History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Tryon County;
Border Warfare of New York,
During the Revolution.
By William W. Campbell
New York; Printed and Published by J. & J. Harper 1831
Sketch of the Life and Character of Joseph Brant
Joseph Brant, whose name has so often been mentioned in the foregoing pages, was a Mohawk Sachem, of great celebrity and influence in his tribe. The time of his birth I do not know. In July, 1761, he was sent, by Sir William Johnson, to the "Moor's Charity school," at Lebanon Connecticut, establish by Rev. Dr. Wheelock, which was afterward removed to Dartmouth, and became the foundation of Dartmouth College. The following mention of him is made in the memoirs of that gentleman:
"Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in North America, was very friendly to the design of Mr. Wheelock, and, at his request, sent to the school, at various times, several boys of the Mohawks to be instructed. One of them was the since celebrated Joseph Brant; who, after receiving his education, was particularly noticed by Sir William Johnson,and employed by him in public business. He has been very useful in advancing the civilization of his countrymen, and for a long time past has been a military officer of extensive influence, among the Indians in Upper Canada."
In confirmation of one of the statements in the above notice, it may he here added, that in 1787 he translated the book of Mark into the Mohawk tongue: and, as he mentioned in the letter hereafter inserted, contemplated writing a history of the Six Nations.
The movements of Brant during the war have been detailed, at considerable length, in the foregoing historical sketch of Tryon County. Combining the natural sagacity of the Indian, with the skill and science of the civilized man, he was a formidable foe. He was a dreadful terror to the frontiers. His passions were strong. In his intercourse he was affable and polite, and communicated freely relative to his conduct. He often said that during the war he had killed but one man in cold blood, and that act he ever after regretted. He said, he had taken a man prisoner, and was examining him; the prisoner hesitated, and as he thought equivocated. Enraged at what he considered obstinacy, he struck him down. It turned out that the man's apparent obstinacy arose from a natural hesitancy of speech.
The following is the account, given by an European traveler, Mr. Weld, which is alluded to in the letter of Thomas Campbell. "With a considerable body of his troops, he joined the forces under the command of Sir John Johnson. A skirmish took place with a body of American troops; the action was warm, and Brant was shot by a musket ball in his heel, but the Americans in the end were defeated,and an officer, with sixty men, were taken prisoners. The officer, after having delivered up his sword, had entered into conversation with Sir John Johnson, who commanded the British troops, and they were talking together in the most friendly manner, when Brant, having stolen slyly behind them, laid the American officer low with a blow of his tomahawk. The indignation of Sir John Johnson, as may be readily supposed, was roused by such an act of treachery, and he resented it in the warmest terms. Brant listened to his unconcernedly, and when he had finished, told him, that he was sorry for his displeasure, but that indeed his heel was extremely painful a the moment, and he could not help revenging himself on the only chief of the party that he saw taken. Since he had killed the officer, he added, his heel was much less painful to him than it had been before." There were doubtless some grounds for such statements as that above; though probably very much exaggerated. I have heard a story somewhat similar told of him, but it was said that the officer was killed to present his being retaken by the American, who were in pursuit of the Indians. In the retreat he would not keep up with them.
Brant stated, and it is believed to be true, that on the morning of the day on which Cherry Valley was destroyed, he left the main body of the enemy, and by a different route, endeavored to arrive first at the house of Mr. Wells for the purpose of protecting the family; but that he found on his route, and a little way from the house, a large plowed field to cross which hindered him, so that he did not arrive until it was too late.
In person, Brant was about the middling size, of a square, stout build, fitted rather for enduring hardships than for quick movements. His complexion was lighter than that of most of the Indians, which resulted, perhaps, from his less exposed manner of living. This circumstance, probably, gave rise to a statement, which has been often repeated, that he was of mixed origin. He was married in the winter of 1779 to a daughter of Col. Croghan by an Indian woman. The circumstances of his marriage are somewhat singular. He was present at the wedding of Miss Moore from Cherry Valley, who had been carried away a prisoner, and who married an officer of the garrison at Fort Niagara.
Brant lived with his wife for some time previous, according to the Indian custom, without marriage; but now insisted that the marriage ceremony should be performed. This was accordingly done by Col. Butler, who was still considered a magistrate. After the war, he removed, with his nation, to Canada. There he was employed in transacting important business for his tribe. He went out to England, after the war, and was honorably received there. He died about ten or fifteen years since, at Brantford, Haldiman county, Upper Canada, where his family now reside. One of his sons, a very intelligent man, has been returned to the Colonial Assembly. This son, a few years since, when in London, in company with Capt. Robert Carr, a grandson of Sir William Johnson, laid before Thomas Campbell written documents, which changed Mr. Campbell's opinion of his father, and led to an expose of his views, in a letter to him.
For the correct understanding of the following letter, by those who had not read that beautiful poem, "Gertrude of Wyoming," (If there are any such) and who may not have a copy at hand, I will insert the objectionable stanzas--one of them has already been given in part. The speech is that of an Oneida Chief, who is may to say, immediately preceding the battle or massacre at Wyoming,
this is not a time, he started up,
And smote his breast with wo-denouncing hand--
This is not time to fill the joyous cup,
The mammoth comes--the foe--the monster, Brant,
With all his howling, desolating band;
These eyes have seen their blade, and burning pine,
Awake at once, and silence half your land.
Red is the cup they drink; but not with wine:
Awake, and watch tonight, or see no morning shine."
Scorning to wield the hatchet for his tribe,
'Gainst Brant himself I went to battle forth:
Accursed Brant! he left of all my tribe
No man, nor child, nor thing of living birth:
No! not the dog that watch'd my household hearth,
Escaped that night of blood upon our plains:
All perished! I alone am left on earth!
To whom nor relative, nor blood remains--
No--Not a kindred drop that runs in human veins.
Letter to the Mohawk Chief Ahyonwaeghs, commonly called John Brant, Esq. of the Grand River, Upper Canada, from Thomas Campbell.
January 20, 1822.
"Ten days ago I was not aware that such a person existed as the son of the Indian leader, Brant, who is mentioned in my poem. "Gertrude of Wyoming." Last week, however, your being in London,and of your having documents in your possession which he believed would change my opinion of your father's memory, and induce me to do it justice. Mr. Bannister distinctly assured me that no declaration of my sentiments on the subject was desired, but such as should spontaneously flow from my own judgment of the papers that were to be submitted to me.
"I could not be deaf to such an appeal. It was my duty to inspect the justification of a man whose memory I had reprobated, and I felt a satisfaction at the prospect of his character being redressed, which was not likely to have been felt by one who had willingly wronged it. As far as any intention to wound the feelings of the living was concerned, I really knew not, when I wrote my poem, that the son and daughter of an Indian chief were ever likely to peruse it, or be affected by its contents; and I have observed most persons to whom I have mentioned the circumstance of your appeal to me, smile with the same surprise which I experienced on first receiving it. With regard to your father's character, I took it as I found it in popular history. Among the documents in his favor, I own that you have shown me one which I regret that I never saw before, though I might have seen it; viz the Duke of Rochefoucaults' honorable mention of the chief in his travels.
The following testimony is borne to his fair name by Rochefoucault, whose ability and means of forming a correct judgment will not be denied. "Colonel Brant is an Indian by birth. In the American war he fought under the English banner, and he has since been in England, where he was most graciously received by the king, and met with a kind reception from all classes of people. His manners are semi European. He is attended by two Negroes; has established himself in the English way; has a garden and a farm; dress after the European fashion, and nevertheless, possesses much influence over the Indians. He assists at present (1795) at the Miami Treaty, which the United States are concluding with the western Indians. He is also much respected by the Americans; and in general, bears so excellent a name, that I regret I could not see and become acquainted with him." Rochefoucault's Travels in N. America.
Without meaning, however, in the least to invalidate that noblemen's respectable authority, I must say, that even if I had met with it, it would have still offered only a general and presumptive vindication of your father, and not such a specific one as I now recognize. On the other hand, judge how naturally I adopted accusations against him which had stood in the Annual register of 1779, as far as I knew, uncontradicted, for thirty years. A number of authors had repeated them with a confidence which beguiled at last my suspicion,and I believe that of the public at large. Among these authors, were Gordon, Ramsay, Marshall, Blesham, and Weld. The most of them, you may tell me, perhaps wrote with zeal against the American war. Well, but Mr. John Adolphus was never suspected of any such zeal, and yet he has said in his history of England, &c. (Vol. III. P. 110.) that 'a force of sixteen hundred savages, and Americans in disguise, headed by an Indian, Col. Butler, and a half-Indian, of extraordinary ferocity, named Brant, lulling the fears of the inhabitants (of Wyoming,) by treachery suddenly possessed themselves of two forts and massacred the garrison.' He says farther, 'that all were involved in unsparing slaughter, and that even the devices of torment were exhausted.' He possessed, if I possessed them, the means of consulting better authorities; yet he has never, to my knowledge, made any atonement to your father's memory. When your Canadian friends, therefore, call me to trial for having defamed the warrior Brant, I beg that Mr. John Adolphus may be also included in the summons. And after his own defense and acquittal, I think he is bound, having been one of my historical misleaders, to stand up as my gratuitous counsel, and say-- 'Gentlemen, you must acquit my client, for he has only fallen into an error which even my judgment could not escape.'
"In short, I imbibed by conception of your father, from accounts of him, that were published when I was scarcely out of my cradle. And if there were any public, direct, and specific challenge to those accounts in England, ten years ago, I am yet to learn where they existed.
"I rose from perusing the papers you submitted to me, certainly with an altered impression of his character. I find that the unfavorable accounts of him were erroneous, even on points not immediately connected with his reputation. It turns out for instance that he was a Mohawk Indian of unmixed parentage. This circumstance, however, ought not to be overlooked in estimating the merits of his attainments. He spoke and wrote our language with force and facility, and had enlarged views of the union and policy of the Indian tribes. A gentleman who had been in America, and from whom I sought information respecting him in consequence of your interesting message, told me, that though he could not pretend to appreciate his character entirely, he had been struck by the naiveté and eloquence of his conversation. They had talked of music, and Brant said, "I like the harpsichord well,and the organ still better; but I like the drum and trumpet best of all, for they make my heart beat-quick.' This gentleman also described to me the enthusiasm with which he spoke of written records. Brant projected at that time to have written a History of the Six Nations. The Genius of History should be rather partial to such a man.
"I find that when he came to England, after the peace of 1783, the most distinguished individuals of all parties and professions treated him with the utmost kindness. Among these were the late Bishop of London, the late Duke of Northumberland, and Charles Fox. Lord Rawdon, now Marquis of Hastings, gave him his picture. This circumstance argues recommendations from America founded in personal friendship. In Canada the memorials of his moral character represent it as naturally ingenuous and generous. The evidence afforded induced me to believe that he often strove to mitigate the cruelty of Indian warfare.
"Lastly, you affirm that he was not within many miles of the spot when the battle which decided the fate of Wyoming took, place and from your offer of reference to living witnesses, I cannot but admit the assertion. Had I learned all this of your father when I was writing my poem, he should not have figured in it as the hero of mischief. I cannot, indeed answer by anticipation what the writers who have either to retract or defend what they may have said about him, may have to allege; I can only say that my own opinion about him is changed. I am now inclined exceedingly to doubt Mr. Weld's anecdote, and for this reason: Brant was not only trusted, consulted, and distinguished by several eminent British officers in America, but personally beloved by them.
"Now I could conceive men in power, for defensible reasons of state politics, to have officially trusted, and even publicly distinguished at courts or levees, an active and sagacious Indian chief, or whose private character they might nevertheless still entertain a very indifferent opinion. But I cannot imagine high minded and highbred British officers, forming individual and fond friendship for a man of ferocious character. It comes within my express knowledge that the late Gen. Sir. Charles Stuart, fourth son of the Earl of Bute, the father of our present ambassador at Paris, the officer who took Minorea and Calvi, and who commanded our army in Portugal, knew your father in America, often slept under the same tent with him, and had the warmest regard for him. It seems but charity to suppose the man who attracted the esteem of Lord Rawdon and Gen. Stuart, to have possessed amiable qualities, so that I believe you when you affirm that he was merciful as brave. And now I leave the world to judge whether the change of opinion, with which I am touched, arises from false delicacy and flexibility of mind, or from a sense of honor and justice.
"Here, properly speaking, ends my reckoning with you about your father's memory; but, as the Canadian newspapers have made some remarks on the subject of Wyoming, with which I cannot fully coincide, and as this letter will probably be read in Canada, I cannot conclude it without a few more words, in case my silence would seem to admit of propositions which are rather beyond the stretch of my creed. I will not, however, give any plain truths which I have to offer to the Canadian writers the slightest seasonings of bitterness, for they have alluded to me, on the whole, in a friendly and liberal tone. But when they regret my departure from historical truth, I join in their regret only in as far as I have unconsciously misunderstood the character of Brant, and the share of the Indians in the transaction, which I have now reason to suspect was much less than that of the white men. In other circumstances, I took the liberty of a versifier, to run away from fact into fancy, like a truant when he rambles on a holyday from school. It seems however, that I falsely represented Wyoming to have been a terrestrial paradise. It was not so, say the Canadian papers, because it contained a great number of Tories; and undoubtedly that cause goes far to account for the fact. Earthly paradises, however, are but earthly things, and Tempe and Arcadia may have had their drawbacks on happiness as well as Wyoming. I must, nevertheless, still believe that it was a flourishing colony, and that its destruction furnished a just warning to human beings against war and revenge. But the whole catastrophe is affirmed in a Canadian newspaper to have been nothing more than a fair battle. If this be the fact, let accredited signatures come forward to attest it, and vindicate the innocence and honorableness of the whole transaction, as your father's character had been vindicated. An error about him by no means proves the whole account of the business to be a fiction. Who would not wish its atrocities to be disproved? But who can think it disproved by a single defender, who writes anonymously, and without definable weight or authority?
"In another part of the Canadian newspapers, my theme has been regretted as dishonorable to England. Then it was, at all events, no fable. But how far was the truth dishonorable to England? American settlers, and not Englishmen, were chiefly the white men calling themselves Christians who were engaged in this affair. I shall be reminded, perhaps, that they also called themselves Loyalists. But for heaven's sake, let not English loyalty be dragged down to palliate atrocities, or English delicacy be invoked to conceal them. I may be told that England permitted the war, and was therefore responsible for its occurrences. Not surely universally, nor directly. I should be unwilling to make even Lord North's administration answerable for all the actions of Butler's rangers; and I should be still more sorry to make all England amenable either for Lord North's administration or for Butler's rangers. Was the American war an unanimous and heartfelt war of the people? Were the best patriots and the brightest luminaries of our senate for, or against it? Chatham declared, that if American fell she would fall like the strong man, that she would embrace the pillars of our constitution, and perish beneath its ruins. Burke, Fox, and Barre kindled even the breasts of St. Stephen's chapel against it; and William Pitt pronounced it a war against the sacred cause of Liberty. If so, the loss of our colonies was a blessing, compared with the triumph of those principles that would have brought Washington home in chains. If Chatham and Pitt were our friends in denouncing the injustice of this war, then Washington was only nominally our foe in resisting it; and he was as much the enemy of the worst enemies of our constitution, as if he had fought against the return of the Stuarts on the banks of the Spey or the Thames. I say, therefore, with full and free charity to those who think differently, that the American was was disgraceful only to those who were it abettors, and that the honor of Englishmen is redeemed in proportion as they deprecate its principles and deplore its details. Had my theme even involved English character more than it does, I could still defend it. If my Canadian critic alleges that a poet may not blame the actions of his country. I meet his allegation,and deny it. No doubt a poet ought not for ever to harp and carp upon the faults of his country, but he may be her moral censor,and he must not be her parasite. If an English poet under Edward III, had only dared to leave one generous line of commiseration to the memory of Sir William Wallace, how much he would have raised our estimation of the moral character of the age: There is a present and a future in national character, as well as a past, and the character of the present age is best provided for by impartial and generous sentiments respecting the past. The twentieth century will not think the worse of the nineteenth for regretting the American war. I know the slender importance of my own works. I am contending however, against a false principle of delicacy, that would degrade poetry itself if it were adopted; but it will never be adopted.
"I therefore regret nothing in the historical allusions of my poem, except the mistake about your father. Nor, though I have spoken freely of American affairs, do I mean to deny that your native tribes may have had a just cause of quarrel with the American colonists. And I regard it as a mark of their gratitude that they adhered to the royal cause, because the governors acting in the king's name, had been their most constant friends, and the colonial subjects, possibly at times their treacherous invaders. I could say much of European injustice toward your tribes, but in spite of all that I could say, I must still deplore the event of Christians having adopted their mode of warfare, and, as circumstances then stood, of their having invoked their alliance. If the Indians thirsted for vengeance on the colonists, that should have been the very circumstance to deter us from blending their arms with ours. I trust you will understand this declaration to be made in the spirit of frankness, and not of mean and inhospitable arrogance. If I were to speak to you in that spirit, how easily and how truly could you tell me that the American Indians have departed faster from their old practices of warfare, than Christians have departed from their habits of religious persecution. If I were to preach to you about European humanity, you might ask me how long the ashes of the Inquisition have been cold, and whether the slave- trade be yet abolished? You might demand, how many, no, how few generations have elapsed since our old women were burnt for imaginary commerce with the devil, and whether the houses be not yet standing from which our great grandmothers may have looked on the hurdles passing to the place of execution, whilst they blessed themselves that they were not witches! A horrible occurrence of this nature took place in Scotland during my own grandfather's lifetime. As to warlike customs, I should be exceedingly sorry if you were to press me even on those of my brave old ancestors, the Scottish Highlanders. I can nevertheless recollect the energy, faith, hospitality of those ancestors, and at the same time I am not forgetful of the simple virtues of yours.
"Considering the filial motives of the young chief's appeal to me, I am not afraid that any part of this letter, immediately relating to him, will be thought ostentatious or prolix. And if charitably judged, I hope that what I have said of myself and my poem, will not be felt as offensive egotism. The public has never been troubled with any defense of mine against any attacks on my poetry that were merely literary: although I may have been as far as authors generally are from bowing to the injustice of hostile criticism. To show that I have not been over anxious about publicity, I must mention a misrepresentation respecting my poem on Wyoming, which I have suffered to remain uncorrected for ten years. Mr. Washington Irving, in a biographical sketch prefixed to it in an American edition, described me as having injured the composition of the poem, but showing it to friends, who struck out its best passages. Now I read it to very few friends, and to none at whose suggestion I ever struck out a single line. Nor did I ever lean on the taste of others with that miserable distrust of my own judgment which the anecdote conveys. I knew that Mr. Irving was the last man in the world to make such a misrepresentation intentionally, and that I could easily contradict it; but from aversion to bring a petty anecdote about myself before the world, I forbore to say anything about it. The case was different when a Canadian writer hinted at the patriotism of my subject. There he touched on my principles, and I have defended them, contending that on the supposition of the story of Wyoming being true, it is a higher compliment to British feelings to reveal, than to palliate or hide it."
have been thus special in addressing you from a wish to vindicate my own consistency,
as well as to do justice to you in your present circumstances, which are peculiarly
and publicly interesting. The chief of an aboriginal tribe, now settled under
the protection of our sovereign in Canada, you are anxious to lead on your
people in a train of civilization that is already begun. It is impossible
that the British community should not be touched with regard for an Indian
stranger of respectable private character, possessing such useful and honorable
views. Trusting that you will amply succeed in them,and long live to promote
improvement and happiness amidst the residue of your ancient race,
"I remain your sincere well wisher,
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