Early life and education
Born near Amsterdam, New York, Johnson was the only son of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Colonel Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet, and his common-law wife, Catherine Weisenberg, a Palatine German immigrant. He was baptized as an Anglican in the chapel at Fort Hunter. William Johnson was a military commander during the French and Indian War (Seven Years War), had promoted the British settlement of the Mohawk Valley and trading with the Mohawk, and founded the community of Johnstown in Tryon County in the Province of New York.
Sir John Johnson, who assumed office in 1771, was the last Provincial Grand Master of Masons in the colonies of Province of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In 1774 at his father's death, John Johnson succeeded to the baronetcy and inherited his father's title and extensive estates, making him a wealthy landowner. In 1775, he was appointed doorkeeper of the New York Provincial Assembly.
Marriage and family
Johnsons parents, Catherine Weissenberg and Sir William Johnson were never married and so he was Baptised John Wysen Bergh by Rev. Henry Barclay February 7, 1741/2. This means that he was never legally the second Baronet of New York. However as he had been Knighted he was Sir John Johnson in his own right. This has now (in 2013) been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Justice at the House of Lords in London by a 5 x great grand daughter of Catherine Weissenberg. Johnson took as a common-law wife Clarissa Putman, daughter of Arent Putman and Elizabeth Peek of Tribes Hill, New York, from 1765 to 1773. She was of Dutch ancestry. They had a daughter Margaret in 1765, and a son William in 1770.
On June 30, 1773, Johnson married Mary Watts (daughter of Hon. John Watts President of the King's Council, of New York). After he escaped to Canada in May 1776 at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Lady Johnson was detained that year by the Whigs of New York as a hostage for the good conduct of her husband. After she was freed to join Sir John in Canada, the couple lived in Montreal during the winter and spent the summers on their seigneury at Argenteuil, Ottawa on the Ottawa River. The couple also visited in England.
The couple had ten sons and four daughters. Eight of their sons served in the British army and navy. One son, James Stephen Johnson, was killed at the siege of Badajoz, in 1814. Their daughter Catherine Maria Johnson married Major-General Bernard Foord Bowes, who fell at Salamanca, in 1812. Their first son Adam Gordon Johnson (1781-1843) succeeded his father to the baronetcy. Their daughter, Anne Nancy Johnson, married Colonel Edward MacDonnell (Deputy Quartermaster General to the Forces in Canada, and one-time aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington). Their last surviving child, an unmarried daughter, died in London on 1 January 1868.
Lady Johnson died in Montreal, August 7, 1815. Her husband died in Montreal, January 4, 1830. Both are buried at Mount Johnson, near Chambly, Quebec. 
Johnson and Clarissa Putman's grandson, James E. Van Horne, and great-grandson, William Van Horne, were each elected mayor of Schenectady, New York.
In January 1776, nine months after the outbreak of the American Revolution, Johnson gathered several hundred armed supporters at Johnstown. He sent a letter to Governor William Tryon, through Captain John McDonell, saying that he and his Loyalist neighbors had conferred about raising a battalion for the British cause. He also said he could raise 500 Indian warriors who, when used with his regular troops, could retake all of the forts captured by the rebels.
On January 20, 1776, General Schuyler, with a force of Continental troops and the Tryon County militia numbering around 3,000, disarmed Johnson and about 300 of his Loyalist supporters; Schuyler paroled Johnson. Hearing in May 1776 of another force being sent to arrest him, Johnson decided to flee with his family and supporters to Canada. He led about 170 of his tenants and allies among the Iroquois Confederacy to Montreal, Quebec. Sir John's loyalty to the King cost him his home in Johnstown and extensive property in the Mohawk Valley, all of which was confiscated after the war by the State of New York.
Johnson and his followers formed the core of the British military regiment known as the King's Royal Regiment of New York, which had substantial action against the New York colonials under his command throughout the war. Johnson was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1782. On March 14, 1782 he received the appointment of Superintendent General and Inspector General of Indian affairs. His authority extended over all northern First Nations allied with the Crown, including four of the Iroquois League nations, who had mostly relocated to Canada after having been allies of the losing British during the revolution.
In 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed, establishing the independence of the American Colonies. Johnson and thousands of other Loyalists were in permanent exile in Canada. The British had transported some Loyalists from New York and New England for resettlement to Nova Scotia, including more than 3,000 Black Loyalists: African-American slaves whom they had freed as promised for their service during the war.
In 1784, the Crown appointed Johnson to distribute crown lands (purchased from First Nations) along the St. Lawrence River and the north shore of Lake Ontario (what became known as Upper Canada) to Loyalists who had come to Canada, as some compensation for their losses in the colonies. The government wanted to encourage development of this part of Canada, as it was lightly settled. The exiles faced severe conditions in the early years, as they struggled to create settlements out of frontier lands, and the British were not able to get adequate supplies to them on time. Johnson estimated that he had arranged the settlement of 3,776 Loyalists during that first year.
In 1791, Lord Dorchester recommended Johnson as lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, but London turned this recommendation down.
In 1796, Johnson moved back to Montreal, then the seat of government, where he served in the Legislative Council of Lower Canada and as head of the Indian Department for Lower Canada. He held extensive land holdings in both Upper and Lower Canada, including the seigneuries of Monnoir and Argenteuil in Quebec.
Johnson died in Montreal in 1830 at the age of 88.
Legacy and honors
- The Sir John Johnson House in Williamstown, Ontario, was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1961.
- Lac Sir John, a small lake near Lachute and Morin Heights, Quebec is named after him.
- "Biography" (in fr). Dictionnaire des parlementaires du Québec de 1792 à nos jours. National Assembly of Quebec. http://www.assnat.qc.ca/fr/patrimoine/anciens-parlementaires/johnson-john-217.html.
- Henry James Morgan, Types of Canadian Women and of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected with Canada, Toronto, 1903, text online
- Sir John Johnson House, Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada
- Sir John Johnson House. Canadian Register of Historic Places.
- "White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America", Fintan O'Toole, 2005.
- "Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2005.
- The Mohawk Valley During the Revolution, by Harold Frederic, 1877
- Sir John Johnson Burial vault
- The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of New York: The History of the Grand Lodge of New York
- Sir John Johnson at Montreal and Niagara, Haldimand Collection
- John J. Vrooman, "Clarissa Putman of Tribes Hill", Ancestry.com
- Bryan, William (August 1874). "Sir John Johnson". pp. 340–344. http://archive.org/stream/pottersamericanm03lossuoft#page/340/mode/2up. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet at Find a Grave
|Baronetage of Great Britain|
(of New York)
Adam Gordon Johnson
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