Music from Ireland in Colonial America
Expanded information from the Rogues' Consort CD Booklet

Sir William Johnson of New York Colony

Irishman, Adopted Mohawk, and Baronet

Several Irishmen who became prominent in our early history brought their music and musicians with them or brought musicians to America later.  One was Sir William Johnson (1715-1774) of County Meath, who came to New York Colony as a trading post clerk, and became an adopted Mohawk, a hero of the French & Indian War, the Crown’s Indian Agent to the Iroquois Confederacy, and a Baronet.

Johnson was born in County Meath [The great Irish harper, Turlough O'Carolan was born in Meath] about 1715, and grew up near Dublin. About 1737-1738, he was asked by his uncle Peter Warren to work as his agent, managing his land in the Mohawk Valley, and recruiting people to work for their passage there. Johnson came, bringing 12 families and a cousin.

Other settlers were already there, including German refugees from the Palatinate, and Indians.  Johnson was fascinated by the Indians, learned the Mohawk language and was eventually adopted into the tribe as Warraghiyagey (translated as “man who does much business"). He became a powerful man in his own right.

 From the Kentucky Gazette, Lexington KY Saturday, July 12, 1788

Soon after the late Sir William Johnson had been appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in America, he wrote to England for some suits of cloths richly laced. When they arrived, Hendrick, king of the five nations of the Mohawks, was present, and particularly admired them. In a few days, Hendrick called on Sir William, and acquainted him that he had had a dream. On Sir William enquiring what it was, he told him he had dreamed that he had given him one of these fine suits he had lately received. Sir William took the hint, and immediately presented him with one of the richest suits. Hendrick highly pleased with the generosity of Sir William, retired. Sir William, sometime after this happening to be in company with Hendrick, told him that he also had had a dream. Hendrick being very solicitous to know what it was, Sir William informed him, he had dreamed that he (Hendrick) had made him a present of a particular tract of land the most valuable on the Mohawk river of about 5000 acres. Hendrick presented him with the land immediately, with the shrewd remark: “Now, Sir William, I will never dream with you again, you dream too hard for me.”

Johnson built Johnson Hall in 1763, and it became a “Council Fire” of the Iroquois Confederacy. He traded fairly with the Indians and settlers , believing what was good for them would prove to be good for him.

He played an important role in King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and Pontiac’s Rebellion. He became the Crown’s Indian Agent, persuading the Mohawk and the Confederacy to join with him on the British side against the French and their Indian allies. In the Battle of Lake George in 1755, he led the British troops to victory, and he was made a baronet, thus becoming "Sir William". In 1759 in the French & Indian War, he led British troops, colonial militia and Indians in capturing Fort Niagara from the French.

Johnson Hall, in Johnstown, New York