I have, for some time, been interested in the life and times
of Chief Joseph Brant. He was, without question, a colourful and controversial
figure caught up in the crush of the cultural evolution that swept over the North
American continent during the end of the 18th century.
My portrait of him is an imaginative interpretation of him
as a young man, based on prior 'formal' and 'informal' euro-portraits done of him later in life.
(Note: He lived long before photography, as a documentary device, emerged.) All
we have today are other artistic interpretations of him. Mostly he was
painted as an emissary for his people, though, in fact, he had little
hereditary stature within the then small Mohawk nation. The 'Chief' designation
came as a 'war' appellation, later in life.
I've now added my own portrait of Chief Joseph Brant to the
well-known portrait pantheon of the man, created by George Romney, Gilbert Stuart, William
Anderson, Charles Wilson Peale, Ezra Ames etc.
Who was Chief Joseph Brant?*
Chief Joseph Brant (b.1743-d.1807)
- aka Thayendanegea
("he who places two bets") - was a prominent Mohawk politician and
warrior during the American and British Revolution in North America.
Joseph became a
'Brant' when his mother (of the matri-lineal Mohawk Wolf Clan) married for a second
time to Brant, a well known Mohawk leader. "
Her new husband's
family had deep ties with the British; his grandfather was one of the Four
Mohawk Kings to visit England
in 1710." (Wikipedia) Joseph's half-sister, Molly, soon established a common-law
relationship with Sir William Johnson
, the influential and wealthy British
Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs.
Sir William was fluent in the language of
Mohawk and was greatly involved with the development of 'British-Indian'
relations over the course of his lifetime.
Joseph moved in with them at Johnson Hall, and
William soon took on the responsibility of educating Joseph to, what would
become, the 'New World'.
It is interesting to note, that, by the time of his death,
Johnson was one of the largest landowners in British America, (170,000 acres), and
one of it's largest Northern slave owners (60 Afro-Americans and numerous indentured Irish families worked his lands and mills.)
Sir William Johnson was also a strong supporter of the
British Anglican Church to counter the influence of French Catholic
missionaries in western New York.
By so doing, he consolidated both Iroquois and British territorial and growing commercial
interests against the rival Algonquin and invested French interests.
In 1769 Sir William Johnson paid for the construction of an
Anglican church for the Mohawk on land donated by Molly Brant. He is known to
have had 8 children with her, as well as numerous other children by other
women. (Not particularly 'uncommon behaviour' for that era.)
Joseph watched this powerful man of influence and learned how to 'operate' ...
Starting around age 18, Brant took part with Mohawk and
other Iroquois allies in a number of British actions against the French in what
is now upper New York state and Canada.
In the spring of 1772, at 29 years of age, Brant went to Fort Hunterto stay with the Reverend John Stuart. He became Stuart's interpreter and
teacher of Mohawk, collaborating with him to translate the Anglican catechism
and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language. Brant was, seemingly, a devout Anglican.
He married three times: Peggy, who died of tuberculosis,
(and had two sons, including Isaac who he later killed, in 'self defense'),
Suzanna (died in 1777, with no issue) and Catherine Adonwentishon
Croghan, who he married in the winter of 1780. She was the daughter of
Catharine (Tekarihoga), a Mohawk, and George Croghan, a prominent Irish
colonist and British Indian agent, deputy to Sir William Johnson. She and
Joseph had seven children.
On November 11, 1775, Guy Johnson (nephew of Sir William)
took Brant, aged 32, with him to London
to solicit more support from the British government. Brant hoped to persuade
the Crown to address past Mohawk land grievances in exchange for their
participation as allies in the impending revolutionary war. The British
government promised the Iroquois people land in Quebec if the combined Iroquois nations
would fight on the British side in what was shaping up as open rebellion by the
American colonists. In London,
Brant was treated as a celebrity and was interviewed for publication by James
Boswell. His portrait was painted (twice) by famed
portrait painter, George Romney, and later, by other notable portrait artists. He
was received by King George III at St. James' Palace. Life was good.
Meanwhile, the existing council of the Six Nations had
previously decided on a policy of neutrality between the warring North American
euro-factions. They considered Brant a minor war chief and his Mohawk clan a
relatively weak people. Frustrated, Brant recruited insurgents who would become
known as 'Brant's Volunteers'. In essence, these fighters were a mixed band of marauders
who raided frontier communities, stealing cattle, livestock & crops, and burned
homesteads, killing many 'enemies' ...
In July 1777 the Six Nations council decided to abandon
neutrality and entered the war on the British side. Brant soon acquired a reputation
as 'Monster Brant' for his lack of restraint in military actions. That
nickname was built, it seems, on unsubstantiated rumor, but stuck. During his
assorted military escapades, he was wounded twice, once in the ankle, and once in
In May, 1779, Brant returned to Fort
Niagara where, with his new British salary
and plunder from his raids, he acquired a farm on the Niagara
River, six miles from the fort. To work the farm and to serve the
household, he used slaves captured during his raids. Brant also bought two slave girls,
a seven-year-old African-American girl named Sophia Burthen Pooley
& her sister. They served
him and his family for many years before he sold Sophia to an Englishman in Ancaster for $100. (It appears that Sophia and his wife, Catherine, didn't get along that well ...)
He, like Sir William Johnson before him, built a small
Anglican chapel for the Indians who lived nearby.
With the Treaty of Paris (1783), both Britain and the United States ended their conflict.
Both countries studiously ignored any prior land sovereignty issue with the
Indians. Brant was disgusted by this
betrayal and became instrumental in the establishment of the Western
Confederacy (of 15 tribes), that attempted to regain sovereign control of former
native lands. The long and the short of it, they did not succeed.
Brant, however, was 'honoured' in 1784 by then Upper Canadian
Governor, Haldimand, with a pension and a proclaimed land grant for a Mohawk
reserve on the Grand River in present day Ontario. Later that year, the clan matrons
decided that the Six Nations should divide, with half going to the Haldimand
grant and the other half staying in upstate New York.
With his secured funds, Joseph built
a new house in Brant's Town which was described as "a handsome two story
house, built after the manner of the white people." Therein, he managed 20
white and black servants and slaves. (Brant believed Anglo Governments made too
much over the keeping of slaves. Captives
of war were long used as servants in Indian practice.) He developed a good farm
of mixed crops and also kept cattle, sheep, and hogs.
In 1792, the American government invited Brant to Philadelphia, then capital of the United States,
where he met President George Washington and his cabinet. The Americans offered
him a large pension, and tried to lure back the Mohawks, with a reservation in upstate New York.
In early 1797, Brant traveled again to Philadelphia
to assured the Americans that he "would never again take up the tomahawk
against the United States."
Brant actually offered his band of 'volunteers' to the French to "overturn the British government in the
He eventually secured 3,500 acres from the Mississauga
Indians at the head of Burlington
Bay. (By then, Upper Canada's Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe,
would not allow land sales between Indians, so he bought this tract of land
from the Mississauga
and gave it to Brant.) Around 1802, Brant moved there and built a mansion that
was intended to be a half-scale version of Johnson Hall. He is known to have had a prosperous farm, in
the colonial style, with a 100 acres of crops.
Joseph Brant died in this house at the head of Lake
Ontario (site of what would become the
city of Burlington, Ontario) on November 24, 1807 at age 64
after a short illness.
His last words, reputedly spoken to his adopted nephew, John Norton, reflect
his lifelong commitment to his people: "Have pity on the poor Indians. If
you have any influence with the great, endeavour to use it for their good."
In 1850, his remains were carried 34
miles in relays on the shoulders of young men of the Grand River Indian Reserve
to a tomb at Her Majesty's Chapel of the Mohawks in Brantford, Ontario.
In summation, Brant clearly acted as a wily negotiator for the Six Nations. He used British fears of his
dealings with the Americans & the French to extract concessions, and to self-profit.
His conflicts with British administrators in Canada regarding tribal land claims
were later exacerbated by his renewed relations with American leaders. Yet, even so, the Brits allowed him to settle handsomely in Upper Canada, off reserve.
Brant was a war chief, not a hereditary Mohawk chief or sachem. His
decisions could and were at times overruled by the assembled sachems and clan
matrons. However, his natural ability, his early education, and, the connections
he was able to form, made him one of the most influential Indian leaders of
His lifelong mission was to help the Indian survive
the transition from one culture to another, transcending the political, social
and economic challenges of one of the most volatile, dynamic periods of North American
NB: There are ample on-line resources to further expand your knowledge of this intriguing man ...
In other news ... and a curious bit of timing ...
The City of Burlington unveils a new heritage plaque this week ...