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Who Was John Butler?

John Butler was born in New London Connecticut and baptized on April 28th, 1728. John was the son of Walter Butler and Deborah Ely. His father Walter Butler, a captain in the British army brought his family to the Mohawk Valley of New York around 1742.

Here the young John would form a friendship with Sir William Johnson, the superintendent of Indian Affairs. By the 1760's John Butler was working for William Johnson in the Indian Affairs Department. His ability to interpret and understand Indian Affairs would serve him well and he would eventually obtain the rank of Captain.

After Walter Butler's passing John Butler, who had married Catherine Bradt in 1758 settled his young family into the family estate in Butlersbury, close to Johnston, N.Y. where he took a position as Justice of the Peace.

During the early 1770's John Butler was less involved with the military preferring to devote himself to the operation of his huge estate. In 1772 Tyron County was established and he was named Lieutenant-Colonel of a militia regiment under the direction of Guy Johnston.

Upon Sir William's passing in 1774 the position of Superintendent was given to Sir William's nephew and son-in-law Guy Johnson. John Butler would serve as the newly appointed superintendent's deputy.

Joseph Brant, head of the Six Nations was the secretary to John Butler. In 1775 John Butler with sons Thomas and Walter, as well as the Johnsons, Colonel Daniel Claus, Gilbert Tice, Barent Frey, two sons of Sir William and 120 warriors and chiefs from the Six Nations made their way from Oswego to Montreal via the St. Lawrence River.

At Montreal the men were received by Governor Carleton and the following November John Butler received orders to report to the British outpost Fort Niagara.

The Butler's and the Johnson's had always remained on good terms with their Indian allies. As young men growing up in Johnstown they had become acquainted with a great many of them. John Butler knew their customs and could speak their language. Joseph Brant and his sister Molly had always been close friends of the Butlers. John Butler could move among the Indians as well as he could with British royalty.

Fort Niagara, a centre of trade between the aboriginal people and the white man would prove to be the perfect fit for Colonel Butler. Butler arrived at Niagara on November 17th, 1775 and immediately set to work gathering information from his Indian allies and a few Loyalist settlers.

He established a network of agents among the tribes from the Mohawk River to the Mississippi, which became a valuable source of intelligence for the British and an aid to loyalists fleeing to Canada. By the spring of 1776 John Butler received word that his family home in the Mohawk Valley had been burned and his wife as well as the wife of Guy Johnson had been taken prisoner. He would not see his wife again until an exchange was made for her freedom in 1780.

After recruiting as many men and natives as possible Butler was dispatched to Fort Stanwix where the attempted assault proved disastrous. Upon returning to Quebec in September 1777 Butler managed to convince Carleton that the only hope for a victory was to enlist the help of the Six Nations. Carleton agreed and Butler returned to Niagara where he continued in his attempt to recruit new militia.

By the year 1778 Butler had enlisted 300 men, and 48 officers. Loyalists were beginning to arrive in Niagara in greater numbers then ever before. There were very few provisions awaiting them once they arrived here. Niagara, at this time was little more than a few homes and inns. In a census taken in February 1779 nearly 1500 people were being provided rations at the fort at Niagara by the British government. Approximately one third of these were natives.

From 1777 to the disbandment of the Rangers Colonel Butler and his son Walter had been embarking on campaigns to destroy settlements in the Mohawk Valley and beyond. Although a hero in Canadian folklore Colonel Butler's name will also go down in history for such barbaric attacks as the Wyoming Valley Massacre.

By November 1779 John Butler had managed to build log barracks on the west side of the Niagara River for his newly formed band of Rangers. More loyalists began to retreat to the fort at Niagara. Some of these early loyalists arriving in 1779 were Daniel Servos, his father and brother, Jacob Caven and his family, John Middagh, Isaac Dobson and Robert Land.

John Butler was a prominent player in the European-Indian relations in North America. He was instrumental in acquiring South western Ontario for the British from the Mississaugas. Walter Butler, John's son was killed in action during a raid in the Mohawk Valley in 1781. After the disbandment of Butler's Rangers John Butler would continue to reside in Niagara and become one of it's most prominent citizens.

By 1795 Butler's health was waning and he spent the remainder of his life at his family farm in Niagara which he had named Butlersbury after his boyhood home in the Mohawk Valley.

John Butler died on May 12, 1796 and he was buried at the family burial plot on the Butler farm.