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Sacred to the Memory

I carried the remains of Sir John Johnson, last Baronet of New York, to their final resting place.

Sir John Johnson died in Montreal in January 1830 and was buried at his home in the family vault at Mount Johnson, now Mont-Saint-Grégoire, in the province of Quebec. It is said that his funeral was a colourful and impressive gathering of friends, relatives, and admirers. A Kahnawake chief speaking at the ceremony expressed their, “very great respect for the character of so great a father to the red children as he who made the roof to tremble.” The Montreal Gazette reported that Johnson’s funeral, “was attended by a larger concourse of people of all classes than ever assembled in the Canadas.”

The Funeral of Sir John Johnson

Needless to say, I did not attend the funeral. However, as President of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, I was invited to participate in the re-consecration of the Sir John Johnson Family Burial Vault.

Robert C. McBride, Frederick H. Hayward, Bonnie Schepers, Claude Neveu - August 23, 2014.

Some sixty years earlier the vault was bulldozed accidentally during work on the slopes of Mount Johnson. Finding the gravestone intact, the restoration of the family vault became a priority for the UELAC Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch. For many years they worked with the Haut-Richelieu Historical Society under the umbrella of la Société de restauration du Patrimoine Johnson to access and restore the family burial vault of Sir John Johnson. Their efforts were recognized in 2014 as a Legacy Project marking the 100-year anniversary of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada.

Mount Johnson, Vault of Sir John Johnson Painting by Henry Richard S. Bunnett, 1885 ©McCord Museum

Sir John Johnson (1741-1830) was the former Superintendent General of Indian Affairs and last Baronet of New York. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes him as soldier, Loyalist, and public servant. He was the son of Sir William Johnson and heir to the Johnson family's extensive Mohawk Valley estates. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, he moved to Montréal and from there organized and commanded the 2 battalions of the King's Royal Regiment of NY, a Loyalist Provincial corps. At the end of the war, Governor Haldimand placed Sir John in charge of land settlements for Refugee Loyalists in Canada.

In 1789 the Land Boards were established. On February 17,1789 Abraham Pastorius, my 4x great grandfather, was appointed to the newly created Montreal District Land Board. Sir John Johnson was appointed at the same time. Also on the board were William Dummer Powell, William Rankin, and a senior army officer ex officio. In 1792 both Sir John Johnson and Abraham Pastorius were reappointed.

Sir John Johnson spent the last years of his life surrounded by scenes that reminded him of his homes in the Mohawk valley. He chose to be buried at a place he loved - Mount Johnson.

On August 23, 2014, under a blazing sun, a solemn procession led by a piper from the 78th Fraser Highlanders made its way along a dusty path to the site of the restored burial vault. The group included 84th Highland Emigrants, Royal Yorkers, and representatives of the Grand Lodge of Quebec.

UELAC President Bonnie L. Schepers

I was one of two speakers invited to address the gathering —

It is my privilege as President of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, to participate in this historic event honouring the life of Sir John Johnson. The accomplishments of this outstanding man are too numerous to mention here but his legacy is evident. Perhaps, one hundred and eighty-four years after his death, his greatest distinction is that of trusted friend and adviser to the many Loyalists who found themselves homeless and in need of guidance at the end of the Revolutionary War.

Today we are witnessing the fulfillment of a dream that has been many years in the making. On May 13, 1998 members of the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch and Haut-Richelieu Historical Society formed La Société de restauration du Patrimoine Johnson to undertake the monumental task of rescuing this historic site. Thanks to the unwavering commitment and cooperation of dedicated volunteers we are able to gather today on sacred ground to witness the return of Sir John and his family to their final resting place.

Through the leadership of Fred Hayward, UELAC Dominion President 2008 – 2011, members of our Association were informed of the need to secure a significant place in our history, for the outstanding achievements of Sir John Johnson, United Empire Loyalist. The opportunity to become fully involved in the restoration of a significant Loyalist heritage site was compelling. Our initial support of the Vault Restoration Project was provided through several UELAC grants to the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch UELAC.

In March of 2011, following an impressive presentation of the project proposal to Dominion Council by Branch President Gerry Thomas, the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada unanimously agreed to designate the Sir John Johnson Vault Restoration as a UELAC 2014 Centennial Project. In preparation for our 100th Anniversary, historic monuments have been re-built, plaques have been restored, and new memorials have been created and dedicated.

The re-consecration of the Johnson Family burial vault is a major achievement of historic significance in our Anniversary year.

Congratulations to Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch and the Societe de Restauration du Patrimoine Johnson on a job well done. Your commitment to preserving and promoting the history of the United Empire Loyalists in Canada will be remembered for years to come.

Sir John Johnson and Lady Mary Watts Johnson

The Blessing Ceremony led by The Venerable Peter D. Hannen

The day held special significance for me. Following the service, I spoke with a direct descendant of Sir John Johnson and we commented on the strange coincidence that through our attendance some 225 years later, the Johnson and Pastorius families were reunited.

I have been unable to locate the burial site for Abraham Pastorius lost over time to urban development of the city of Montreal. Yet this day in the shadow of Mont-Saint-Grégoire I felt that I was honouring his memory as one who had walked the dusty roads outside the village of Mount Johnson.


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