Sir William Johnson was famous for his ability to get along with Indians and with women. Though he was never formally married, he had at least 16 children that we know about and was rumored to have fathered even more. One of his known daughters was a girl named Nancy. She was one of three children Johnson had with a white German settler named Catherine Weisenberg. Nancy, who was more commonly known as Ann married Christian Daniel Claus, a German-born silk and tobacco trader who had come to America on a speculative deal to obtain those items. That deal had gone bad and lacking the money necessary for the return voyage home, he ended up becoming the tutor of the son of the English King’s Indian Agent in Pennsylvania. That agent introduced him to Johnson, who served as the Crown’s Indian agent for the Northern Colonies. Claus moved north to this area and married Nancy Johnson in 1762 and their son William, today’s Amsterdam birthday celebrant was born three years later, on September 8, 1765, at Fort Johnson.
As the grandson of this area’s most prominent citizen, there is little doubt that William Claus was one of the greater Amsterdam area’s first young “blue bloods,” sort of like being a Sanford heir at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. His parents had hoped to send him south to New York City to obtain a formal education but before they could do so, rebellion began breaking out throughout the Colonies and the entire Johnson family was forced to flee to Canada in 1775.
Young William began his military career in the British Army at the age of 12 in 1777, as an orderly in his Uncle, Sir John Johnson’s camp. There is evidence that five years later, he took part in the successful British raids against Fort Dayton and Fort Herkimer. Those raids were led by Mohawk Indian Chief Joseph Brant, whose older sister Molly had been Sir William Johnson’s last live-in consort before he died in 1774. By the end of the War, Claus had advanced to the rank of lieutenant and would later become a captain.
By 1788 Sir John Johnson had become the crown’s superintendent of Indian affairs in Canada and though it took him a while to do so, he was able to get his nephew William and appointment as a deputy superintendent. As soon as Claus took over the title he found himself in conflict with Joseph Brant, who wanted the Indian tribes of the Six Nations to have the right to sell land. Claus opposed Brant’s effort and after seven years of diplomatic wrangling with the British government, he was successful in thwarting it.
When the War of 1812 came, Claus led his units of militia troops competently and fought bravely for the British side. After losing two wars on the North American continent, the British decided to stop trying to dominate the native Indians of Canada and instead help them develop reservation-like settlements. Claus was lauded for his sincere advocacy of Indian interests during this transformation. So one of Amsterdam’s earliest highly-privileged bluebloods evolved into a much respected member of Canadian society. Cancer would clam Claus’s life in 1826 at the age of 61.