The colonists immediately divided into two parties; on the one side were those who felt that they must obey what they thought to be the call of liberty; on the other were those who had no desire, and felt no need, to follow a summons to insurrection against His Majesty the King. The red man began to see clearly that the whites, the ‘Long Knives,’ brethren of the same race, would soon be at one another’s throats, and that they, the natives, could not remain neutral when the war broke out.
During these alarming days Sir William Johnson died, when scarcely sixty years of age. He had seen that the break with the motherland was coming, and the prospect was almost more than he could bear. On the very day of his death he had received dispatches from England that probably hastened his end. He was told, under the royal seal, of the great peril that lay in store for all the king’s people, and he was urged to keep the Six Nations firm in their allegiance to the crown. On that morning, July 11, 1774, the dying man called the Indians to council, and spoke what were to be his parting words to the tribes. They must, he said, stand by the king, undaunted and unmoved under every trial. A few hours later the gallant Sir William Johnson, the friend of all the sons of the forest, the guide and helper of Joseph Brant, had breathed his last. His estates and titles were inherited by his son John Johnson, who was also promoted to the rank of major-general in the army. The control of Indian Affairs passed into the hands of his son-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson, an able man, but less popular and wanting the broad sympathies of the great superintendent. Brant was at once made secretary to Guy Johnson, and to these two men Sir William’s work of dealing with the Indians now fell. Their task, laid on them by their king, was to keep the Six Nations true to his cause in the hour when the tomahawk should leave its girdle and the war fires should again gleam sullenly in the depths of the forest.