Tryon County

Origional Printing From:
The North Country
A History Embraceing
Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego. Lewis and
Franklin Counties, New York
By Harry F. Landon
Historical Publishing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932


"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 blood.

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.


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. Guy Johnson.

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.


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 powerful confederacy.

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.

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