Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



BRANT married the daughter of an Oneida chief, probably about 1765. According to the ancient custom of the Mohawks, the mother of a young brave arranged the marriage, and her son had nothing whatever to say about it. She usually waited until her son was about twenty-five years of age, that up to that time he might be free as a hunter and warrior, and also that he might gain distinction as a brave ; for no Indian maiden respects a young man who does not possess a string of scalps. When the mother considers it the proper time for her son to be married, she goes to the mother of the girl whom she has selected, and they arrange the matter together. They then announce their intentions to the bride and groom, and the following day the girl is taken to the young man's home, where she presents his mother some cakes of Indian corn-bread, signifying her ability to do the household work of her husband, and the mother-in-law in turn gives the bride's mother venison or other game, signifying the young man's ability to provide for his wife. This is the marriage ceremony. It is very likely that Brant was married according to the custom of his fathers, though his wedding may also have been sanctioned by the marriage ceremony of the English Church; for there were Episcopal missionaries then in the Mohawk Valley.

Brant settled at Canajoharie, on the Mohawk River, the middle of the three Mohawk towns, and the home of his childhood. (This is at Indian Castle Church. ajb) Here he had a comfortable house, with all needful furniture. It was a place of entertainment for the missionaries among the Mohawks. Brant was often employed at this time by Sir William Johnson on various diplomatic missions to the different Indian nations with which Sir William had business. He was undoubtedly very intimate in the Johnson family. Sir William Johnson was at the height of his prosperity. In addition to the original home, he had built Johnson Hall, in the present village of Johnstown, a summer villa which he called Castle Cumberland, and a rustic hunting-lodge. He was passionately fond of fishing, and to this hunting-lodge he used to come to enjoy his favorite sport. He took great pride in his fruit-trees, and in the culture of rare plants. He introduced blooded horses and cattle into the valley of the Mohawk, and was continually adding to his library. He exerted himself in every way to improve the settlements around him. " He formed with his own hand," said a gentleman of his day, "a little world, as it were."

Sir William Johnson presents the strange anomaly of a man with all the tastes and habits of an English country gentleman, with immense estates and a devoted tenantry, but with a Mohawk wife and half-breed children, his " mansion" thronged with savages, and he himself pushing his affairs with all the energy born of a new country.

He especially encouraged athletic sports. Once a year he invited the braves of the Six Nations to Johnson Hall, to play the Indian games. He encouraged the old English field-sports among his tenantry, and he appointed " sport-days" at Johnstown. He was fond of boisterous fun, and on " sport-days" he introduced the bag-races known to college boys, and burlesque horse-races, in which the riders were seated with their faces toward the horses' tails. There were also races in which young men chased Guinea-pigs whose tails were shaved and greased, the one who succeeded in catching and holding the pig by the tail winning the prize. He had matches in which each one tried to sing the worst song, and matches at making the ugliest faces. He superintended an annual fair for the benefit of the surrounding country, giving the prizes from his own purse for the best farm products. He fitted up a Masonic hall at his home, and here Brant was initiated into the lodge.

A story is told of the summary way in which Sir William Johnson enforced justice. He heard that one of his tenants had maltreated his old father. Johnson sent for the man, and took him into his private office. He talked with him on various subjects.

" How is your father, the old man ?" casually asked Sir William. " I have heard that he is troublesome. If such is the case, I don't know as you could do better than to chastise him a little."

" I have done it," answered the man.

Sir William turned the key in the door, and, taking down a horsewhip hanging on the wall, he whipped the man soundly.

" Go home, you villain, and flog your father again!" exclaimed the baronet, as he opened the door.

In this insight into the home life of Sir William Johnson we see also the surroundings in which Brant lived. He was in and out of Johnson's mansion almost daily. He doubtless participated in the sports at Johnson Hall, and he was the trusty messenger of its master.

Brant had two little children, a son and a daughter. In 1771 his wife died of consumption, a disease very common among Indians. After this Brant came down to Fort Hunter, some thirty miles below Canajoharie, on the site of the lower Mohawk castle, or fortified town. He lived here for some time in the family of an Indian missionary, Dr. Stewart, assisting him in making some translations into Mohawk for missionary use. About this time also he joined the church, attended service regularly, and was very much interested in the improvement of his people.

It is customary for a young Indian to bind himself as a friend for life to some other young man. A great deal of importance is attached to this relationship. Brant selected for his friend a half-pay officer in the British service. Lieutenant John Prevost, to whom he became greatly attached. The young Englishman was then living in the Mohawk Valley. At the approach of the Revolutionary war, Lieutenant Prevost was ordered to the West Indies. Brant was inconsolable for the loss of his friend.

" Do not be so sorrowful," said Dr. Stewart. "Console yourself with another friend-myself, for instance."

" No," said Brant, " I cannot do that. I am Captain John's friend, and I cannot have another friend at the same time."

He showed his affection for the friend whom perhaps he never met again by selecting- an entire Indian outfit of the richest furs, and sending it to Lieutenant Prevost at Jamaica.

In 1772 Brant asked Dr. Stewart to marry him to his first wife's half-sister. The minister refused, as it is against the law of the English Church to marry a deceased wife's sister. Brant argued very sensibly that the relationship was an advantage, as his sister-in-law would make a better mother to his children. Still Dr. Stewart refused to violate the law of the church, and Brant was compelled to get the Lutheran minister at the German settlement in the Mohawk Valley to perform the ceremony.

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