Historian, author Dan Weaver to give talk on the ‘Willigee Negroes’

FORT JOHNSON — Area historian and author Dan Weaver will speak on “Sir Peter Warren, William Johnson and the ‘Willigee Negroes'” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday for Evenings at Old Fort Johnson, Routes 5 and 67, according to a news release.

Weaver explores the mysteries surrounding an early settlement on the edge of lands claimed by Sir Peter Warren. William Johnson came from Ireland in 1738 with 12 families to settle his uncle’s property in what is now the Town of Florida. They began to clear the forest, only to discover some of it already belonged to the mysterious “Willigee Negroes.”

The Willigee Patent contained 266 acres of land located on the south shore of the Mohawk River, across from modern-day Cranesville. Its earliest settlers–the Van Coppernol, Van Olinda and Philips families — were Johnson’s neighbors. Who were the free blacks who owned this flat river bottom land that Warren coveted? Researchers have tried for years to establish their identity beyond letters in Sir William Johnson’s Papers. Copies of Weaver’s book on this topic will be available for sale after the lecture.

Weaver’s interest in the history of the Mohawk Valley began as a teen when he stumbled upon Walter Edmonds’ books in the Bangor Maine Public Library. Dan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English with a minor in history from the University at Albany. He owns a used and antiquarian book store, The Book Hound, in Amsterdam, is president of the Historic Amsterdam League, and writes a local history column for the Amsterdam Recorder.

“Evenings at the Old Fort” lectures are presented in the front parlor of Old Fort Johnson during the summer months. Admission is free to members of the Montgomery County Historical Society. A $2 donation is requested from all others.

Old Fort Johnson, a National Historic Landmark, is the 1749 home built by Sir William Johnson. Fortified during the French and Indian War, it was the center of many Indian councils and British military negotiations. It remained in the Johnson family until the American Revolution. The house has been maintained and operated as a museum by the nonprofit Montgomery County Historical Society for 113 years.

For directions or more information, visit the website or call (518) 843-0300.