John was born to Walter and Deborah Butler in New London, Connecticut in 1728. His family soon moved to the frontier in the Mohawk Valley near modern Fonda, New York. In 1752 he married Catherine Brandt, and the couple raised five children
He entered militia service in the French and Indian War, and saw action at Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Niagara, and Montreal. After the war he came home, and built his estate up to 26,000 acres. He was second only to Sir William Johnson as a wealthy pioneer.
Butler returned to service as a loyalist when the revolution turned to war in 1775. He joined Sir William's Indian Department, and in November he was posted to Fort Niagara. His oldest son (Walter) served with him, but his wife and other children were detained by the American rebels.
In the summer of 1777 he led a detachment of Indians from Niagara to accompany Barry St. Ledger's Mohawk Expedition as a part of the Saratoga Campaign. He led this same band in a successful ambush in the Battle of Oriskany. As a result, after this expedition, he was commissioned as a Lt. Colonel and given authority to raise his own regiment, which became known as Butler's Rangers.
In the June of 1778, Butler led 20 men from his rangers and 300 Indians against Wyoming (now Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania). They succeeded in destroying several forts in the Wyoming Valley. Later that year, he had the misfortune to be in command when his Indian allies initiated the Cherry Valley Massacre.
His unit of Rangers was spread through frontier outposts from Niagara to Illinois. Butler himself commanded at Fort Niagara which, despite attacks, never fell to the Americans. In 1779, he lost a fight against the Sullivan Expedition, and withdrew but still held out at Niagara.
Post War Years
After the war, John abandoned his New York estate, and turned to farming near Niagara. He became one of the leaders of Upper Canada, (later called Ontario). He was a Deputy Superintendent for the Indian Department, a Justice of the Peace, and the local militia commander. He was also prominent in establishing the Anglican Church and Masonic Order in Ontario.