Visit of Sir William Johnson, Bart., in 1767.


"Is this not a strange fellow, my lord? that so confidently seems to undertake this business, which he knows is not to be done; damns himself to do, and dares better be damned then to do it?" – Shakspere.


BEFORE giving an account of the visit of Sir William Johnson, Bart., it seems proper to say a few words in relation to Saratoga itself. The name Saratoga, Kayaderoga , or Saraghora – and, in view of the great confusion existing in regard to it, the fact should be duly remembered – means The Place of the Swift Water – " saragh " signifying "swift water," " aga " or " oga " in the Iroquois dialect meaning "the place of" or "the people of." {Letter of Sir William Johnson to Arthur Lee, of the Philosophical Society, upon the Language of the Six Nations, Feb. 28, 1771.} Hence, Ticonder oga , "the place where the lake (Lake George) shuts itself"; Sacand aga , "the place or the people of the roaring water"; Niag ara , "the place of the falling waters," etc. Formerly, Schuyler’s settlement on the Hudson (now Schuylerville) was known by the name of "Saratoga" or "swift water", to distinguish that point in the river from the "still water" which there begins and extends down to the present village of "Stillwater." Saratoga Lake was so named from its proximity to Saratoga on the river; and when the Springs became famous, as they were within the district, they were named, "The Saratoga Springs." {The meaning of the name Saratoga has long been involved in obscurity. The father of Judge G.G. Scott, of Ballston, however, was informed by a Mohawk Indian that the meaning of Saratoga is the one given in the text, and there seems no good reason for doubting that it is the correct one.}

Nor is Saratoga without its warlike traditions. Long before its Springs were known, the old "Stiles Tavern" in Wilton was the site of a sanguinary battle, fought in 1693 between the French forces under the celebrated partisan De Manteth and the English, led by Major Peter Schuyler, the grand-uncle of General Philip Schuyler. The latter were victorious; and the enemy, utterly discomfited, beat a hasty retreat into Canada.

Having thus disposed of these preliminaries, we now come to the visit of Sir William Johnson, the first white man who, so far as is known, visited Saratoga Springs. Sir William, under a commission of Major-General from his Majesty George II., defeated the flower of the French army, under Baron Dieskau, at the battle of Lake George, on the 8 th of September, 1755. In this action he received a severe wound by a bullet in his thigh, from the effects of which he never wholly recovered, but was frequently subject to serious illness. At such times the wound, from which the ball was never extracted, became excessively painful, rendering him for weeks, after an attack, unable to ride on horseback or to endure any active exercise. Suitable medical attendance it was very difficult to procure, and it frequently happened that, having exhausted the contents of his own medical chest, he was obliged to send to Albany, and sometimes to New York, for a physician. It was during one of these attacks, in the summer of 1767, that the Mohawks determined, in solemn council, to reveal to their beloved brother, War-ra-ghi-ya-ghy, the peculiar medicinal properties of the "HIGH ROCK SPRING." Nor, perhaps, could there have been any stronger proof of the affection in which he was held by these sons of the forest, than their resolution to give their brother the benefits of that which they had always sacredly guarded as the precious gift to themselves alone from the Great Spirit. Accompanied by his Indian guides, the Baronet set out on his journey the 22 d of August, and passing down the Mohawk from Johnstown in a boat, soon reached Schenectady. At this place, being to feeble either to walk or ride, he was placed on a litter and borne on the stalwart shoulders of his Indian attendants through the woods to Ballston Lake, which he reached the same evening. Tarrying over night at the log cabin of Michael McDonald, an Irishman, who had recently begun a clearing in the vicinity, the party, three hours before sunrise the next day, plunged again into the forest; and, following the trail of Indian hunters along that which is now the road from Ballston to Saratoga, came to the chief tributary of Lake Saratoga, the Kayaderosseras.

In the gray dawn of that summer morning, along the green aisles of the primeval forest, the party silently pursued their way. The moccasined feet pressed down the wild-flowers in their path. Wheeling above with untiring wing, as if moving with and watching over the party, were several noble bald eagles, whose eyries hung on the beetling crags, affording to the invalid a presage of health and happiness. Aloft, the pine-tree towered above a sea of verdure, and below, the maple, whose virgin cheeks were not yet brazen with the paint of early frosts, modestly shrank from the passing gaze. "Old fir-trees, hoary and grim, shaggy with pendant mosses leaned above the stream, and beneath, dead and submerged, a fallen sycamore thrust from the current the bare, bleached limbs of its colossal skeleton."

The sun was an hour above the eastern hills when the startled deer saw the evergreens sway and the Baronet’s party emerge from the thicket. Their polished bracelets and rich trappings, glittering in the dewy foliage like so many diamonds, were in keeping with the cheerfulness visible upon each countenance – for were they not bearing their dearly beloved brother to the medicine spring of the Great Spirit? As the party emerge from the glade upon the greensward, they separate into two divisions, and, with gentle tread, approach the spring, bearing their precious burden in the centre. Pausing a few rods from the spring, the Baronet leaves the litter; and, for a moment, his manly form, wrapped in his scarlet blanket bordered with gold lace, stands towering and erect above the waving plumes of his Mohawk braves. Then, approaching the spring, he kneels, with uncovered head, and reverently places upon the rock a roll of fragrant tobacco – his propitiatory offering to the Manitou of the Spring. Still kneeling, he fills and lights the great calumet, which, through a long line of kings, had descended to the renowned Pontiac, and, taking a whiff from its hieroglyphic stem, passes it to each chieftain in turn. Then, amid the profound silence of his warriors, he for the first time touches his lips to the water; and, gathering the folds of his mantle about him, amid a wild and strange chant raised by the Indians to their Deity, he enters the rude bark lodge which, with prudent forethought, his braves had erected for his comfort, directly where the bottling-house now stands; and in this primitive hotel reclined the first white man that had ever visited this Spring. Yet while the sufferer lay on his evergreen couch, did the fortunes of the General whom he had defeated twelve years previously occur to him? Perhaps so; for by a singular coincidence, while the conqueror of Dieskau was prostrated amid these forests, where the wounds of both had been received, the French General was languishing on his death-bed at a small town in the interior of France {Baron Dieskau died from the effects of his wounds, received at Lake George, on the 8 th day of September, 1767, at Turenne in France.}

"The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

Sir William Johnson had been but four days at the "High Rock" when he received letters obliging him to hasten immediately home. Short as his visit was, however, the water restored his strength so far as to enable him to travel some of the way to Schenectady on foot; and again taking his water-carriage, he arrived on the 4 th of September at Johnstown, to welcome his son, Sir John, who had just arrived from England. The popularity of Saratoga Springs as a watering-place may be said to date from this visit. "My dear Schuyler," writes the Baronet upon his return, to his intimate friend, General Philip Schuyler, "I have just returned from a visit to a most amazing Spring, which almost effected my cure; and I have sent for Dr. Stringer, of New York, to come up and analyze it." Hence it was that the fact of so distinguished a personage as Sir William having been partially restored by the water soon became noised through the country, inducing others to make the trial. In 1770, a Dr. Constable, who resided at Schenectady, examined the water at Saratoga, and pronounced it highly medicinal. In October, 1777, the late Major-General Mooers, of Plattsburg, who was stationed after Burgoyne’s surrender at Palmertown (Wilton), visited the Spring; and in 1783, seven years afterwards, Dr. Samuel Tenney, a regimental surgeon, in camp at Fish Creek, also paid a visit to the Spring, and made some interesting and judicious remarks on its properties and uses as a medicine. In the summer of the same year, Major-General Philip Schuyler cut a road {This road went from the Upper Village through the Ten Springs; thence easterly on the sandy ridge north of the "Bear Swamp" to Scidmore’s Tavern; and from Scidmore’s (now Birch’s) to the "Slocum Place" (Lockro’s), and thence along Fish Creek direct to Grangerville and Schuylerville on the Hudson River.} through the forest from Schuylerville to the High Rock, and erected a tent, under which himself and his family spent several weeks, using the water. New springs were subsequently discovered; and thenceforth the "Springs" became a resort of those who were in pursuit of health and pleasure. For many years after its discovery, the High Rock continued to be the resort of people from all sections of the country; and when other springs were found in the neighboring village of Ball’s Town, in 1770, the chief drive of the visitors there was through the woods to the "High Rock Spring." {For an exhaustive account of the "High Rock," its geology, etc., the reader is referred to A Concise History of the High Rock Spring , by Henry McGuire, Albany, C. Van Benthuysen & Sons, 1868. This work also contains the addresses of Chancellor Walworth and the author at the Centennial Celebration of the High Rock Spring in 1866.} The accommodations, however, for a long time continued to be of the most primitive character. "These waters," writes Elkanah Watson, in visiting the "High Rock" in 1790, "are situated in a marsh, partially enveloped by slight eminences, along the margin of which the road winds. There is no convenience for bathing, except an open log-hut, with a large trough, similar to those in use for feeding swine, which receives the water from the Spring. Into this you roll from off a bench."



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