The smoke of wood fires and burning leaves clings to the Nov mists in the Mohawk Valley, men still talk about joseph Brant, the grMohawk war captain who tried all his life to keep a foot in two worlds, the
red and the white.
. He refused to bend his knee to King George but gallantly kissed the
hand of his queen. He had his portrait painted by the famous English painter
Indian school that later became Dartmouth College, and he translated the
' Bible into the Mohawk language, yet he could leave the Mohawk a blazing
ruin from Fort Stanwix, near Rome, to the very outskirts of Schenectady. He was one of the greatest of
American Indians; had he given his support to the struggling Continental army the course of our history
would certainly have been changed. `
But it would have been improbable if not impossible for Brant to wear a Continental tricorn; he was
too vain and too closely allied with the Lords of the Valley to consider casting his lot with the humble
Palatine Dutch farmers who talked so much of freedom. For Brant, they had the stink of cow dung
about them; he was more familiar with buckled shoes and cologne.
His decision to side with the British was tragic for the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations as it
was called. That ancient confederation bound together by wisdom, skill at war, and diplomacy became
helplessly divided when it was agreed that each nation should go its own way. In the past a declaration
of war had to be voted unanimously. Some nations like the Oneida went with the Americans, others
tried to stay neutral, or like Brant’s Mohawk fought for the British.
Brant joined Colonel Barry St. Leger’s invasion of the Mohawk, one of the prongs of Burgoyne’s
doomed campaign. The famous Battle of Oriskany, undoubtedly the bloodiest and most ferocious of the
Revolution, was fought with Herkimer’s gallant farmers standing musket to musket with the King’s
Own, the best of his Hessian gamekeeper-sharpshooters, and Brant’s painted warriors. Brant, who
despised defeat, led his Indans back to Fort Niagara, bitterly advising the British high command in
Montreal that from now on he would iight his way.
For six years he led his Indian raiders into the Mohawk, again and again leaving the beautiful
valley a sea of flames while the alarm bells in the tiny forts clanged frantically.
Some raids became classic atrocity stories of American wars: Cherry Valley, where women and
children lay dead in the snow with Brant protesting fiercely that Walter Butler, who led Butler’s
Rangers, was to blame; Wyoming, which gave birth to the celebrated eighteenth-century poem ,“Ger-
trude of Wyoming,” which pictures Brant as a murderous fiend who slaughtered the innocent. But as
it developed Brant was never there. I '
Following the Revolution Brant led his people-the first American DPs-across the border to settle
in Canada. V .
He came in solitary glory to Philadelphia in 1792 to see Washington and his cabinet, but only after
the other Iroquois chiefs, like Cornplanter and Red jacket, had already left the capital. It was typical of
Brant. Humility was alien to the Mohawk; in fact, pride and arrogance were his major flaws.
Brant was no Wigwam, storybook Indian dressed in buckskins stained with bear grease and smelling
of a thousand Campfires. He was educated, hewrote with the grace and lucidity that was far beyond
many of the farmers he had fought against. His clothes were of the finest material, and in his luxurious
home elaborate meals were served on crisp Irish linen. He had a host of slaves, as many as the aristocratic
Virginians who would later rule the United States.
He died in his fine home on Grand River, Ontario, November 24, 1807, whispering with his last
breath: “Have pity on the poor Indians.”
Painter: Brant was painted by many famous artists; among them were Romney, Charles Willson
Peale, George Catlin, and Wilhelm Berezy. It is not certain who painted this post-revolutionary portrait.
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Sep 22, 2023