MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2004
Chapter Five - Iroquois
Molly Brant – Mohawk, Consort, Mother, Loyalist
To put it mildly, Molly Brant was an extraordinary woman.
Molly Brant was first and foremost a Mohawk. She was born of Christian Mohawk parents in 1736 and grew up in the Mohawk village of Canajoharie. After losing her husband, Molly’s mother married, Canagaraduncka Brant, an influential Mohawk leader. By the time Molly was a teenager, the Brant’s lived in a European style home near the mouth of Nowadaga Creek. Molly traveled with her stepfather to such cities as Philadelphia and Albany, so she was quite familiar with European customs.
The image on this 1986 Canada Post stamp is an idealized portrait
because there are no known paintings or illustrations of Molly Brant.
When Sir William Johnson traveled from his home at Fort Johnson (near present day Amsterdam) to the Upper Castle, he stayed at the Brant house. It was here he met Molly and her younger brother Joseph. Their relationship would shape the history of the Mohawk Valley, New York and Canada.
Soon after Sir William’s first wife died in 1759, leaving him with three children, Molly moved into Fort Johnson. She bore their first child that same year. Their next child was born in 1763, the year they moved lock, stock and children to Johnson Hall (near present day Johnstown). At Johnson Hall, Molly gave birth in 1765, '67, '68, '71, '72 and '73. Their eighth child was born the year before Sir William’s death at age 59.
It was at Johnson Hall that Molly assumed the role of housekeeper and hostess. Her duties involved control of many of the household servants and slaves, welcoming guests, planning meals and insuring the comfort of the many travelers who came to Johnson Hall from Europe, the West Indies and the Colonies. Her success in that regard is well documented in letters received by Sir William that specifically express gratitude to “Lady Johnson.”
Molly was "Lady Johnson" at Johnson Hall.
Lady Johnson sometimes dressed in European style gowns, but for most of her life she proudly proclaimed her Mohawk heritage by wearing Indian attire or adding Mohawk accoutrements to contemporary Colonial
As Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District, Sir William held a number of councils at Johnson Hall that were attended by hundreds of Indians. In addition to being involved in the enormous logistics of hosting so many people, Molly became an influential and respected participant, advising Sir William and addressing various nations and tribes.
Although William Johnson and Molly Brant were never married under British law, all of Molly’s children were recognized, as heirs in Sir William’s will, receiving significant funds and thousands of acres of land, much of which was within the boundaries of the Royal Grant. (Most of the Johnson land holdings were forfeited following the Revolutionary War.)
Soon after Sir William died, Molly and her children moved back to Canajoharie where she remained until 1777. On August 6 of that year, the Tryon County Militia, commanded by General Nicholas Herkimer, was ambushed near Oriskany resulting in the death or capture of hundreds of militiamen. When it was discovered that Molly had warned the British through her brother Joseph that the militia was on its way to relieve the siege of Fort Stanwix, she was harassed and threatened to such a degree that she fled with her children to Canada.
The British welcomed Molly and her family with open arms, providing accommodations at Fort Niagara and Carlton Island. Throughout the war she attended councils and helped her brother Joseph maintain the loyalty of the Iroquois.
Although there is no record of Molly receiving a formal education, she could speak, read and write English, and of course Mohawk. Her children, despite the ravages of war and frequent relocation, were all formally educated. Her oldest son, Peter Johnson was an accomplished scholar who played the violin and could speak, read and write Mohawk, English and French. He was killed during the war while serving as a British officer. Molly’s daughters married non-Indian professionals in Canada.
After the war, Molly and her family moved to Fort Cataraqui (now Kingston, Ontario) where she became a prominent figure in the Anglican Church. She died and was buried in Kingston in 1796 at the age of 60.
Molly was recognized for her role in Colonial history by a 1986 Canada Post stamp. The image on the stamp is an idealized portrait because there are no known paintings or illustrations of Molly Brant.
Many have written about Molly Brant, usually in books and essays discussing the life of Sir William Johnson. But there is only one book that spotlights the life and times of Molly Brant. Molly Brant – A Legacy of Her Own, written by Lois M. Huey and Bonnie Pulis is the definitive work on this fascinating woman. These learned ladies sum up their work with the following:
“Molly Brant was described by her contemporaries as handsome, sensible, judicious, political, faithful, prudent, likely, well bred, pleasant, delightful, an uncommonly agreeable person, having good understanding, having great art, being at ease in society, capable of scolding, influential, of great use, pretty large minded, zealous, having a violent temper, being capable of mischief (trouble), civil, devout and respected. This great variety of descriptions by eighteenth century contemporaries demonstrates that she was a woman of many dimensions. As a woman, mother, and political force, she was a legend in her own century. For fifteen years, she was a vital link between the Iroquois and Sir William Johnson in the management of Indian affairs. Then, for the next ten, she acted as intermediary and conduit between her people and the British government. At the same time, she had to provide for eight children, see to their education and try to regain some of the fortune they had lost. Her choice of political roles during that time is controversial; her success in her domestic role is admirable. Today she is seen by the Canadians as a founder. In the United States, however, her Loyalist activities have tended to overshadow her fascinating personal story. Unlike Pocahontas and Sacajawea, Indian heroines familiar to the American public, Molly Brant has never been a highly visible figure.”Molly Brant – A Legacy of Her Own - Huey and Pulis - 1997
From a purely male perspective and considering that Sir William was a philanderer for much of his life, I offer that Molly Brant was all of the above---plus sexy, sensual, spirited and uncommonly intuitive.
Extraordinary woman indeed.
Return to Chapter 5 - Iroquois Return to Mohawk Valley Book-In-Progress Contents