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William Johnson was born in Ireland but, as a Catholic, found himself with few opportunities in the British Empire. In 1738, he converted to Protestantism and arrived in the colonies to work for his uncle.
Johnson quickly went into business for himself and became heavily involved in trading with the local natives, particularly the Kanien'kehá:ka. He gained the respect of the Iroquois people by learning their language and respecting their customs. Johnson was appointed as New York's agent to the Iroquois and was instructed to equip colonist and natives for a campaign against the French.