Sir Johnson Wheeling and Dealing with the Iroquois

Stories that Take You for the Ride of Your Life

July, 2015

Sir Johnson Wheeling and Dealing with the Iroquois

Sir William Johnson’s Relationships with Iroquois Nation – and Women

Sir William Johnson, the 1st Baronet, has left an indelible footprint on the history of the American colonial era. Born in Ireland to Catholic parents in 1715, Johnson migrated in 1738 with a dozen of Irish families to settle on huge tracts of land near New York’s Mohawk River. The land was bought by his uncle Admiral Sir Peter Warren. In the company of African slaves and fellow Irish men, he developed the land and established trade relations with the native inhabitants.

Fort Johnson, his settlement on the north bank of the river overlooking traditional Mohawk trade routes, soon became a flourishing center of commerce. He replaced Albany-based Indian commissioners as the New York’s point man to deal with the Iroquois nation during the King George’s War. As Colonel of the New York levies, he recruited and led Mohawk warriors against the French.

Appointed as Major General during the French and Indian War, Johnson was portrayed as a military hero following the Battle of Lake George and made a baronet. He played a vital role in subsequent wars recruiting indigenous tribesmen and protecting the British colonial interests until his death in 1774.

In the Rule of Ranging, Johnson has a key role, too, as the commander of Provincial troops fighting along side my hero Finn and his friends.

Relations with Iroquois Nation

One of the pioneer of British-Iroquois alliance, Johnson’s close-knit social, matrimonial and economic dealings with the Iroquois led to his appointment as Indian affairs superintendent. His active role as a middleman both at times of war and peace shaped the narrative of Anglo-American society in the new land. The British appointed Johnson as the “Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the North” in 1756 allowing him to be the only liaison between London and the Iroquois nation.

The Baron adopted Indian dress, learned native languages and practiced their political etiquette. Johnson tried hard to educate and discipline Mohawks, who fearful of prolonged warfare and infectious diseases saw in him a great ally and sympathizer. His influence over the natives was so complete that thankful Iroquois chiefs gifted him land and wealth. The leaders in New York and London accepted him as the arch of Iroquois diplomacy.

Johnson became an honorary chief, sachem, in 1742 and married Molly Brant, sister of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, the powerful and influential Chief who was a British Loyalist and Freemason. Native leaders shunned neutrality and fought against the French when he made the rank of “Colonel of the Warriors of the Six Nations.” At the Albany Congress of 1754, Iroquois chief Hendrick Theyanoguin demanded the appointment of Johnson as the political agent to save the Covenant Chain with the colonies.

Affairs with Native, Irish Women

Sir William Johnson was the subject of many literary fictions for his presumed extramarital affairs. The Anglo-Irish colonizer was rumored to have slept with over 100 women during his lifetime. Johnson’s German immigrant wife Catherine Weisenberg died in 1759 after 20-years of married life.

Johnson and Molly Brant had eight children, the first of which was born in September 1759. The romantic liaison between the two blossomed during Johnson’s frequent stays at Brant Kanagaradunkwa, Iroquois chief, and Molly’s father. She moved to Fort Johnson and lived with the then Superintendent of Northern Indian Affairs as his “housekeeper” and was respected by friends and partners of the Baron as his wife.

In addition to Molly Brant, historical accounts mention that the Baron had passionate relationships with the two Wormwood sisters, Elizabeth, and Susannah. His will also “implicitly acknowledged” the fact that he fathered many children with unnamed women. Furthermore, Johnson had three children from another Mohawk lady Elizabeth and was also intimate with Elizabeth’s younger sibling Margaret. Mary McGrath, an Irish immigrant, bore a daughter too with Johnson. His will listed William, born to Margaret and Mary’s daughter, along with a host of others as beneficiaries.

(Image credits: Balance of Honesty by Robert Griffing)

One response to “Sir Johnson Wheeling and Dealing with the Iroquois

  1. I am descended from “Mary Johnson “ 1758-1813 born in Brant, Ontario.
    She married Solomon Day 1754-1806 born in Dublin. I can find no record of her parentage but in researching this have come across your article and others which mention William Johnson’s liaison with Mary McGrath. The dates fit and I wonder whether Sir William Johnson is in fact my 6 x gt grandfather!

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