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Drawn portrait of Thayendanegea


Thayendanegea (known to the British as Joseph Brant) knew the American Revolution was a civil war—in more ways than one.

The Six Nations

There was a lot more at stake during the American Revolution than patriot colonists' political sovereignty. The Mohawk leader Thayendanegea knew this well. The warfare raging between the British and colonists shattered the generations-long political alliance of Iroquoian-speaking Indigenous people known as The Six Nations. The war had devastating consequences that Thayendanegea spent the rest of his life attempting to negotiate.

Alliance with the British

Thayendanegea, known to the English and colonists as Joseph Brant, was born in 1743 in what was then known as the Ohio Country (near present-day Akron, Ohio). During the French and Indian War the Mohawk allied with the British. The teenaged Joseph Brant was one of the Mohawk warriors who accompanied the British on several campaigns.

Brant observed the failed British assault on Fort Carillon (later renamed Fort Ticonderoga) in 1758, and served as a scout on the expedition against Fort Niagara.

Brant continued to be connected to British interests in the colonies. Brant's sister Konwatsi'tsiaiénni, also known as Molly or Mary Brant, lived and had children with Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies. In 1761, Johnson chose Brant as one of several Mohawks sent to attend Moor's Charity School in Connecticut, where he studied math and the classics and learned how to read and write English.

Fighting the Revolution

In November 1775, months after the American Revolution began, Brant traveled to London with British officials. There he met with King George III and members of the British government, who promised to safeguard Indigenous lands in exchange for their support against the American colonists. While many members of the Six Nations hoped to remain neutral in the conflict, Brant recruited a group of warriors and white Loyalists into a unit called Brant's Volunteers.

An illustrated map of the United States showing the Burgoyne army marching south from Canada.

In 1777 his Volunteers participated in Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger's expedition, which was supposed to link up with General Burgoyne's army marching south from Canada.

An illustrated map showing the locations of Fort Stanwix and the Battle of Oriskany

While St. Leger was besieging Fort Stanwix, Brant and his men participated in the , where they ambushed a Patriot relief column and inflicted heavy casualties.

An illustrated map showing the Mohawk Valley in New York.

In 1778, Brant and his Volunteers raided pro-Patriot communities in New York's Mohawk Valley, alongside Loyalist units like Butler's Rangers.

An illustration Thayendanegea raiding pro-Patriot Communities

Brant gained the nickname "Monster Brant," but he was often blamed for atrocities committed by other Loyalist or Indigenous forces. In 1779 Brant received a British rank and salary as "Captain of the Northern Confederated Indians." His raids on the New York and Pennsylvania frontiers forced General George Washington to strike back.

Image: Thayendanegea raiding communities in New York; Dale Watson

Map showing the direction of the campaign into Iroquois lands.

Washington responds

Washington ordered General John Sullivan to launch a campaign into Iroquois lands, aimed at "the total destruction and devastation of their settlements."

Map illustrating location of battles fought by Thayendanegea.

Brant's Volunteers were defeated at the Battle of and he was forced to retreat to the safety of Fort Niagara. He sustained wounds while fighting to repel an American expedition against Fort Detroit.

Map showing territory ceded to the Americans east of the Mississippi.

Though the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War in 1783, it made no mention of Britain's Indigenous allies. Further, the treaty ceded all British-held territory south of Canada and east of the Mississippi to the United States.

Map showing British land grant to the Mohawk in Canada.

This included the lands traditionally held by the Mohawk and other nations in the Iroquois Confederacy. The British did give the Mohawk a grant of land in Canada, but they refused to support Brant's efforts to assemble an independent confederacy of Indigenous nations in the Ohio Country.

Britain's lack of support led Brant to attempt negotiations with the new United States. He traveled to Philadelphia and met with President George Washington in 1792, but was unable to secure land for his people. Joseph Brant died in Ontario in 1807.

The Legacy of Thayendanegea

Joseph Brant spent the rest of his life struggling to gain recognition and fair treatment for the Mohawk nation. The British had promised that Indigenous nations would receive protection in return for fighting alongside them, but these promises were broken when Britain ceded lands inhabited by their Indigenous allies to the new United States. Brant was never successful in his negotiations on behalf of the Mohawk, but his efforts to unite Indigenous people in a common cause inspired later leaders like the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh.

Themes of the period
Modern-day Legacy

Tomb: Brantford, Ontario

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