Thayendanegea (translated from the Iroquoian as “he places two bets”) was born in the Ohio Valley in 1742, while his parents were on a hunting trip away from their home in the Mohawk Valley. His father died soon after his birth; his mother eventually remarried Mohawk chief Nikus Brant, and Thayendanegea became known as Joseph Brant. He grew up near what is now Canajoharie (about 10 miles to the north of present Sharon Springs). William Johnson, an Irish land speculator and trader living in the region, encouraged Joseph to attend the Anglican Mohawk mission school, and Joseph became close friends with William’s son John Johnson and nephew Guy Johnson. William Johnson later married Joseph’s sister Molly Brant.
As a teenager Brant participated in the French and Indian War, serving under William Johnson at the Battle of Lake George in 1755. The next year, Johnson was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department. Brant, who sometimes acted as interpreter for Johnson with the Iroquoian-speaking tribes, also served under the Irishman at the Battle of Fort Niagara in 1759. In 1761-63, Brant studied at Moor’s Indian Charity School (later becoming Dartmouth College). While there, he helped tutor fellow student Samuel Kirkland in Iroquoian. Kirkland would go on to become a missionary to the Oneida. In 1763, Brant fought alongside the British against united Algonquian tribes in Pontiac’s Rebellion, an uprising in the Great Lakes region, led by the Ottawa Indian Pontiac. After William Johnson’s death in 1774, Guy Johnson became the new regional superintendent of Indian Affairs, and Brant acted as interpreter for his childhood friend.
In 1775, soon after the outbreak of the American Revolution, the two traveled to England. Brant met many notables. Among them were the writer James Boswell; the painter George Romney, who painted the Mohawk’s portrait; and King George III and Queen Charlotte. Brant reportedly did not kneel before the king and grandiosely kissed the queen’s hand.
On returning to North America in 1776, Brant participated in the Battle of Long Island between Loyalist and Rebel troops, then, with two companions, slipped though enemy lines and traveled back to Iroquois lands. He was soon commissioned a colonel by the British and traveled among the Iroquois tribes to win them over to the Loyalist cause. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca threw their support to the British; the Oneida and Tuscarora supported the Rebels, in large part because the missionary Samuel Kirkland – Brant’s friend from school – had been working among them. This was the first time any of the Six Nations had taken up arms against one another since the formation of the confederacy centuries before.
At the Battle of Oriskany in August 1777, Brant led an Indian contingent against troops under General Nicholas Herkimer. He also led his warriors in many frontier raids, often in conjunction with the Royal Greens under his childhood friend John Jonson, now a general, and the Tory Rangers under Colonel John Butler. In 1778, Brant, operating out of Onoquaga, a Mohawk village on the Susquehanna River, led many successful raids on settlements in the region, including Cobleskill and Cherry Valley. His men burned houses and barns and drove away livestock, but spared settlers unless they fought back. At Cherry Valley, some 40 inhabitants were captured and taken to Fort Niagara, including some of blogger Chris’s ancestors.
The persistent frontier raids convinced General George Washington to send an army into Iroquois country under John Sullivan and John Clinton. In the Sullivan-Clinton campaigns of the spring and summer of 1779, Rebel troops razed some 40 Indian villages along with hundreds of acres of crops and orchards. Afterward, Brant led his warriors in raids along the Ohio Valley.
During and after the Revolutionary War, officially ending in 1783, many of the Iroquois departed their ancestral homelands for Canada. Brant retained his commission as a colonel, drawing half-pay. In 1784, he arranged for a land grant from the British government on the Grand River in Ontario. The original settlement, at the site of where he crossed the river, became known as Brant’s Ford – later Brantford. There Brant founded a Mohawk Episcopal chapel and worked on Iroquoian Mohawk translations of the Book of Common Prayer and the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark.
Brant continued to play a leadership role for the Mohawk. In 1794, he was received at Philadelphia by now-President George Washington and later attempted to negotiate a peace accord between the United States and tribes of the western Great Lakes, who had rebelled under Little Turtle in the Miami War.
Both of Brant’s first two wives had died years before of tuberculosis – Margaret in 1765 and her sister Susanna in 1771. He lived in Canada with his third wife, Catherine, daughter of the Irish trader George Croghan and a Mohawk woman. Brant died in 1807. His fourth son by Catherine, John Brant, became principal chief at the Six Nations Reserve at Brantford in 1830.
Joseph Brant is considered a Revolutionary hero in Canada. He is also honored in Cherry Valley and neighboring towns as a local success story, a great military leader, and for his showing mercy to settlers during raids.
The History Boys are
Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.
Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.