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.



FROM Ontario Colonel Johnson returned to Oswego, and here held another Indian council. It is said that he got up an entertainment for the Indians, inviting them to come and feast on a Bostonian and drink his blood. The Bostonian in this case was a barbecued ox, and the blood was wine furnished by the colonel. This was a joke well appreciated among the Indians, as a Bostonian was the representative rebel in their eyes, but it is said that in the partisanship of the time the colonial patriots pretended to understand the circumstance literally, and made good use of it in demonstrating the inhuman cruelty of loyalists.

Colonel Johnson with Brant and the Mohawks now crossed into Canada, and attended a great council of the Six Nations, held by Sir Guy Carleton and Sir Frederick Haldimand. Here the main body of the Iroquois engaged to take part on the British side. One town of the Mohawks who had remained in the valley, and still kept up friendly relations with the united colonies, was attacked with a fearful epidemic which nearly exterminated the inhabitants, immediately after a peaceful visit to Albany. With characteristic superstition, they attributed the pestilence to the anger of the Great Spirit that they had not joined the cause of the king. The survivors immediately decamped, following Colonel Guy Johnson into Canada.

Meantime Washington had ordered General Schuyler to keep his eye upon Sir John Johnson. This gentleman kept up a correspondence with his brother-in-law in Canada by means of the Mohawk Indians, who carried letters in the heads of their tomahawks and hidden in the numerous ornaments of their costumes. It was, moreover, believed that there was a large depot of arms and ammunition in the neighborhood of Johnson Hall. General Schuyler with a force of seven hundred men marched upon the troublesome baronet. Sir John Johnson surrendered, promised neutrality, and was allowed to remain at liberty on parole. He also delivered up his arms and ammunition, and his Highland tenants grounded their arms before the American troops. The country was scoured for Tories, and the depot of arms was sought for, but it was not in existence. After his surrender the baronet still worked secretly for the royal cause among the Indians. General Schuyler regarded the parole as broken, and undertook to again capture Sir John, but, warned by his loyalist friends in Albany, he fled the country, hastily burying the family silver in his cellar and intrusting the secret to an old Negro servant. He dared not go to Canada by way of Lake Champlain, not knowing whether royalists or rebels were in possession there. He struck off into the wilderness with his band of followers, and suffered much from hardship and hunger before he reached Canada.

Brant, or Thayendanegea as he was called among the Indians, had now become, by the exigencies of war, by his connection with the Johnson family, and by his own superior mind and gift for leadership, a chief. Writers have disputed as to whether Brant was the war-chief, the great captain of the entire confederacy. As no such office was known to them, it was impossible for Brant to hold it. They had no commander-in-chief, but fought as all Indians fight, in small parties under separate chiefs. Still Brant was undoubtedly much the most powerful and influential of the Iroquois war-chiefs.

Before the Americans were yet sure whether Brant would take up the tomahawk against them, his old school-master was asked to write to him on the subject. President Wheelock accordingly wrote Brant a very long letter, using every argument in favor of the colonists that he thought would have weight with an Indian. Brant answered with Indian wit that he very well remembered the happy hours that he had spent under the doctor's roof, and he especially remembered the family prayers, and above all how his schoolmaster used to pray " that they might be able to live as good subjects, to fear God, and honor the king."

Meantime the American successes in Canada were, for the time, very influential with the Indians on the American border, many of whom took sides with the colonies. It is possible that Brant, too, felt the power of success, and that the English wished him to see the mother-country that he might judge of her resources. At any rate, Brant sailed for England in the fall of 1775. On his arrival in London he was taken to an inn called the Swan with Two Necks. All haste was made, however, to prepare other lodgings more suitable for an " Indian king." Brant, however, refused to move, saying that the people at the inn had treated him so kindly that he preferred to stay there. Brant was much lionized while he was in England. He was courted by that celebrated worshipper of great men, Boswell. He sat for his picture twice during the visit, once at Boswell's request, and once for the Earl of Warwick. He commonly wore European clothes, but he had with him a splendid costume made in Indian style, in which he appeared at court and upon other great occasions. The ladies at court must have been shocked at the sight of his handsome glittering tomahawk with "J. Thayendanagea" engraved on it. He bought during his stay a gold ring, upon which he had his full name engraved, that his body might be identified in case of his death in the coming battles. Before he left England Brant promised to lead three thousand Indians into the field on the royal side. He returned to America by way of New York early in the spring, and was secretly landed at some quiet spot in the neighborhood of the city. From here he undertook the dangerous enterprise of stealing through the country to Canada.

"When I joined the English in the beginning of the war," said Brant long afterwards, "it was purely on account of my forefathers' engagements with the king. I always looked on these engagements, or covenants between the king and the Indian nations, as a sacred thing; therefore I was not to be frightened by the threats of rebels at the time."

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