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The Ways Divide

The happy ending, in 1763, of the war with France left the English colonies in America with little to disturb them, except the discontented red men beyond the Alleghany Mountains. The colonies grew larger; they did more business and they gathered more wealth. But as they prospered they became self-confident and with scarce an enemy at home they became involved in a quarrel with the motherland across the sea. England, they said, was taxing them unjustly and posting soldiers in their chief cities to carry out her will. They were by no means disposed to submit. As early as 1770 a mob in Boston attacked an English guard and drew upon themselves its fire, which caused bloodshed in the city's streets. This was the prelude of the American Revolution. A brief lull came in the storm. But as Britain still insisted on the right to tax the colonies and made an impost on tea the test of her right, rebels in Boston accepted the challenge and were inflamed to violence; they swarmed on a tea-ship which had entered the bay, dragged the packets from the hold, and cast them into the waters of the harbor. When news of this act of violence reached England, parliament passed a bill providing for the shutting up of the port of Boston and removing the seat of government to Salem. In 1774 General Gage, the recently appointed governor of Massachusetts, placed the colony under military rule, and it was cut off from the rest of the country. The signal for revolt was thus given, and a general revolution soon followed.

The colonists immediately divided into two parties; on the one side were those who felt that they must obey what they thought to be the call of liberty; on the other were those who had no desire, and felt no need, to follow a summons to insurrection against His Majesty the King. The red man began to see clearly that the whites, the 'Long Knives,' brethren of the same race, would soon be at one another's throats, and that they, the natives, could not remain neutral when the war broke out.

During these alarming days Sir William Johnson died, when scarcely sixty years of age. He had seen that the break with the motherland was coming, and the prospect was almost more than he could bear. On the very day of his death he had received dispatches from England that probably hastened his end. He was told, under the royal seal, of the great peril that lay in store for all the king's people, and he was urged to keep the Six Nations firm in their allegiance to the crown. On that morning, July 11, 1774, the dying man called the Indians to council, and spoke what were to be his parting words to the tribes. They must, he said, stand by the king, undaunted and unmoved under every trial. A few hours later the gallant Sir William Johnson, the friend of all the sons of the forest, the guide and helper of Joseph Brant, had breathed his last. His estates and titles were inherited by his son John Johnson, who was also promoted to the rank of major-general in the army. The control of Indian Affairs passed into the hands of his son-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson, an able man, but less popular and wanting the broad sympathies of the great superintendent. Brant was at once made secretary to Guy Johnson, and to these two men Sir William's work of dealing with the Indians now fell. Their task, laid on them by their king, was to keep the Six Nations true to his cause in the hour when the tomahawk should leave its girdle and the war fires should again gleam sullenly in the depths of the forest.

Joseph Brant set about this work with restless energy. He was no longer the stripling who had gone away to the West that he might aid in bending the pride of Pontiac. Ten years had passed, and now he was a mature man with an ever-broadening vision. Some time during these years he had reached the position among his tribesmen which he long had coveted. He had been recognized by the Mohawks as one of their chieftains. This honor he had won by right not of birth but of merit, and for this reason he was known as a 'Pine-tree Chief.' Like the pine-tree, tall and strong and conspicuous among the trees of the forest, he had achieved a commanding place in the Mohawk nation. True, he was a chief merely by gift of his tribe, but he seems, nevertheless, to have been treated with the same respect and confidence as the hereditary chiefs. He rejoiced in his new distinction. Evil days were ahead, and he was now in a position to do effective work on behalf of his people and of the British when the inevitable war should break out. A still greater honor was in store for him. When war was declared he at once became recognized as the war leader of the Six Nations--the War Chief. The hereditary successor of King Hendrick, who was slain at Lake George in 1755, was Little Abraham; but Little Abraham, it appears, desired to remain neutral in the impending struggle, and by common consent Brant assumed the leadership of the Iroquois in war.

Two things favored Brant in any appeal he might make in the interests of the British to the loyalty of the Six Nations. For over a hundred years they had taken from the colonial agents who represented the crown wampum belts as a sign of treaty obligations. Treaties had been made with the king; the word of the red man had been given to the king. Promises made to them by the king's agents had always been performed. Why, therefore, should they now plight their faith to any other than their Great Father the King, who dwelt far over the waters? Besides, by recent actions of the colonists, the resentment of the Indians had been fanned to a fury. In 1774 some colonial land-hunters were scouring the country of the Shawnees. Without any real cause they fell upon some redskins and butchered several in an inhuman way. Not satisfied with this act of cruelty, they seized two brave chiefs, Bald Eagle and Silver Heels, and killed them in cold blood. The anger of the Indians was aroused and they rallied under the banner of the noble Logan, 'Mingo Chief' of the Shawnees. Against him the Virginians sent a large force of more than two thousand men. A fierce battle took place at the Great Kanawha river, at the point where that stream flows into the Ohio. For a time Logan and his Indian ally Cornstalk and their followers fought desperately, but in the end they were forced to flee across the Ohio. This war was short, indeed, but it had no just warrant, and the Indians could not forget the outrage that had been committed. The memory of it rankled with the Six Nations, especially among the Cayuga, to whom Logan was bound by ties of blood.

While Joseph was doing his utmost to keep the Indians loyal and was keeping watch upon those who were plotting to win them from their allegiance to the crown, Sir John Johnson was growing anxious for his own life. So great was his, fear of being killed or abducted that he increased his body-guard to five hundred men. At the same time, he placed swivel-guns about his house, in order to withstand a sudden attack. He energetically organized the settlers on his domains into a protecting force. In particular the Highland loyalists in his district rallied to his aid, and soon a hundred and fifty brawny clansmen were ready to take the field at the shortest notice.

But the Six Nations were by no means united in their loyalty to the crown. Brant saw that the tribe most wavering in its support was the Oneida. He found that their missionary, Samuel Kirkland, was in league with the rebels, and sought to have this clergyman removed. Failing in this, he wrote to the Oneida chiefs, urging them to remain loyal to the king. A letter that an Oneida runner let fall at this time on an Indian path is the earliest bit of handwriting that we have from Joseph Brant's pen. In it he warns the Oneidas against the subtle work which the colonists were carrying on. 'Guy Johnson is in great fear of being taken prisoner by the Bostonians,' he says. 'We Mohawk are obliged to watch him constantly. Guy Johnson assures himself, and depends upon your coming to his assistance... He believes not that you will assent to let him suffer.' The appeal thus made seems, however, to have met with little response from the Oneidas, and Brant was rebuffed. Even before this they had sent a letter to the governor of Connecticut expressing in, plain terms their desire to remain neutral when hostilities should commence. 'We cannot intermeddle in this dispute between two brothers,' was their decision. 'The quarrel seems to be unnatural.' The Oneida had the right to their opinion, but their conduct must have stung the heart of the chief of the Mohawk. Yet never for a moment did his courage fail. He knew that the bulk of the Six Nations were willing to give their life's blood in the service of the king. He and they would be true to the old and binding covenant which their forefathers had made as allies of the crown. 'It will not do for us to break it,' said Brant, 'let what will become of us.'

Civil war was now impending in the colonies. The battle of Lexington had been fought, and the whole country was taking breath before the plunge into the conflict. Guy Johnson and Brant were waiting to declare themselves and the time was nearly ripe. The first move was made just after the Mohawk chiefs had been summoned to a council at Guy Park,1 about the end of May. Secret orders had come from General Gage, and Johnson knew precisely what course he was expected to follow. Leaving his house to what fate might befall it, he started westward with Brant and a force of Indians and white men. At their first important stopping-place, Cosby's Manor, a letter was sent back to throw a blind across their trail. Then, with their faces still towards the setting sun, the loyal band wended their way through the dark mazes of the forest.

After a weary journey the loyalist party emerged among the populous western villages of the Iroquois confederacy. There, at Ontario, south of the lake of that name, was held a great assembly, and fifteen hundred warriors listened to the messengers of the king. In reply the chiefs of the assembled throng expressed their willingness to 'assist his Majesty's troops in their operations.' Johnson and Brant then went on to Oswego, on the margin of the lake, where an even larger body heard their plea. Johnson prepared for the redskins a typical repast, and 'invited them to feast on a Bostonian.' The Indians avowed their willingness to fight for the king. Then, while the summer days were long, a flotilla of canoes, in which were many of the most renowned chiefs of the Six Nations, set out eastward for Montreal over the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario. In one of the slender craft knelt Joseph Brant, paddle in hand, thoughtful and yet rejoicing. He was but thirty-three years old, and yet, by shrewdness in council and by courage on the field of battle, he already occupied a prominent place among the chiefs of the confederacy. Moreover, great days were ahead. Soon the canoes entered the broad St Lawrence and were gliding swiftly among its islets. With steady motion they followed its majestic course as it moved towards the sea.

1 'A beautiful situation immediately on the bank of the Mohawk. The elegant stone mansion is yet [1865] upon the premises giving the best evidence of substantial building.'--William L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, vol. i. p. 71.

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


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