"Still in your prostrate land there shall be some
Proud hearts, the shrines of Freedom's vestal flame.
Long trains of ill may pass unheeded dumb,
But Vengeance is behind and Justice is to come."
In the crowded annals of the state of New York there floats another almost mythical
name which, like La Famine, for nearly a century has had no "local habitation." That. name is Tryon county,
whose story during the long and weary twelve years of its actual existence, is a story that is in characters of
For a long period previous to the year 1772, which was the birth year of Tryon county, the whole northern and western
part of what is now the state of New York, that lay to the north and west of the county of Ulster, was included
in the county of Albany. In the spring of that year the county of Albany was divided by the Colonial Government.
In the first place they set off the county of Tryon, naming it in honor of William Tryon, who was then Governor
of the province. They then set off the county of Charlotte, which was named in honor of the Princess Charlotte,
the eldest daughter of George III.
The bounds of Tryon county were fixed as follows:
The easterly line began at a point on the Canadian border, near the Indian mission of St. Regis, and ran due south
through the Upper Saranac Lake, and along the westerly bounds of what are now Essex, Warren and Saratoga counties,
until it struck the Mohawk river about ten miles west of the city of Schenectady. From the Mohawk it turned south-westerly
around what is now Schenectady county, and then again southerly through the center of what is now Schoharie county
to the Mohawk branch of the Delaware River. Thence down that stream to the north-east corner of Pennsylvania. Tryon
county included the whole of the province of New York that lay to the west of this line. It was two hundred miles
wide along this eastern border, and stretched out westward three hundred miles to Lake Erie. Better had it been
called an empire.
The county of Charlotte included all the northern part of the state of New York that lies easterly of the Tryon
county line, and northerly of what are now Saratoga and Rensselaer counties. Charlotte county also included the
westerly half of the disputed territory which is now in the state of Vermont, then known as the New Hampshire Grants.
SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON.
The shire-town of this immense county of Tryon was Johnstown, near the Mohawk,
the residence of Sir William Johnson Bart.
Sir William was then living in baronial splendor at Johnson Hall, with the Mohawk Princess, Molly Brandt, who was
his Indian wife, and their eight dusky children. He was then His Brittanic Majesty's Superintendent General of
Indian affairs in North America, Colonel of the Six Nations, and a Major General in the British service.
Thirty-five years before this, he had come over from Ireland a poor young man, and settled in the Mohawk valley,
then a wilderness, to take care of a large tract of land that was located there and owned by his uncle, Sir Peter
Warren. Sir Peter Warren was an Admiral of the British navy, who while a commodore distinguished himself by the
capture of Louisburgh from the French in 1745. Sir Peter married a daughter of Etienne De Lancey of New York, and
with her received as a dowry this large tract of land in the Mohawk valley. It was situated in the eastern angle
between the Mohawk River and the Schoharie Creek.
Sir William Johnson, upon his first taking up his residence in the Mohawk valley became a fur trader with the Indians,
and kept for many years a country store for the accommodation of the scattered settlers of the region. Rising by
degrees, through dint of industry and fair dealing, and by the faithful performance of the public trusts imposed
upon him, he had become the proprietor of im- mense landed estates, the acknowledged lord of a princely manor,
and high in the confidence of his sovereign. His victory over the French and Indians under Baron Dieskau, at Lake
George in 1755, had won for him his title of nobility. His wonderful influence, the most remarkable on record,
over the Indian tribes, had given him an importance in the affairs of state second to no American then living.
He was surrounded by a numerous tenantry and by followers that were loyal to him and his family even unto death.
Sir William married in the more humble days of his early. life a poor, modest gentle-hearted German girl, whom
he found living with her parents in the Mohawk valley, whose maiden name was Catherine Weisenberg. She died young,
leaving three children, a son, Sir John Johnson, and two daughters who married respectively Col. Claus and Col.
Sir William's Indian wife was Molly Brandt a sister of the celebrated Mohawk war-chief, Ta-en-da-ne-ga, or Joseph
Brandt, who was afterward so long the terror of the border. After the death of his first wife he became enamored
of Molly at a general muster of the Mohawk Valley militia held at or, near Johnstown. Among the spectators at the
training was a beautiful Indian maiden. One of the mounted officers, in sport, dared the maiden to ride on the
bare-back of his horse behind his saddle three times around the parade ground, little thinking she would accept
the challenge. Bounding from the ground, like a deer, upon his horse behind him, she encircled his waist with her
arms, and over the ground they flew like the wind, her red mantle and luxuriant raven tresses streaming behind
her, her beautiful face lighted up with the pleasurable excitement of the novel adventure.
Sir William was an admiring witness of the scene, and was smitten with the charms of the dusky forest maiden. He
inquired her name, and was told that she was the Indian Princess, Molly Brandt. He sought her at once, and made
her his Indian bride. He married her after the true Indian style, by them considered binding, but never acknowledged
her as his lawful wife. In his will he remembered her, calling her his "housekeeper, Molly Brandt," and
left a large tract of land to his children by her, which lay in Herkimer county, between the East and West Canada
creeks, and was long known to the early settlers as the Royal Grants.
In the height of his power, Sir William Johnson at hi's seat near the Mohawk, on the border of a howling wilderness
that stretched away to the Pacific, dispensed a right royal hospitality. Many a scion of the English nobility sat
at his generous board, or, like the Lady Susan O'Brien, wandered through the woods with Sir William's accomplished
Indian wife, in search of the strange wild flowers of the New World. The Lady Susan passed considerable time at
Johnson Hall. She was a neice of the first Lord Holland, and the sister of Lady Harriet Ackland, who as well as
the Baroness Riedesel, the wife of the Hessian general, accompanied her husband, under General Burgoyne, to the
battle-field of Saratoga.
In the summer, Sir William spent much of his time at the Fish House, his hunting lodge on the Sacondaga River,
and at his cottage on Summer House Point, on the great Vlaie, which is one of the mountain meadows of the wilderness.
Once every year the sachems of the Six Nations renewed their council fire at the Manor house, to talk with Sir
William, the agent of their white father, who lived across the big water. On such occasions Sir William was himself
painted and plumed and dressed like an Indian chief.
Such was Sir William Johnson, at the time of the forma-. tion of Tryon county, and such was he two years later
at the time of his death in 1774. He seems to have been mercifully taken away just before the slumbering fires
of the Revolution were to burst forth, which were so soon destined to stain the fair valley of his home with blood,
to send his family and followers fugitives across the Canadian border, and to scatter his princely possessions
like chaff before the wind.
THE DUTCH SETTLERS OF THE MOHAWK VALLEY.
Among Sir William's nearer neighbors were several Dutch families whose descendants
still live in the valley. They had left their less adventurous friends on the Hudson to become themselves the pioneers
in the settlement of the wilderness of the Mohawk valley.
They carried with them to their new homes that love of liberty which they had inherited from their ancestors of
the glorious little Republic of Holland, at the mouth of the Rhine, the birth-place of civil and religious freedom.
They had not forgotten their national humiliation at the British conquest of New Amsterdam, at the mouth of the
Hudson in 1664. In short, in a war for independence, there was but one side for the Dutch settlers of the Mohawk
valley to take-the side of freedom.
A few miles further up the valley of the Mohawk, at German Flats, now Herkimer,
were other neighbors of Sir William. They were the Palatines, who were emigrants from the Lower Palatinate of the
Rhine, one of the states of ancient Germany, adjoining Alsace and Lorraine.
Connected with the French court under the Merovingian kings, the first Frailkish dynasty in Gaul, who reigned from
the fifth to the eighth centuries, was a high judicial officer called the comes palatii. This officer was a master
of the royal household, and had supreme authority in a large class of causes that came before the king for decision.
Whenever the king wished to confer a particular favor upon the ruler of a province, he granted to him the same
powers within his province as the comes palatii exercised in the royal palace. With the power also went the title
comes Palatinus, or Count Palatine. From this ruler the province was called a palatinate.
The Lower Palatinate was situated upon both sides of the Rhiiie, its area being about sixteen hundred square miles.
Its chief cities were Mannheim and Heidelberg. For long centuries this little state and its neighboring provinces
of the Rhine were in the pathway and formed the battle-ground of the devastating armies of Europe. In the beginning
of the last century, Queen Anne of England took under her protection a large number of its homeless, war-stricken
people. In the year 1709 she sent over three thousand Palatines to America to help settle the virgin wilderness.
For a dozen years or more they were quartered at the expense of the British crown upon the Livingston Manor, on
the banks of the Hudson. But Robert, the first lord of the Livingston Manor, it is said, was grasping and avaricious,
and while he laid broad and deep the foundations of his house, since rendered so illustrious by his gentle descendants,
the Palatines murmured and became discontented under his rule. So in the year 1722 a number of families of these
Palatines pushed their way from the Livingston Manor up the wild valley of the Mohawk, and began a settlement at
German Flats, while others settled in Cherry Valley and on the Schorarie kill.
The Palatines had left their vineyards of the dear old Rhineland, so often laid waste by cruel war, for a still
more savage home in the American wilds of a hundred and fifty years ago.
At the formation of Tryon county, just fifty years after its early settlement, German Flats had grown into a large
and flourishing settlement, under the hands of these industrious, frugal, painstaking Germans. With the Dutch settlers,
they formed an important element in the politics of the new county. Like them, too, there was but one side for
the Palatines to take in the coming contest.
But there was another element in the heated, seething politics of Tryon county,
of more importance than all the others.
Chief among the powers of Tryon county, previous to the war of the Revolution, was the remarkable Indian league
or confederacy, known as the Six Nations. During all the long and bloody French and Indian wars, from their first
encounter with Champlain and his Algonquin allies, in the summer of 1609, to the final conquest of Canada, in 1763,
these people of the Iroquois family of nations had been the firm friends and allies of the English. Throughout
the whole length of Tryon county, from the manor house of Sir William Johnson, at Johnstown, to the falls of Niagara,
lay the castles of these fierce savages like so many dens of ravening wolves.
They were, as I have before stated, the most powerful, the most crafty, the most cruel, the most savage, the most
politic, the most enlightened, of all the Indian tribes of North America. They were subject to no power on earth
but their own fierce wills, yet were under the almost complete control of Sir William Johnson. In a war with Great
Britain, it could not have been expected that the people of the Six Nations would desert their ancient ally.
Such were the slumbering elements of discord that lay contiguous to each other, in seeming peace, within the limits
of Tryon county at the date of its formation, on the eve of the Revolution.
In the spring of 1774, Sir William held his last grand council with his Iroquois
neighbors, the people of the Six Nations, at his manor house in Johnstown. It was an occasion of more than ordinary
pomp and ceremony. Delegations of sachems, chiefs, warriors and women, from all the castles of the Six Nations,
were entertained for days at Sir William's expense. On the last day of the council Sir William made a speech of
more than usual eloquence and power. But the terrors of the impending conflict which he knew must soon come, seemed
to cast an unwonted gloom over his spirit. Exhausted by his effort, he was carried to his bed to die, before the
smoke had ceased to rise from the council fires.
In less than two years. after Sir William's death the warcloud, which had been so long gathering, burst like a
whirlwind over the valley of the Mohawk. Tryon county became a scene of desolation and blood, such as even the
old Wilderness, with all its savage horrors, had never seen before. It would weary us all to follow the fortunes
of the several peoples who made up the inhabitants of Tryon county through those terrible seven years of war. The
history of the twelve years of the existence of Tryon county would fill a volume. A mere glance at what occurred
during the war must suffice for these pages.
In pursuing this history, we should listen to the story' of the first vigorous uprising, and the flight of Sir
John Johnson and his father's numerous tenantry and loyal adherents, together with his ever faithful allies, the
Mohawks, to Canada, in the summer of 1775. Our blood would curdle at the relation of the cruel butchery of Cherry
Valley, on the 11th of October, 1778, which is second only in tragic interest to that of the far-famed valley of
Wyoming, which occurred a few months earlier in the same year. The narrative would reveal the sickening horrors
of the several raids made by Sir John Johnson's men and their savage allies, as they from time to time swooped
down from their secure retreat beyond the St. Lawrence, upon the homes of their former neighbors in the valley
of the Mohawk, leaving in their track nothing but blackened corpses and the ashes of ruined firesides.
We should stand in imagination by the side of the gallant Herkimer, the Palatine general, in the bloody ambuscade
at Oriskany on the 5th day of August, 1777, when Brandt and his Mohawks, and Butler with his Tory rangers met their
old neighbors, with whom they had been reared as children together on the banks of the Mohawk, in a hand-to-hand
conflict, each dying in the other's arms in the terrible rage of battle.
In the long recital of stirring events, perhaps nothing would interest us more than the details of Gen. Sullivan's
avenging march with his army, in August, 1779, into the country of the far-off Senecas, in the Genesee valley,
leaving nothing on his return but the ashes of villages and cornfields, and the scattered remnants of the once
And when the glad tidings of peace once more should come, we should see in Tryon county nothing but a desolate
blood-stained wilderness. We should learn that when the war broke out in 1775, Gov. Tryon reported ten thousand
whites and two thousand Indian warriors as comprising the population of Tryon county. Two years before the end
of the war, the Indian tribes were broken and scattered. Of the ten thousand white inhabitants, one-third had espoused
the royal cause and fled to Canada, one-third had been driven from their homes or slain in battle, and of the remaining
third, three hundred were widows and two thousand were orphan children.
Then, when peace was declared, we should see the old Dutch settlers of the valley and their neighbors, the Palatines,
coming back to find the places of their old hearthstones overgrown with bushes, and fast reverting to the original
forests. But they were now the masters of the valley, the true lords of Tryon county. And smiling through their
tears, in 1784, they dropped the now odious name of Tryon, and called their county in honor of the lamented Montgomery.
The name of the county of Charlotte was at the same time changed to Washington, and the two names, Tryon and Charlotte,
have long since fallen out of human speech, and can now only be found in musty records or on the historian's page.
To-day the traveller, as he whirls along through the fertile valley of the Mohawk, in the palatial cars of the
modern railroad which is built over the old Indian trail, perchance gets a glimpse of the old mansion called Fort
Johnson, on the north bank of the river, which is one of the few remaining historical landmarks connected with
the memory of Sir William, while Tribes Hill, Canajoharie, and other Indian names still suggest the old Mohawk
occupancy, and Palatine Bridge connects the present with the long chain of historic circumstances which run back
in unbroken course to the old homes of a people in the Rhineland of two hundred years ago. But he will hear nothing
in all his journeyings of Tryon county.