Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Mohawk Valley
Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney

Chapter XV The Joseph Brant of Romance and of Fact

Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea)

The late A. G. Richmond, of Canajoharie, who was curator of the New York State Museum at the time of his death, was very much interested in the early history of the Indians of the Mohawk Valley, and had been able to make a very complete and valuable collection of Indian relics. He acknowledged that it was his hobby, and his private correspondence was embellished with a small vignette, representing an old woman with a pointed hat, riding on a broom stick, with the legend, "We all have our hobby."

From the frequent recurrence of the name of Sir William Johnson in these pages, you will undoubtedly infer that he is my hobby. But he is not, except incidentally; for the hobby that I claim or acknowledge is the early history of the Mohawk Valley and the location of early Indian villages east of Schoharie River. However, as my avowed object is to place on record all available history of this section of New York, the prominent individuals who were connected with its early history must necessarily often be brought forward.

Perhaps there is no name that is as often spoken of in connection with Sir William Johnson and his family as the name of Brant, Joseph Brant. During the Revolution, from 1775 to 1780, Brant and his Senecas was a name which paled the cheek and made mothers convulsively clasp their helpless infants, and caused many a strong man's muscles to grow rigid and grasp, with anxious look, the trusty rifle or the ever present hunting knife in his belt.

In Benson J. Lossing's Field Book of the Revolution we find the following account of this noted Indian warrior, and as other records seem to agree with it, it has been accepted as, in the main, correct: Joseph Brant (Thay-en-da-ne-gea) was a Mohawk of pure blood. His father was a chief of the Onondaga nation, and had three sons in the army with Sir William Johnson, under the great Mohawk chief, King Hendrick, in the battle of Lake George in 1755. Joseph, his youngest son, whose Indian name, Thayendanegea, signified "a bundle of stick," or , in other word, "strength," was born on the bank of the Ohio, in 1742, whither his family had gone on a hunting trip. His mother returned to Dan-a-jor-hee (Indian Castle) with two children, Mary or Molly, and Thayendanegea. His father, Te-ho-wagh-wen-ga-ragh-kwin, a chief of the Wolf clan of the Mohawk, seems to have died in the Ohio country. His mother, after her return, married an Indian called Car-ri-bo-go (news carrier) whom the whites named Barnet; which by contraction became Barnt and finally Brant. Thayendanegea was called Joseph, and was known as Brant's Joseph or Joseph Brant.

Sir William Johnson sent young Brant to the school of Dr. Wheelock, of Lebanon, Connecticut, and after he was well educated for those days, employed him as secretary and as agent in public affairs. He was employed as missionary interpreter from 1762 to 1765, and exerted himself for the religious instruction of his tribe.

Lossing's explanation of the manner in which Thayendanegea got the name of Brant is quite ingenious and may be true, but the name "Brant, a Mohawk Indian," appears in a conference held in Albany, in August, 1700, in connection with King Hendrick, and again in an Indian deed, also in connection with King Hendrick, dated July 10, 1714, which conveys land that was formerly the site of the old Indian village of Caughnawaga.

When the Revolution broke out Joseph Brant attached himself to the British cause, left the Mohawk Valley, went to Canada, and in 1776 went to England, where his education and his business and social connection with Sir William Johnson gave him free access to the nobility. In 1786 he again visited England. It is said that at a social function given in his honor, he attended in all his gorgeous savage apparel, and was the center of attraction. During the evening he was approached by the Turkish ambassador, in company with some ladies. The Turk, thinking him a savage, took hold of some portion of his apparel to examine it, when Brant turned upon him in anger, at the same time uttering a hideous war whoop, which so frightened the Turk that he fled precipitately, while many of the company ran from the room in consternation. The Earl of Warwick caused Romney, the eminent painter, to make a portrait of him which is said to have been an excellent likeness.

In 1755, at the age of thirteen, he was with the Mohawks under King Hendrick (then a very old man) at the battle of Lake George, in the fatal ambush at Bloody Pond. He confessed to feeling so frightened at the first discharge that he clung to a tree for support, hardly able to grasp his gun, but this feeling soon changed, and he was able to continue the fight bravely and with calmness. We next hear of him at the battle of Cedar Rapids, in 1776, where a party of British regulars and Canadians under Foster, and five hundred Indians under the command of Brant attacked a small fortress defended by 390 Americans under Colonel Bedell, who, with but a small show of resistance, surrendered as soon as Captain foster arrived. Meanwhile a party of 140 men under Major Henry Sherburne was sent by Arnold to reinforce the garrison. These were ambushed, and after a brave fight of and hour and a half they surrendered. Infuriated by the obstinate resistance of the Americans, the Indians butchered about twenty of their number. It is said that Brant tried to restrain the Indians in their fury, but was unable to do so, although he was able to save the life of Captain McInstry after preparations had been made to torture him by fire.

In May, 1777, it is recorded in Campbell's Annals of Tryon County, that Brant and his warriors made an attempt to cut off Cherry Valley. They approached from the east side and reconnoitered the settlement from a lofty hill. He was astonished to find a fortification and quite a large and well armed garrison drilling on the espanade in front of Judge Campbell's house. Considering it inexpedient to attack a well-armed garrison he withdrew and the little village was saved from destruction at that time. Brant had been decided, however, in regard to the effectiveness of the garrison, as the well-armed soldiers that he supposed he saw from the high hills were the boys of the village drilling with wooden guns and swords. But it is said that on their retreat they ambushed two officers, on of whom, Lieutenant Wormwood, was killed, and the other captures. Brant rushed from his concealment and scalped the lieutenant with his own hands.

In the same year Brant was at Fort Schuyler in command of a party of Senecas, and also took part in the ambush and battle at Oriskany. Previous to this he had his warriors joined Sir John Johnson and Colonel John Butler, who had collected a large body of Tories at Oswego preparatory to a descent on the Mohawk and Schoharie settlements. There Guy Johnson summoned a grand council of the Six Nations. There was a pretty full attendance at the council, but a large portion of the sachems adhered faithfully to a covenant of neutrality made with General Schuyler at German Flats in the spring of 1777.

The commissioner represented to the Indians that the soldiers of the king were as abundant as the waters of Lake Ontario, and that if the Indians would become his allies during the war they should never want goods or money. Tawdry articles, such as scarlet cloths, beads and trinkets were displayed and presented to the Indians, which pleased them greatly, and they concluded an alliance by binding themselves to take up the hatchet against the patriots and continue their warfare until they were subdued. To each man was then presented a brass kettle, a suit of clothes, a gun,a tomahawk and scalping knife, a piece of gold, a quantity of ammunition, and a promise of a bounty on every scalp he should bring in.

Brant was thenceforth the acknowledged head of the Six Nations, and soon after commenced his terrible career in the midst of the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys. Sir John Johnson, Guy Johnson, Colonel John Butler, and other Tory commissioners bought the savages, placed in their hands instruments of death, bargained for the scalps of the patriots and inaugurated deeds of horror which culminated in the massacres of Wyoming, Cherry Valley, Schoharie, and points on the Mohawk River extending from Indian Castle to Warrensbush and the isolated farms lying north and south of the river.

The Oneidas fought with the patriots. The Indians of the lower Mohawk castle were not particularly active against the patriots, but the Onondagas, Cayugas,and particularly the Senecas, committed many an act of horror and earned their bounty of eight dollars for each scalp.

We hear again of Brant in 1778, when, with three hundred Tories and one hundred and fifty Indians, he overran the settlements of German Flats, when dwellings and barns were burned, grain destroyed, and stock captured. Neither scalps nor prisoners were secured, as the settlers took refuge in Forts Dayton and Herkimer, "and the old stone church of German Flats, which had been built under the auspices and by the liberal contributions of Sir William Johnson." It was during the spring of this year that Brant destroyed Springfield at the head of Otsego Lake. It is said that every house was burned except one into which the women and children were gathered and kept unharmed. Lossing says: "The absence of Tories in that expedition, and the freedom to act as he pleased on the part of Brant, may account for this act of humanity." The story of Cherry Valley and Wyoming has been told in previous chapters. Brant was with Walter N. Butler at Cherry Valley, but has been wrongfully accused of atrocities at Wyoming, as the Senecas at the massacre were under a chief called Gi-en-gwa-tah, and Captain Brant was many miles away.

Brant and his Senecas were at the battle of Co-ne-wa-wah (now Elmira) between General Sullivan's army and Tories and Indians under command of Sir John Johnson. The patriots were victorious. The record says: "Brant, perceiving that all was lost, raised the loud retreating cry, 'Oonah! Oonah!' and savages and Tories, in great confusion, abandoned their works and fled across the river, pursued by the victors." This battle is known as the battle of Chemung. It is said that the victors killed and scalped eight of the Indians in the pursuit. In April, 1780, Brant and his Indians and Sir John Johnson and the Tories, destroyed Harpersfield and settlements in Schoharie. It was during this year that Little Falls, Canajoharie, and Fort Plain were destroyed. At the battle of Klock's Field, during the raid of the Mohawk Valley in October, 1780, the patriots were victorious. Brant was wounded in the heel, but escaped.

Johnson fled toward Onondaga Lake, where his boats had been concealed.

When Gen. Van Rensselaer heard of the concealment of the boats at that point, he dispatched a messenger to Captain Vrooman, then in command at Fort Schuyler, ordering him to go with a strong detachment and destroy them. Vrooman instantly obeyed. One of his men feigned sickness at Oneida, and was left behind. He was there when Johnson arrived, and informed him of Vrooman's expeditions. Brant and a body of Indians hastened forward, came upon Vrooman and his party while at dinner, and captured the whole of them without firing a gun. Johnson had no further impediments in his way and easily escaped to Canada by way of Oswego, taking with him Captain Vrooman and his party prisoners, but heaving behind a great number of his own men, and Tryon county enjoyed comparative repose through the remainder of the autumn and part of the winter.

In January, 1781, Brant was again on the war path in the vicinity of Fort Schuyler. The slender barrier of the Oneida nation had been broken the previous year by driving that people upon the white settlements, and the warriors from Niagara had a unimpeded way to the Mohawk Valley. They were separated into small parties, annoying the settlements and occasionally capturing supplies. Some of these penetrated as far as Schenectady, probably to engage the Oneidas, who were located there at that time. In September of this year Brant was in the region now the State of Ohio, also in Kentucky, and, together with McKee and a party of Rangers, advanced on Boone's Fort and ambushed a party of horsemen, most of whom were killed or captured. This probably accounts for the fact that no mention is made of Brant's being present in the last raid through the Mohawk Valley, and final dispersion of the Rangers at the battle of Johnstown.

Here I would like to introduce an account of the raid of Ross and Walter N. Butler in October, 1781, taken from an English report. Governor Haldiman at that time organized a second expedition to destroy the remaining settlements in the Mohawk Valley. Sir John Johnson was sent by way of Crown Point in order to strike the valley from the east. Major Ross was to advance from Niagara by way of Oswego.

A violent gale prevented the detachments from Niagara from reaching Oswego until Oct. 9, (1781). On the 17th Major Ross left his boats with a guard, in a creek falling into Lake Oneida, and marched toward Otsego Lake. During the march several prisoners were brought in from whom it was learned that Sir John Johnson had appeared at Crown Point, but that their own movements were as yet undiscovered. On the 23rd they passed through Cherry Valley, and on the evening of the following day reached Currytown. Owing to the roundabout way they had taken, their appearance was a unexpected as though they had spring up from the earth. As they hurried toward the Mohawk they took a few prisoners, who stated that there were a thousand men assembled at Schenectady, five hundred at Schoharie, and that Col. Willett was at Canajoharie with four hundred more. Duanesburg or Warrensbush (their objective point), lying centrally between these two garrisons, was deemed perfectly safe from attack. Major Ross perceived that he had no time to lose, as in a few hours his presence would be known at all these places. And although his men were already fatigues by eight days of steady marching in very bad weather, and much of the time ankle deep in mud, he marched all night through incessant rain and over fourteen miles of the worst possible roads. His men struggled gallantly to keep together, and not more than a dozen fell behind, worn out by fatigue, and were abandoned to the tender mercies of the enemy. At three o'clock on the morning of the 25th they forded the Schoharie, within gunshot of Fort Hunter, and two hours later halted near Warrensbush (fifth ward, Amsterdam), where they were allowed to rest on their arms until daybreak. The Rangers and Indians were detailed to destroy the settlement, which was seven (?) miles in length, while the remainder of the troops moved along the main road to support them. They found the place totally deserted, for the inhabitants had fled during the night. By ten o'clock they had advanced within twelve miles of Schenectady, and every building in sight was in flames, including three mills and a large public magazine.

Ross then wheeled about and marched swiftly up the Mohawk, which he forded with much difficulty, as the river was swollen by the rain. A small party sallied from Fort Johnson to dispute their passage, but the officer in command was killed at the first fire and his men dispersed. The militia began to gather behind him, and Ross determined to retreat directly through the woods instead of attempting to return to his boats at Oneida Lake. Marching through the woods to Johnstown he haled in the fields near Johnson Hall.

There Colonel Willett found him and gave battle, which resulted in driving Ross and his Rangers and Indians into the forest, as told in the account of the battle of Johnstown in a previous chapter.

Although most of the raids in which Brant participated were in the Mohawk Valley and the West, there is an account of one as far east and south as Minisink, in Orange County, N. Y. The story is only a repetition of many of the horrors that were perpetrated by the Indians and Tories during the Revolution. It was in 1779, and this border settlement had been left unprotected by the withdrawal of Count Pulaski and his cavalry, who had been ordered to South Carolina. During the night, Brant, at the head of sixty Indians and twenty-seven Tories, stole on the little town and fired several dwellings. A small stockade fort, a mill, and twelve houses and barns were burned, and a number of persons killed and taken prisoners. The next day there was a gathering of many volunteers, and soon 159 hardy men were clamoring to be led against the enemy. Colonel Tusten, who knew the prowess of Brant, opposed marching against a large body of the enemy with so small a force. But the debate was cut short my Major Meeker, mounting his horse, flourishing his sword, and shouting: "Let the brave men follow me; the cowards may stay behind." These words aroused the assembly, and the line of march was immediately formed. There was the oft-repeated ambush, the fierce fight at close quarters, and the exhaustion of ammunition, massacre, and only thirty of the brave men returned to tell the tale.

It is said that during the battle Major Wood made a Masonic sign, by accident, which Brant, being a free Mason, recognized and heeded, and his life was spared and he was kindly treated, until the Mohawk chief perceived he was not a Mason. After that Brant treated him with contempt, although he was afterward released and joined the fraternity by whose instrumentality he life was saved.

Church at German Flats

Many tales are told of Brant's savage cruelty, and he is often spoken of as a monster; but in almost every instance of horrible, bloodthirsty Indians atrocity the red men were accompanied by armed Tories, who assisted them in massacres, while Brant made very effort to restrain their savage instincts.

From early boyhood he was a companion of the whites, and in his early manhood was an assistant of Sir William Johnson. By birth he was a savage, but by education a white man. It is hard to believe that a man who had been cared for by Sir William as though he had been his own son, and who had learned from him the virtues of generosity and conciliation, and man who had been placed in contact with the eminent white men of that period in business maters, one who was a friend of Dominies Stuart, Urquhart, and Kirkland, and assisted them in the translation of portions of the Gospel and prayer Book into Mohawk, and exerted himself in many ways for the spiritual welfare of his people, could degenerate into the savage that early historians have pictured him. The Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell, makes the Oneida say in Gertrude of Wyoming:

This is no time to fill the joyous cup;
The mammoth comes--the foe--the monster Brant,
With all his howling, desolating band.

Scorning to wield the hatchet for his bribe,
'Gainst Brant himself I went to battle forth,--
Accursed Brant.

Brant was not at Wyoming, but many miles distant, and although Campbell wrote to Brant's son John a letter of apology and regret, his poems are still published with that damning falsehood.

Interior of Old Dutch Church at German Flats

The bribe came from the British through Sir John and Guy Johnson, in the bounty of eight dollars for every scalp, and that the incentive for the murder of many helpless men, women, and children that Brant was powerless to prevent.

The battle of Minisink was not a massacre but the extermination of a body of brave, stubborn colonists, who chose to die rather than surrender, although Brant offered good treatment if they would lay down their arms, but warned them of the fierceness of the thirst for blood that actuated his warriors.

After the peace of 1783 he visited England, and on returning to America devoted himself to the social and religious improvement of the Mohawks, who were settled at Grand River, Brant County, Canada, and on the Bay of Quinte.

To Brant was entrusted the care of the silver communion set given to the Mohawks by Queen Anne in 1712 for use in Queen Anne's Chapel at Fort Hunter. Since that time its care has been transmitted to successive members of his family. In 1898 I met the great-granddaughter of Joseph Brant in company with about forty members of the Iroquois, who were in Albany to deposit some valuable wampum belts in the New York State Museum. Her name was Mrs. John Lift, and the babe at her breast was the great-great-grandson of Joseph Brant. Brant held a colonel's commission in the English army, but he is generally known as Captain Brant. He died at his residence at the head of Lake Ontario, November 24, 1807, at the age of sixty-five years.

Queen Anne's Mohawk Communion Plate, 1712.

As the name of Fort Schuyler appears frequently in these pages, it may be of interest to state where it was situated. I will begin by saying that here were two Fort Schuylers in western and one in northern New York. During the last French was, as it was called, a number of forts were built along the Mohawk Valley between 1755 and 1758. In 1758 a fort was constructed where the city of Utica now stands,and named Fort Schuyler, for General Peter Schuyler.

Previous to 1710 a fort was erected on the site of Fort Ann, and named Fort Peter Schuyler, which was destroyed at that date by Colonel Schuyler, as it was thought worthless unless garrisoned.

The Fort Schuyler at Utica had been allowed to decay, and in 1777 was only a fortress in ruins.

At the same date that the Utica fort was built (1758) a fort was erected at Rome, N. Y., and named Fort Stanwix. In 1776 it was repaired and named Fort Schuyler, in honor of General Philip Schuyler, of Revolutionary fame.

In 1781, this fort, noted for its connection with the battle of Oriskany, was destroyed by fire and flood, and never rebuilt.

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