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.



THE destructive war was at last over. A treaty of peace had been concluded between Great Britain and the United States, and not one word had been said in it about the Six Nations. Indians have a great sense of their own dignity and importance. They were much hurt at being thus overlooked by the power which they had aided in the late war. The Mohawks had left forever their own beautiful country in New York. At the close of the war they were encamped on the American side of the Niagara River. Brant immediately exerted himself to get a home for his people. The Senecas, who were very anxious for the aid of the Mohawks in any future wars, offered them a home in the Genesee Valley. But Brant said the Mohawks were determined to "sink or swim" with the English. He refused to cross the American line for a home. Brant went down to Quebec and asked of General Haldimand a grant of land on the St. Lawrence, at the entrance of Lake Ontario. Haldimand promised to procure the land for the Mohawks, and Brant returned to Niagara. But the Senecas were much disappointed at the idea of the Mohawks moving so far away from the other nations of the confederacy. Brant again went down to Quebec and requested that a change should be made. He selected the Ouise, or Grand River, flowing into Lake Erie. He asked that the Indians might have a title to six miles on both sides of this river, from its mouth to its source. The grant was made, and the Mohawks soon afterward removed to their new home. Their land was both beautiful and fertile, twelve miles wide and a hundred miles long.

Brant's life was not now spent in idleness. By virtue of his great influence and superior mind, he ruled over his people. He sought to supply their wants, he labored for their improvement, he was his own secretary, foreign minister, and ambassador. The chief even found time to translate the Gospel of Mark into Mohawk, and planned to write a history of the Six Nations. A charming German lady, the Baroness De Riedesel, who had been made captive by the Americans with her husband, the general commanding the German mercenaries, commonly called "Hessians," during Burgoyne's campaign, met Brant at Quebec. She says in her memoirs: " I saw at that time the famous Indian chief, Captain Brant. His manners are polished ; he expressed himself with fluency, and was much esteemed by General Haldimand. I dined with him once at the General's. In his dress he showed off to advantage the half-military and half-savage costume. His countenance was manly and intelligent, and his disposition very mild."

Like other ambitious chiefs, Brant planned, at one time, a confederacy of the north-western tribes over which he should be the chief. He never succeeded in uniting the Indians, however.

Brant made a visit to England in 1785. He was received with the greatest honors and courted in the best society. He had already gained the friendship of some of the nobility in the Revolutionary war. He knew Sir Guy Carleton, afterwards Lord Dorchester, well. Earl Moira, afterwards Marquis of Hastings, had formed an attachment for Brant and gave him his picture set in gold. Sir Charles Stuart, fourth son of the Earl of Bute, had often slept under the same tent with the chief. Lord Percy, who afterwards became Duke of Northumberland, had been adopted by the Mohawks, and on the occasion of his adoption Brant had given him the name of Thorighwegeri, or the Evergreen Brake. Brant, therefore, had many friends in England. He was presented at court. He refused to kiss the king's hand, but said that he would kiss the hand of the queen. He became quite a favorite with the royal family. The Prince of Wales, afterward George IV., who was then very wild, with tastes exactly opposite to those of his father, took a good deal of pleasure in the Indian's company. He invited Brant to go with him on some of his rambles, in which he visited places, as Brant afterwards said, " very queer for a prince to go to." He is said to have been a guest at the prince's table among the Whig leaders with whom he associated, and to have learned from their conversation to have less respect for the king than he had been taught in America. Fox presented Brant with a silver snuffbox, with his initials engraved on it.

Brant met, in society, a nobleman of whom he had heard the scandalous story that his honors were purchased at the expense of the virtue of his beautiful wife. This nobleman rallied Brant rather rudely upon the wild customs and manners of the Indians.

" There are customs in England also which the Indians think very strange," said the chief, coolly.

" And pray what are they ?" inquired the nobleman.

"Why, the Indians have heard," said Brant, u that it is a practice in England for men who are born chiefs to sell the virtue of their squaws for place and for money to buy their venison."

While Brant was in London a great masquerade was given, to which he was invited. He needed no mask. He dressed himself for the occasion in his rich semi-savage costume, wore his handsome tomahawk in his belt, and painted one half of his face in the Indian manner. There were some Turks also present at the ball. One of them examined Brant very closely, and at last raised his hand and pulled the chief's Roman nose, supposing it to be a mask. Instantly Brant gave the war-whoop and swung his glistening tomahawk around the Turk's head in that dangerous way in which Indians handle this instrument. It was only an Indian joke, but the Turk cowered in abject terror and the ladies shrieked and ran as though they had been in as much danger as the settlers' wives and daughters of America, who had dreaded this same sound but a few years before.

Brant accomplished his purpose in visiting England. Some reparation was promised the Mohawks for the losses they had sustained in the war. The chief hoped to induce his Indians to devote themselves more to agriculture. His great desire now was to have a school and a church for their benefit. He returned home to begin his labors for the improvement of his people.

Meantime peace was not by any means settled between the Indian nations and the United States. The western tribes were in a state of ferment. Great Britain still held her frontier posts, and her agents used their influence among the Indians in favor of hostility. The western nations looked to the great war-chief, Brant, for advice. Brant thus retained his importance. He was under half-pay as a British officer and received many presents from the government. When he visited Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States, the new government offered to double his salary and make him many presents if he would influence the western nations for peace. Brant refused the offer, knowing that he would be accused of duplicity if he received anything from the United States. An Indian chief loses his influence quickly if he is suspected of being mercenary.

Brant in fact joined the western Indians with one hundred and fifty Mohawks in the fierce battle which resulted in St. Clair's defeat.*

* See " Teumseh" in this series.

So bitter was the hatred to Brant in the Mohawk Valley that it was almost unsafe for him to pass through that part of the country. Indeed, while he was on his visit in the United States he was followed by a German named Dygert, some of whose friends had fallen at the battle of Oriskany, and who declared that he would kill Brant. Colonel Willett and Colonel Lewis, who had opposed the chief in this same battle, called on Brant at his hotel in New York, and the chief told them that he was followed by a man bent on murdering him. "There is Dygert now," said Brant, looking out the window.

Colonel Willett went down into the street and talked with the man.

"Do you know," said he, "that if you kill that savage you will be hanged ?"

" Who would hang me for killing an Indian ?" exclaimed the man.

" You will see," said Willett. "If you execute your purpose, you may depend upon it, you will be hanged immediately."

The man was frightened by this bit of information, and concluded to go home without killing Brant.

When Brant visited the United States in 1802 the hatred for him had not yet died out. He said that he was insulted by a " Yankee colonel" on the road between Philadelphia and Jersey, and the affair came near coming to blows. There were still many among the German settlers of the Mohawk Valley who threatened to kill Brant. When the chief was at Albany, Mr. Wells, the only survivor of his family in the Cherry Valley massacre, hurried to the tavern where the chief was staying. He asked for Brant, and furiously threatened to kill him. His friends remonstrated, but he was determined on revenge. Brant was upstairs. He asked the cause of the disturbance below, and was told that a young man, whose father had been killed at Cherry Valley, threatened to take revenge on him. Brant drew himself up in his chair, and simply said, " Let him come on."

The young man was finally persuaded to leave the tavern. Brant was received with the greatest kindliness and appreciation of his qualities as a warrior by American officers. More than once he dined with veterans of the Revolution, and they talked the battles over together, comparing notes from opposite sides. Brant told General Gansevoort that during Sullivan's campaign he was hovering about him when the general had not supposed he was anywhere within a hundred miles.

" Why, I roasted my venison by the fires that you left," said Brant.

He was once talking with General Philip Van Courtlandt with regard to the battle with Sullivan's forces.

"General," said he, "while you were standing by a large tree during the battle, how near to your head did a bullet come which struck a little above you ?"

The general thought a moment, and then answered, "About two inches above my hat."

" I had remarked," said Brant, "your activity in the battle, and calling one of my best marksmen, pointed you out and directed him to bring you down. He fired, and I saw you dodge your head at the instant I supposed the ball would strike. But as you did not fall, I told my warrior that he had just missed you and lodged the ball in the tree."

Brant was on very friendly terms with Aaron Burr. Colonel Burr gave him a letter of introduction to his talented daughter Theodosia, then but fourteen years old. Her father said of Brant in his letter:

" He is a man of education-speaks and writes the English perfectly-and has seen much of Europe and America. Receive him with respect and hospitality. He is not one of those Indians who drink rum, but is quite a gentleman; not one who will make you fine bows, but one who under, stands and practices what belongs to propriety and good-breeding. He has daughters; if you could think of some little present to send to one of them-a pair of earrings, for example-it would please him."

Miss Burr received Brant with great hospitality, and gave him a dinner-party, to which she invited some of the most eminent gentlemen in New York. Several years afterward, when Theodosia was married, she and her husband visited Brant at Grand River.

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