MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2004
Chapter Five - Iroquois
Mohawk Power and Wealth
Despite the devastation of disease and war, the Mohawks (and other Iroquois nations) retained their power and wealth. Castles and other villages increased population by adopting captives and welcoming refugees from other nations. For almost a hundred years Mohawk power and wealth were determined by their close proximity to Albany, their tenacity in battle and ruthless control of the fur trade. However, as the French became more aggressive, and the diminishing fur trade was split between Albany and Montreal, the Mohawks (and later the Oneidas) started selling land to maintain their standard of living. They, like the Mohicans in the Hudson Valley, had sold riverside land to the Dutch from the earliest times, but maintained vast areas to hunt and fish.
By the 1700s many of the Mohawks raised pigs and poultry, and in many respects lived and farmed like their European neighbors, thus diminishing the need for extensive hunting lands. For a short time collecting and selling ginseng provided substantial income, as did military service, but the former was short lived and the latter sporadic. In the mid 1700s Mohawk land holdings were concentrated in the areas around Fort Hunter and Fort Hendrick, and in wilderness tracts north and south of the valley.
By that time Mohawk power and wealth were greatly influenced by the alliance and close association with the English, particularly William Johnson who, along with King Hendrick, lead the Mohawks and other Iroquois nations in the war against the French. Before the war Johnson was adopted by the Mohawks and later made a sachem, primarily because he was one of the first traders to learn their customs and language, and treat them fairly. His Mohawk name was Warraghiyagey, meaning “one who does much business.”
Chief Joseph Brant
Joseph Brant, a Mohawk Pine Tree Chief and Captain in the British Army during the Revolutionary War, was remembered as both hero and villain in the Mohawk Valley. In Canada he was revered as a hero by the British, Loyalists, and the Iroquois who followed him there after the War. Yet many Mohawks and other Iroquois felt he sold out to the British by adopting their customs and religion, and supporting them politically and militarily.
These conflicting views, and differences in interpretations of historical documents and perceptions by a number of authors and historians, plus the differences in past and present Mohawk and English languages, made discovering the life of Joseph Brant both frustrating and fascinating. From several sources including Stone, Thomas, Snow, numerous websites, and my five-year exploration of the Mohawk Valley, I offer the following.
In 1742, around the time that William Johnson established his trading business in the Mohawk Valley, a boy was born to a Mohawk couple while they were on a hunting trip in Ohio. They named him Thayendanegea, meaning, “he places two bets,” or in another translation “bundle of sticks tied together” signifying strength. Soon after he was born, Joseph and his family returned to their home at the Canajoharie where he learned the ways of his people. After his older sister, Molly Brant, moved in with William Johnson, Joseph spent much of his time at Fort Johnson learning English culture and language, and playing with the Johnson children.
Joseph’s first taste of war was as a 13-year old Mohawk warrior when he joined King Hendrick and Johnson at the Battle of Lake George. He was also with Johnson at Niagara in 1759. When the French and Indian War was over, the now Sir William Johnson sent Joseph to Eleazor Wheelock’s Indian School in Connecticut where he learned to read and write English, and studied religion, history and literature. Upon his return he helped translate religious prayer books and parts of the First Testament to the Mohawk language. After Johnson was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District, Joseph served as his secretary.
While at Wheelock’s school he had met the daughter of an Oneida chief. A few years later he married Cristiana at her home at Oneida Castle where both Oneida and Christian ceremonies were performed. For several years the Brant’s lived and farmed where Nowadaga Creek meets the Mohawk River. It was here they had a son and daughter, joined the Anglican Church and became respected members of the Mohawk and nearby Palatine communities. Among their Palatine friends were the Herkimer’s who lived four miles upriver.
Tragedy struck Joseph in the 1770s. It started with the loss of his young wife to tuberculosis in 1771. Left with two young children, he married Cristiana’s sister. She died of tuberculosis within a year. (Joseph would not marry again until after the Revolutionary War.) A few years later his mentor and benefactor, Sir William, died at Johnson Hall in 1774.
He continued his allegiance to the Johnson Family after Sir William’s death, and after visiting England in 1775, was convinced his people would be better served by supporting the British during the impending rebellion. As a loyal subject, a Captain in the British Army, and Pine Tree Chief of the Iroquois Federation, he swore allegiance to the King of England.
When the Revolutionary War came to the Mohawk Valley with the siege of Fort Stanwix in 1777, Captain Joseph Brant was there. He commanded a contingent of Iroquois and Loyalists that ambushed the Continental Militia in a ravine near Oriskany, killing former friends and neighbors. After the British failed in their attempt to sweep down the Mohawk Valley, Brant led Iroquois and Loyalist raiding parties that attacked settlements in the Mohawk Valley, Schoharie Valley and nearby Cherry Valley. Although some 50 men, women and children were killed during the Cherry Valley Massacre, Brant made a special effort to save the lives of women and children.
After the war ended with a peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain in 1783, Brant was granted a large tract of land in Canada to settle the Mohawks and other Iroquois who supported the British. He remarried, raised a large family, and remained an influential Iroquois leader and Episcopal preacher until his death in 1807 at age 65.
Return to Chapter 5 - Iroquois