Canadian Notabilities, Volume 1

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Aldarondo, and
Project Distributed Proofreaders. This file was
produced from images generously made available by the
Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions.

CANADIAN NOTABILITIES, VOLUME I

BY JOHN CHARLES DENT

JOSEPH BRANT—THAYENDANEGEA.

Few tasks are more difficult of accomplishment than the overturning of the
ideas and prejudices which have been conceived in our youth, which have
grown up with us to mature age, and which have finally become the settled
convictions of our manhood. The overturning process is none the less
difficult when, as is not seldom the case, those ideas and convictions are
widely at variance with facts. Most of us have grown up with very erroneous
notions respecting the Indian character—notions which have been chiefly
derived from the romances of Cooper and his imitators. We have been
accustomed to regard the aboriginal red man as an incarnation of treachery
and remorseless ferocity, whose favourite recreation is to butcher
defenceless women and children in cold blood. A few of us, led away by the
stock anecdotes in worthless missionary and Sunday School books, have gone
far into the opposite extreme, and have been wont to regard the Indian as
the Noble Savage who never forgets a kindness, who is ever ready to return
good for evil, and who is so absurdly credulous as to look upon the
pale-faces as the natural friends and benefactors of his species. Until
within the last few years, no pen has ventured to write impartially of the
Indian character, and no one has attempted to separate the wheat from the
chaff in the generally received accounts which have come down to us from
our forefathers. The fact is that the Indian is very much what his white
brother has made him. The red man was the original possessor of this
continent, the settlement, of which by Europeans sounded the death-knell
of his sovereignty. The aboriginal could hardly be expected to receive the
intruder with open arms, even if the latter had acted up to his professions
of peace and good-will. It would have argued a spirit of contemptible
abjectness and faintness of heart if the Indian had submitted without a
murmur to the gradual encroachments of the foreigner, even if the latter
had adopted a uniform policy of mildness and conciliation. But the invader
adopted no such policy. Not satisfied with taking forcible possession
of the soil, he took the first steps in that long, sickening course of
treachery and cruelty which has caused the chronicles of the white conquest
in America to be written in characters of blood. The first and most hideous
butcheries were committed by the whites. And if the Indians did not tamely
submit to the yoke sought to be imposed upon their necks, they only acted
as human beings, civilized and uncivilized, have always acted upon like
provocation. Those who have characterized the Indian as inhuman and
fiendish because he put his prisoners to the torture, seem to have
forgotten that the wildest accounts of Indian ferocity pale beside the
undoubtedly true accounts of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.
Christian Spain—nay, even Christian England—tortured prisoners with a
diabolical ingenuity which never entered into the heart of a pagan Indian
to conceive. And on this continent, in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, men of English stock performed prodigies of cruelty to which
parallels can be found in the history of the Inquisition alone. For the
terrible records of battle, murder, torture and death, of which the history
of the early settlement of this continent is so largely made up, the white
man and the Christian must be held chiefly responsible. It must, moreover,
be remembered that those records have been written by historians, who have
had every motive for distorting the truth. All the accounts that have
come down to us have been penned by the aggressors themselves, and their
immediate descendants. The Indians have had no chronicler to tell their
version of the story. We all know how much weight should be attached to
a history written by a violent partisan; for instance, a history of the
French Revolution, written by one of the House of Bourbon. The wonder is,
not that the poor Indian should have been blackened and maligned, but that
any attribute of nobleness or humanity should have been accorded to him.

Of all the characters who figure in the dark history of Indian warfare,
few have attained greater notoriety, and none has been more persistently
villified than the subject of this sketch. Joseph Brant was known to us in
the days of our childhood as a firm and staunch ally of the British, it
is true; but as a man embodying in his own person all the demerits and
barbarities of his race, and with no more mercy in his breast than is to be
found in a famished tiger of the jungle. And for this unjust view of his
character American historians are not wholly to blame. Most historians of
that period wrote too near the time when the events they were describing
occurred, for a dispassionate investigation of the truth; and other writers
who have succeeded have been content to follow the beaten track, without
incurring the labour of diligent and calm enquiry. And, as it is too often
the case with writers, historical and other, many of them cared less for
truth than for effect. Even the author of “Gertrude of Wyoming” falsified
history for the sake of a telling stanza in his beautiful poem; and when,
years afterwards, grant’s son convinced the poet by documentary evidence
that a grave injustice had been done to his father’s memory, the poet
contented himself by merely appending a note which in many editions is
altogether omitted, and in those editions in which it is retained is much
less likely to be read than the text of the poem itself. It was not till
the year 1838 that anything like a comprehensive and impartial account of
the life of Brant appeared. It was written by Colonel William L. Stone,
from whose work the foregoing quotation is taken. Since then, several other
lives have appeared, all of which have done something like justice to the
subject; but they have not been widely read, and to the general public
the name of Brant still calls up visions of smoking villages, raw scalps,
disembowelled women and children, and ruthless brutalities more horrible
still. Not content with attributing to him ferocities of which he never
was guilty, the chronicles have altogether ignored the fairer side of his
character.

  ”The evil that men do lives after them;

  The good is oft interred with their bones.”

We have carefully gone through all the materials within our reach, and have
compiled a sketch of the life of the Great Chief of the Six Nations, which
we would fain hope may be the means of enabling readers who have not ready
access to large libraries to form something like a fair and dispassionate
estimate of his character.

Joseph Brant—or to give him his Indian name, Thayendanegea—was born in
the year 1742. Authorities are not unanimous as to his paternity, it
being claimed by some that he was a natural son of Sir William Johnson;
consequently that he was not a full-blood Indian, but a half-breed. The
better opinion, however, seems to be that none but Mohawk blood flowed
through his veins, and that his father was a Mohawk of the Wolf Tribe, by
name Tehowaghwengaraghkin. It is not easy to reconcile the conflicting
accounts of this latter personage (whose name we emphatically decline to
repeat), but the weight of authority seems to point to him as a son of one
of the five sachems who attracted so much attention during their visit to
London in Queen Anne’s reign, and who were made the subject of a paper
in the Spectator by Addison, and of another in the Tatler by Steele.
Brant’s mother was an undoubted Mohawk, and the preponderance of evidence
is in favour of his being a chief by right of inheritance. His parents
lived at Canajoharie Castle, in the far-famed valley of the Mohawk, but at
the time of their son’s birth they were far away from home on a hunting
expedition along the banks of the Ohio. His father died not long after
returning from this expedition. We next learn that the widow contracted an
alliance with an Indian whose Christian name was Barnet, which name, in
process of time, came to be corrupted into Brant. The little boy, who had
been called Joseph, thus became known as “Brant’s Joseph,” from which
the inversion to Joseph Brant is sufficiently obvious. No account of his
childhood have come down to us, and, little or nothing is known of him
until his thirteenth year, when he was taken under the patronage of that
Sir William Johnson, who has by some writers been credited with being his
father. Sir William was the English Colonial Agent for Indian Affairs,
and cuts a conspicuous figure in the colonial annals of the time. His
connection with the Brant family was long and intimate. One of Joseph’s
sisters, named Molly, lived with the baronet as his mistress for many
years, and was married to him a short time before his death, in 1774. Sir
William was very partial to young Brant, and took special pains to impart
to him a knowledge of military affairs. It was doubtless this interest
which gave rise to the story that Sir William was his father; a story for
which there seems to be no substantial foundation whatever.

In the year 1755, the memorable battle of Lake George took place between
the French and English colonial forces and their Indian allies. Sir William
Johnson commanded on the side of the English, and young Joseph Brant, then
thirteen years of age, fought under his wing. This was a tender age, even
for the son of an Indian chief, to go out upon the war-path, and he himself
admitted in after years that he was seized with such a tremor when the
firing began at that battle that he was obliged to steady himself by
seizing hold of a sapling. This, however, was probably the first and last
time that he ever knew fear, either in battle or out of it. The history of
his subsequent career has little in it suggestive of timidity. After
the battle of Lake George, where the French were signally defeated, he
accompanied his patron through various campaigns until the close of the
French war, after which he was placed by Sir William at the Moor Charity
School, Lebanon, Connecticut, for the purpose of receiving a liberal
English education. How long he remained at that establishment does not
appear, but he was there long enough to acquire something more than the
mere rudiments of the English language and literature. In after years he
always spoke with pleasure of his residence at this school, and never
wearied of talking of it. He used to relate with much pleasantry an
anecdote of a young half-breed who was a student in the establishment. The
half-breed, whose name was William, was one day ordered by his tutor’s son
to saddle a horse. He declined to obey the order, upon the ground that he
was a gentleman’s son, and that to saddle a horse was not compatible
with his dignity. Being asked to say what constitutes a gentleman, he
replied—”A gentleman is a person who keeps racehorses and drinks Madeira
wine, and that is what neither you nor your father do. Therefore, saddle
the horse yourself.”

In 1763, Thayendanegea, then twenty-one years of age, married the daughter
of an Oneida chief, and two years afterwards we find him settled at
Canajoharie Castle, in Mohawk Valley, where he for some years lived a life
of quiet and peaceful repose, devoting himself to the improvement of the
moral and social condition of his people, and seconding the efforts of
the missionaries for the conversion of the Indians to Christianity. Both
missionaries and others who visited and were intimate with him during this
time were very favourably impressed by him, and have left on record warm
encomiums of his intelligence, good-breeding, and hospitality. Early in
1772 his wife died of consumption, and during the following winter he
applied to an Episcopal minister to solemnize matrimony between himself and
his deceased wife’s sister. His application was refused, upon the ground
that such a marriage was contrary to law; but he soon afterwards prevailed
upon a German ecclesiastic to perform the ceremony. Not long afterwards he
became seriously impressed upon the subject of religion, and experienced
certain mental phenomena which in some communities is called “a change of
heart.” He enrolled himself as a member of the Episcopal Church, of which
he became a regular communicant. The spiritual element, however, was not
the strongest side of his nature, and his religious impressions were not
deep enough to survive the life of active warfare in which he was soon
afterwards destined to engage. Though he always professed—and probably
believed in—the fundamental truths of Christianity, he became
comparatively indifferent to theological matters, except in so far as they
might be made to conduce to the civilization of his people.

Sir William Johnson died in 1774. He was succeeded in his office of
Colonial Agent for Indian Affairs by his son-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson.
Brant was as great a favourite with the Colonel as he had been with that
gentleman’s predecessor. The new agent required a private secretary, and
appointed Brant to that office. The clouds that had been gathering for
some time over the relations between the mother country and her American
colonies culminated in the great war of the revolution. The Americans,
seeing the importance of conciliating the Six Nations, made overtures to
them to cast in their lot with the revolutionists. These overtures
were made in vain. Brant then and ever afterwards expressed his firm
determination to “sink or swim with the English;” a determination from
which he never for a moment swerved down to the last hour of his life.
Apart altogether from the consideration that all his sympathies impelled
him to adopt this course, he felt himself bound in honour to do so, in
consequence of his having long before pledged his word to Sir William
Johnson to espouse the British side in the event of trouble breaking out in
the colonies. Similar pledges had been given by his fore-fathers. Honour
and inclination both pointed in the same direction, he exerted all his
influence with the native tribes, who did not require much persuasion to
take the royal side. Accordingly when Colonel Guy Johnson fled westward to
avoid being captured by the Americans, Brant and the principal warriors
of the Six Nations accompanied him. The latter formed themselves into a
confederacy, accepted royal commissions, and took a decided stand on the
side of King George. To Brant was assigned the position of Principal War
Chief of the Confederacy, with the military degree of a Captain. The Crown
could not have secured a more efficient ally. He is described at this time
as “distinguished alike for his address, his activity and his courage;
possessing in point of stature and symmetry of person the advantage of most
men even among his own well-formed race; tall, erect and majestic, with
the air and mien of one born to command; having been a man of war from
his boyhood; his name was a power of strength among the warriors of
the wilderness. Still more extensive was his influence rendered by the
circumstance that he had been much employed in the civil service of the
Indian Department under Sir William Johnson, by whom he was often deputed
upon embassies among the tribes of the confederacy; and to those yet more
distant, upon the great lakes and rivers of the north-west, by reason
of which his knowledge of the whole country and people was accurate and
extensive.”

In the autumn of 1775 he sailed for England, to hold personal conference
with the officers of the Imperial Government. Upon his arrival in London he
was received with open arms by the best society. His usual dress was that
of an ordinary English gentleman, but his Court dress was a gorgeous and
costly adaptation of the fashions of his own people. In this latter dress,
at the instigation of that busiest of busybodies James Boswell, he sat to
have his portrait painted. The name of the artist has not been preserved,
nor is the preservation of much importance, as this is the least
interesting of the various pictures of Brant, the expression of the face
being dull and commonplace. A much better portrait of him was painted
during this visit for the Earl of Warwick, the artist being George Romney,
the celebrated painter of historical pictures and portraits. It has been
reproduced by our engraver for these pages.

The effect of this visit was to fully confirm him in his loyalty to the
British Crown. Early in the following spring he set sail on his return
voyage. He was secretly landed on the American coast, not far from New
York, from whence he made his way through a hostile country to Canada at
great peril of his life. Ill would it have fared with him if he had fallen
into the hands of the American soldiery at that time. No such contingency
occurred, however, and he reached his destination in safety. Upon his
arrival in Canada he at once placed himself at the head of the native
tribes, and took part in the battle of “the Cedars,” about forty miles
above Montreal. This engagement ended disastrously for the Americans; and
after it was over, Brant did good service to the cause of humanity by
preventing his savage followers from massacring the prisoners. From that
time to the close of the war in 1782, Joseph Brant never ceased his
exertions in the royal cause. From east to west, wherever bullets were
thickest, his glittering tomahawk might be seen in the van, while his
terrific war-whoop resounded above the din of strife. In those stirring
times it is not easy to follow his individual career very closely; but one
episode in it has been so often and so grossly misrepresented that we owe
it to his memory to give some details respecting it. That episode was the
massacre at Wyoming.

This affair of Wyoming can after all scarcely be called an episode in
Brant’s career, inasmuch as he was not present at the massacre at all, and
was many miles distant at the time of its occurrence. Still, historians and
poets have so persistently associated it with his name, and have been so
determined to saddle upon him whatever obloquy attaches to the transaction
that a short account of it may properly be given here.

The generally-received versions are tissues of exaggerations and
absurdities from first to last. Wyoming has been uniformly represented as
a terrestrial paradise; as a sort of Occidental Arcadia where the
simple-hearted pious people lived and served God after the manner of
patriarchal times. Stripped of the halo of romance which has been thrown
around it, Wyoming is merely a pleasant, fertile valley on the Susquehanna,
in the north-eastern part of the State of Pennsylvania. In the year 1765
it was purchased from the Delaware Indians by a company in Connecticut,
consisting of about forty families, who settled in the valley shortly after
completing their purchase. Upon their arrival they found the valley in
possession of a number of Pennsylvanian families, who disputed their rights
to the property, and between whom and themselves bickerings and contests
were long the order of the day. Their mode of life was as little Arcadian
as can well be imagined. Neither party was powerful enough to permanently
oust the other; and although their warlike operations were conducted upon a
small scale, they were carried on with a petty meanness, vindictiveness and
treachery that would have disgraced the Hurons themselves. From time to
time one party would gain the upper hand, and would drive the other from
the Valley in apparently hopeless destitution; but the defeated ones, to
whichsoever side they might belong, invariably contrived to re-muster their
forces, and return to harass and drive out their opponents in their turn.
The only purpose for which they could be induced to temporarily lay aside
their disputes and band themselves together in a common cause, was to repel
the incursions of marauding Indians, to which the valley was occasionally
subject. When the war broke out between Great Britain and the colonies, the
denizens of the valley espoused the colonial side, and were compelled to
unite vigorously for purposes of self-defence. They organized a militia,
and drilled their troops to something like military efficiency; but not
long afterwards these troops were compelled to abandon the valley, and to
join the colonial army of regulars under General Washington. On the 3rd of
July, 1778, a force made up of four hundred British troops and about seven
hundred Seneca Indians, under the command of Col. John Butler, entered the
valley from the north-west. Such of the militia as the exigencies of the
American Government had left to the people of Wyoming arrayed themselves
for defence, together with a small company of American regular troops that
had recently arrived in the valley, under the command of Colonel Zebulon
Butler. The settlers were defeated and driven out of the valley. In spite
of all efforts on the part of the British to restrain them, the Indian
troops massacred a good many of the fugitives, and the valley was left a
smoking ruin. But the massacre was not nearly so great as took place on
several other occasions during the revolutionary war, and the burning was
an ordinary incident of primitive warfare. Such, in brief, is the true
history of the massacre in the Wyoming valley, over which the genius of
Thomas Campbell has cast a spell that will never pass away while the
English language endures. For that massacre Brant was no more responsible,
nor had he any further participation in it, than George Washington. He was
not within fifty (and probably not within a hundred) miles of the valley.
Had he been present his great influence would have been put forward, as it
always was on similar occasions, to check the ferocity of the Indians. But
it is doubtful whether even he could have prevented the massacre.

Another place with which the name of Brant is inseparably associated
is Cherry Valley. He has been held responsible for all the atrocities
committed there, and even the atrocities themselves have been grossly
exaggerated. There is some show of justice in this, inasmuch as Brant was
undoubtedly present when the descent was made upon the valley. But it is
not true that he either prompted the massacre or took any part in it. On
the other hand, he did everything in his power to restrain it, and wherever
it was possible for him to interfere successfully to prevent bloodshed
he did so. Candour compels us to admit that his conduct on that terrible
November day stands out in bright contrast to that of Butler, the white
officer in command. Brant did his utmost to prevent the shedding of
innocent blood; but, even had he been in command of the expedition, which
he was not, Indians are totally unmanageable on the field of battle. There
is at least evidence that he did his best to save life. Entering one of
the houses, while the massacre was raging, he found there a woman quietly
engaged in sewing. “Why do you not fly, or hide yourself?” he asked; “do
you not know that the Indians are murdering all your neighbours, and will
soon be here?” “I am not afraid,” was the reply: “I am a loyal subject of
King George, and there is one Joseph Brant with the Indians who will save
me.” “I am Joseph Brant,” responded the Chief, “but I am not in command,
and I am not sure that I can save you, but I will do my best.” At this
moment the Indians were seen approaching. “Get into bed, quick,” said
Brant. The woman obeyed, and when the Indians reached the threshold he told
them to let the woman alone, as she was ill. They departed, and he then
painted his mark upon the woman and her children, which was the best
assurance of safety he could give them. This was merely one of several
similar acts of Brant upon that fatal day; acts which do not rest upon mere
tradition, but upon evidence as strong as human testimony can make it.

It would not be edifying to follow the great Chief through the various
campaigns—including those of Minisink and Mohawk Valley—in which he was
engaged until the Treaty of 1782 put an end to the sanguinary war. In that
Treaty, which restored peace between Great Britain and the United States,
the former neglected to make any stipulation on behalf of her Indian
allies. Not only was this the case; not only was Thayendanegea not so much
as named in the Treaty; but the ancient country of the Six Nations, “the
residence of their ancestors from the time far beyond their earliest
traditions,” was actually included in the territory ceded to the United
States. This was a direct violation of Sir Guy Carleton’s pledge, given
when the Mohawks first abandoned their native valley to do battle on behalf
of Great Britain, and subsequently ratified by General Haldimand, to the
effect that as soon as the war should be at an end the Mohawks should be
restored, at the expense of the Government, to the condition in which they
were at the beginning of the war. No sooner were the terms of the Treaty
made known than Brant repaired to Quebec, to claim from General Haldimand
the fulfilment of his pledge. General Haldimand received his distinguished
guest cordially, and professed himself ready to redeem his promise. It
was of course impossible to fulfil it literally, as the Mohawk valley had
passed beyond British control; but the Chief expressed his willingness to
accept in lieu of his former domain a tract of land on the Bay of Quinté.
The General agreed that this tract should at once be conveyed to the
Mohawks. The arrangement, however, was not satisfactory to the Senecas, who
had settled in the Genesee Valley, in the State of New York. The Senecas
were apprehensive of further trouble with the United States, and were
anxious that the Mohawks should settle in their own neighbourhood, to
assist them in the event of another war. They offered the Mohawks a large
tract of their own territory, but the Mohawks were determined to live only
under British rule. Accordingly, it was finally arranged that the latter
should have assigned to them a tract of land on the Grand River (then
called the Ouse) comprehending six miles on each side of the stream, from
the mouth to the source. This tract, which contains some of the most
fertile land in the Province, was formally conveyed to them by an
instrument under Governor Haldimand’s hand and seal, in which it was
stipulated that they should “possess and enjoy” it forever. The Indians,
unversed in technicalities, supposed that they now had an absolute and
indefeasible estate in the lands. Of course they were mistaken. Governor
Haldimand’s conveyance did not pass the fee, which could only be effected
by a crown patent under the Great Seal.

These several negotiations occupied some time. Towards the close of the
year 1785, Brant, feeling aggrieved at the non-payment of certain pecuniary
losses sustained by the Mohawks during the war, again set sail for England,
where in due course he arrived. As on the occasion of his former visit, he
was received with the utmost consideration and respect, not by the nobility
and gentry alone, but by royalty itself. He seems to have lived upon terms
of equality with the best society of the British capital, and to have so
borne himself as to do no discredit to his entertainers. The Baroness
Riedesel, who had formerly met him at Quebec, had an opportunity of
renewing acquaintance with him, and has left on record the impression which
he produced upon her. She writes: “His manners are polished. He expresses
himself with great fluency, and was much esteemed by General Haldimand. His
countenance is manly and intelligent, and his disposition very mild.”

During this visit a dramatic episode occurred which occupies a conspicuous
place in all books devoted to Brant’s life. The present writer has told the
story elsewhere as follows:—One gusty night in the month of January, 1786,
the interior of a certain fashionable mansion in the West End of London
presented a spectacle of amazing gorgeousness and splendour. The occasion
was a masquerade given by one of the greatest of the city magnates; and as
the entertainment was participated in by several of the nobility, and by
others in whose veins ran some of the best blood in England, no expense
had been spared to make the surroundings worthy of the exalted rank of the
guests. Many of the dresses were of a richness not often seen, even in the
abodes of wealth and fashion. The apartments were brilliantly lighted,
and the lamps shone upon as quaint and picturesque an assemblage as ever
congregated in Mayfair. There were gathered together representatives of
every age and clime, each dressed in the garb suited to the character meant
to be personified. Here, a magnificently-attired Egyptian princess of the
time of the Pharaohs languished upon the arm of an English cavalier of the
Restoration. There, high-ruffed ladies of Queen Elizabeth’s court conversed
with mail-clad Norman warriors of the time of the Conqueror. A dark-eyed
Jewess who might have figured at the court of King Solomon jested and
laughed with a beau of Queen Anne’s day. If the maiden blushed at some of
the broad jokes of her companion, her blushes were hidden by the silken
mask which, in common with the rest of the guests, she wore upon the upper
part of her face, and which concealed all but the brilliancy of her eyes.
Cheek by jowl with a haughty Spanish hidalgo stood a plaided Highlander,
with his dirk and claymore. Athenian orators, Roman tribunes, Knights
of the Round Table, Scandinavian Vikings and Peruvian Incas jostled one
another against the rich velvet and tapestry which hung from ceiling to
floor. Truly, a motley assemblage, and one well calculated to impress the
beholder with the transitoriness of mortal fame. In this miscellaneous
concourse the occupants of the picture frames of all the public and private
galleries of Europe seemed to have been restored to life, and personally
brought into contact for the first time. And though, artistically speaking,
they did not harmonize very well with each other, the general effect was
in the highest degree marvellous and striking. But of all the assembled
guests, one in particular is the cynosure of all eyes—the observed of all
observers. This is the cleverest masquer of them all, for there is not a
single detail, either in his dress, his aspect or his demeanour, which is
not strictly in conformity with the character he represents. He is clad in
the garb of an American Indian. He is evidently playing the part of one of
high dignity among his fellows, for his apparel is rich and costly, and
his bearing is that of one who has been accustomed to rule. The dress is
certainly a splendid make-up, and the wearer is evidently a consummate
actor. How proudly he stalks from room to room, stately, silent, leonine,
majestic. Lara himself—who, by the way, had not then been invented—had
not a more chilling mystery of mien. He is above the average height—not
much under six feet—and the nodding plumes of his crest make him look
several inches taller than he is in reality. His tomahawk, which hangs
loosely exposed at his girdle, glitters like highly-polished silver; and
the hand which ever and anon toys with the haft is long and bony. The dark,
piercing eyes seem almost to transfix every one upon whom they rest.
One half of the face seems to be covered by a mask, made to imitate the
freshly-painted visage of a Mohawk Indian when starting out upon the war
path. He is evidently bent upon preserving a strict incognito, for the
hours pass by and still no one has heard the sound of his voice. The
curiosity of the other guests is aroused, and, pass from room to room as
often as he may, a numerous train follows in his wake. One of the masquers
composing this train is arrayed in the loose vestments of a Turk, and
indeed is suspected to be a genuine native of the Ottoman Empire who has
been sent to England on a diplomatic mission. Being emboldened by the wine
he has drunk, the Oriental determines to penetrate the mystery of the dusky
stranger. He approaches the seeming Indian, and after various ineffectual
attempts to arrest his attention, lays violent hold of the latter’s nose.
Scarcely has he touched that organ when a blood-curdling yell, such as has
never before been heard within the three kingdoms, resounds through the
mansion.

“Ah, then and there was hurling to and fro!”

The peal of the distant drum did not spread greater consternation among the
dancers at Brussels on the night before Waterloo. What wonder that female
lips blanched, and that even masculine cheeks grew pale? That yell was the
terrible war-whoop of the Mohawks, and came hot from the throat of the
mysterious unknown. The truth flashed upon all beholders. The stranger was
no disguised masquerader, but a veritable brave of the American forest. Of
this there could be no doubt. No white man that ever lived could learn to
give utterance to such an ejaculation. The yell had no sooner sounded than
the barbarian’s tomahawk leapt from its girdle. He sprang upon the luckless
Turk, and twined his fingers in the poor wretch’s hair. For a single second
the tomahawk flashed before the astonished eyes of the spectators; and
then, before the latter had time—even if they could have mustered the
courage—to interfere, its owner gently replaced it in his girdle, and
indulged in a low chuckle of laughter. The amazed and terrified guests
breathed again, and in another moment the mysterious stranger stood
revealed to the company as Joseph Brant, the renowned warrior of the Six
Nations, the steady ally of the British arms, and the terror of all enemies
of his race. Of course the alarm soon quieted down, and order was restored.
It was readily understood that he had never intended to injure the
terrified Oriental, but merely to punish the latter’s impertinence by
frightening him within an inch of his life. Probably, too, that feeling of
self-consciousness from which few minds are altogether free, impelled
him to take advantage of the interest and curiosity which his presence
evidently inspired, to create an incident which would long be talked about
in London drawing-rooms, and which might eventually be handed down to
posterity.

The anecdotes preserved of his stay in London at this time are almost
innumerable. He was a great favourite with the King and his family,
notwithstanding the fact that when he was first introduced at Court he
declined to kiss His Majesty’s hand; adding, however, with delightful
naivete, that he would gladly kiss the hand of the Queen. The Prince of
Wales also took great delight in his company, and occasionally took him to
places of questionable repute—or rather, to places as to the disrepute
of which there was no question whatever, and which were pronounced by
the Chief “to be very queer places for a prince to go to.” His envoy was
successful, and his stay in London, which was prolonged for some months,
must have been very agreeable, as “he was caressed by the noble and great,
and was alike welcome at Court and at the banquets of the heir-apparent.”
After his return to America his first act of historical importance was to
attend the great Council of the Indian Confederacy in the far west. He used
his best endeavours to preserve peace between the Western Indians and the
United States, and steadily opposed the confederation which led to the
expedition of Generals St. Clair and Wayne. We next find him engaged in
settling his people upon the tract which had been granted to them on the
banks of the Grand River. The principal settlement of the Mohawks was
near the bend of the river, just below the present site of the city of
Brantford. They called the settlement “Mohawk Village.” The name still
survives, but all traces of the village itself have disappeared. Brant
built the little church which still stands there, an illustration of which
is given above, and in which service has been held almost continuously
every Sunday since its bell first awoke the echoes of the Canadian forest.
Brant himself took up his abode in the neighbourhood for several years,
and did his best to bring his dusky subjects under the influence of
civilization. In order to facilitate his passage across the Grand River he
threw a sort of temporary boom across, at a spot a few yards below where
the iron-bridge now spans the stream at Brantford. From this circumstance
the place came to be known as “Brant’s ford;” and when, years afterwards, a
village sprung up close by, the name of “Brantford” was given to it.

The Indians had not been long settled at Mohawk Village before difficulties
began to arise between them and the Provincial Government as to the nature
of the title to their lands. The Indians, supposing their title to be an
absolute one, began to make leases and sales to the white settlers in the
neighbourhood. To this proceeding the Government objected, upon the ground
that the Crown had a pre-emptive right, and that the land belonged to the
Indians only so long as they might choose to occupy it. Many conferences
were held, but no adjustment satisfactory to the Indians was arrived at.
There has been a good deal of subsequent legislation and diplomacy over
this vexed question, but so far as any unfettered power of alienation
of the lands is concerned Governor Haldimand’s grant was practically a
nullity, and so remains to this day. These disputes embittered the Chief’s
declining years, which was further rendered unhappy by petty dissensions
among the various tribes composing the Six Nations; dissensions which he
vainly endeavoured to permanently allay. Another affliction befel him in
the shape of a dissipated and worthless son, whom he accidently killed in
self-defence. The last few years of his life were passed in a house built
by him at Wellington Square; now called Burlington, a few miles from
Hamilton. He had received a grant of a large tract of land in this
neighbourhood, and he built a homestead there in or about the year 1800.

Here he kept up a large establishment, including seven or eight negro
servants who had formerly been slaves. He exercised a profuse and right
royal hospitality alike towards the whites and the Indian warriors who
gathered round him. On the first of May in each year he used to drive up,
in his coach-and-four, Mohawk Village, to attend the annual Indian festival
which was to held there. On these occasions he was generally attended by a
numerous retinue of servants in livery, and their procession used to strike
awe into the minds of the denizens of the settlements through which they
passed.

He died at his house at Wellington Square, after a long and painful
illness, on the 24th November, 1807, in the sixty-fifth year of his age.
His last thoughts were for his people, on whose behalf he had fought so
bravely, and whose social and moral improvement he was so desirous to
promote. His nephew, leaning over his bed, caught the last words that fell
from his lips: “Have pity on the poor Indians; if you can get any influence
from the great, endeavour to do them all the good you can.”

His remains were removed to Mohawk Village, near Brantford, and interred
in the yard of the little church which he had built many years before, and
which was the first Christian church erected in Upper Canada. And there, by
the banks of the Grand River,

“After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.”

Sufficient has been said in the course of the preceding sketch to enable
the reader to form a tolerably correct idea of the character of this
greatest representative of the heroic Six Nations. No expression of opinion
was evermore unjust than that which has persistently held him up to the
execration of mankind as a monster of cruelty. That the exigences of his
position compelled him to wink at many atrocities committed by his troops
is beyond question. That, however, was a necessary incident of Indian
warfare; nay, of all warfare; and after a careful consultation and
comparison of authorities we can come to no other conclusion than that,
for an Indian, reared among the customs and traditions of the Six Nations,
Joseph Brant was a humane and kind-hearted man. No act of perfidy was ever
brought home to him. He was a constant and faithful friend, and, though
stern, by no means an implacable enemy. His dauntless courage and devotion
to his people have never been seriously questioned. The charges of
self-seeking and peculation which Red Jacket, “the greatest coward of the
Five Nations,” attempted to fasten upon him, only served to render his
integrity more apparent than it would otherwise have been. He was not
distinguished for brilliant flights of eloquence, as were Tecumseh and
Cornstalk; but both his speeches and his writings abound with a clear,
sound common-sense, which was quite as much to the purpose in his dealings
with mankind. His early advantages of education were not great, but he made
best use of his time, and some of his correspondence written during the
latter years of his life would not discredit an English statesman. He
translated a part of the prayers and services of the Church of England, and
also a portion of the Gospels, into the Mohawk language, and in the latter
years of his life made some preparation for a voluminous history of the
Six Nations. This latter work he did not live to carry out. In his social,
domestic and business relations he was true and honest, and nothing pleased
him better than to diffuse a liberal and genial hospitality in his own
home. Taking him all in all, making due allowance for the frailties and
imperfections incidental to humanity, we must pronounce Joseph Brant to
have possessed in an eminent degree many of the qualities which go to make
a good and a great man.

Brant was thrice married. By his first wife, Margaret, he had two children,
Isaac and Christina, whose descendents are still living. By his second
wife he had no issue. His third wife, Catharine, whom he married in 1780,
survived him and was forty-eight years of age at the time of his death. She
was the eldest daughter of the head-chief of the Turtle tribe, the tribe
first in dignity among the Mohawks. By the usages of that nation, upon her
devolved the right of naming her husband’s successor in the chieftaincy.
The canons governing the descent of the chieftaincy of the Six Nations
recognize, in a somewhat modified form, the doctrine of primogeniture; but
the inheritance descends through the female line, and the surviving female
has a right, if she so pleases, to appoint any of her own male offspring to
the vacant sovereignty. Catharine Brant exercised her right by appointing
to that dignity John Brant, her third and youngest son. This youth, whose
Indian name was Ahyouwaighs, was at the time of his father’s death
only thirteen years of age. He was born at Mohawk village, on the 27th
September, 1794, and received a liberal English education. Upon the
breaking out of the war of 1812, the young chief took the field with his
warriors, on behalf of Great Britain, and was engaged in most of the
actions on the Niagara frontier, including the battles of Queenstown
Heights, Lundy’s Lane, and Beaver Dams. When the war closed in 1815, he
settled at “Brant House,” the former residence of his father, at Wellington
Square. Here he and his sister Elizabeth dispensed a cheerful hospitality
for many years. In 1821 he visited England for the purpose of trying to do
what his father had failed in doing, viz, to bring about a satisfactory
adjustment of the disputes between the Government and the Indians
respecting the title of the latter to their lands. His mission, however,
was unsuccessful. While in England he called upon the poet Campbell, and
endeavoured to induce that gentleman to expunge certain stanzas from
the poem of “Gertrude of Wyoming,” with what success has already been
mentioned.

In the year 1827, Ahyouwaighs was appointed by the Earl of Dalhousie to the
rank of Captain, and also in the superintendency of the Six Nations. In
1832 he was elected as a member of the Provincial Parliament for the County
of Haldimand, but his election was contested and eventually set aside, upon
the ground that many of the persons by whose votes he had been elected were
merely lessees of Indian lands; and not entitled, under the law, as it then
stood to exercise the franchise. Within a few months afterwards, and in the
same year, he was carried off by cholera, and was buried in the same
vault as his father. He was never married, and left no issue. His sister
Elizabeth was married to William Johnson Kerr, a grandson of that same Sir
William Johnson who had formerly been a patron of the great Thayendanegea.
She died at Wellington Square in April, 1834, leaving several children, all
of whom are since dead. By his third wife Brant had several other children,
whose descendants are still living in various parts of Ontario. His widow
died at the advanced age of seventy-eight years on the 24th of November,
1837, being the thirtieth anniversary of her husband’s death.

The old house in which Joseph Brant died at Wellington Square, is still in

Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | Single Page