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Captain Brant was a Mohawk Indian who fought the white man’s land-grab

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, War on Monday, 30 September 2013

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This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 413 published on 13 December 1969.

Iroquois Confederacy, picture, image, illustration

Iroquois Confederacy. The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy held key stategic areas between the French and English colonies, by Ron Embleton

9th December, 1792

Capt. Brant (the Mohawk Chief) dined here. He has a countenance expressive of art or cunning. He wore an English Coat with a handsome Crimson Silk blanket lined with black and trimmed with gold fringe and wore a Fur Cap. Round his neck he had a string of plaited sweet hay. It is a kind of grass which never loses its pleasant scent. The Indians are very fond of it. Its smell is like the Tonquin bean.

* * * * *

Mrs. Simcoe was the wife of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, now the Province of Ontario. Colonel Simcoe had fought in the American War of Independence and in 1791 returned to North America to govern a province where many Americans who had remained loyal to Britain settled after the war. The Simcoes were in Canada nearly five years and Mrs. Simcoe, who was born in 1766, kept a diary which gives us a wonderful picture of a young, pioneering community. She loved travelling and meeting Indians and sketched many beauty spots, including Niagara Falls.

Joseph Brant, the “Capt. Brant” who dined with the Simcoes, had an amazing life. Born in 1742 into the Mohawk tribe of the famous Iroquois Confederacy, he was on the warpath at 13, when the Mohawks supported Britain against France at the Battle of Lake George. After his sister, Molly, married Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, his life was transformed. As well as fighting, he went to an American school for Indians, translated part of the Bible into Mohawk and, by the time the War of Independence started in 1775, was the leader of his people.

He visited London in 1776, was painted by George Romney, and decided to support Britain against her Colonists to protect Indian lands already threatened by American settlers. Returning home, he led brilliant guerrilla raids both as an Indian, War Chief and as a British officer, which devastated the fertile Mohawk Valley in New York and resulted in General Washington’s troops nearly starving. He commanded white Loyalists as well as Indians, both driven from their homes by the Rebels, and, in a bitter civil war, did his best to restrain his men from revenging themselves on their ex-neighbours.

Brant had arranged for his people to be given land in case Britain lost, which she did! Most Mohawks and many other Iroquois moved to Canada to what is now Brantford, Ontario. Brant paid a second, spectacular visit to London on Indian business and pleased George III by refusing to kiss his hand but kissing the Queen’s instead!

He alternated between Indian and white man’s clothes.

Brant next tried to form an Indian barrier state to prevent westward-moving white settlers grabbing Indian lands, but he could not keep the many different tribes united.

Mrs. Simcoe wrote that he looked cunning: he needed to be! He died in 1807 and a magnificent statue of him was later erected in Brantford.

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