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The Church Bell Rings

Joseph Brant had been a valiant warrior; he had dealt with the affairs of the Six Nations wisely and well. But he had never forgotten that one of the first duties of any ruler is to be, in some sense, a priest unto his people. From a lad, he seems to have been a devoted Christian. The alarms of war had drawn his mind for a period, it is true, to worldly considerations alone, but now that strife had ceased he became once more the friend of the missionary and sought to supply the spiritual needs of the tribes over which his influence was felt.

Like every Indian, the wonderful things which Brant saw all about him in nature held his mind in a spell. To him there was One who had created all things, and who was ever ready and willing to sustain His children. On one occasion in council Brant spoke of the primitive freedom of the Indian people, and then exclaimed: 'This country was given to us by the Great Spirit above; we wish to enjoy it.' He went on to tell how the Indians had tried to get peace, how their efforts had failed, and how their patience was now all gone. Yet there was one covert in which they might find shelter in time of storm. 'We therefore throw ourselves,' was his final utterance, 'under the protection of the Great Spirit above, who, we hope, will order all things for the best.'

While Brant was on his second visit to England, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts asked his help in getting out their printed books for the Indians. He willingly assented, and soon had a new edition of the Prayer and Psalm Book in preparation, He translated also the Gospel of St Mark. The Prayer and Psalm Book and his translation of the Gospel of St Mark were issued as one book. The publication of this volume must have brought a feeling of pride to the breast of the Mohawk chief. The book was a work of art, well printed and with some fine engravings. The frontispiece depicted the inside of a chapel, in which the king and queen were standing with a bishop on each side of them. The monarch and his consort were handing sacred books to the Indians, who were clustered about in an expectant attitude.

A few years later Brant translated into the Mohawk tongue the Liturgy of the Anglican Church as well as a doctrinal primer. Copies of these were sent to Harvard University, and its corporation replied with a cordial vote of thanks to the War Chief for his gift. Brant also planned to write a comprehensive history of the Six Nations, but unfortunately this work seems never to have been commenced.

Hardly had the Mohawks settled at Grand River when they began to feel that they should have a church building in which to worship. Funds were gathered, and as early as 1785 they were laying the foundations of a suitable edifice. This building, which was reared in the depths of the forest about two miles from the centre of what is now the city of Brantford, generally went by the name of 'The Old Mohawk Church.' In 1904, on a petition to the king, it was given the title of 'His Majesty's Chapel of the Mohawks.' Thus was restored the name of the church in which the Indians were wont to worship in the Mohawk valley. With its square tower, quaint slender steeple, and the graves of bygone generations of red men who have worshipped in it gathered about its walls, it is a venerable reminder of the past. The Bible which was first used in 'The Old Mohawk Church' was a gift from Queen Anne to the tribesmen in 1712 and was brought to Grand River from their former home on the Mohawk. The silver communion plate was part of a service which had also been presented to them by the same queen before they came to Canada. It was of burnished silver and bore the Royal Coat of Arms. The remaining pieces of this set were given to the Indians who settled in the Bay of Quinte district. In the year 1786 there was sent to the church a large and melodious bell. This was a presentation from the British government, and on it was stamped the arms of the reigning House of Hanover.

In all the wide region later known as the province of Upper Canada, as yet no other Protestant sanctuary had opened its doors for the use of Christian believers. With the erection of this temple of the Mohawks begins the history of the Protestant churches in one of the fairest sections of the Dominion of Canada. It was a sweet and solemn bell that pealed out its message when service was held on those Sabbaths in pioneer days. Into the solitudes it rang, wakening the stillness, echoing to hill-top, and throbbing down to distant valley. Up and along the river stole the gladsome strain, the first call to prayer ever heard in this scarcely broken wilderness. From among the trees emerged the exiled people of the Long House. They mingled together; they entered the courts of the Great Spirit, silent and full of awe. There they listened to the Gospel story and burst forth into many happy songs of thanksgiving and of love.

Brant was very desirous of securing a missionary who would suit the tastes of all. He tried to get a resident missionary in the person of his friend Davenport Phelps, but the bishop of Quebec refused Phelps ordination; and it was not until 1822, when the New England Company took over the missionary work on the Mohawk reserve, that the Indians of Grand River had a resident pastor. Brant also had won from General Haldimand a promise that a school should be built for the education of the Indian children, and that a flour-mill should be erected for the grinding of corn.

Brant was deeply interested also in the native amusements of the people of the Long House. He seems to have retained a boyish heart in the later years of his life, and he saw with pleasure the sports and pastimes of the Indian youth. Hour after hour he would sit as an honored spectator watching them play a hard-fought game of lacrosse that required fleetness of foot and straightness of limb. An eye-witness who sat with Brant at one of these games has told of the excitement which the match aroused. On this occasion a great company of Seneca had come all the way from New York state in order to compete for the mastery with their kinsmen, the Mohawks. The contest lasted for three days before the Seneca finally won the valuable stakes which were offered as the prize.

The field which was cleared for the game was fairly extensive, the goals being placed about five hundred feet apart. The teams had sixty men a side. When any one dropped out from either party another was supposed to take his place, and so the energies of the contestants did not flag. The netted rackets employed in the game of lacrosse were three and a half feet in length, straight at the handle but curved at the other end. The broad portion used for throwing or carrying the ball was formed of thongs of deerskin, interwoven and drawn firm and tight. It was a picturesque sight when the opposing teams were ready to commence play. The animated warriors were nude except for a breech-cloth reaching to the knee. When all was in readiness, an Indian maiden came tripping into the centre of the field. She was prettily attired after the custom of her tribe, wore bracelets of silver and a red tiara decked with eagle feathers. Placing the ball among the players, she hurried from the field of play. Two experts from the rival parties then raised the ball between their rackets and strove to make the first successful throw. The great game had now begun, and each time the ball went through a goal it counted one tally. The score-keepers, who were chosen from the older sachems of the tribes, were invested with peculiar powers. If one team was making far less tallies than its opponent, they could diminish its rival's score (without the players' knowledge, however) in order that the contest might be protracted. Games of this vigorous kind have made the athletes of the Six Nations noted in both Canada and the United States down to the present day.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The War Chief of the Six Nations, A Chronicle of Joseph Brant, 1915

 

Chronicles of Canada


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