Joseph Brant

Joseph Brant (1742-1807) was a Mohawk chief and ally of the British during the American Revolution. He was instrumental in moving the Mohawks to Canada following the winning of American independence.

Joseph Brant was born in the Ohio Valley and was called Thayendanegea ("he who places two bets"). His father was a sachem of the Iroquois Confederacy, to which the Mohawks belonged; however, Brant's mother was not a Mohawk, and as descent in the tribe was matrilineal, he never rose to the rank of sachem, although he did become a war chief.

As a boy, Brant attracted the protection of Sir William Johnson, British Indian superintendent, whom he accompanied on an expedition in 1755. Six years later, at 19, Brant was sent to Moor's Charity School in Lebanon, Conn., for an education. There he was converted to the Anglican Church and in 1763 left the school to work as an interpreter for a missionary. Thereafter he was constantly caught between a desire to convert his tribe to white ways and to lead them in war against the whites.

In 1764 Brant left the missionary, whom he had helped to translate religious tracts into the Mohawk language, to join the Iroquois contingent fighting under Chief Pontiac. Ten years later, when Guy Johnson, son-in-law of Sir William Johnson, became Indian superintendent, Brant became his secretary. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Brant used his influence to persuade the Iroquois to join the British side and to discredit the Reverend Samuel Kirkland, a missionary who had succeeded in persuading the Oneida and Tuscarora (tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy) to join with the Americans.

Brant was war chief of the Mohawks when he met Sir Guy Carleton at a conference in Montreal. Brant was commissioned a captain and sent to England to be presented at court as a Native American ally of the Crown. Returning to the New World, he fought as commander of a Native American contingent at the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and was with St. Leger's expedition at the Battle of Oriskany in 1777.

Between 1778 and 1780 Brant led his Indian troops on raids in the Mohawk Valley, southern New York, and northern Pennsylvania, warning his followers that an American victory would mean destruction for all Native Americans. He and his followers were accused of perpetrating massacres such as those at Cherry Valley in 1778 and at Wyoming in 1779; though Brant always claimed that he did not join in these bloody aspects of the fighting, his troops were responsible for some reprehensible killings.

At the close of the American Revolution, Brant frustrated the attempt of Red Jacket, a rival Mohawk chief, to negotiate a peace treaty with the United States. Later he unsuccessfully attempted such a negotiation himself, whereupon he persuaded Governor Haldimaud of Canada to assign the Mohawks a reservation on the Grand River in Upper Canada. His journey to England in 1785 was successful in attaining an indemnification for the Mohawks for their losses during the war. He also made a trip to Philadelphia during which he was unsuccessful in negotiating peace with the United States.

Brant's later years were spent translating the New Testament and other religious documents into Mohawk and promoting Native American acceptance of the white man's ways. He was able to prevent speculators from getting the Mohawk lands on the Grand River, but his last years were saddened by the actions of his dissolute eldest son and by his quarrels with his rival, Red Jacket. He died on Nov. 24, 1807, at the Grand River Reservation.

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Further Reading on Joseph Brant

The best recent work on Brant is Harvey Chalmers, in collaboration with Ethel Brant Monture, Joseph Brant: Mohawk (1955). Another useful work is Louis Aubrey Wood, The War Chief of the Six Nations: A Chronicle of Joseph Brant (1914). See also Alexander C. Flick, ed., History of the State of New York, vol. 4: The New State (1933); Ethel Brant Monture, Canadian Portraits: Brant, Crowfoot, Oronhyatekha—Famous Indians (1960); and Dale Van Every, A Company of Heroes: The American Frontier, 1775-1783 (1962).