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Shadow soldiers: captain Joseph Brant: Joseph Brant had the mind of a statesman, the heart of a leader, the soul of a warrior, and had the British prevailed New York might have remained his homeland. Instead he wreaked ferocity upon it within America and brought vengeance upon it from Canada.


Joseph Brant's Mohawk name of 'Thayendanegen' translated into 'he who binds two sticks together' and corresponded with his dream for the Iroquois Confederacy to live in peace and equality with whites.

It implied his calling card to British, French and American whites was diplomacy just as it was with the Indian nations of the confederacy other than the Mohawk: the Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Tuscarora.


But Brant's name had a more ominous duality: he negotiated with those he could and waged brutal war against those he couldn't; the only exception was the British for they had raised and educated him.

During the Seven Years War in the 1750s and 1760s, known as the French and Indian War in North America, he stood with the British to help defeat the French. He stood alongside them again during the Revolutionary War in the 1770s and 1780s but was defeated by patriots in the American rebel colonies. In the end he was considered a ruthless combatant by the Americans, an enemy to the French, a pawn to be undercut by the British during peace negotiations in Paris, and to Canadians he became a hero who settled his people peaceably between Lakes Erie and Ontario in Upper Canada, what is now the province of Ontario. History records, though, reveal no instance of him performing or encouraging atrocities.

Brant was born in 1741 by the Ohio River. Its valley was a highly competitive frontier in which the Sioux and Shawnee were forced out by Iroquois war parties. Land had not been their objective: they wanted fur-skinned animals to sell to the Europeans, having already emptied their 100-mile long Mohawk Valley of such beasts.

The British were in the Ohio militarily and Americans were moving west as speculators and colonizers. The French trappers present were the most successful with the Iroquois having understood and respected their customs to curry favour.

Into this quilted turf Brant was born to Peter 'Tehowaghwengaraghkwin' and Margaret 'Owandah.' His mother was well-regarded as the matrilineal Iroquois tradition dictated. She was descended from Peter Hendrick, 'Theyanoguin' the legendary Mohawk chief who later died at the Battle of Lake George, New York, in 1755. By coincidence another Mohawk chief with the name of Peter Hendrick of the Wolf Clan was one of the 'Four Iroquois Kings' who visited Queen Anne in England in 1710. It is now thought Brant was not descended from him but more likely from another chief present at the Court of Queen Anne, Sagayeathquapiethtow of the Bear Clan.

Brant's father was said to be a warrior of note who died not long after Joseph was born. Afterward his mother, who had been among the Iroquois pouring into the Ohio in search of furs, took him and his younger sister Mary back to their ancestral home at Canajoharie in the Mohawk Valley in east central New York. Mary herself later became renowned as Molly Brant and was considered the greatest female Mohawk of her time. The white surname of Brant carried by Molly and Joseph had been derived from the name of their mother's second husband.

Joseph Brant was in his mid-teens when he saw his first action about 120 miles north east of Canajoharie at the Battle of Lake George, a long thin lake at the base of the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York. He later confided with his sister that his first experience was so harrowing he clung to a tree to steady himself. He managed to gather himself and eventually engage the enemy.

It is likely he was unknown at that time to Sir William Johnson, the leader of the English and Indian contingent at the Battle of Lake George. Johnson was Brant's future mentor and became a baronet as a result of the British victory. By the time he assumed the role of Superintendant of Indian Affairs in 1756, Johnson was one of the wealthiest landowners and most influential men in the New York colony.

The French and Indian War had been opportune for the genial and astute Johnson to emerge as a great friend of the Natives. Compared to a series of blundering British military commanders, Johnson emerged as a fresh and forthright face, a renaissance man who foresaw the need to cultivate and educate Native leaders of the future.

Joseph Brant matured into a Native warrior over a succession of battles: with Johnson again at the Battle of Fort Niagara in 1757, and in 1760 with Sir Jeffery Amherst as he placed a siege on Montreal. After this engagement, he was one of the many Natives rewarded with a silver medal.

Following Niagara and Montreal, Brant had come to Johnson's attention as being agile in mind and body. In 1761 Brant was sent off with two other Mohawk teens on a 600-mile trip to attend Moor's Charity School for Indians in Lebanon, Connecticut, so named for one of its benefactors. Brant studied under Reverend Ebenezer Wheelock who later founded Dartmouth College and with whom Joseph Brant remained friends for the rest of the preacher's days despite differing strongly on the politics of revolution. Brant was educated in the classics of history and literature and became an Anglican missionary while the other two Mohawk boys, for various reasons, disengaged.

Meanwhile Johnson had emerged as the pre-eminent manager of relations with the Indian nations and had to deal with the backfiring of King George's Royal Proclamation of 1763. The decree was intended to improve relations with the Natives who lived in the former French territory west of the Adirondacks, which along with Quebec, Florida and Grenada came over to the English after the Seven Years War. Accustomed to receiving gifts in their dealings with the French, the Natives were being overrun with white settlers and fbund the British, with the exception of Johnson, to be brittle, overbearing and tightfisted.

Johnson shared their view and even applauded the French coureur de bois for their honourable dealings among the Iroquois. Less impressive to him was the French scheme to drive the British and Iroquois apart and direct the fur trade through their lands down the Mississippi Valley.


The British Proclamation had in part been a response to a fierce uprising led by an Ottawa chief, Pontiac, in which forts and villages were burned and settlers were killed and scalped. Brant had planned to go to New York City to continue his studies at the highly regarded King's College, but instead was called home by Johnson. Rather than being surrounded by white students and lecturers, Brant was encircled by 2,000 Natives and sachems in a successful grand parlay led by Johnson at Fort Niagara to end the war.

Brant's sister Molly by then had become Johnson's mistress living at his estate, Johnson Hall, and may have played a hand at bringing Brant home to New York from Connecticut. She may have been fearful for his life. Despite the increasing Anglicization of the Brants of their adoption of the English's language, education and customs, remained Mohawk first and foremost. Joseph Brant never returned to Wheelock's school.

Brant's dualistic nature couldn't help but emerge at this time. Johnson oversaw the Indian council at Niagara, resplendent in full Iroquois regalia, and Brant was very impressed at the positive affect of this gesture. In 1764, Brant went on the attack again at Fort Detroit and saw the role violence played in eventually leading Pontiac to a truce. These events helped shape Brant into a man who bound together the 'two sticks' of diplomacy and war.

A 19th century passage from the journal of an American combatant in the Revolutionary War offered a chilling yet impressive description of the man. The American had witnessed Brant, who had adopted Johnson's habit of mixing British and Mohawk garb, in the presence of prisoners:

"He was a likely fellow, of a fierce aspect--tall and rather spare--well spoken, and apparently about thirty (forty) years of age. He wore moccasins, elegantly trimmed with beads--leggings and breech-cloth of superfine blue--short green-coat, with two silver epaulets--and a small, laced, round hat. By his side hung an elegant silver-mounted cutlass.., he replied--'That is my fighting ground ... You are young, and you I pity; but for that old villain there,' pointing at the father, 'I have no pity.'"

Brant's growing maturity led him back to Canajoharie where he married the daughter of an Oneida leader, started a family, and moved into his deceased stepfather's large home in Canajoharie on the south bank of the Mohawk River. By the end of the decade, though, Brant had become a widower. He married again--this time to his deceased wife's sister--but she too soon died. His third wife was the daughter of a colourful fur trader, George Crogan, who was born in Ireland and, like Johnson, had immigrated to America. Crogan had come to New York the year Brant was born and became a successful fur trader in the Ohio Valley before the French moved in. He survived a hatchet to the head during Pontiac's Rebellion and eventually became Johnson's Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

Brant's career advanced during his early years of marriage. Under Johnson's wing, he became a superb interpreter of the many languages of tribes within the Iroquois Confederacy found between Lake Champlain and Niagara. In 1771 he moved east along the Mohawk to its junction with the Schoharie River at Fort Hunter. He also began a long association with Reverend John Stewart, who encouraged him to seclude himself in the fort's parsonage to translate Anglican scripture into the Mohawk language.

Once the scripture had been translated he returned to Canajoharie and was encouraged by Johnson to more fully embrace his tribal hierarchy. He did and was made a war chief and primary spokesman of the Mohawk, but in 1774 his great friend and mentor, General Sir William Johnson, died of a stroke at his nearby estate Johnson Hall.

The deceased baronet's son John inherited the title and estates but it was his nephew and son-in-law, Guy Johnson, who succeeded William as Superintendent of Northern Indian M'fairs. Colonel Guy Johnson was temperamentally and physically Joseph's lesser: he was obstinate, short, pudgy, and topped with a powdered wig; Brant was garrulous, tall, patrician in bearing, and kept his head partially shaved and feathered. Johnson, however, was astute enough to know that Brant excelled at Native interpretation and commissioned him as a captain in the military and as his private secretary. Tellingly, Brant was always to enter battle as a Mohawk war chief rather than a captain in the British army.


As patriot forces began moving into the Mohawk Valley in the spring of 1775, Guy Johnson and more than 120 Tory loyalists escaped to British-held Montreal along with Brant and most of the Indian warriors from Canajoharie. By autumn, Guy Johnson, riled at the undermining of his authority from London, took Brant to England along with loyalists Gilbert Tice and Captain John Deserontyon, the game Mohawk officer from Fort Hunter. Johnson lobbied for control of Indian affairs in the northern colonies but was only partially successful. The real headliner turned out to be Brant, who met with King George III, strode through London in his Mohawk outfits, became a Mason, sat for a soon-to-be-famous portrait by the renowned George Romney, and generally became a British cause celebre.

The influential English voices heard by Brant spoke of war. The violence that had begun when British troops fired on unarmed patriots in the Boston Massacre of 1770 finally sparked in Lexington and Concord in 1775 and had exploded into full-scale rebellion by the Americans. Brant saw the opportunity for leverage and extracted promises for Mohawk land in return for support of the British during the conflict.

Satisfied with his deal, Brant returned to North America at Staten Island and entered the war during the Battle of Long Island. Afterward, in disguise, he headed north and west with Tice to Onoquaga near Binghamton, New York, where he had placed his family for safety while he was out of the colony. The reunion was short-lived as Brant headed further west towards Niagara to round up British support from the Iroquois Confederacy. Also known as the Six Nations (the Tuscarora had joined the original five--Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca--earlier in the 1700s), the Native Confederacy that had lasted hundreds of years began to crack under the weight of the revolution.

Patriot forces hadn't reached out to the Natives for support. General George Washington initially prohibited them from joining the American Continental Army. As it was, most Natives felt the rebellion was a 'white man's war' and preferred to remain neutral. Brant's argument was that Native ancestral lands would be in jeopardy with an American victory. The Oneida and Tuscarora, thinking Brant and the Mohawk to be over-valued, sided with the patriots. In response, Brant set up supply depots at Onoquaga and Unadilla on the Susquehanna River and commissioned scouting parties to gather intelligence and raiding parties to collect food. In addition to the Mohawk, he had been successful in lining-up the Seneca and Onondaga behind the British. War chiefs 'Sayenqueraghta,' or Old Smoke, and Cornplanter led the Seneca and were originally considered senior to Brant.

The stage was set for Native to fight Native. In August of 1777 at Oriskany in the Mohawk Valley, Brant and Sir John Johnson, now head of his own King's Royal Regiment of New York, were sent on a mission to intercept the Tryon County militia moving west with Oneida warriors to break a British siege of Fort Stanwix. The Mohawk and Seneca disregarded Johnson's orders to stand their ground and instead moved with loyalists to trap General Nicholas Herkimer and his Oneida allies in a smaller valley. After several hours of fighting, tamed only by an hour-long thunderstorm, Herkimer was badly wounded and his casualties, including the Natives, outnumbered those of his enemy three to one.

It was a pyrrhic victory for Brant and the loyalists. The British siege of Stanwix didn't hold up and by October the forces of General John Burgoyne--for whom the siege formed part of his assault from the west--were defeated by the Americans at Saratoga and surrendered. Undaunted, Brant raised a force of several hundred Natives and loyalists and undertook a series of violent raids that earned him the damning name among the patriots of 'Monster Brant' among the patriots. Brant was equally disparaging of the patriot Committees of Safety of Local Militia. Loyalist farms were being confiscated and the owners thrown into vermin-infested prisons. Rebel jails in Albany, New York, Litchfield, Connecticut, and the copper mines of Simsbury near the Massachusetts border were particularly notorious.

In September 1788 Brant's Volunteers along with loyalist rangers attacked German Flatts in the Mohawk Valley. Homes were destroyed, farms were despoiled, mills were burned, and only a warning by a survivor of a doomed scouting party dispersed the residents before any physical cruelty could be dealt out.

Not so two months later in November 1788, when Brant grudgingly joined the son of Lt. Col. John Butler in an attack of retribution on the undefended village of Cherry Valley. Whether the circumstances that permitted the Seneca warriors to attack first were deliberate or not are unclear, but the result left the undefended town in ruins and many of its men, women and children tomahawked and scalped. For many years afterward Brant was thought responsible for the atrocities. Although he did participate in the raid--motivated in part by the razing of his own village and supply depots by patriots--he was vindicated of overseeing the harshness and the butchery.

Brant continued his raids and prevailed whenever he encountered opposition and he always called for the sparing of women and children. In the summer of 1779 he entered the Neversink Valley at the base of the Catskills and destroyed forms and houses. A poorly equipped and comparatively untrained patriot militia tried to ambush Brant and his seasoned volunteers a few days later but they were outmatched, defeated, and took heavy casualties. His successes were not unnoticed by the man with whom he had dealt in London, Lord Germaine, who promoted him to colonel though his commission was not passed along by the governor of Canada, Sir Fredrick Haldimand, perhaps out of politics--or deference--to the Seneca chiefs.

Brant's day of reckoning came the following year, in a move of sound strategic judgment for which George Washington was becoming known. He ordered General John Sullivan and a force of several thousand Continental soldiers to engage the Iroquois raiding parties, raze their villages, destroy their crops and deny them future subsistence. They did so effectively in the Allegheny, Susquehanna, and Mohawk valleys while fending off guerilla attacks by the Iroquois. Brant, perhaps rightly, felt raids on the larger American force would be more effective in slowing Sullivan down than a direct assault; all told, more than 40 Onondaga, Seneca and Mohawk villages were destroyed in the American general's wake. The Iroquois faced Sullivan down and were utterly defeated in the Battle of Newtown, near modern day Elmira, New York, in August 1779. Many of the survivors straggled to Fort Niagara and faced a devastating winter without food or shelter.


The next year Brant wreaked his vengeance and with a refreshed force he descended from Canada and wiped out every white settlement from Schenectady to Ohio. He was similarly merciless with the patriot-aligned Oneida and Tuscarora villages.

He counter-punched again but was wounded in a raid known as the Battle of Klock's Field and in 1781 he successfully defended Fort Detroit against U.S. General George Roger Clark. In October of that year, his dreams of an Iroquois dominion came to an end with word the British had been defeated by the Americans aided by the French at Yorktown.

Brant was a relatively young and able man at the end of the war (his only wound had been to his heel). During peace negotiations, he and John Deserontyon thought the British guilty of betrayal with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 though, in truth, the Mohawk lands had been ceded 20 years earlier in George III's proclamation to which the Iroquois agreed. A remorseful Haldimand compensated both men in 1784 with money and land grants in Canada: Deserontyon accepted property on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and Brant at its western tip, closer to the Seneca homeland.

Much of his efforts over the next three decades were aimed at protecting the Six Nations' land from Canadian and British finagling. Ironically, the 'Monster Brant' became a confidant of 'Town Destroyer' (the Iroquois' name for George Washington) in joint efforts to settle Native disputes in the United States. Brant also tried in vain to bring a union of self-protection to the American Northwest Indians.

At his very end, Joseph Brant's last words implied his 'two sticks' had become un-bound finally. On his deathbed in 1807 in Brantford, now in modern-day Ontario, he asked his adopted white son to use diplomacy to do good on behalf of 'the poor Indians.

This is the eleventh in a series by Mark Jodoin detailing the rich military history of those "shadow soldiers" who played a part in the development of Canada along the St. Lawrence corridor.
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Title Annotation:BUILDING A NATION
Author:Jodoin, Mark
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 1, 2009
Previous Article:Dear General X.
Next Article:At ease: military trivia & humour.

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