-  Chief Joseph Thayendanegea Brant U.E.  1842 - 1807  -  Painted by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) 1789 -   Few late 18th-Century Haudenosaunee have had the degree of controversy surrounding their lives as Joseph Thayendanegea Brant.  His policies and missions created much heated discussion among the Six Nations (Iroquois) Confederacy in his time... and continue to be a source of pride, anger, appreciation and disgust to this day.  He's seen as a saviour as well as a British sell-out among his people.

  History has a way of turning scoundrels into heroes and visionaries into crackpots.  The tired cliché "Hindsight is 50/50" comes to mind as does 'revisionist history'; each tends to explain events of the past with some degree of editorialism.  Look for actions and events to substantiate an opinion and it's usually not too hard to find them.

  The geographic region which the Haudenosaunee had called home for centuries was also the area of North America which saw European settlement, the creation of new countries and expansionist policies which relied on the acquisition of territories.  Given the Aboriginal affinity with the natural world and interconnectiveness with the land, it was only a matter of time before the two opposing worlds would collide.

  Philosophically, the Natives and new arrivals couldn't have been more different.  One society, matrilineal in nature where only women held property and the ability to install or remove leaders, and the other patrilineal where women were regarded Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's signature as little more than property and had virtually no input to leadership.   One culture viewed itself as merely a part of the natural world, the other sought to elevate itself above and control the environment to suit its own purpose.

  One society saw their Creator as benevolent and understanding; the other, vengeful and to be feared.  One culture viewed work as necessary to live; the other, work was a raison-d'être by itself.  The 'Puritan Work Ethic'  stressed hard work and sacrifice in this life as a means to obtain the reward in the afterlife.   The Native experience is one where life is the reward which is to be relished and celebrated now as no conclusive proof can be made that there is an afterlife.

   With so many fundamental differences, it's no surprise the two cultures would have be at odds as to political ideologies.  The concept of revering an individual based on birthright and not accomplishment was as foreign as all citizens electing one individual with exceptional power over all.  Clan mothers were responsible for selecting the various chiefs who represented the interests and concerns of the tribal clans and consensus was the guiding force for all actions which would effect future generations.  Personal idiosyncrasies and shortcomings were reason enough to de-horn a chief.

"Our wise men are called Fathers, and they truly sustain that character. Do you call yourselves Christians? Does the religion of Him who you call your Savior inspire your spirit, and guide your practices? Surely not.

It is recorded of him that a bruised reed he never broke. Cease then to call yourselves Christians, lest you declare to the world your hypocrisy. Cease too to call other nations savage, when you are tenfold more the children of cruelty than they.

No person among us desires any other reward for performing a brave and worthwhile action, but the consciousness of having served his nation.

I bow to no man for I am considered a prince among my own people. But I will gladly shake your hand."


Joseph Brant to King George III

   Joseph Brant's education and life among the non-Native exposed him to the culture and society which would eventually overwhelm and divide the Haudenosaunee.  Living in England must have revealed another way of life most certainly not of his own, but not altogether alien given past contact with European settlers.  Unquestionably, Brant was influenced by this way of life and adopted and embraced many of its traits and practices... clothing, speech, education and religion are but a few of the more obvious.

  Upon returning to the Haudenosaunee, Brant must have been urged to share his stories of a distant and perplexing society with his people.  Who better to provide commentary and critique on foreign lands than one who's lived there?  Positive and negative features of British life, including the concept of Monarchy, would have been met with both skepticism and approval by a people whose own society must have been subject to comparison. 

  When the colonists began to outwardly rebel, the Haudenosaunee were faced with an question which would divide them for centuries to follow: where do allegiances lie?  

  Traditionalists would blithely wave off such concerns as their position was Native Nations were not only sovereign entities by themselves, but obligated to maintain a distinct culture and society for their descendants.  Progressive Haudenosaunee recognised the impending tidal wave of new arrivals could not be stopped and, like it or not, that influence would have a profound effect on the life of all those First Nations in the path of that wave.  

  Attempts to maintain neutrality seemed to be the most prudent course to take as the non-Native sources of contention were of little concern to the Haudenosaunee.  'Taxation Without Representation' was never a battle cry for a people who were neither taxed or represented in any non-Native governing body.

  Regardless of view, one thing was clear: the Haudenosaunee way of life would never be the same... either under jurisdiction of the British, the Americans or by themselves.  A social order, culture, heritage and spiritual belief would all be subjected to both external and internal pressures.

  Joseph Brant may have realized all this but more importantly, he may have recognized an adamant position of neutrality would be impossible as well.  The motivations which persuaded him to remain Loyal to the Crown mightJoseph Thayendanegea Brant - by Wm.Berczy  c1794-97 have less to do with a deep-rooted love of King and Country as they may have had with choosing the lesser of two evils. 

  Not a very romantic notion of allegiance but it needs to be remembered; the Haudenosaunee stood to lose more than the new Americans had to gain.  Had the Revolutionary War outcome been in favour of the British, expansionism would still continue and more Native land would still be lost.  The Haudenosaunee would still be engaged in an onslaught of external rules and influences and their society would still be exploited.  It was a no-win situation for the Iroquois.

  Brant may have realized this as well and having had more inside experience with British motivations while watching - Joseph Thayendanegea Brant - the colonial Americans establishing settlements on Native lands, may have been more convinced of an immediate threat from the colonists than some far-off Parliament an entire ocean away.  The British were, while far from benevolent patricians, at least more tolerant of Native sovereignty than the French and infinitely less intrusive compared to American colonists.  Not the most elegant way of determining an allegiance, but serviceable nonetheless.

  Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was undeniably a strong influence on Joseph Brant.  Brant had fought along side Johnson in the French and Indian Wars of the 1750's and again during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763.  Johnson married Brant's sister Molly in 1752 and sent Joseph to Eleazar Wheelock's school for Native Americans in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1761.  Although Sir William died in 1774 prior to the outbreak of rebel hostilities, his friendship and respect for the Six Nations was legendary and made a lasting impression on Brant.

  Johnson's position as Superintendent was a result of his success at winning Native allies to the British cause; whether his enthusiasm was sincere is moot.  What is relevant is that a sufficient number of Haudenosaunee, aside from Brant, were convinced of the benefits of aligning with the British.  Joseph Brant was persuasive to be sure, but had he not had a receptive audience, no amount of Loyal exhortations would have had much of an effect.

  This doesn't attempt to shift responsibility (or praise) away from Brant for Iroquois involvement in the Revolutionary War.  This is a detail which many contemporary Traditional Haudenosaunee might overlook.  Although Joseph Brant never held the position of chief, it's important to remember no single individual in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy had the power to set policies, declare war or in any way make decisions which could affect the Seventh Generation. 

   In short, Joseph Brant's power was in the art of persuasion.

   Loyalty, true Loyalty, requires trust and a conviction that the object of allegiance has at least a modicum of good intentions for the welfare of the Loyal.  By 1775, neither condition was met by the Colonial Americans; treaties and proclamations (Proclamation of 1763, Treaty of Fort Stanwix - 1768) were largely ignored and the Haudenosaunee's welfare was of little concern to colonists eager to secure a land base.  The Colonists made for unlikely allies.

   Not all nations of the Confederacy were Loyal to the Crown; the Oneida Nation fought on the side of the Colonists.  While George 

Joseph Thayendanegea Brant Monument


Victoria Park, Brantford

Washington's sick and starving army wintered at Valley Forge in 1777-78, the Oneida Nation is credited with providing food and the knowledge on how to prepare corn... which aided in their survival.  For their assistance in the creation of the new United States, the Oneida Nation was rewarded with 32 acres of their original land.

   The Seneca Chiefs Cornplanter (c. 1740 -  1836) and Red Jacket (c.1758 - 1830) would side with the British, but both would make overtures to the new country in years to follow.  In 1792, Red Jacket visited President George WashingtonJoseph Thayendanegea Brant - Wm. Berczy c. 1794-97 in the new nation's capital of Philadelphia at Washington's invitation and led a delegation of 50 to assert Seneca grievances and claims.  Upon hearing of this, Joseph Brant may have felt a degree of vindication regarding his decision to leave the new republic.  

   In the War of 1812, Red Jacket influenced his people to support the United States.  His Nation's land within New York State may have been a primary concern for his support of American forces, yet years later would recognise the futility of Native involvement in a fight not of their own design.

  Both Cornplanter and Red Jacket would sign the Canandaigua (Pickering) Treaty of 1794 which was a result (or because) of Red Jacket's 1792 visit to Philadelphia.  The Treaty is very explicit in its descriptions of lands which were "..to be their property; and the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb them, or either of the Six Nations, nor their Indian friends..".  Years later, as those lands ceased to be under Haudenosaunee domain through voluntary and involuntary transactions, an aging Joseph Brant must have been convinced again of the benefits of living in Upper Canada.  Brant, it would appear, wasn't the only Iroquois leader guilty of questionable land swapping. 

   Joseph Brant detractors are quick to point out he killed his first-born son, Isaac.  The truth of the matter is: Isaac attacked his father while drunk and received a defensive blow to the head.  The head wound was tended to, but in the ensuing days, an intoxicated Isaac kept tearing off the bandages which resulted in exacerbating the healing process.  It was this truculence which ultimately led to his death; hardly outright premeditated murder as some would suggest.  (Jerod Rosman's excellent synopsis of Isaac Brant's death does far better justice than the brief outline given here.)

- Gustwenta - Two Row Wampum   1692 -

   So in the end, what's Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's legacy?  That is, after all, the work which should be critiqued when history books are being written and judgments are being passed.  Megalomaniacal opportunist who abandoned much of his culture and way of life?  Visionary who used his knowledge and powers of persuasion to lead his followers out of harm's way?

  The best analysis may be: he was a man with strengths and weakness just as any other man of his time.  It is naiveté of the highest magnitude to imagine leaders of any organisation at any point in history are infallible and not prone to the same temptations... power, money, prestige... as anyone else.   Contemporary world events will bear that theory out.

   Considering the implications of Brant's decision to leave the United States and maintain a relationship  Joseph Thayendanegea Brant - William Berczy c. 1794 - 97 with the Crown, generations later his descendants are experiencing the consequences on a daily basis.  Some may regret... even damn... the decision to leave the Traditional homelands.  Others, either consciously or not, are grateful for living in Canada and despite the many issues at hand have no desire to 'move back'.

   And others still, celebrate and honour their ancestors' courage of convictions.  Allegiances, like religions, are intensely personal.   Questioning the intentions or sincerity of people who've been dead for over two hundred years is an exercise in futility and conjecture at best.  Attacking the dead couldn't be any easier as they have no way to defend themselves.

    Years from now, hopefully the decisions, convictions and endeavours I've made during my life would be analyzed with a balanced perspective.  One-sided arguments do no one justice and to be fair, it's necessary to consider all angles before passing judgment.

    Joseph Thayendanegea Brant was my Loyal ancestor.  I'm proud to be one of his descendants and proud to honour his memory and accomplishments.

    Just as each of us would hope our descendants would think of us.


" No person among us desires any other reward

for performing a brave and worthy action

but the consciousness of having served our Nation . "

      Joseph Thayendanegea Brant U.E.      

             1742  -  1807               

Six Nations Mohawk


 

A letter Joseph Brant wrote to Oliver Phelps 

July 02, 1803

 


. . . . . . . . . . Joseph Brant Day . . . . . Simcoe Day - August 2,  2004. . . . .  11:00 am - 4:00 pm . . . . La Salle Park, Burlington . . . . .  (50 North Shore Blvd. West at La Salle Park Drive) . . . . . . .

Links for further information on the Life and Times of

    Joseph Thayendanegea Brant U.E.   


   ·  Joseph Brant : Betrayed By the Winds of Change - An exceptional website by Jerod Rosman
  ·  Civic Holiday / Joseph Brant Day -  A short look at communities' renditions of the August Civic Holiday
  · Descendants of Joseph Brant -  Extensive and impressive listing, if not fully complete or verified
  · HistoryTelevision.ca - Joseph  Brant -  With links to interactive maps of the Mohawk Nation
  ·  Museums of Burlington - Joseph  Brant -  A short synopsis with links
  · Museums of Burlington - Joseph  Brant Day -  Activities and contacts
  · The Philalethes Society / The Masonic Research Society  -  Good concise review of Brant's life
  · The Canadian Heritage Gallery  -  A few rare portraits of Joseph Thayendanegea Brant
  · 'Some Joseph Brant Descendants'  Ontario Historical Society:Publ.1899  -  A view from the past
  · "Wm. Berczy's Portraits of Joseph Brant" : National Archives of Canada - Long and comprehensive