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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 53: Formation of Tryon County — 1772.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 680-687 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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The five county districts of Mohawk, Canajoharie, Palatine, German Flats, and Kingsland — Johnstown made the county seat — Court house and jail built.

On March 24th, 1772, the great County of Tryon was set off from Albany County. Tryon included all that part of the Mohawk River watershed west of the western boundary of present Schenectady County and a line running roughly north and south therefrom, while the new civil division comprehended all of the former territory of Albany County, westward to the boundary line of the Six Nations, as set up by the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.

Sir William Johnson, of course, was the moving spirit in this eventful act of legislation and Johnstown naturally was made the county seat. Sir William now became the uncrowned prince of a great principality. The Royal governor, William Tryon, was flattered by having his name given to the new county.

Since the settlement of Schenectady in 1661, the people of the Mohawk Valley had been compelled to go to Albany on all legal and other public business. Their new county of Tryon with its county seat of Johnstown, not only enabled them to conduct their civil and judicial proceedings with a great saving of time, expense and energy, as compared with the days when they were citizens of Albany County, but it also gave them a new sense of independence and importance. The people of the Mohawk Valley, in their gratification at this advantageous change, naturally felt kindly toward Sir William Johnson and the loyalist or Tory party, in the Valley, was not long in taking advantage of the local era of good feeling which followed, as is shown by certain transactions which are later described for the first time. Whig and Tory differences seem to have been buried for a short period following the creation of the famous County of Tryon, which was to play such a large part in the Revolutionary war. It was a favorable act for the cause of American independence when the new county was erected, as the patriots would have been at a great disadvantage, had all the conduct of affairs on this distant and exposed frontier, been directed from Albany. Sir William Johnson unwittingly aided a movement, which he openly and strongly condemned, when he secured the formation of Tryon County. With its own Committee of Safety and its strong local militia and its powerful Whig majority, the Mohawk Valley, during the Revolution, formed a rampart of liberty which, although violently assailed, held out through eight years of blood and fire.

The lower Mohawk Valley, including Schenectady township or borough, was retained within Albany County, of which the entire Mohawk Valley had formed a part since the creation of Albany County in 1684. The greater part of the Schoharie section also continued as part of the County of Albany. This division of the Valley between two counties often proved unfortunate for the patriot cause, during the Revolution, but the general effect of the setting up of Tryon was most advantageous for the Whig majority.

Much of the confusion, attending the names of localities in reading local history, can be avoided by a knowledge of the boundaries of the five districts of Tryon County, which was formed in 1772, from the County of Albany. Most of its inhabitants then were settled along the Mohawk River and in the Schoharie Valley but these five districts had a tremendous extent.

The eastern border of Tryon County, named after the governor of that day, ran from the Pennsylvania border due north from the Delaware River through what is now Schoharie County and along the eastern limits of the present counties of Montgomery, Fulton and Hamilton to the Canadian border and embraced the territory westward to Fort Stanwix. Instead of townships it was divided into five large districts. The most eastern of these was called Mohawk and consisted of a strip of the state between the east line of the county already mentioned and a parallel line crossing the Mohawk River at the "Noses." The Palatine district extended indefinitely northward from the river between the "Noses" on the east and on the west a north and south line crossing the river at Little Falls. With the same breadth on the opposite side of the river the Canajoharie district extended south to the Pennsylvania line. North of the Mohawk and west of the Palatine district as far as settlements extended was the Kingsland district, while south of the river extending westward, from Little Falls to Fort Stanwix and southerly to the Pennsylvania line, was the German Flats district. These divisions were made March 24, 1772, and were suggested by Sir William Johnson. The name of the Palatine district was at first Stone Arabia, but was changed to Palatine a year after this division. All these names except Kingsland, are retained in townships in the counties of Herkimer and Montgomery, comprising minute areas compared with their original size.

The district of Palatine took its name from the German settlers from the Palatinate while that of Canajoharie was derived from the name of the famous creek. This stream's name comes from the huge pothole located almost at the beginning of the picturesque gorge leading to the falls. The title, Canajoharie, according to Brant, means, in Mohawk dialect, "the pot which washes itself." From the foregoing it will be seen that the affairs of Fort Plain are more immediately concerned with the districts of Canajoharie and Palatine, of the County of Tryon. Also that the Revolutionary name Canajoharie, applies to a large district, extending over twenty miles along the river, and not to the present comparatively small township of that name. A reference to Canajoharie of that time might mean any point in the present towns of Root, Canajoharie, Minden or Danube, or the districts back of these from the river.

Fort Canajoharie in 1757 was located in Danube and the upper Mohawk village near the same place was called the Canajoharie Castle. Herkimer's residence was in the Canajoharie district near its western end and he represented that district in the Tryon County committee of safety and was also the colonel of the district's militia as well as brigadier general of that of the entire county. A realization of the extent and boundaries of the district of Canajoharie of the Revolution will aid in acquiring accurate knowledge of the history of that time.

Johnson was ever mindful of the necessity of maintaining good relations with his Mohawk Indian neighbors and the names of the Mohawk and Canajoharie districts of Tryon County may have been given to gratify our Valley Iroquois. The Lower Castle at Fort Hunter was that of the "Mohawks" while the Upper Castle was the town of the "Canajoharies," according to the designations of the time by Sir William Johnson. The Indians of both castles were Mohawks and the names were probably adopted by Johnson as a matter of convenience. The old Indian district of Canajoharie had been so called since the earliest days and it was therefore a natural title for the south shore district of Canajoharie in the new County of Tryon. However, it is probable that Sir William ostensibly bestowed these names as a compliment to his "Mohawk" and "Canajoharie" brethren.

The first Tuesday in January the voters in each district were to elect a supervisor, two assessors and one collector of taxes. Four judges, six assistant judges, a number of justices of the peace, a clerk and a coroner were appointed by Governor Tryon, all but the clerk being Sir William Johnson's nominees. The first court of general quarter sessions was held at Johnstown, the county seat, on September 8, 1772. The bench consisted of Guy Johnson, John Butler and Peter Conyne, judges; John Johnson, Daniel Claus, John Wells and Jelles Fonda, assistant judges; John Collins, Joseph Chew, Adam Loucks, John Frey, Peter Ten Broeck and ———— Young, justices.

It will be seen that Sir William Johnson was practically dictator of the new county as the majority of the above officers were his Tory henchmen. Sir William Johnson was also major general commanding all the militia north of the highlands of the Hudson. He took great pride in his militia and their soldierly appearance. Governor Tryon in his tour of the Mohawk Valley in 1772 reviewed three regiments of Tryon County militia at Johnstown, Burnetsfield and German Flats, respectively, numbering in all 1,400 men. This military training of the Mohawk Valley men was undoubtedly of great value to them in the following conflict.

It was almost entirely the influence of Sir William Johnson which made the eastern section of Tryon County a region unfavorable to the cause of independence. He had created a county seat at Johnstown and a powerful following about him. As Indian commissioner and general of all the militia he was supreme as a director of affairs. Johnson had practically absolute power over the Iroquois and an almost equally strong influence over a large portion of the white population. His domains in the Mohawk Valley included the 66,000 acres, mostly in what is now Herkimer County and which in 1760 were given him by the Mohawks, in the possession of which he was confirmed by the crown and which led to its being called the Royal Grant. Aside from this his landed estate was large and his henchmen and numerous tenantry added to his political strength, which was increased still further by his great personal popularity with all classes. By the Indians, not only of the Six Nations, but also of the western tribes, which had fallen within the circle of his influence, the baronet was regarded with the greatest veneration in spite of his unassuming sociability and his familiar manners incident to a border life. This tremendous influence over these Indian warriors was on his death in July, 1774, transferred to his son, Sir John Johnson, who succeeded to his position as major-general of the militia, to his title and most of his estate, and also to his son-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson, who became superintendent of Indian affairs. The Johnsons had the added support of Molly Brant, a Mohawk, who had been Sir William Johnson's housekeeper, and who with her brother, Joseph Brant, had great influence with their tribe. Joseph Brant had been in the service of the elder Johnson and upon his death became secretary to Guy Johnson. Thus a great, though diminished, Tory influence still emanated from Johnson Hall. Its proprietor was in close official and political relations with Col. John Butler, a wealthy and influential resident of the county, and his son Walter, whose names are infamous on account of their brutal and bloody deeds during the Revolution. The Johnson family, together with other gentlemen of Tory inclinations, owned large estates in the neighborhood and so far controlled a belt of the Mohawk Valley as to largely prevent the circulation of intelligence unfavorable to England.

[Photo: The Butler House, 1742.]

Unlike Sir William Johnson, his successors at Johnson Hall were very unpopular with the farming population, which was composed in the main of the Dutch and Palatines.

[Photo: Officers Elected in the Canajoharie District of Tryon County, 1773.]

[Photo: Officers Elected in the Palatine District of Tryon County, 1773.]

The first election in the county occurred pursuant to writs issued November 25, 1772. Colonel Guy Johnson and Colonel Hendrick Frey were chosen to represent the county in the state assembly, where they took their seats January 11, 1773. The men of the Johnson party and others aforementioned will be found deeply concerned in later Revolutionary movements and actions in Tryon County.

* * * * *

William Tryon was a native of Ireland and an officer in the British service. He married Miss Wake, a relative of the Earl of Hillsborough, secretary for the colonies. Thus connected, he was a favorite of government, and was appointed lieutenant-governor of North Carolina in 1765, later becoming governor. In 1771 he was called to fill the same office in New York. The history of his administration in North Carolina is a record of extortion, folly and crime. During his administration in New York the Revolution broke out and he was the last royal governor of the state, though nominally succeeded in office by General Robertson, when he returned to England. His property in North Carolina and New York was confiscated.

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