On this day in 1807, Mohawk Chief Thayendanegea, also known by his English name, Joseph Brant, dies at his home in Burlington, Ontario. Before dying, he reportedly said, “Have pity on the poor Indians. If you have any influence with the great, endeavour to use it for their good.”
Brant ranked among Britain’s best commanders during the American War for Independence. He was an educated Christian and Freemason who studied directly with Eleazer Wheelock at Moor’s Indian Charity School, the parent institution of Dartmouth College. His older sister Mary was founding father Sir William Johnson’s common-law wife and also played a significant role in colonial and revolutionary Indian affairs.
The Iroquois, an alliance of Native Americans including the Mohawk, attempted to maintain neutrality at the beginning of War for Independence, but by 1777, Joseph Brant had led the Iroquois into an alliance with Britain. He, like most Native Americans, saw Great Britain as their last defense against the land-hungry colonial settlers who were encroaching into their ancestral territory.
Following the alliance with Britain, Brant led successful raids in the civil war for upstate New York. On August 6, 1777, with the Patriots en route to relieve British-occupied Fort Stanwix, a mixed party of British regulars and Brant’s Mohawk Indians launched the ambush known as the Battle of Oriskany, during which Patriot General Nicholas Herkimer was wounded and his horse was shot.
One year later, on September 17, 1778, Brant launched a successful attack on German Flats, now known as Herkimer, New York. Brant led a force of 150 Iroquois and 300 British Loyalists under the command of Captain William Caldwell against the small community, which had been left virtually undefended by Patriot troops.
The following summer, on July 20, 1779, Brant’s party of 90 Tories and Loyalist Iroquois executed a successful raid in the Neversink Valley of New York, during which they destroyed a school and a church, as well as farms in Peenpack and Mahackamack. When the Patriot militia responded by attempting to ambush Brant as he traveled up the Delaware River on July 22, Brandt again defeated them, killing between 45 and 50 Patriots at what is known as the Battle of Minisink.
A little over a month later, on August 29, in southwestern New York near present-day Elmira, Continental forces led by Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton defeated a combined force of Loyalists and Indians commanded by Captain Walter Butler and Brant in what is known as The Battle of Chemung. Sullivan subsequently embarked on a scorched-earth campaign against the Iroquois in retaliation for their raids against frontier settlements. At least 40 of the tribe’s villages were destroyed along with valuable supplies. As a result, the winter of 1779 was particularly brutal for the Iroquois. Nonetheless, they managed to increase their pressure on frontier settlements in 1780.
Despite the best efforts of the Iroquois, however, the Chemung Valley fell into the hands of American settlers following the war. As a result, Iroquois attached to Chief Joseph Brant followed him in a resettlement to Canada, where they found land and safety with their British allies.