Portrait in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa

This statue is part of the Valiants Memorial, Ottawa

Early Years

Thayendanegea (“he who places two bets”), Joseph Brant, was born in March 1743, in the Ohio Country along the Cuyahoga River. his mother Owandah (Margaret) was Mohawk and so Joseph too was born into the Wolf Clan. Both parents, Margaret and Peter Tehonwaghkwangearahkwa, were Anglican Christians. It has been noted that his parents were not born Mohawk, but were Hurons who had been taken captive by the Iroquois when they were young.

At that time it was common for one tribe to attack another tribe for control of access to valuable land, or trade routes, or to replenish the population after attrition from previous conflicts among tribes, and take women and young children captive, usually after killing the older men, to bring back to their tribe and replace those that had been previously killed > ‘back-filling’ so to speak. A ‘defeated’ tribe would be replaced with the now dominant tribe because the defeated tribe was ‘absorbed’ into the conquerors’. Thus a previous lifeway or culture would be ‘replaced’ by the dominant tribe.

Joseph Brant’s biological father died when he was young, and his mother moved from Ohio to New York state and became a successful businesswoman selling ginseng through New York to London. She lived with a sachem and bore a son named Jacob out of ‘wedlock’ before ‘offended’ Anglicans put social pressure on her to marry Brant Kanagaraduncka in 1753 when Joseph would have been 10 years old.

The area of New York where Joseph Brant was being raised had been settled by European immigrants from a part of Germany then known as the Electoral Palatinate, and the people were called Palatines. The Mohawks and Palatines were friendly with each other, with the Mohawks renting land to the Palatines to farm. Also in the area were Scots and Irish. Thus Joseph grew up able to speak multiple languages, and he became exposed to and thus comfortable with European culture.

The area of New York where that settled was Kanienkeh, near Old Forge, New York, about 12 miles from the Canada-US border. The second husband was named, by whites, as Barnet or Bernard, or Brandt, or Brant (which is an Anglicized form of the German Brandt) and thus Joseph’s name became Brant.

The Iroquois considered anyone brought into the tribe and raised as an Iroquois to be Iroquois, regardless of any previous affiliation. Any children of different parents were not considered as “half-sisters or half-brothers”, but as full family members under one mother in the Clan. The Mohawk, and other Haudenosaunee League tribes had a matrilineal social structure with powers divided between the male sachems and Chiefs and the Clan mothers (elders) who nominated candidates for Chiefs. Decisions were made by consensus between the clan others and the chiefs.

This traditional method of gathering information and making decisions comes into modern-day conflict with the majority Canadian population which makes decisions based on a carefully tabulated majority vote (50% +1).

Early Years as a Warrior

In 1753, due to the arrival of land speculators into the area, the Anglo-Iroquois alliance was broken. In 1754, the British and a militia force under George Washington were defeated by the French. In  1755 a British expedition into the Ohio Valley was defeated by the French. The Iroquois wanted to remain neutral in the British – American – French wars, but Johnson called upon the Iroquois to join the British. Joseph was 12 years old and attended that conference as an observer and to learn diplomacy. The subsequent battles cost the Iroquois many lives and wanted to stay neutral. Joseph’s father was one of the few Iroquois Chiefs who wanted to support the British.

Joseph was 15 when he joined the British in battles:

  • 1758 at Fort Carillon,
  • 1759 at Fort Niagara,
  • 1760 at Montreal
  • Joseph received a silver medal for his service.

In 1761 Brant went to Connecticut for further education, learning to speak, read and write English, math, and the Classics. He learned how to farm.

British General Amherst upset the native populations when he rescinded a long practice of providing gifts and alcohol and higher prices for furs to their native partners and threatened ‘punishment’ for any natives’ ‘misbehaviour’. A message was being espoused by the Delaware prophet Neolin that all native tribes should reject European/white ways, and sever connections with them. Some tribes were at war with the British as a result causing settlers to flee to forts for protection. Both sides viewed this as a racial war and atrocities were committed by both sides. Brant was called upon by Superintendent Johnson to persuade tribes not to join in the “Pontiac Rebellion”. In 1764 Brant joined with the British and Mohawk and Oneida warriors against the Pontiac forces. Along the way, Brant met and soon married a chief’s daughter. He joined an Iroquois war party and helped destroy three Lenape (Algonquin) towns, burning 130 houses and killing the cattle.

1st & 2nd of 3 Marriages

In 1765 Brant married Margaret, the daughter of Virginia planters, who had been captured when young. She was sent to live with the Mohawk. Brant farmed 80 acres, dressed in “English/European” style, and had two children, Isaac and Christine, with Peggy. She died of TB in 1771. Brant remarried, Susanna, and she too died in 1778-79.

American Revolution

In 1775, during the American Revolution, Brant was appointed a departmental secretary with a rank of captain, for the new British Superintendent’s warriors from Canajoharie, New York. His alliances with the British brought threats from Americans and in 1775 Brant moved to Montreal. The governor there held Brant in contempt for the way Brant and the Iroquois had ‘inhumanely’ treated their enemies. Brant’s wife Molly and children went to Onoquaga, a Tuscarora village, in southern New York.

On November 11, 1775, Guy Johnson took Brant to England to get support from the government there. They wanted land grievances settled in return for the Iroquoi’s support in the wars. He met with King George III, joined the Masons, and received promises of land in Quebec. Upon his return, he travelled among the Oneida and Tuscarora trying to persuade them to support the British in the American Revolution, but most tribes wanted to stay neutral. His arguments were: the Crown had promised them land if they supported the British and the British won, George Washington was an investor in the Ohio Company and had promised to eliminate all native peoples, and that if the Americans won then they would soon take all native lands by force (which is what happened as we see from history). During the war, the Iroquois League split with the Oneida and Tuscarora supporting the Americans and the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca supporting the British.

Brant was involved in several battles during the Revolution and was actively involved in the deaths of thousands of deaths. It was deemed “appropriate” for his times.

  • Battle of Oriskany
  • settlements throughout New York and Pennsylvania
  • Battle of Cobleskill
  • German Flatts
  • Wyoming Valley Massacre
  • Cherry Valley Massacre
  • Battle of Minisink
  • Battle of Newtown

3rd Marriage, Farming, Slave Labour

In 1779 Brant went to Montreal where he met Frederick Haldimand, the new governor of Quebec. Brant received a captain commission to lead the Confederated Indians of New York and as a captain in the British army. Brant chose to continue his leadership role in the war. In May 1779 Brant went to Fort Niagara, bought a farm using his military salary and plunder from the wars. Native warriors did not perform farm work (women’s work) so he used slaves captured during his raids. He also bought a 7-year old black girl as a slave and after 6 years sold her for $100 to an Englishman. Brant continued to lead raids against American colonists in New York and Pennsylvania. The Americans sent General John Sullivan to destroy the Haudenosaunee villages, and 40 villages with 160,000 bushels of corn were destroyed. The Iroquois retreated to Fort Niagara where many died over the winter of 1779-80.

It was here that Brant married Catharine Adonwentishon Croghan in 1780, the daughter of the deputy to British Indian agent Johnson, and her Mohawk mother, through whom she became clan mother of the Turtle Clan. They had seven children together.

Still More War

In 1780 Brant led several attacks on American troops and white settlers in the Mohawk and Susquehanna river valleys and villages of Oneida who had supported the Americans. In 1781 he went to Fort Detroit to help hold off and defeat Roger’s expedition and captured 100 enemies. In 1782 he helped rebuild Fort Oswego and was in a couple of raids but there wasn’t much left to destroy in New York.


The Treaty of Paris – 1783 ignored the interests of the native tribes that had supported it during the Revolutionary War and left the Iroquois to negotiate with the vengeful Americans by themselves.

After the American Revolution

Brant’s attributes:

  • successful war leader
  • popular with warriors
  • connections to British officials
  • marriage to the clan mother of the Turtle Clan

gave him more gravitas than during the war and he became a “spokesman” for the Haudenosaunee in their search for secure territory.

Brant developed a two-pronged negotiation strategy, one with the Americans, and one with the British, both with the intent of getting secure territory. In 1783 Brant travelled among the Wyandots, Lenape, Shawnees, Cherokees, Ojibwas, Ottawas, and Mingos (mixed tribes) to form a western Confederacy. He used this alliance to negotiate the October 22nd Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768, but it forced the cession of huge areas of Iroquois land and land of tribes to the west.

Three days later, on October 25, 1768, Haldimand proclaimed a land grant for a reserve on the Grand River. However, the clan matrons later decided that the Six Nations should divide, with half staying in New York and half going to the Grand River. The group that was going to follow Brant to the Grand River also split. About 200 of the Ticonderoga Mohawks (Mohawk of the Lower Castle of New York) chose to go to the Bay of Quinte area of Ontario with Mohawk leader John Deseronto. This tract was 12 miles by 13 miles.

Grand River Reserve

The Township of Wilmot is located west of the Grand River Reserve land grant for the Mohawks. Wilmot Township is within the territory purchased by Frederick Haldimand from the Mississaugas in the “Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3” of 1792. As a result, there are some residual effects on Wilmot citizens as emotional disputes reappear over time.

There may be some irony here as history has shown us how native tribes treated each other. A ‘defeated’ tribe would be replaced with the now dominant tribe because the defeated tribe was ‘absorbed’ into the conquerors’ culture. Thus a previous lifeway or culture would be ‘replaced’ by the dominant tribe. It was a ‘symbiotic’ form of mutual ‘sustenance’?

The British government had purchased the area 6 miles on each side of the Grand River from its source to its mouth from eh Mississaugas. They were agreeable to the purchase as the peoples coming to live there were of their Iroquois League. Brant chose the Grand River reserve and Mohawk of the Upper Castle joined him. In 1785, at the Grand River, there were 548 Mohawk, 281 Cayuga, 145 Onondaga, 262 Oneida, 109 Tuscarora, 98 Seneca, plus 400 from other tribes – Delaware (Lenape), Nanticoke, Tutelo, Creek, Cherokee. There were also African-American slaves brought by Joseph Brant, who were encouraged to marry into the tribes and be “absorbed” into the cultural population.

The British government provided minimal support during the early transition years. They provided some tools, helped establish schools, churches, getting farm equipment, but NOT ENOUGH.

Brant established the main settlement where Brantford now is. He founded a Masonic Lodge, held annual reunions of settlers from the New York years, horse races. He had 20 white and black slaves. Brant had an argument with one of his ‘volatile’ sons, John, and wounded him with a knife during the fight. The son soon died of infection from the wound.

His wife decided that the school and life on the reserve were not suitable for her children and so moved to a large house on what is now Brant Street in Burlington, near Hamilton. Having been raised in his early years among the mixed cultures of New York, he built a 2-storey mansion in the “English style”, with a white fence, flag pole, chinaware, fine furniture, imported sheets, liquor cabinet. He died here.

It was difficult to establish a stable economy on the reserve. To develop cash flow and an operating fund the Grand River chiefs (Brant was technically not a chief) empowered him to sell land from the northern extremes of the grant to speculators. Between 1795 and 1797 Brant sold off 381,280 acres for £85,332. He and the chiefs insisted on annuities to help the Six nations to survive. Governor Simcoe was opposed to the land sales as the annuities guaranteed an annual income of £5,1119 per year to the Nations. By 1801 the speculators had fallen behind in their payments and Brant had to sell more land to make up needed funds. In 1796 Lord Dorchester authorized the Haudenosaunee to sell or lease the land as long as it was offered to the Crown first. This deed would make the Six Nations “communal owners” of the land and Brant wanted the deed to be limited to the current persons living on the land.

The British Crown wanted the Haudenosaunee to adapt to subsistence agriculture on separate landholdings, and Brant hoped that sales to European immigrants would help develop the area, but conditions were difficult for agriculture.

The land area at the far north of the reserve, at the source of the Grand, was in dispute as it had not been properly surveyed, and the area and land sales and agreements between all parties are still in dispute.

 Strategic Connections – “it’s who you know”

  • As a ginseng exporter, Brant’s mother met William Johnson, a merchant, fur trader, land speculator who spoke fluent Mohawk and lived in a mansion.
  • Through Johnson, the family met other influential families: Butler, Croghan, Hill, Peters, Brant.
  • Joseph’s new father, Canagaraduncka, was also a successful businessman who had ties with one of the 4 Mohawks to visit England in 1710. Joseph’s family also now lived in a mansion, the best house in Canajoharie.
  • William Johnson was the British Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs, and thus wealthy and influential. He always stayed at the Brants’ home while visiting the area.
  • Joseph’s sister, Molly, ‘had a relationship’ with Johnson, and Joseph moved into Johnson’s home with Molly. She eventually had 8 children with him.
  • Johnson supported an ‘English style’ education for Joseph and introduced him to other influential leaders in the New York colony.
  • Joseph’s father chose to support the British in the battles between the British and French which earned much gratitude from William Johnson.
  • In 1763 Johnson arranged for Brant to attend King’s College in New York.
  • In 1779 Brant was commissioned, in Montreal, as a “Captain of the Northern Confederate Indians”, and the rank of captain in the British Army by Frederick Haldimand. Brant was promised, in return for his support, that the British government would restore the Mohawk to their lands as stated before the war began. [These terms had been in the Proclamation of 1763, Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768, and the Quebec Act of 1774)

Thayendanegea, Joseph Brant died November 24, 1807, aged 67, 60 years before Confederation.

“Have pity on the poor Indians. If you have any influence with the great, endeavour to use it for their good.” [Joseph Brant]

“Today, Joseph Brant is remembered mostly in the countries of America, Canada and England, with the many statues that were erected in his honour, especially one located in the town that was built in his honour – Brantford, Ontario. Many famous portraits of him were created during his life and his several visits to London and Philadelphia.” [ This statue was designed by architect John Turner and was unveiled in Victoria Square in Brantford. A portrait of him by William Berczy hangs in the National Gallery of Canada collection.]

Text on the plaque

Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)

“The bronze statue of Thayendanegea, also known as Joseph Brant, illustrious warrior, statesman and principal Mohawk war chief of the Six Nations, is located on Wellington Street in Ottawa. Joseph Brant is wearing a cape or blanket over his left shoulder, a shirt with puffy sleeves, a gorget (metal collar to protect the throat) around his neck, a cloth belt over his right shoulder, a pair of leather mocassins and a powder horn or sheathed knife. His hair is shaved in the front and held straight at the back.”

This statue is part of the “Valiants Memorial” in Ottawa. ”

“The Valiants Memorial, located in downtown Ottawa, is a collection of nine busts and five statues depicting individuals who have played a role in major conflicts throughout our history. It also includes a bronze wall inscription that reads, “No day will ever erase you from the memory of time”, which is from The Aeneid by Virgil.

The monument pays tribute to the people who have served this country in times of war and the contribution they have made in building our nation. These 14 men and women were chosen for their heroism, and because they represent critical moments in Canada’s military history.

The Valiants Memorial was created by Marlene Hilton Moore and John McEwen in 2006.”