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Over the Border

Instead of proceeding to attack the strong loyalist fort at Niagara, General Sullivan re-crossed the Genesee on September 16. Lack of provisions, he asserted, was his reason for turning back. Before this, Brant had frustrated a plot which was afoot among the Indians to desert the British cause. Red jacket, an influential chief of the Seneca and a very persuasive orator, had suggested that the Six Nations should negotiate a permanent peace with the colonists. 'What have the English done for us,' he exclaimed, as he pointed in the direction of the Mohawk valley, 'that we should become homeless and helpless for their sakes?' A considerable following embraced the view of the Seneca chieftain, and it was agreed that a runner should be sent to the camp of General Sullivan to acquaint him with their desire to come to terms. If Sullivan was prepared to negotiate with them, he was to be asked to send his proposals under a flag of truce. These proceedings came to Brant's knowledge and, whether his act may be justified or not, he adopted probably the only means of preventing a wholesale desertion to the enemy. He chose two of his trustiest warriors and gave them instructions to waylay the bearers of the flag of truce from Sullivan's camp. The bearers were killed and the proposals of the American commander fell into Brant's hands, and Red Jacket and his party were left to imagine that Sullivan had not been gracious enough even to send them an answer.

Not long after the rout of the Six Nations on the Chemung river and the destruction of their villages the snow had begun to fall. The winter of 1779-80 was an unusually severe one, and the Indians suffered untold hardships through famine and disease. They were driven to trek in great numbers to the vicinity of the English fort at Niagara. Brant was there at this time, and during his sojourn he saw a wedding performed according to the sacred rites of the Anglican Church. He had lost his first wife, the mother of Isaac and Christiana, and had married her half-sister, Susanna; but she also had died childless, and Brant had taken to his tent the daughter of a Mohawk chief, whom he now decided to wed after the manner of the white people. His third bride, who was about twenty-one years of age at the time of her marriage, is known in history as Catherine Brant. She bore Brant three sons and four daughters, and lived for some years after his death. Her father was the leading sachem of the Tortoise clan and consequently she was able to bestow high rank within the Mohawk nation upon her son, Ahyouwaighs, or John Brant.

The story of Brant's part in the War of the Revolution from this time on can be related very briefly. Before spring he was again on the war-path and helped to destroy the villages of the Oneidas, because of their active sympathy for the rebel cause. In the month of April he closed in upon the settlement of Harpersfield and leveled it to the ground. As he was making his way back from the last adventure, he was seized with fever and forced to move by slow stages. He allowed his warriors to travel only every other day. There is an anecdote telling how he cured himself of his malady in a very Indian-like manner. Taking his position on the side of a hill, a haunt of rattlesnakes, he waited till one should crawl out to bask in the sun. When at length a snake showed itself he seized it and bore it to his camp. This reptile was cooked in a broth, and Brant supped eagerly of the hot decoction. And after partaking of this wonderful remedy, according to the story, he was well again in a very short time.

In August of the same year, 1780, Brant again invaded the Mohawk valley. On this occasion he gained his object by an artful device. He learned that some stores were being borne to Fort Schuyler and pretended that he was going to seize them and attack the fort itself. The local militia marched to the fort's defense and, while they were intent on this, Brant doubled back to the rear. Swooping down upon the white settlement at Canajoharie, he laid everything low and carried away captive many women and children. Later in the season he made a similar descent into the Schoharie-kill, but here there is on record to his credit at least one act of kindness. After the raid, a group of settlers were gathered together, telling of all the mishaps that had occurred to them. One sad-eyed woman told of the loss of her husband and several of her children. She had been bereft even of an infant, which had been torn from its cradle. But that morning, while the officers of the colonial camp were seated at their breakfast, a painted redskin sprang into their midst carrying in his arms a slender child and handed a letter to the officer in command. It was the woman's child that he bore, and the letter was from Joseph Brant.

'Sir,' ran the epistle, 'I send you by one of my runners the child which he will deliver, that you may know that whatever others do, I do not make war upon women and children. I am sorry to say that I have those engaged with me in the service who are more savage than the savages themselves.'

The year 1781 brought the war to its climax. On October 19 Lord Cornwallis, hard pressed at Yorktown by an army of sixteen thousand men under Washington and a powerful French fleet under Admiral de Grasse, was forced to surrender. This was the last important episode before peace was arranged. During the summer the War Chief had still been fighting on the border and harassing the country of those who sympathized with the Americans. In August he was found in the west, having defeated a part of Colonel Clark's forces near the Great Miami river, which empties into Lake Erie.

The treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States of America was signed in November 1782. Canada, Newfoundland, and what are now the Maritime Provinces of the Dominion remained in the hands of the crown, but the independence of the other English colonies in the New World was recognized. In the whole text of the treaty there was not a word about the Six Nations. But all their lands south of Lake Ontario as far as the banks of the Hudson came into the possession of the United States. For some time it seemed as though the Indians' sacrifices on behalf of His Majesty the King were to be reckoned as nothing, and the tribesmen who had been loyal were very wroth. They had fought valiantly for the crown, and now expected that the king should do something for them in return. All that they had to fall back upon was the promise that their rights would be respected when the conflict ended.

'Now is the time for you to help the King,' General Haldimand had said to the assembled redskins in 1775. 'The war has commenced. Assist the King now, and you will find it to your advantage. Go now and fight for your possessions, and, whatever you lose of your property during the war, the King will make up to you when peace returns.'

Sir Guy Carleton had also assured the Indians that money would be spent to give them the same position after the war that they had occupied before it, and that the government would not be lax in dealing with their needs. In 1779, when General Haldimand was already in command of all the forces in Canada, he had reiterated his promises, and said that he would do his best to fulfill them, 'as soon as that happy time [the restoration of peace] should come.'

When the war was ended most of the Mohawk nation were dwelling on the west bank of the Niagara river. They had pitched their wigwams close to the landing-place, now Lewiston, which was some miles above the fort. Their old territory was situated in the heart of the country of their conquerors and to this they could not return with safety. The Seneca, who lived near by, saw how sad was their plight and offered them land upon which they might reside. The Mohawks appreciated the kindness of this proposal of the warlike nation which had fought by their side in the long struggle, but they could not accept the offer. In the words of Brant himself, they were resolved to 'sink or swim' with the English.

To settle the matter the War Chief journeyed down the St Lawrence to confer with the Canadian leaders. At Quebec he met General Haldimand and was welcomed by this officer with the sincerest friendship and given a chance to discuss the unhappy lot of his homeless people. Haldimand said that he would be quite ready to fulfill the promises that he had made during the war. Brant replied that his tribesmen would like to settle on English ground, and named the region on the Bay of Quinte as a spot suited to their needs. These lands were especially fertile and beautiful, and Haldimand was quite willing that the grant should be made in accordance with their wishes. He said that a tract would soon be purchased and given to the warriors of the Six Nations. Brant must have been well accompanied on his journey to the east, since on his way back twenty Indian families turned aside and pitched their abodes in the territory allotted to them on the Bay of Quinte. They were ruled by an Indian named Captain John, and a thriving Mohawk settlement was thus begun. Brant continued his journey along the south side of Lake Ontario, and came once again to Niagara.

But when the War Chief told the waiting redskins of his negotiations with General Haldimand there was a great outcry of dissatisfaction. The Seneca, who were the chief objectors, stated that they could not allow their kinsmen and old comrades-in-arms to go so far away from them as the Bay of Quinte. The Seneca were still afraid that they might have difficulties with the people of the United States, in whose country they were dwelling. The Mohawks must be near at hand to come to their rescue should the hatchet again be upraised.

Brant felt very keenly for the Seneca, who had done him such yeoman service in the war. They could be cruel in combat, but were very loyal to their friends, and he knew that something must be done for them. Accordingly, he repaired a second time to Quebec and again discussed the situation with General Haldimand. The outcome was that he obtained another grant of land, on the Grand river, which runs with a southerly course into the waters of Lake Erie. A tract six miles wide on each side of this stream, extending from its source to its mouth, was allotted to the Six Nations. This beautiful district, bordering on the shore of Lake Erie, only forty miles from the outer fringe of the Seneca villages, was in a direct line of intercourse between the Six Nations and the many tribes of the west and the upper lakes. Brant obtained the title-deeds to this territory for the Indians in the autumn of 1784, under the seal of royal authority. It was a gift, as indicated by the terms of the award, 'which the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations... with their posterity,' were to enjoy for ever.

Having been provided with a new home, the band of copper-hued patriots now began to cross the Niagara. They were loyalists of another than the white race, and, like the other Loyalists, they had left their Long Houses behind in the hands of the stranger. On their bodies were the marks and scars of many a campaign; their limbs had become suppler with the long march and swarthier in the summer sun; they did not dare to cast a glance back at the fair land that had been the hunting-ground of their fathers. With them were their women, dark-eyed Amazons of the north. Their little ones toddled by their side. The journey was shortly over and they beheld the waters of the Grand river, flowing between their narrow banks. Here, in the flowering glades, they raised their tents and lit anew their council fires. Then they toiled up against the current, searching out the borders of their country; down-stream they shot again, their glad eyes beaming as they saw how wide and goodly was their heritage.

The nation of the Mohawks had come to Canada to stay. Among them settled many from their kindred tribes, red men who would not forsake their Great White Father the King. By the sheltering boughs of the regal maple, the silver-garbed beech, or the drooping willow they built the rough huts of a forest people. Then they tilled the soil, and learned to love their new abode. Although of a ferocious stock, unrivalled in the arts of savage warfare, the Mohawks and other Indians of the Six Nations in Canada have rarely, if ever, been surpassed by any other red men in the ways of peace.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The War Chief of the Six Nations, A Chronicle of Joseph Brant, 1915

 

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