The Iroquois or Six Nations

History of Brant

In the year 1775, when difficulties between the American colonies and the old country were rife, and the prospect of a long and desperate contention kept the minds of all in fear and anxiety, it was felt to be necessary on the part of the Americans, and politic on the part of the English, to use every endeavor to secure the services of the Six Nations. The remembrance of their noble patron, Sir William Johnson, caused the Mohawks and many others of the confederacy to adhere firmly to his son-in-law and successor, Guy Johnson, and when he fled westward to the lakes, to avoid the danger of capture by the Americans, Brant and the principal warriors of the tribe accompanied him. A great meeting was held by them, to discuss the policy, which they should pursue; after which, Johnson and his chiefs proceeded to Montreal, followed by a strong body of Indian warriors. Sir Guy Carleton encouraged the Iroquois sachems to accept commissions under the king, and, what with his promises, their attachment to the John son family, and the remembrance of old pledges, they were thoroughly confirmed in their purpose of taking a decided stand in favor of the royal cause.

The efforts of the Americans proved less successful. By the aid of a Mr. Kirkland, missionary to the Oneidas, the favor of that tribe was greatly conciliated. His efforts were assisted by the influence of the Indians of Stock-bridge, a town in western Massachusetts. These were the remains of various celebrated tribes, which had long ceased to maintain a separate national existence. The principal portion of them were descendants of the ancient Moheakannuk, Mohicans, or River Indians, who dwelt on the banks of the Hudson in the early times of American colonization; but with them were associated many of the Narragansetts and Pequots, from Rhode Island and Connecticut. They were entirely under the influence of the Americans, and favorable to their cause.

A very touching incident of private history, connected with this collection of dismembered tribes after their removal westward, has been immortalized in the beautiful poetical legend by Bryant, entitled “Monument Mountain.” The mountain stands in Great Barrington, (western Massachusetts,) overlooking the rich and picturesque valley of the Housatonic. The following note is appended to the poem. “Until within a few years past, small parties of that tribe used to arrive, from their settlement, in the western part of the state of New York, on visits to Stockbridge, the place of their nativity and former residence. A young woman, belonging to one of these parties, related to a friend of the author the story on which the poem of Monument Mountain is founded. An Indian girl had formed an attachment for her cousin, which, according to the customs of the tribe, was unlawful. She was, in consequence, seized with a deep melancholy, and resolved to destroy herself. In company with a female friend, she repaired to the mountain, decked out for the occasion in all her ornaments, and after passing the day on the summit, in singing, with her companion, the traditional songs of her nation, she threw herself headlong from the rock, and was killed.”

“Here the friends sat them down,
And sang all day old songs of love and death,
And decked the poor wan victim’s hair with flowers,
And prayed that safe and swift might be her way
To the calm world of sunshine, where no grief
Makes the heart heavy, and the eyelids red.”

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A conical pile of stones marks the spot where she was buried, on the southern slope of the mountain.

The regular successor to old king Hendric, among the Mohawks, was Little Abraham, a chief well disposed to wards the Americans, and who remained in the Mohawk valley when Johnson and his followers fled to Canada.. He appears to have possessed but little authority during the subsequent difficulties, and Brant, by a sort of universal consent among those in the English interest^ obtained the position of principal chief. He was commissioned as a captain in the British army, and, in the fall of 1775, sailed to England, to hold personal conference with the officers of government.

He was an object of much curiosity at London, and attracted the attention of persons of high rank and great celebrity. His court dress was a brilliant equipment modeled upon the fashions of his own race; but ordinarily he appeared in the usual citizen s dress of the time.

Confirmed in his loyalty to the English crown, Brant returned to America in the ensuing spring. He was secretly landed at some spot near New York, and made the best of his way to Canada. The journey was fraught with danger to such a traveler, through a disturbed and excited community, but the native sagacity and watchfulness of the Indian enabled our chief to avoid them.

Brant was gladly received, and the services of his war like Mohawks were promptly called into requisition. He led his people at the affair of “the Cedars,” which terminated so disastrously for the American interests. We can not minutely follow his movements, nor those of the several Iroquois tribes, for a considerable period subsequent to these events. Those were stirring times, and in the momentous detail of the birth of American independence, it is not always easy to follow out any private history.

Colonel Stone, in his life of Brant, gives us the following speech, as coming, at the beginning of the ensuing year, from the chiefs of the Oneida to Colonel Elmore, commandant at fort Schuyler. He does not attempt to ex plain the full import of it:

“Fort Schuyler, Jan. 19th, 1777. ” Speech of the Oneida Chiefs to Colonel Elmore. ”
Brother: “We are sent here by the Oneida chiefs, in conjunction with the Onondagas. They arrived at our village yesterday. They gave us the melancholy news that the grand council fire at Onondaga was extinguished. We have lost, out of their town, by death, ninety, whom are three principal sachems. We, the remaining part of the Onondagas, do now inform our brethren that there is no longer a council-fire at the capital of the Six Nations. However, we are determined to use our feeble endeavors to support peace through the confederate nations. But let this be kept in mind, that the council-fire is extinguished. It is of importance to our well being, that this be immediately communicated to General Schuyler, and also to our brothers the Mohawks. In order to effect this, we deposit this belt with Tekeyanedonhotte, Colonel Elmore, commander at Fort Schuyler, who is sent here by General Schuyler to transact all matters relative to peace. We therefore request him to forward this intelligence, in the first place to General Herkimer, desiring him to communicate it to the Mohawk Castle near to him, and then to Major Fonda, requesting him to immediately communicate it to the lower castle of the Mohawks. Let the belt then be forwarded to General Schuyler, that he may know that our council-fire is extinguished, and can no longer burn.”

Connection Of The Six Nations With The War Of The American Revolution

Towards the close of the winter of 1777, it was found that the Indians were collecting in force at Oghkwaga, on the Susquehanna, and the fears of the colonial population of the vicinity were justly excited, although no open demonstrations of hostility had been made by them. In the course of the spring, Brant and his followers proceeded across the country, from Canada to Oghkwaga. He had disagreed with his superior, Guy Johnson. The whites were in great doubt as to what course this renowned chief would take in the struggle then going forward, but he seemed only to occupy himself in collecting and disciplining his warriors. It was afterwards ascertained that he was the leader of a party of Indians who threatened the little fortification at Cherry Valley, in the month of May.

The only blood shed upon the occasion was that of Lieutenant Wormwood, a young officer whom the Indians waylaid and shot, as he was leaving the place, accompanied by a single companion, bearing dispatches. Brant is said to have scalped him with his own hand. The Indian chief was deceived as to the strength of the place, by the duplicity of the dispatches, and by the circumstance that a number of boys were going through military evolutions at the settlement, whom he mistook, in the distance, for soldiers. He therefore retired without making any further demonstration.

In June, he visited Unadilla, on the small river of the same name, which empties into the Susquehanna, forming the boundary between Otsego and Chenango counties. His purpose was to procure provisions, which were per force furnished him; as he avowed his intention to take them by violence, if necessary. At a conference held, at this time, with some of the authorities, Brant expressed himself decidedly in favor of the royal cause, alluding to the old covenants and treaties which his nation had in former times entered into with the king, and complaining of ill-treatment received at the hands of the colonists.

Shortly after, during this same month, General Herkimer, of the American militia, took a strong force with him, and started for Brant s head-quarters, whether with intention of attacking him, or merely to treat upon terms of equality, hardly appears.

Brant was very cautious of trusting himself in the enemies hands. He did not show himself for a week after Herkimer s arrival, and when he finally appeared, and consented to a conference, he was accompanied and defended by five hundred Indian warriors. Every precaution was taken against treachery; the meeting was held at a temporary building erected midway between the two encampments, and the respective parties were to assemble at the spot unarmed. The Indian chief took with him a guard of about forty warriors, and was accompanied by one Captain Bull, of the English party, and by his nephew, William Johnson, a son of Molly Brant by Sir William.

General Herkimer had long been on terms of friendship with Brant, before the troubles arose between England and the American colonies, and he vainly hoped to be able to influence and persuade him into complaisance towards the new government. Thayendanegea was suspicious, and looked with an evil eye upon the hostile array of troops, shrewdly questioning the necessity for such preparations for a mere meeting of conference. He fully confirmed the supposition that he was determined to support the king, and evinced a proud dependence upon the power and courage of his own tribe.

The parley terminated most unsatisfactorily, and another appointment was made. We are sorry to record an in stance of such unpardonable treachery as Herkimer is said to have planned at this juncture. One of his men, Joseph Waggoner, affirmed that the general privately exhorted him to arrange matters so that Brant and his three principal associates might be assassinated when they should present themselves at the place of meeting. The Indian chief, when he came to the council, kept a large body of his warriors within call, so that the design, even if it had been seriously entertained by Waggoner, could not be safely carried out.

Brant counseled the general to go quietly home, as he could not but perceive how much he was out-numbered if his intent was hostile. He disavowed any present inimical design. Herkimer accordingly took his departure, and Brant, not long after, marched his warriors to the British place of rendezvous, at Oswego. Here a great council was held with the Indian tribes by English emissaries, who enlarged upon the ingratitude and rebellious spirit of the provinces, and compared the power and wealth of their own monarch with the poverty of the Americans.

Abundance of finery and warlike implements were spread before the greedy eyes of the warriors, and they were told that “the king was rich and powerful, both in money and subjects. His rum was as plenty as the water in Lake Ontario, and his men as numerous as the sands upon its shore; and the Indians were assured that, if they would assist in the war, and persevere in their friendship for the king until its close, they should never want for goods or money.”

The bargain was struck accordingly, and each warrior who pledged himself to the royal cause received, as earnest of future favors, a suit of clothes, a brass kettle, a tomahawk, a scalping-knife, and a supply of ammunition, besides a small present in money. The sagacity and enterprise of the chief, whose power was now almost universally submitted to by those of the Six Nations that favored the cause of the king, rendered the alliance a formidable one.

The gloomy prospects of the colonies, disheartened as they were by reverses and pecuniary distress, grew tenfold darker at the apprehension of such a bloody and cruel border warfare as they might now anticipate. Exaggerated tales were everywhere circulated of the extent of Indian depredations and cruelties. There was, indeed, sufficient foundation in truth for the greatest apprehension and distress. It is clue to many of the British commanding officers to say that they bitterly regretted the association of their party with a horde of murderous savages, over whose acts they could exercise no control, when out of their immediate influence. Burgoyne refused to pay the expected bounty for scalps, to the intense disgust of his Indian forces; and, to the remonstrance on the part of the American general, against the permission of the bloody scenes which were continually enacting, he returned an eloquent disclaimer of participation in or encouragement of such acts.

A large population of those who resided in the districts more immediately exposed, were driven from their dwellings by the fear of Indian cruelties. During Burgoyne s advance, an incident occurred which excited the strongest emotions of horror and indignation throughout the country. We allude to the well-known tale of the murder of Miss Jane McCrea. Few incidents have attracted more notice in the whole course of Indian warfare than this, and few have been reported in so variant and distorted a style. Miss McCrea was the daughter of a gentleman of New Jersey, and was residing, at the period of our present narrative, with her brother John, near Fort Edward, upon the Hudson, within a few miles of Saratoga. Her family was of the royal party, and she was herself engaged to marry a young officer by the name of Jones, then on duty in Burgoyne’s army.

The promised husband commissioned a few Indians to go to the young lady’s dwelling, and escort her thence to the British camp. Against the urgent entreaties of her friends, she put herself under the protection of these uncertain messengers, and started for the encampment. Her lover, anxious that his errand should be faithfully performed, dispatched a second party to join the convoy. The two companies met a short distance from Fort Edward, and were proceeding together when they were attacked by a party of Americans. “At the close of the skirmish,” says Stone, “the body of Miss McCrea was found among the slain tomahawked, scalped, and tied to a pine-tree, yet standing by the side of the spring, as a monument of the bloody transaction. The name of the young lady is inscribed on the tree, the trunk of which is thickly scarred with the bullets it received in the skirmish. It also bears the date 1777.” He cites further from Silliman: “Tradition reports that the Indians divided the scalp, and that each party carried half of it to the agonized lover.”

The account usually received of the manner in which her death was brought about is, that the chiefs of the two Indian companies, quarrelling as to which should receive the reward (a barrel of rum) promised by Jones, one of them, to end the dispute, buried his tomahawk in the head of their charge.

During this month, (July,) General Barry St. Leger marched from Oswego, with nearly two thousand whites and Indians the latter led by Thayendanegea to the investiture of Fort Stanwix. This stronghold of the provincial party occupied the spot where Rome now stands, in Oneida county, near the headwaters of the Mohawk. The post was afterwards called Fort Schuyler. The forces of St. Leger beset the fort on the 3d of August.

The most interesting event connected with the part taken by the Indians in this siege, is the bloody battle of Oriskany. The brave old soldier, General Herkimer, with from eight hundred to a thousand militia and volunteers, hastened to relieve the garrison as soon as the news of St. Leger s design was brought. Unfortunately, the English commander obtained information of the approach of reinforcements in sufficient season to prepare an ambuscade at a spot the most disadvantageous possible for the advancing troops. Where a marshy ravine, over which the path of the American army was carried by a causeway, partially enclosed a dry and level tract, Brant and his warriors, with a body of English troops, lay concealed. Before Herkimer and his men were aware of danger, the main portion of their number was completely surrounded, and cut off from the baggage and rear-guard.

Broken and disordered by the murderous and unexpected fire of the enemy, the Americans met with terrible loss. Retreat was out of the question, and gradually, encouraged by the exhortations of their brave commander, who, although severely wounded, sat supported by a tree, coolly issuing his orders, they formed defensive circles. Such scenes of desperate hand-to-hand fighting as ensued have seldom been recorded. The destruction on both sides was great, more than two hundred of the Americans being killed on the spot. Both parties laid claim to a victory; but it appears sufficiently certain that the Indians were dispersed, while the provincial militia held their ground. The purpose of the advance was, indeed, defeated, except so far as it gave opportunity for a successful sally from the fort, in which the British were driven from their encampment, and a great quantity of valuable booty was obtained.

One who passed the spot where the battle of Oriskany was fought, a few days afterwards, writes: ” I beheld the most shocking sight I had ever witnessed. The Indians and white men were mingled with one another, just as they had been left when death had first completed his work. Many bodies had also been torn to pieces by wild beasts.” The veteran commander of the provincials died in consequence of the wound he had received. The loss experienced by the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations who took part in the engagement, was long remembered and lamented by their tribes.

Notwithstanding the reverses that followed; the discomfiture of the English; the growing power and confidence of the Americans; and the long and eloquent appeal of mingled warning and conciliation communicated to them by Congress, all of the Six Nations except the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras remained, at the close of the year, fast friends of the king. The poverty of the colonies prohibited that display of rewards which the loyalists could proffer, and constant intimacy enabled the politic officers of the crown to sway the ignorant minds of the Indians, and to teach them to look upon their white countrymen as an unprincipled people, engaged in a hopeless as well as causeless rebellion.

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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