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250 Words on the 250th Anniversary of Europeans ‘Discovering’ Saratoga’s Springs 

Yes, we actually wrote 250 words—feel free to count 'em—on the origins of the Spa City.

The bas-relief artwork on the facade of the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center, depicting Mohawk Indians bringing Sir William Johnson to High Rock Spring, tells a story that is dubious at best. (Dori Fitzpatrick)

According to legend—and this is the founding legend of Saratoga Springs we’re talking about—Sir William Johnson, a British-born friend to the Mohawk Indians of Upstate New York, was carried to High Rock Spring by said Indians to nurse wounds he’d sustained during the French and Indian War, thus making him the first European to lay eyes on the healing mineral springs for which Saratoga would come to be known. 

And while this legend is rooted in fact—Johnson did, indeed, write a letter in 1771 stating that he had “lately paid a Visit to try the Effects of a Spring lately discovered to the Northward of Schenectady”—the particulars are questionable. Johnson had been wounded more than a decade beforehand in 1771, so why had the Mohawks, with whom he had worked closely as the superintendent of Indian Affairs and whom most sources agree knew about the springs long before Europeans came to the region, not
brought him to High Rock earlier?  

Regardless of the validity of the story, 1771 was the year the survey of the Kayaderosseras Patent—a huge tract of land that included present-day Saratoga—was completed. The springs, Dr. Samuel Tenney wrote in 1783, “were unknown (except to the Mohawks, in whose country they are found) ’till about thirteen years ago; at which time they were discovered by some surveyors.” Tenney’s estimation lines up perfectly with the completion of the survey in 1771, making this year, 2021, the semiquincentennial of Europeans “discovering” Saratoga’s springs.

Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the director of content at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living.

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