THE TWO SIDES OF JOSEPH BRANT


JOSEPH BRANT - THAYENDANEGA

An elaborate history (see Note 1) having been written of this noted Indian chief, no farther biographical sketch of him will be attempted, than is incidental to local narrative.

The place of birth, parentage, &c., have been differently stated by historians. It was assumed by Dr. STRACHAN, of Toronto, in some sketches he wrote many years since, and published in the Christian Register, that BRANT was born on the Ohio river, whither his parents had emigrated from the valley of the Mohawk, and where they are said to have sojourned for several years. This information was derived from the Rev. Dr. STEWART, formerly a missionary in the Mohawk Valley. Col. STONE concedes that he was born on the Ohio river, but assumes that it was during a hunting excursion from the Mohawk, in which his parents participated; and that his father was a full blooded Mohawk of the Wolf tribe. The friend of the author, (Mr. L. C. DRAPER,) to whom reference is made in the preface to this work, assumes that he was a native Cherokee, upon some evidence he has discovered in his indefatigable researches. If this is so, we are to infer that his parents were adopted Cherokee captives.

The home of his family was at the Canajoharie Castle. In July, 1761, he was sent by Sir WILLIAM JOHNSON, to the "Moor's Charity School," at Lebanon, Conn., established by the Rev. Dr. WHEELOCK, with several other Mohawk boys. He made good progress in education, and on his return from school, was employed by his patron in public business. His first military exploits, had preceded his education; when quite young, he had been upon several expeditions with Sir WILLIAM JOHNSON.

Under the circumstances -- the friendship and patronage, and the family alliance that has been already spoken of-- it is easy to perceive how his position was determined in the border wars; and why he followed the fortunes of the JOHNSON family. Mr. CAMPBELL, himself a descendant of severe sufferers in that terrible crisis, and enjoying good opportunities to estimate the character of BRANT, says in his Annals,--"Combining the natural sagacity of the Indian, with the skill and science of the civilized man, he was a formidable foe. He was a dreadful terror to the frontiers. His passions were strong. In his intercourse, he was affable and polite, and communicated freely, relative to his conduct. He often said that during the war he had killed but one man in cold blood, and that act he often regretted. He said he had taken a man prisoner, and was examining him; the prisoner hesitated, and he thought equivocated. Enraged at what he considered obstinacy, he struck him down. It turned out that the man's obstinacy arose from a natural hesitancy of speech."

The statement that he had been guilty of but one assassination, does not correspond with well authenticated tradition; though he may, to have satisfied his own conscience, made a nice distinction in some instances, as to what constituted a taking of life in "cold blood." That the bad features of his character, and his atrocities, have been much magnified, there is no doubt, as have nearly all of the events in the border wars. It is difficult to reconcile the character of JOSEPH BRANT, as given in many of our histories, with the accounts we have of him from living contemporaries, who knew him well.

He was the companion of Judge PORTER, in a journey he made from Albany to Canandaigua, in 1794. The chief was returning from a visit to the then seat of government, (Philadelphia,) to his residence at Brantford, C. W. The Judge speaks of him as an intelligent, gentlemanly, traveling companion. The journey was on horseback. It was the first time BRANT had traveled the valley of the Mohawk, since the Revolution, and on leaving Albany, he was somewhat apprehensive of the treatment he would receive. Peace, however, and the obligations it imposed, saved him from any harm or insult, from those in whose memory the scenes with which he was associated, were painfully fresh and vivid. While he avoided being drawn into any conversation connected with the border wars, he pointed out such things upon the Mohawk as were associated in the recollections of his boyhood.

JOHN GOULD, of Cambria, Niagara county, was a resident at Brantford, as early as 1791, or '2; says he has often heard BRANT relate the story of his visit to England; how he was feasted and toasted in London, &c. After his return, his house at Brantford was the resort of many of the British officers, and prominent citizens of Canada. He was hospitable, had good social qualities, and was much esteemed by the early residents of Brantford, and its vicinity. The patronage of the government had enabled him to live much in the style of an English gentleman. He retained the slaves he had brought from the Mohawk. Mr. GOULD remembers well the death of his son ISAAC, from a stab inflicted by his father. "When sober," says Mr G. "Isaac was a good Indian -- when in liquor, he was a devil. He committed many depredations. I once invited him to a raising. He excused himself on the ground, that if he went he should get a taste of liquor and commit some outrage. One day he became intoxicated, went to his father's house and attacked him with a knife-- they had a desperate fight, which ended in ISAAC'S death. No one at the time blamed the old man, but all considered it was an act of necessary self defense. ISAAC had before killed a saddler upon the Grand River, upon some slight provocation."

Judge HOPKINS, of Lewiston, Niagara county, was a resident, near the BRANTS, in 1800 and 1801, and confirms generally, the statement of Mr. GOULD.

Others, who were early residents of Canada, and neighbors of the subject of this sketch, in the latter years of his life, have given the author many interesting reminiscences of him, derived from personal observation and conversation; but a few of which can be made available without transcending prescribed limits.

In speaking of the attack and massacre at Minisink, he excused himself upon the ground that the Americans came out under pretense of holding a parley, and fired several shots, some of which were aimed at him. (see Note 2) Provoked at this, he gave orders for an attack in which no quarters were to be given. He assumed that he saved the life of Capt. WOOD, had him taken to Niagara, as a prisoner, where he remained until peace. He acknowledged to an informant of the author, that he took the life of Lieut. WISNER, at Minisink, very much as the inhuman act is already detailed in history; but excused the act upon the ground, that he had either to leave him to become a prey to wild beasts in his wounded and helpless condition, be encumbered with him in a retreat through an enemy's country, or adopt the terrible alternative he did. He claimed to have saved many prisoners, upon other occasions, -- and generally to have been governed by the incentives of humanity; though it is difficult to reconcile these professions, even with his own versions. At Oriskany he said:--"I captured a man who had hid behind a stump; his name was Waldo or Walbridge; he begged, and I ordered the Indians to save him. He conducted myself and party to his home, a mile distant; arriving there, we found that Indians had preceded us, and had bound for sacrifice, a 'beautiful girl', the sister of our prisoner. I ordered her release."

Says another informant:-- "I first knew JOSEPH BRANT in 1797. He resided at the Mohawk village. He was the patroon of the place--his authority nearly absolute, with both Indians and whites. He was in high favor with Gov. SIMCOE, and the Canadian authorities generally. The governor was often a partaker, with others, of his hospitalities. I have heard Capt. BRANT say, he could not regret the death of his son ISAAC; but much regretted that he had been obliged to take the life of a son."

Few mooted points of history have been more discussed, than the question whether BRANT was present at the Wyoming massacre. The poet CAMPBELL, in his widely read and admired poem, "Gertrude of Wyoming," in a passage purporting to be a part of the speech of an Oneida chief, pending the battle, or massacre, says:--

" 'But this is not a time'; - (he started up,
and smote his breast with wo-denouncing hand)--
'This is no time to fill the joyous cup,
The mammoth comes - the foe - the monster, BRANT!
With all his howling, desolating band;
These eyes have seen their blade, and burning pine;
Awake at once, and silence half your land.
Red is the cup they drink; but not with wine;
Awake and watch to-night, or see no morning shine.
Scorning to wield the hatchet for his bribe,
'Gainst BRANT himself I went to battle forth:
Accursed BRANT! he left of all my tribe,
Nor man, nor child, nor thing of living birth;
No, not the dog that watched my household hearth,
Escaped that night of blood upon our plains:
All perished! I alone am left on earth!
To whom nor relative, nor blood remains -
No--not a kindred drop that runs in human veins."

This was admired verse, but destined to be questioned fact. JOHN BRANT, a son of the old chief, visited London in 1822. While there, he caused to be exhibited to Mr. CAMPBELL, documentary evidence, showing that he had done great injustice to the memory of his father; and that he was not present at the massacre at Wyoming. Mr. CAMPBELL immediately addressed the young chief a respectful letter, in which after justifying himself by citing numerous authorities in favor of the conclusion he had favored in his poem, frankly acknowledged that the evidence presented to him had induced him to change his opinion; to which he added an expression of regret that he had been led to favor the imputation.

W.L. STONE , in his life of the Mohawk chief, assumes that he was not at Wyoming. The publication of his history was followed by a paper published in the Democratic Review, attributed to CALEB CUSHING; in which it is assumed that BRANT was at Wyoming; and the biographer is called upon to show where he was at the time, if he was not there! (see Note 3) Col. STONE replied to this, and pretty effectually justified his position.

In a conversation that took place between Col. BUTLER and JOSEPH BRANT, at Brantford, many years after the Revolution, (well remembered by one who related it to the author,) BRANT was complaining that much was laid to his charge of which he was innocent. "They say," said he, "that I was the Indian leader at Wyoming; you, Colonel, know I was not there." To which, BUTLER replied:--"To be sure, I do, -- and if you had been there, you could have done no better than I did; the Indians were uncontrollable."

The author inclines to the opinion of Col. STONE, (though deeming him in the main, too partial to his semi-civilized hero;) the terrible instrument in the hands of his British prompters, in scenes of stealthy assault, captivity and death; the foremost and most formidable scourge of the border settlers of our state, in a crisis that found them exposed to all the evils of savage warfare-- enhanced by the aid and assistance of a portion of their own race, who had not savage custom and usage to plead in extenuation of their atrocities and villainies.

JOSEPH BRANT died at his residence at Burlington Bay, on the 24th of November, 1807, aged 64 years. Previous to his death, he had become a communicant of the Episcopal church, and in his life time had aided that church materially in its missionary labors among the Indians, by translating some portions of the scriptures, and the Book of Common Prayer, into the Mohawk language.

Where the first stopping place of the Mohawks was, after leaving their home upon the Mohawk, with GUY JOHNSON and BRANT, (if they had any intermediate abiding place,) before reaching Lewiston, the author has nowhere seen named. In an early period of the border wars, BRANT'S residence was at Lewiston,-- his dwelling a block house, standing near what is called "Brant's Spring," on the farm of ISAAC COOK. His followers, forming a considerable Indian village, were located along the Ridge Road between the Academy and the road that leads up to the Tuscarora village. There were remains of the huts standing when white settlement commenced. It would seem by reference to the books of the land office, that for several farms there, the purchasers were charged an extra price, in consequence of the improvements the Mohawks had made during their residence there. There was a log church in which the Episcopal service was usually read upon Sundays, by some one attached to the British garrison at Niagara, and occasionally a British army chaplain, or a missionary would be present. That church, in any history of its origin and progress, in Western New York may well assume that beyond the garrison at Niagara, Lewiston, BRANT'S rude log church, was the spot where its services were first had. Upon a humble log church there could, of course, then be no belfry or steeple. The bell that was brought from the Mohawk, was hung upon a crossbar, resting in the crotch of a tree, and rang by a rope attached. The crotch was taken down by the COOK family, after they had purchased the land. In 1778, JOHN MOUNTPLEASANT, then but eight years old, says his Tuscarora mother used to take him down to the church, where he remembers seeing his father, Capt. MOUNTPLEASANT, then in command of the garrison at Niagara. He speaks of the crotch and the bell, as objects that attracted his especial attention.




Note 1: Life of Brant, by William L. Stone

Note 2: Not consistent with authentic history.

Note 3: A difficult task, the reader will conclude: - to go back beyond a half century, and show where the leader of a band of Indians was, whose range was a then wilderness comprising half of our entire state, a part of Pennsylvania, and a part of Canada West; his location changing with the vicissitudes of a predatory warfare.




Source: Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York: Some Account of the Ancient Remains; A Brief History of Our Immediate Predecessors, The Confederated Iroquois, Their System of Government, Wars, Etc. - A Synopsis of Colonial History: Some Notices of the Border Wars of the Revolution: And A History of Pioneer Settlement Under the Auspices of the Holland Company; Includes Reminiscenses of the War of 1812; The Origin, Progress and Completion of the Erie Canal, Etc. Etc. Etc.

The author of this lengthily-titled tome was simply O. Turner; Buffalo: Geo. H. Derby and Co., 1850.

This early article was typed by Joan Veeder, who has given us tremendous help by preparing material for our site all this past fall. The Veeder surname has deep roots in the Mohawk Valley and Joan looks forward to sharing her mine of Veeder information with others.

Neither Joan nor I own the original book above.




A review of William L. Stone's then new two-volume "Life of Joseph Brant Thayendanega: including the Border Wars of the American Revolution" appeared in "The Princeton Review" of January 1839. This book was referenced by O. Turner, author of the "Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase...". The reviewers noted: "We found that the hero of the history takes up a small space in the body of the work." Some excerpts follow:

"This remarkable man (Joseph Brant) was born on the banks of the Ohio, in the year 1742; although the proper residence of his parents was at Canajoharie Castle - the central castle of the Mohawks. His father was sachem of the tribe. Of his early youth nothing remarkable is known; except that when only thirteen years of age, he joined the warriors of his tribe under Sir William Johnson and was present at the memorable battle of Lake George ... Two of his brothers, older than himself, were also engaged in this war...

In one of Rev. Mr. Kirkland's earliest reports, the following paragraph appears, 'Joseph Brant, a Mohawk Indian, and of a family of distinction in the nation, was educated by Dr. Wheelock, and so well accomplished, that the Rev.Charles Jeffrey Smith (a young man who out of love to Christ, and the souls of men, devotes his life, and such a fortune as is sufficient to support himself and an interpreter, wholly to this glorious work) took him for his interpreter, when he went on a mission to the Mohawks, some three years ago...'

In 1765, Brant having been previously married to the daughter of an Oneida chief, was settled at Canajoharie, as appears by a letter from the Rev. Theophilus Chamberlain, one of the missionaries to the Six Nations, dated July 17th...

Three years afterward he was still living a peacable life, at the same place, as appears by entry in the journal of Mr. Ralph Wheelock, who had been sent to Oneida to relieve Mr. Kirkland, who was sick... During the next three years, no information has been received of Brant's manner of life...he was probably leading a life of repose at home; except when commissioned by Sir William to transact business with the Indians. It is not improbable, however, that he was at this period connected with the Episcopal missions to the Mohawks, which had been commenced as early as 1702, and continued down to the beginning of the revolutionary war. Having been employed as an interpreter before; and as the Rev. Dr. Ogilvie, the predecessor of Dr. Barclay in that mission, was engaged, in 1767, in preparing the Mohawk Prayer Book, it is highly probable that Brant may have been employed as an assistant in that labour; since he was partial to exercises of that description.

In the year 1771, the Rev. Mr. Stewart conducted a school at Fort Hunter; a venerable friend of the author of the history now under review, living at Albany, was at that time a pupil in Dr. Stewart's school, and had frequent opportunities of seeing Brant, and formed an acquaintance, which, interrupted only by the war of the revolution, continued until the death of the warrior...

Thayendanega was thrice married; having been twice a widower before the war of the revolution. His first two wives were of the Oneida tribe. Dr. Stewart says that he first became acquainted with him in 1771. He was still residing at Canajoharie, on visiting which village, he found him comfortably settled in a good house, with every thing necessary for the use of his family. At that time his wife was sick of the consumption, and died soon afterwards. He had then but two children, a son and a daughter. After the death of his wife, he repaired to Fort Hunter, and resided with the Rev. Dr. Stewart, who was then engaged in another revision of the Indian Prayer Book, in which work Joseph assisted him.

He applied to Dr. Stewart in 1772-3 to marry him to his deceased wife's half sister, but the divine refused, on the ground of its being a forbidden relationship. Brant, however, vindicated the lawfulness of such a connexion and got a German ecclesiastic to perform the ceremony.

It was about this period of his life that Brant was brought under serious impressions of religion and attached himself to the Episcopal church... In conformity with a custom prevalent among the Indians, he (Brant), at this time, selected a bosom friend, a lieutenant Provost, a half-pay officer residing in the Mohawk valley. Those unacquainted with Indian usages, are not probably aware of the intimacy of this relationship, or of the importance attached to it. The selected friend is, in fact, the counterpart of him who chooses him; and the attachment often becomes romantic. They share each other's secrets, and are participants of each other's joys and sorrows. In this case, however, the pleasures and advantages expected from friendship, were not realized: for lieutenant Provost was ordered to his regiment, and on foreign service, greatly to the regret of the Indian chief. The grief at this separation was so deep, that Doctor Stewart advised him to select another friend, offering himself as a substitute; but the young chief declared that such a transfer of his affections was impossible; for he was Capt. John's friend, and two such friends could not be in existence at the same time. As a testimony and memorial of his inviolable friendship, he procured and sent to lieutenant Provost, to the West Indies, an entire Indian costume, of the richest furs he could obtain.




Both articles about Joseph Brant were contributed to our site in Memory of E. E.




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