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 had often met Red Jacket, as we have seen, in the councils of the Six Nations, and he despised him thoroughly, and took no pains to conceal it. But spite and jealousy moved Red Jacket to plot against the power of this most proud and powerful Iroquois chief. For several years he had sought to undermine Brant's popularity.

Meantime Brant's mind was filled with plans for his Mohawks, in the matter of selling their lands; for sell them they must, now that the inevitable demand for them had come. He proposed to sell much of the Grand River territory off in farms to the settlers, thus enhancing the value of what remained, and realizing a great deal of money for the benefit of the Indians. But the colonial authorities did not choose to give up their pre-emption rights to so valuable a tract of land, and Brant became involved in endless controversies, the parent government favoring Brant's construction of the Mohawk claim to the lands, and the provincial government making difficulties which were never entirely overcome.

There were interested white men who wished to defeat Brant's schemes by curtailing his power. These men, together with Red Jacket, some dissatisfied young Mohawks who did not comprehend Brant's exertions for their benefit, and various envious chiefs, laid a plot to depose him. A secret council of the plotters was held at Buffalo Creek in 1805, in which Brant was charged with dishonesty in the management of the Mohawk funds, and deposed as were also most of the Mohawk chiefs who were Brant's friends. But this was not all. The Mohawk chief Norton, who was a confidential friend of Brant, was then in England endeavoring to settle the land controversy. The white men who were interested in preventing this drew up a paper disavowing Norton's mission. This paper was signed by the plotters, and among them the dissatisfied Mohawks put down their names as chiefs, to give the paper more weight. This measure was at least very annoying to Brant, as it interfered with his business in England.

But Brant did not stay deposed. The council had indeed been contrary to custom-the law of the Indians-for it was held in secret and attended only by his enemies. The chief immediately called a full council of the Six Nations, and made a very clear defence of his character. " My only crime is," said Brant, " that I want to make you a happy people, and for you to be enabled to call your land your own forever, and not leaving it doubtful whether it is yours or not. " What I did tended to raise your name as well as my own, and, in other instances where I might have been enriched, I have refused receiving, for fear of your name being tarnished. Still you would almost brand me with the name of a thief, although not one of you has ever subscribed a penny to pay my expenses when I travelled on your public business.'

The Mohawk chiefs were incensed at the charges against Brant. They rose in his defence.

" We find divisions among us," said they. " The young men think to take the lead who know nothing of our affairs, nor what we have suffered in the war. According to the first formation of our confederacy, the Mohawk was the leading nation. So it has been since our establishment at Grand River. Therefore, our leading chief, Captain Brant, has stood foremost in our affairs, with which he is thoroughly acquainted. There have been many rumors concerning our money, and the application made of it. We, that have been engaged in the public affairs, know where it is gone. He has not been always travelling and employed on his own concerns ; it has been on those of the public. He has been on the other side of the water, and several times at Quebec; and always in these journeys expended his own property, we never making any collection for him." Publicly cleared of all suspicion in this council of the Six Nations, Brant was declared still a chief, and Red Jacket and the other plotters were discomfited.

Brant's last years were shadowed with a greater sorrow than the plots of his enemies. His oldest son, Isaac, was educated in the Mohawk Valley, and at Niagara during the war. But he was from the beginning wild and unruly. At Niagara his associations were bad, and he became dissipated. When drunk he was very quarrelsome, and made himself especially disagreeable toward his stepmother and the family of younger children which was growing up. Brant married him to a very attractive Indian girl, hoping, like many another parent, thus to reclaim the young man. He also made Isaac his private secretary. But the young Indian still continued his drunken carousals, abused his stepmother, though she never answered him, when he was in one of his quarrelsome moods, and often threatened the life of his father. He was of a murderous disposition. He assaulted a young man once in the road, killed his horse, and injured him severely. His father had to pay heavy damages in consequence of this escapade. Isaac at another time killed a man in cold blood.

Brant was attending an Indian council at Burlington Heights, on Lake Champlain. After taking tea one evening with a lady and gentleman he had walked over to the tavern. Soon after this his son entered an adjoining room, and began loudly abusing his father. Brant could plainly hear what was said through the board partition. He rose and entered the other room. The instant his son saw him he sprang at him. Some of the bystanders, however, caught young Brant around the waist, and the knife with which he had rushed at his father fell only upon Brant's hand. Almost instantly Brant had returned the blow, striking his son on the head with a dirk. The young man's wound was not considered dangerous. But he was enraged by drink, and would not allow it to be dressed, tearing off the bandages as soon as they were put on, and causing it to bleed profusely by his violent excitement. He was at last tied down until he became sober, when his wound was properly dressed. He immediately began drinking, and again tore the dressing from his wound. A brain-fever set in and the young Indian soon died.

Brant immediately gave himself over to the authorities, and resigned his commission in the British service upon which he drew half pay. Lord Dorchester, however, would not accept the resignation, and when Brant called an Indian council and laid the case before the Indians, they decided with their accustomed deliberateness to acquit Brant of all blame. Nevertheless the old chief, as he lay in his room and looked at the dirk which hung upon the wall, and with which he had killed his son, would often weep at the memory of the catastrophe.

Brant's second wife had been childless, but by his third wife the chief had seven children. In planning to educate his younger sons, Brant looked back with pleasant remembrances to the school of his boyhood. His old teacher, President Wheelock, was dead, but his son had succeeded him at Dartmouth College. In spite of English jealousy, the chief sent two of his sons to Dartmouth. In one of his letters to Mr. Wheelock he said: " I receive an inexpressible satisfaction in hearing from you that you have taken my sons under your protection, and also to find that you yet retain a strong remembrance of our ancient friendship. For my part, nothing can efface from my memory the persevering attention your revered father paid to my education when I was in the place my sons now are. Though I was an unprofitable pupil in some respects, yet my worldly affairs have been much benefited by the instruction I there received."

Brant died in 1807, at sixty-four years of age, leaving unfinished his work for the security of the Mohawks in the full possession of their lands. Among his last words he said to the chief Norton: " Have pity on the poor Indians. If you can get any influence with the great, endeavor to do them all the good you can."

A few years before the chief's death he had built a large house on a tract of land at the head of Lake Ontario, a gift from the king. Brant had a number of Negro slaves whom he had captured during the war, and who lived with him in contentment, it is said, satisfied with the Indian customs. His youngest son, John, became a chief after his father's death. He was a gentlemanly young fellow, and distinguished himself in the war of 1812. He and his youngest sister, Elizabeth, lived in their father's house in civilized style, but their mother preferred to live among the Indians in the Mohawk Village, at Grand River. A gentleman and his daughters who visited them in 1819 found the parlor carpeted, and furnished with pier and chimney glasses, mahogany tables, the fashionable chairs of the day, a guitar, and a number of books. Miss Brant proved to be "a noble-looking Indian girl." The upper part of her hair was done up in a silk net, while the long lower tresses hung down her back. She wore a short black silk petticoat, with a tunic of the same material, black silk stockings, and black kid shoes. She was remarkably self-possessed and ladylike. She afterwards married William Johnson Kerr, a grandson of Sir William Johnson, and they lived together in the Brant house.

Brant was buried beside the church which he had built at Grand River, the first church in Upper Canada. There is a monument over his grave with the following inscription: " This tomb is erected to the memory of Thayendanegea, or Capt. Joseph Brant, principal chief and warrior of the Six Nations Indians, by his fellow-subjects, admirers of his fidelity and attachment to the British crown."

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