship with the Indians, through his appointment as Indian Superintendent. His relationship with the authorities in London, the colonial authorities, the settlers and traders, and with the Indians themselves, will be examined to form a portrait of Johnson, and how he saw the situation regarding westward expansion and all its implications for Britain and his adopted country, America. Finally some conclusions will be given based on Johnson’s handling of his difficult task, and how this affected subsequent events.

Sir William Johnson

Sir William Johnson
circa 1751

AT THE AGE OF TWENTY-THREE Johnson left Ireland to seek his own way in
America. He was aided by his uncle, Peter Warren, and went to the colonies with others
who had decided to start afresh in the New World. Johnson’s ability to get along with
people and motivate them was rewarded soon after he arrived: in 1738 he had taken
twelve families over to settle on his uncle’s land in the Mohawk River valley; by 1742
there were twenty-six leases in operation. Johnson became a merchant, dealing and
trading with the Indians, and building up, through trust and goodwill, the relationship
that was to be the focal point of his life in America and also the main contributor to his
subsequent fame and success. He bought his own land, across the river from his uncle’s
property, and continued to expand his business interests, which were mainly concerned
with the fur trade and supplying the settlers in the Mohawk valley. This business gave
Johnson the opportunity to understand the Indians: it was his special relationship with
the Six Nations, and specifically with the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy, that led
him into the political and military arenas, and was to influence his subsequent ideas of
how the colonies should manage the whole question of trade and expansion. This
quality was early on recognised by the political leaders of the two colonies Johnson was
primarily concerned with – Massachusetts and New York. In 1746 Governor Clinton of
New York gave Johnson the task of supplying the vital garrison at Oswego. In the same
year Johnson was appointed Commissary for Indian Affairs. Governor Shirley also saw
Johnson’s ability in dealing with the Indians; in 1754 he wrote to Johnson stating he
would recommend him to be appointed in the capacity best suited to his talent. The
result was that in 1755 Johnson received a warrant of appointment as Superintendent of
Indian Affairs, with full powers to treat with the Confederate Nations in the British
interest, from the Commander – in – Chief, Major General Braddock.

AS WELL AS THIS POLITICAL ROLE Johnson had acquired a military one also. In 1746
he was made ‘Colonel of the Forces to be raised out of the Six Nations’. The war with
France that had begun in 1743, was concerned with the question of supremacy in North
America, and as such naturally involved two of the subjects Johnson was most familiar
with. Trade and the situation of the Indians in the area around the Great Lakes, were
fundamental to the dispute. The role of the Indian tribes was therefore a vital one in
any conflict between the two antagonists. The long standing feud between them meant
that the support of the Indians was a key element; for this reason a brief description of
the composition of the tribes and how they were disposed to the British would be in

In 1701 the Five Nations, that is the Iroquois Confederacy (Mohawks, Oneidas,
Onandagas, Cayugas and Senecas), had made peace with the French at Montreal, and
remained neutral. In subsequent decades attempts by the British to win over the Indians
had been countered by the French; in 1720 they came across Lake Ontario and built a
trading post at Niagara. To counter this threat the British built a post at Oswego in 1727.
Any war between the two therefore would see the Indians acting as a pivot, and so be
assidously courted to act for either side in any future conflict. When Johnson was
chosen to enlist the help of the Five Nations (later becoming the Six Nations, with the
Tuscaroras joining the Confederacy), he had already been welcomed by them as
someone who would treat them in an honest and straightforward manner. Qualities of
loyalty, honesty and respect for friends and families were appreciated by the Indians;
they found them in Johnson, so much so that they named him Warraghiyagey (‘doer of
great things or ‘chief big business’), and in 1760 bestowed the title of sachem
(administrative chief) on him. Johnson’s close connections with the Mohawks was due
in part to the influence of Hendrik, a sachem of the tribe. In 1709 – 1710 he had travelled
to England and been received by Queen Anne; in 1740 he went again, and became a
Christian also. Highly eloquent he became a spokesman for the Iroquois and a firm
friend of Johnson. The years before the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754,
saw several Councils and Conferences held between the colonial authorities and the
Indian tribes. In 1746 Johnson as Indian negotiator was present at a conference in
Albany; his aim, as ordered by Clinton, was to get the Indians to participate in the war.
Hamilton states that this was agreeable to Johnson since he closely identified with them,
even to dressing like them, and, as Hamilton put it, ‘ he showed them that he meant to
join them in the war by the acts which were most significant in their eyes’.1

IT WAS THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR that made Johnson’s name – and in
particular the disastrous year 1755, which was relieved by the only success, when
Johnson fought off an attack by the French, under von Dieskau, and in the process
captured the Baron. Braddock’s defeat on the Monongahela River, showed how
important it was to instil loyalty in the Indians; by sheer tactlessness Braddock had
alienated the one hundred Delawares that Johnson’s deputy George Croghan had
managed to get him for his campaign. They left him and returned to their own lands,
leaving only a few Iroquois scouts. Being ignorant of the ways of backwoods fighting,
Braddock attacked a smaller force in a frontal assault that was doomed to fail. In this
battle he was killed and so the role of Commander – in – Chief was taken by Governor
Shirley. His expedition to Niagara was itself doomed after Braddock’s defeat; he still
interfered with Johnson’s campaign, by taking away both colonial militia and Indians
from his force. He also tried to interfere with Johnson’s role as Colonel of the Six
Nations by appointing one of his agents, Lydius, as Colonel over the Six Nations also.
Johnson, although recognising Shirley’s right to assume the command of the forces, did
not accept the usurpation of his role in managing Indian affairs. The campaign to Lake
George showed Johnson at his best; he ensured his men were disciplined and ready to
fight by using persuasion rather than force. Although Johnson lost more than 220 men
and both his deputy commander, Colonel Williams, and his friend Hendrik, the French
lost their commander von Dieskau and three hundred to four hundred men; just as
importantly, they were halted in their advance on British territory. Johnson’s action
was seen as a welcome change after all the disaster’s of the campaign so far, so welcome
in fact that Johnson received a baronetcy from the King and £5,000 from the
government. Equally importantly Johnson’s political prospects rose accordingly.
Influential friends such as Watts, De Lancey and Thomas Pownall gathered in New
York to assist him in his career. In February 1756 he received his appointment as Sole
Agent and Superintendent of Indians and their Affairs, and the instructions he received
gave him greater control than had applied hitherto. He was to ensure that no
independent transactions were allowed with the Indians, and was only subordinate to
the instructions from London, not the colonial governors, through the Commander – in
– Chief.

The following year saw further disasters for the British. The loss of Oswego with sixteen
hundred men, was a considerable blow to the British. The fur trade was lost, with the
Indians taking their pelts to Niagara and Frontenac rather than Oswego, and just as
seriously the confidence of the Indians in the British suffered as well. In July of the
same year further disaster struck. Montcalm attacked and took Fort William Henry,
after a heroic defence by Colonel Monro. The Indian allies of the French, though,
showed how unstable they could be as allies – they massacred the garrison while
Montcalm vainly tried to limit the atrocities committed. In 1758 Abercromby took over
from Lord Loudon as Commander – in – Chief but seemed to be made of the same stock
as the previous incumbents. In a drive on Ticonderoga he took on Montcalm, who had
three thousand six hundred men, with a force of sixteen thousand men – and lost!. By
attempting a frontal assault, without the support of artillery, he lost two thousand men
in a vain attempt to dislodge the French. He then panicked and retreated, still with
about twelve thousand men. The Indians again had seen a British collapse, which left
Johnson with a lot of work to try and persaude them that this was not a mortal blow to
the British campaign against the French.

Before too long Johnson had something tangible he could use to sway the Indians over
to the British side. Bradstreet led a campaign in 1758 to attack Fort Frontenac, which not
only succeeded, but had devestating results on the French plan of attack. He not only cut
their supply lines, but captured two supply ships, which he loaded with stores and took
across to the American side of Lake Ontario. The French were therefore forced back on
Niagara, having to abandon Fort Duquesne. A further change of Commander – in –
Chief brought to the fore the man who was to finally drive the French out of North
America. Jeffrey Amherst was a good soldier, well liked by his men and the colonial
governments, but had one trait that gave Johnson many problems. He thought the
Indians beneath consideration and therefore not worthy of special treatment. Their
worth was proved by Johnson when he took part in the Niagara campaign. He raised
seven hundred Iroquois and 244 other Indians for this attack, a force that was to play a
decisive part in the defeat of the French. After a lengthy siege the fort was close to being
taken, but then on the 21 July 1759 the commander of the British forces, Brigadier
General Prideaux, was killed by one of his own cannon, leaving Johnson in command.
The question of whether he was technically the senior ranking officer, Lt. Colonel
Haldimand in Oswego possibly being senior, since he was a regular, as opposed to a
colonial, soldier, was debatable. Johnson was in the right place at the right time:
Haldimand arrived on the 28 July to dispute the command, but by then the fort had
been taken. The French had tried to mount an attack to reinforce it, but thanks to his
Iroquois scouts, Johnson was ready for them. In sharp contrast to the earlier events at
Fort William Henry, Johnson ensured that his captives were well treated, even giving
them shoes, stockings and blankets for the long journey to New York and then England.
The following year was to see the final defeat of the French. Again, Johnson raised a
force of six hundred Indians to take part in the campaign to take Montreal. On the 8
September 1760 Vaudreiul the Governor General of Canada surrendered all claims to
the North American territories held, including Detroit, Michillimackinac, Sault Ste.
Marie, St. Joseph and Green Bay.

JOHNSON’S PART IN THIS WAR, and the succeeding years in which he played such a decisive part, were primarily due to his position as Indian Superintendent. The events
that led up to this post being created reveal some of the ministry’s thinking on
American colonial expansion, and therefore are worth looking at in finer detail. Alden
in his article on the creation of the Indian Superintendencies, mentions that as early as
1721 the Board of Trade devised a plan to invest the conduct of Indian relations in a
governor-general.2 By the time Clinton was
Governor of New York in 1746 the Indian Commissioners in Albany were proving inadequate for the task; Johnson was therefore
asked, since he had a good relationship with the Indians, to regulate the trade with
them. Clinton also wrote to Newcastle stating he should be given, as Governor, powers
to handle all such matters, when other duties permitted. Both he and Shirley, the
Governor of Massachusetts, wrote to the Board of Trade on 18 August 1748 stating that
Johnson was the ideal candidate to handle Indian affairs.

‘one or more suitable
persons to inform themselves of everything which may be useful (either by gaining or preserving the Friendship of those [Six] Nations) for promoting
trade among them and for preventing their being abused & cheated in their Trade’.3

Three years later the term ‘Superintendant (sic) of Indian Affairs’ was used by Archibald
Kennedy, a member of the New York Council; in an article entitled ‘The importance of
Gaining and Preserving the Friendship of the Indians to the British Interest,
Considered’ he urged confederation of the colonies, establishment of a barrier colony
against the French and a unified Indian policy.4 This plan would be financed by duties levied in England on Indian trade goods sent to America and on furs imported from the colonies. His plan was sent to Cadwallader Colden, the Lieutenant Governor of New
York, who prepared a report for the Board of Trade. It was necessary for such a plan
since the Indians were becoming increasingly vocal in their complaints against land
seizures and excessive sale of rum to get them to sign away their lands. This was a real
threat since rum was seen as a food by the Indians; Hendrik and Abraham Peters, while
drunk on rum, had signed the deed to the Connecticut Purchase at the Albany Congress,
and although this was repudiated later, since an individual could not sign away tribal
land, it being held on a communal basis, the damage to Indian/colonial relations was

THE ALBANY CONGRESS WAS HELD in June 1754 as a result of the Board of Trade
calling for such a meeting to rectify abuses in the administration of Indian affairs.
Thomas Pownall gave a brief talk, mentioning the fact that the Iroquois were coalescing
into a nation, and ready to concentrate their affections on some ‘agent’ or ‘stateholder’.6 Johnson also spoke at this meeting, on measures necessary to be taken with the Six
Nations, and other matters relating to defeating the designs of the French, in respect of
which he stressed the importance of securing the aid of the Six Nations, a statement that
showed how strongly he identified with them.


‘The Eyes of all the Western Tribes of Indians are upon the behaviour of the Six
Nations, whose fame of power, may in some measure exceed the reality, while they act a
timid and neutral part’.7

He went on to outline how the designs of the French could be thwarted:

‘Now to hinder the incursions of the French, and to revive the Spirits of the Six
Nations and their allies, nothing can conduce more to those desirable ends, than first,
establishing Garrisons in the most commodious places among them’.8

Johnson’s long term aims can be seen by the further suggestions he put forward:

‘There should be some English continually residing in every Nation, whether Military
Officers, or others, to keep up a continued correspondence’.9

‘ . . . the Indians must think there can be no union in our Councils, when it has been
known more than once, that the Six Nations have been invited to a conference by
different colonies at the same time. This looks among the Indians, as tho’ our Measures
were not mutual, and occasions them to be divided in their Councils also, being
doubtful of our acting with vigour and unanimity ettc. (sic) against the French’.10

On the 2nd of July Chief Abraham of the Mohawks made a plea for Johnson to be made
agent to the Six Nations. Another spokesman told the Congress ‘If he [Johnson] fails us,
we die’,stressed the affection for him, and hinted that the French were plotting to
assasinate or abduct him.11 Alden mentions here the
suggestion (but not who actually suggests it) that Johnson himself inspired these praises from the Indians to get the
appointment as Superintendent. Whatever the truth of this, the Journal of Congress,
Pownall’s papers and Johnson’s report were sent to the Board of Trade on 22 July,
arriving there on 24 October.

In London, Halifax, in April of the same year, was preparing a report on the
Indian/French situation. This report, stipulating the need for forts to be built, and a
change in the handling of Indian relations, was sent to Sir Thomas Robinson, the
Secretary of State for the Southern Department. By 29 October the Board of Trade was
urging that a royal official be chosen to manage Indian affairs, with Johnson specifically
named as the candidate best suited for the task. The importance of the Albany Congress
can be seen as a deciding factor in changing the views of the Board of Trade. On 9
August they had been thinking of having a military commander, with the powers of a
commissary-general for Indian affairs, sent to the colonies. The receipt of the Congress
documents altered their perception of the problem and made them decide instead to
choose a civilian official – Johnson. As Alden states in his explanation, ‘impending war
meant that centralization of Indian affairs was indispensable’,12 and therefore the Board
of Trade, backed by the request of the Six Nations, and the recommendations of Clinton
and Shirley, chose a single agent to manage the Northern and Southern Department’s
of Indian Affairs.

JOHNSON’S VIEWS was not to last however. The
Proclamation of 1763 was an attempt by the imperial government to overcome the
problems the administration of such a vast territory posed for the government.
Problems with the Indians (the Cherokee Indian War had ended two years earlier) and
the French Canadians, meant the government in London had to assume responsibility
for maintaining a regular army in the trans Appalachian region, since the colonial
governments were not willing to accept this themselves.13 Building on the promises
of the Treaty of Easton in 1758, the Proclamation of 1763 laid down that all the lands and
territories ‘lying to the westward of the Sources of the Rivers which fall into the Sea
from the West and North West’ should be reserved for the use of Indians. Also pledges
made to the Indians at subsequent treaties would be respected, the advantages of the
Indian trade would be spread among all the colonies and those that had served in the
War would be given land, but in such a way as to honour pledges given to the
Indians.14 This Proclamation,
accepted by the King and approved on 8 October can be seen as the first major development
that led up to the administration of Indian affairs
being returned to the control of the colonies. Although the two Superintendents were
empowered to control trade between the Indians and the white traders, the abuses of the
system were still considerable. The Proclamation had set up a temporary boundary; this
was flouted either by those genuinely wishing to settle further west, or by illegal traders
and speculators hoping to make a fortune from the Indian lands. Johnson’s views sent
to the Board of Trade for their consideration, and expressed in the plan of 1764, included
the suggestion that the Indians should continue to be subsidised by presents, and that
the Superintendent’s, through their respective Departments, should have more control
of Indian affairs. However this raised two concerns; Sosin mentions these in his work
on British colonial policy towards the Middle West. Firstly, would the ministry be able
to raise the revenue necessary to finance the imperial establishment?, and secondly,
would the colonists accept this imperial regulation?15 Regarding this question of
cost Johnson (and Stuart in the Southern Department) advocated a tax on furs: the
Commisssioners of the Board of Trade thought this would be difficult to collect and
would hinder trade, whilst Governor Murray of Quebec also objected to the plan,
especially the tariffs of prices and the proposed tax, but carried out his instructions to
adher to the policy that was laid down. The traders in Canada were so alarmed about
this plan that they agitated strongly for its abandonment. In 1766 Murray was recalled to
London, by which time the plan had lost official support in England.16 Governor
Bernard of Massachusetts argued for a distinction between control of Indians inside and
outside provincial boundaries, and did not wish to see Johnson as ‘a governor within
my government’.17

The Board of Trade themselves took a considerable length of time to come to any firm
conclusions about the plans for managing Indian affairs. On the 11 May 1764 Croghan,
Johnson’s deputy, sent Johnson a letter from London explaining this delay:

‘I have been here three Months this Day and no Doubt you will be surprised to hear that
thire Lordshipes have Neaver Taken under Thire Consideration Indian affairs Nor
Even has the State of yr. Department wh. you sent by Me been Read att ye. Board’.18

As mentioned earlier the main stumbling block was the question of finance; Johnson
was continually being pressed to keep expenses to the minimum. In a letter written to
Johnson from New York in March 1765 Gage, the Commander-in-Chief, stated:

‘I don’t know whether you received a Minute of the Treasury dated the 28th of Novr.
last from the Board of Trade or any other office. But I have received orders to incur no
Expence, till first approved by the King. Your Department is not yet fixed by King or

Later on in the month Gage wrote to Johnson to express concern over a draught of
£2643 8s 3d from Croghan, and stating that the Treasury expected authentic vouchers
and detailed accounts of presents purchased for the Indians.20

Johnson’s insistence on the need to continue these gifts of presents was very much
concerned with the situation should the Indians’ goodwill be lost. He argued that only
by proper and regular trade with the Indians could they be kept loyal to the Crown;
illegal French traders were always ready to win back the Indians by undermining the
authority of the British. Also the question of settlers west of the line set by the
Proclamation of 1763 was causing friction. Some grants of land had been made by
Virginia before the outbreak of the French and Indian War, but the Proclamation made
these illegal. In 1766, though, the Auditor-General for the Plantations, Robert
Cholmondely, was insisting the settlers pay quit-rents for the same lands.21 Attacks by
settlers on the Indians added to the considerable problems both Gage and Johnson had
to surmount. The ministry in London reacted differently to these issues. Barrington, the
Secretary-at-War, put forward a plan to do away with forts in the interior; the Indians
would have to travel to the seaboard colonies to trade, and control of their affairs would
be returned to the colonial governments.22 Shelburne had a more
ambiguous position; he upheld the Proclamation of 1763 but also attempted to alter the imperial program for
the interior. He saw the solution in terms of keeping a few of the interior forts, and
establishing new colonies, which, when self sufficient, would help defray the costs of
the original settlements. Also less troops would be needed, four battalions instead of
fifteen. Whatever plan was adopted the central point about the cost of such a policy was
always uppermost. Barrington estimated in January 1767 that for the coming year the
costs of the American garrisons would be £400,000; income, since the repeal of the
Stamp Act and reduction of import duties, would be no more than £80,000.23

As mentioned above Johnson saw clearly the problems of regulating the Indian trade,
and as a consequence, the settlers and traders themselves. He consistently advocated a
control over the business of dealing with the Indians. In September 1761 he had written
to all the officers at western posts instructing them on how the Indian affairs were to be

‘The officer to keep up a good understanding with all Inds who live near his Post, and
wth. those who may resort thither on Business, and see no Injustice is done them in
Trade or Otherwise’.24

In May 1762 he wrote to Amherst, the Commander-in-Chief, mentioning the problems
of the settlers (of the Susquehanna Company), and of his meeting with the Six Nations
in April of that year.

‘Your Excellency will observe in these Transactions the great Jealousy of the Indians
with regard to their Lands, & particularly their uneasiness concerning the designs of
some Connecticut people . . . gone to Settle on a large tract of country on the
Susquehanna River’.25

JOHNSON’S CONCERNS were seen to be correct when in 1763 Pontiac’s rebellion
threatened to do what the French had failed to achieve. The Indians rising resentment
that their lands were being taken, and the lack of presents and other more essential
goods, such as food, implements and ammunition, led Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, to
persaude Chippewas, Delawares, Shawnees and Senecas to attack Detroit and other forts
in the area. Not all of the Western Tribes were involved, the Huron for example
remaining neutral in the conflict, nor was it a simultaneous rising. However, many
forts were taken, with their inhabitants either killed, often brutally, or captured.
Johnson, being notified of the rising on the 5 June 1763 wrote to Amherst on the 6th
and also wrote to the Lords of Trade and Plantations mentioning the underlying state of
affairs he thought was responsible for this rebellion. In July he held a meeting with the
Six Nations at German Flats to try and negotiate with the Indians a peace settlement. In
September a conference was held at Johnson Hall, with Johnson throwing down the
hatchet to get the Indians to stay loyal to the Crown. In 1764 a peace conference was held
at Niagara with fourteen hundred Indians present. Writing to Colden in August
Johnson described his dealings with the Western Nations; he strengthened the
Covenant Chain with them and won agreement, not only for the return of all prisoners
taken but restitution for the traders losses.26

He then went on to talk about the renewal of trade:

‘I told them repeatedly their loss of Trade must be charged upon the Enemy, . . . ,
however I know nothing will contribute more to keep them at peace, than the letting
them have a Trade carried on by Honest Men’.27

Johnson’s concerns over the boundary line as it affected trade were therefore of
continuing concern to ensure that the situation did not revert to that of 1763. The Board
of Trade plan of 1764 that Johnson favoured would ensure this full regulation of Indian
affairs, but at a cost. The plan provided for the appointment of deputies, commissaries,
interpreters and smiths, and the traders restricted to designated posts. This though
posed a dilemma for Gage; he did not have enough men to police the western forts and
keep troops in the east. As Marshall states in his article ‘Colonial Protest and Imperial
Retrenchment’, Pontiac’s rising had shown that small detachments were vulnerable:
little wonder then that Gage wished to pull out of as many western forts as possible.
Marshall describes the situation in the colonies when he states, ‘By the close of 1765
imperial authority had been denied in the east and remained undefined in the west: on
both counts Indian policy suffered, its deficiencies in status and efficacy only too
apparent’.28 The situation in London,
with Barrington and Shelburne both appearing to favour different solutions to the problems of the West, gave Gage the excuse for not
wholeheartedly endorsing Johnson’s views on full regulation of Indian affairs. The
events of 1765, when the Stamp Act crisis came to a head, ensured that the Board of
Trade plan would never be fully implemented. The ministry knew that it would be
impossible to increase the tax burden by having such a regulated plan: the
Commander-in-Chief had therefore to include the running of the Indian Department
out of his military expenditure. In 1766 Shelburne, now Secretary of State, after a change
of ministry brought about by the Stamp Act crisis, put both the 1764 plan and
Barrington’s ideas to his adviser Richard Jackson for comment. He found them both
impracticable to operate. Shelburne wrote to Johnson on 11 December 1766, referring to
Johnson’s plan for the management of Indian affairs, a letter that seems to sum up his
feelings on the subject:

‘The Importance of the subject demands, that it should be extremely well weighed &
digested before adopted . . . The Plan which you refer to, for the better Management of
Indian Affairs requires nice Examination, being of a very dubious Nature in many of it’s
most essential points’.29

This examination was obviously still under consideration, when Shelburne wrote to
Johnson on 20 June 1767 mentioning the King’s ‘entire Approbation of your conduct,
and His Reliance on your Prudence and Ability to prevent the growth of Abuses in your
Department, till the system of Regulations which I mentioned to you in my former
letters can be finally settled’.30

Johnson continued to press the Board of Trade and Shelburne for any sign of being able
to prevent the abuses the Indians were complaining of, and specifically with regard to
the boundary line, it being only temporary. In October 1767 he wrote to Shelburne:

‘The Indians with whom I met in Congress were very desirous to know whether I had
received any satisfactory accounts from court respecting the intended boundary line, the
summary process for justice, the grievances concerning lands, Murders and intrusions
of the frontier inhabitants, and other matters whenever they were promised relief . . . I
cannot promise myself much from my answer to them, or any other steps I have been
able to take in consequence hereof, having hitherto made use of all the arguments in
my power to prevail upon them to wait patiently the arrangement of these affairs’.31

A further blow to Johnson’s hopes of London supporting his ideas also came in 1767
when Townshend, the Chancellor, threatened to resign if troops were not returned to
the east and the management of Indian affairs returned to the control of the colonies
themselves. Given this expression of concern, Shelburne had to admit that the costs of
running the service were high and still rising. As examples of this high cost of the
Indian Departments, Marshall mentions one Edward Cole, appointed commissary at the
Illinois by Johnson in July 1766. In the summer of that year he submitted an account for
£1,568 for presents, a house and personal needs, and then put in a further claim of
£3,000. Gage refused to pay this second sum, so Cole replied by submitting a further
claim for £7,020!32 Little wonder that in
March 1768 the Board of Trade review (started in October 1767) concluded that regulation
of Indian affairs be returned to the colonies.

In 1768 Johnson was notified of the change in policy. The final plan was evolved by the
Board of Trade and drawn up when Hillsborough replaced Shelburne, and a new
American department created. This plan returned the government of Indian affairs to
the individual colonies; other matters, such as land purchases, holding Congresses,
making treaties and laying down boundaries, would continue to be handled by the
Superintendents. This last reference about the boundaries became the key point when
Johnson signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 to permanently fix a boundary line.

THIS TREATY WAS LATER seen as evidence that Johnson had used his immense
prestige with the Indians to get a settlement that was different from that which he was
empowered to seek. It has been suggested by Marshall that because he knew in 1768 his
authority over the Indians was going to be restricted to a nominally diplomatic role,
Johnson could go into the treaty with a freer hand and make the best possible deal, not
only for the settlers and traders, but, by extension, for himself. For many years Johnson
had been seeking to get approval for several land grants: in 1751 he was hoping to get
130,000 acres on the Charlotte River, and in 1760 he had an interest in 80,000 acres on
the Mohawk River, in partnership with thirty-nine other people. Others were actively
involved in this land speculation; Sir Henry Moore, the Governor of New York, was
one such interested party, and between 1766 and 1768 a steady flow of petitions for land
came before the New York Council. Johnson’s deputy George Croghan was also
involved in land deals, having lost heavily in the French and Indian War and later, in
1763, due to Pontiac’s rebellion. In 1765 Johnson had held a meeting with the Indians to
try and fix a permanent line: they suggested a route that he did not accept, primarily
since it did not extend across the colony of New York. Also he was not empowered to
officially fix a permanent boundary. When in December 1767 the Board of Trade finally
agreed to recommend the settlement of the line proposed by the Indians in 1765, and
transmitted this to Johnson in January 1768, their ideas on the whole question of
American policy were still uncertain. The boundary conference was due to be held in
May 1768, but due to Johnson’s illness was postponed till September.

The Board of Trade finished its report in March 1768 and recommended the central
change of the management of Indian affairs: the return to colonial, rather than
imperial, administration, with the activities of the Indian Departments to be therefore
sharply reduced. Johnson received this news in July and therefore had time to
contemplate the failure of his attempts to continue to regulate Indian affairs under a
central imperial authority. When the Treaty of Fort Stanwix came to be signed Johnson
insisted on the boundary line being taken across New York, and notified Hillsborough
of this fact, even though he had written to Johnson on 5 January 1768 to confirm that
the line described in the Board of Trade report should be ratified and confirmed in every
part.33 The conference
opened on the 24 October with 3,102 Indians present. By the 31 October the details had been agreed: the Cherokee River being the western limit, and the
line extended northward to Canada Creek (near Lake Oneida) in upper New York.
Johnson stated that the Indians themselves wished this settlement to make certain the
separation of Indian and white areas.
However various land grants, to Croghan, the traders and to the colony of Pennsylvannia, were also agreed, which incensed Hillsborough and the Board of Trade when they were notified. Hillsborough thought
that the agreement Johnson had reached would threaten those Stuart, the
Superintendent for the Southern Department, had concluded. The land grants to the
traders, although criticised by the Board of Trade, were a consequence of the vociferous
complaints by the traders against the losses they had incurred as a result of the late War
and Pontiac’s rebellion. Johnson defended this deal by stating that only by placating the
traders and allowing room for expansion could a friendly and workable relationship, for
the mutual benefit of whites and Indians, be maintained. Not all claims had been
allowed; John Coxe of Philadelphia had wanted compensation for losses incurred in
1754 and 1763, but eventually agreed to base his claim on 1763 only, since the French had
been involved in the earlier dispute, and this would have been more difficult to decide.

This treaty was the culmination of Johnson’s career – afterwards he concentrated on his
own business, building up his interests in the Mohawk Valley area, and developing
Johnstown by providing settlers with the necessary supplies to establish themselves.
Sosin also sees this treaty as the greatest boon to stimulating expansion: the removal of
the French had allowed expansion west along the Mohawk and its tributaries to the
headwaters of the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768
now cleared the area between the Mohawk and the Pennsylvannia line. In the
following months speculators took out patents for land along the upper Susquehanna
and Delaware rivers, and many migrated from New York to Pennsylvannia since they
received land on better terms from the Proprietary government.

Johnson himself saw the Treaty as a good one in that the settlement had been honestly
worked out with the Indians in such a way as to clearly show the respective areas of
interest. From the very beginning of his career as Indian Superintendent, Johnson saw
this demarcation of interests as essential, if proper trade, settlement and the retention of
the Indian s own identity, was to continue. One illustration that showed this to be easier
to identify than to put into operation, was the affair over the Oneida and their
christianisation. Johnson had allowed the Presbyterian ministers, Eleazar Wheelock and
Samuel Kirkland, into their territory, in order to combat the influence of the Jesuits.
However the ministers and Johnson saw the Indians in two distinct ways: Wheelock
and Kirkland saw them as fulfilling God’s aim of cultivating the land, whereas Johnson
saw them in a traditional light, as semi-sedentary, with the men as nomadic hunters
and the women as agriculturists. He recognised that trade (and especially the fur trade)
depended on the Indian being able to hunt. Guzzardo, in his article on this episode, calls
this the two-zone theory of colonization – distinct Indian lands and areas of white
Between 1766 – 1768 Wheelock campaigned to get an Indian academy
established among the Oneida, and even tried to interfere in the Fort Stanwix
negotiations to get his way. In 1766 Kirkland set up a mission in Kanowarohare, living
among the Indians and building up a following. However the relationship between
Kirkland and Johnson got worse, with the Oneida themselves split, so that it ‘created
division and destroyed tribal unity’.
Guzzardo states that this feud continued right up
to Johnson’s death in 1774, and eventually caused social polarisation, with the Oneida
losing their warrior spirit and becoming like silly women and children. He concludes
that when the Revolution came the split was deepened, with many of the tribe staying
loyal to the British and going to Canada.

JOHNSON’S ROLE OF SUPERINTENDENT then had profound affects on Indian
affairs long after his death. The Board of Trade had long recognised the necessity of preserving
the friendship of the Five Nations of Indians, ‘which are a barrier between his Majesty’s
plantations and Canada’, and had similarly recognised the importance of the province
of New York, reporting to the House of Commons in 1702, that it was ‘esteemed as the
centre of his Majesty’s plantations on the continent’.
Johnson’s appointment was
certainly made in order to preserve both these views, since the problems of
administering any imperial affairs were fraught with difficulties. The problems the
British ministries had in formulating sound policies for the new West, as Gipson points
out, were complicated by factors of distance and time, with a variety of reports coming
from the colonies, disputes with the seaboard colonies in the 1760’s and 1770’s, and the
other problems of Empire, adding to the delays before decisions could be taken.
in his work on the southern department, run by John Stuart, states that the aims of
British western policy between 1763 – 1775 were maintenance of peace on the frontier,
and winning and holding of the loyalty of Indians east of the Mississippi.
He goes on
to state that there were three ways to achieve these aims: firstly, through prevention of
encroachment on the lands of the red man; secondly, through establishment of order in
Indian trade; and thirdly, through Indian diplomacy. Stuart is shown to have pursued
these objectives with varying success, but with complete loyalty to the programme as a
whole. Alden contrasts him with Johnson when he states, ‘He was also viewed with
cordial dislike by some land speculators because, unlike Johnson, he fought their
schemes . . .’.

Johnson, though, also attempted, often with much success, to meet these objectives, and
often at a high cost, both personally and financially, to himself. It was Johnson who
continually pressed for full recognition of the problems of administering the policy of
trade and westward expansion. He argued, until the decision went against him, for
central control of managing Indian affairs. In the preface to Volume XII of the Johnson
Papers, Albert B. Corey, State Historian and Director, Division of Archives and History,
for the State of New York, states ‘ . . . had he lived, yet he might well have so modified
policies and so influenced both Indians and government as to have profoundly affected
the course of history’.
Perhaps the last words should belong to Johnson himself.
Seven days before his death, fittingly whilst holding an Indian Congress with the Six
Nations, he wrote to Gage, on 4 July 1774, about the decline of Indian relations.

‘It is a very critical period, . . . , and I must avail myself of Everry thing at such a
Juncture, which requires the utmost exertion of my Influence . . .’.

He finishes his letter to Gage with the prophetic words:

‘. . . I found it necessary to give You a Sketch of the late & present State of Indian Affairs,
. . . , So much trouble & attention has greatly effected my Health . . . , but I must make a Sacrifice to the Urgency of the times’.


1 – Milton W. Hamilton, Sir William Johnson: colonial
American, 1715-1763 (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1976), 54.

2 – John R. Alden, The Albany Congress and the creation of the Indian
Superintendencies. Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XXVII, no. 2 (September 1940):

3 – Ibid, 195.

4 – Ibid, 195-196.

5 – Arthur Pound, Johnson of the Mohawks: a biography of Sir
William Johnson, Irish Immigrant, Mohawk War Chief, American soldier, Empire Builder (Freeport, N. Y.:
Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 296.

6 – Alden, The Albany Congress, 198.

7 – E. B. O’Callaghan, Documents relative to the colonial history of
the State of New York (hereafter referred to as DRCHSNY). VI, (Albany, 1855), 897.

8 – Ibid.

9 – Ibid, 898.

10 – Ibid.

11 – Alden, The Albany Congress, 198.

12 – Ibid, 206.

13 – L. H. Gipson, The British Empire before the American Revolution
Vol. IX The Triumphant Empire: New Responsibilities within the enlarged Empire 1763-1766 (N. Y.:
Knopf, 1956), 42.

14 – Ibid, 52.

15 – Jack M. Sosin, Whitehall and the Wilderness: the Middle West in
British colonial policy, 1760 – 1775 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961), 77.

16 – R. A. Humphreys, ed. Governor Murray’s views on the plan of 1764
for the management of Indian affairs, Canadian Historical Review 16 (1935): 164-165.

17 – Ibid, 163.

18 – Alexander C. Flick,The papers of Sir William Johnson, (hereafter
referred to Johnson Papers), Vol. IV, (Albany: University of State of New York, 1925), 419.

19 – Ibid, 667.

20 – Ibid, 702-703.

21 – Sosin, Whitehall and the wilderness, 107.

22 – Ibid, 120.

23 – Ibid, 130.

24 – James Sullivan, Johnson Papers, Vol. III, (Albany: University of
State of New York, 1921), 527.

25 – Ibid, 742-743.

26 – Johnson Papers, Vol. IV, 512.

27 – Ibid, 513.

28 – Peter Marshall, Colonial Protest and Imperial Retrenchment:
Indian Policy, 1764-1768, Journal of American Studies 5 (1971): 5.

29 – Johnson Papers, Vol. V, (Albany: University of State of New York,
1927), 448.

30 – Ibid, 566.

31 – Ibid, 762-763.

32 – Marshall, Colonial Protest, 5.

33 – O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, Vol. VIII, (Albany, 1857),2.

34 – Ibid, 110.

35 – Jack M. Sosin, The revolutionary frontier 1763 – 1783 (University of
New Mexico Press, 1967), 42 – 53.

36 – John C. Guzzardo, The Superintendent and the Ministers: the
battle for Oneida allegiances, 1761 – 75, New York History 57 (July, 1976): 263 – 264.

37 – Ibid, 270.

38 – Ibid, 282 – 283.

39 – Francis Jennings, The ambiguous Iroquois Empire: the covenant
chain confederation of Indian tribes with english colonies from its beginning to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744,
(W. W. Norton, 1984), 370.

40 – Gipson, The British Empire before the American Revolution Vol. XI
The Triumphant Empire: the rumbling of the coming storm, 1766 – 1770 (N. Y.: Knopf, 1956),
418 – 419.

41 – John R. Alden, John Stuart and the southern colonial frontier: a
study of Indian relations, war , trade, and land problems in the southern wilderness 1754 – 1775, (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1944), 335.

42 – Ibid, 335 – 336.

43 – Hamilton, Johnson Papers, Vol. XII, viii.

44 – Ibid, 1116.

45 – Ibid.


Alden, John R. John Stuart and the southern colonial frontier: a study of Indian
relations, war , trade, and land problems in the southern wilderness 1754 – 1775, (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1944).

—-. The Albany Congress and the creation of the Indian Superintendencies. Mississippi
Valley Historical Review, XXVII, no. 2 (September 1940): 193 -210.

Flick, Alexander C. The papers of Sir William Johnson, Vol. IV, (hereafter referred to as
Johnson Papers), (Albany: University of State of New York, 1925).

—-. Johnson Papers, Vol. V, (Albany: University of State of New York, 1927).

Gipson, Lawrence H. The British Empire before the American Revolution Vol. IX The
Triumphant Empire: New Responsibilities within the enlarged Empire 1763-1766 (N. Y.:
Knopf, 1956).

—-. The British Empire before the American Revolution Vol. XI The Triumphant
Empire: The rumbling of the coming storm, 1766 – 1770 (N. Y.: Knopf, 1956).

Guzzardo, John C. The Superintendent and the Ministers: the battle for Oneida
allegiances, 1761 – 75, New York History 57 (July, 1976): 255 – 283.

Hamilton, Milton W. Sir William Johnson: colonial American, 1715-1763 (Port
Washington: Kennikat Press, 1976).

—-. ed. Johnson Papers, Vol. XII (Albany: University of State of New York, 1957).

Humphreys, R. A. ed. Governor Murray’s views on the plan of 1764 for the
management of Indian affairs, Canadian Historical Review 16 (1935): 162 -169.

Jennings, Francis.The ambiguous Iroquois Empire: the covenant chain confederation of
Indian tribes with english colonies from its beginning to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744,
(London: Norton, 1984).

Marshall, Peter. Colonial Protest and Imperial Retrenchment: Indian Policy, 1764-1768,
Journal of American Studies 5 (1971): 1 – 17.

—-. Sir William Johnson and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1768, Journal of American
Studies 1 (1967): 149 – 179.

O’Callaghan, E. B. Documents relative to the colonial history of the State of New York
(hereafter referred to as DRCHSNY). VI, (Albany, 1855).

—-. DRCHSNY, VIII, (Albany, 1855).

Pound, Arthur. Johnson of the Mohawks: a biography of Sir William Johnson, Irish
Immigrant, Mohawk War Chief, American soldier, Empire Builder (Freeport, N. Y.:
Books for Libraries Press, 1971).

Sosin, Jack M. The revolutionary frontier 1763 – 1783 (University of New Mexico Press,

—-. Whitehall and the Wilderness: the Middle West in British colonial policy, 1760 –
1775 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961).

Sullivan, James. ed. Johnson Papers, Vol. V (Albany: University of State of New York,