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Schooldays and After

Through the storm and stress of these campaigns, the eyes of the Mohawks were upon Joseph Brant. They expected much of him, and he earnestly tried to fulfill their hopes. Still in his teens, he was already a seasoned warrior, having 'fought with Death and dulled his sword.' The Mohawks were pleased. Let a few more autumns strew the carpet of the forest, and they would have in him a brave and robust leader worthy of their tradition. Joseph, on the other hand, was dissatisfied. He had lived and communed with white men and had come to know a greatness that was not to be won by following the war-path. He had wielded the tomahawk; he had bivouacked among armed men on the field of battle: now he was eager for the schoolroom. He wished to widen his knowledge and to see the great world that lay beyond the rude haunts of the red men.

Joseph was in this frame of mind when an Indian with the very English name of David Fowler came to Fort Johnson. Fowler was on a long journey from his home by the sea and rode on horseback. He had something to relate, he said, that was of significance for the Indian people. At Lebanon, in the colony of Connecticut, there was an institution for the education of any young redskin who might be able to come, and he had been sent by Doctor Eleazar Wheelock, its principal, to gather recruits. Addressing Sir William Johnson, he asked him if there were among the Six Nations Indians any lads whom he should like to send to the school.

Sir William was not slow to act. Joseph Brant, the pride of Canajoharie Castle, thirsting for knowledge, must surely go. Two other boys, named Negyes and Center, were chosen to accompany him. These were 'three boys,' as Dr Wheelock afterwards wrote, 'who were willing to leave their friends and country, and come among strangers of another language and quite another manner of living, and where, perhaps, none of their nation, then living, had ever been.'

The trip to Connecticut was made in 1761, and the lads arrived at Lebanon about mid-summer. They were not at all sure that the school would be to their liking and had planned, if such should prove to be the case, to make a hasty flight back to the Mohawk valley on the horses they brought with them. Negyes and Center looked rather woebegone as they came into Dr Wheelock's presence: 'Two of them,' he says, 'were but little better than naked.' Brant, however, created a good impression. 'The other, being of a family of distinction, was considerably clothed, Indian fashion, and could speak a few words of English.'

The school was kept up by a number of benevolent persons who contributed liberally to its funds. Sir William Johnson was ready to do his share to aid the good work, and some four months and a half after the Mohawk boys had arrived he wrote to the principal: 'I shall not be backward to contribute my mite.' A house in which to hold the classes and two acres of land had been given by a farmer named Joshua Moor; hence the institution was generally called Moor's Indian Charity School. The principal, Dr Wheelock, was a man of wide scholarship, and became later on the founder of the seat of learning in New Hampshire now known as Dartmouth College.

But little is known of the course of study pursued by Joseph at Moor's School. When he entered it his knowledge must have been very slender, and as a young man he began to learn things ordinarily taught to a mere child. It is likely that he now became much more fluent than formerly in his use of the English tongue. From the beginning his progress was very rapid, and Dr Wheelock does not stint the praise that he bestows upon him: 'Joseph is indeed an excellent youth,' was his comment; 'he has much endeared himself to me, as well as to his master, and everybody also by his good behavior.'

The master here spoken of was Charles Jeffrey Smith, a young man of ample means who wished to be of service to the Indians. He had come to the school after Joseph's arrival and helped the principal in giving instruction. He very soon remarked the superior intelligence which Joseph showed among the twenty-five pupils in his charge. Intending to make a missionary tour among the Indian tribes, he proposed to take his young pupil with him as an interpreter. Writing to Sir William Johnson about the matter, he referred to Joseph in most glowing terms: 'As he is a promising youth, of a sprightly genius, singular modesty, and a serious turn, I know of none so well calculated to answer my end as he is.'

It was with sad misgivings that Joseph thought of turning his back upon the school, where he had been for scarcely two years; but Smith promised to continue as his teacher when they were together in the Indian country, and to pay him something for his work as an interpreter. This appealed to the young redskin. It appeared that his schooldays were ended in any event, for his people were jealous of his prolonged stay in the lodges of the stranger and he had received a message calling him back to Canajoharie Castle.

In the month of June 1763, master and pupil set out together, but, as fate would have it, Smith's quest among the tribes was to be quickly ended. Hardly had he begun his pilgrimage when he found the Indians in wild commotion. Again the hatchet had been unburied, and for the sake of security he had to bring his mission to an abrupt end.

Pontiac, great chief of the Ottawa, had raised the standard of revolt against English rule. This was an aftermath of the struggle just concluded with France, and began when the Western Indians saw that another race of pale-faces had come upon their lands. With skill and adroitness Pontiac had gathered many tribes into a strong offensive league. He declared that if they followed in his train he would drive the feet of the intruder from the red man's territory. There was a savage rising in May 1763. In a twinkling eight English posts in the interior fell before the savages. Fort Ligonier and Fort Pitt, [Footnote: Formerly Fort Duquesne.] at the head-waters of the Ohio, and Fort Detroit in the west, were alone left standing of all the places attacked, and Detroit was besieged by Pontiac with thirty-six chiefs at his back. The call to arms in defense was urgent. A portion of the Six Nations joined their old allies, the English, and among the warriors who went out was Joseph Brant. 'Joseph tarried,' we are told, 'and went out with a company against the Indians, and was useful in the war, in which he behaved so much like the Christian and the soldier, that he gained great esteem.'

A body of Mohawks were among the troops which brought succor to Major Gladwyn in his resistance at Fort Detroit in 1763, and it is possible that Brant was in the thick of the fight in this vicinity. It is possible, too, that he was with Colonel Bouquet in August at the battle of Bushy Run, near Fort Pitt. In this engagement, after two days of strenuous backwoods fighting, the Indians were finally worsted. Pontiac's star had begun to set. With hopeless odds against him, the stubborn chief of the Ottawa kept up the struggle until the following year, but at last he was compelled to sue for peace.

In the meantime Brant's reputation among his tribesmen was steadily rising. In the spring of 1764, when the fighting was at an end, he returned to Canajoharie Castle. There he built a comfortable house, wedded the daughter of an Oneida chieftain, and dwelt for some years in peace and quiet. Two children, Isaac and Christiana, were born to him of this, his first, marriage. We may pass rapidly over these tranquil years of Brant's life. He did his domestic duties as a man should; and Sir William Johnson, finding him trustworthy, had constant work for him, and sent him on many important missions to the Indians, even to the far-western tribes. During this period Brant became a communicant in the Anglican Church, and, knowing well what hardships the missionaries had to endure, he gave them what help he could in their work among the red people. He assisted the Rev. John Stuart, a missionary to his tribe and afterwards a distinguished clergyman in Upper Canada, in his translation of the Acts of the Apostles, in a History of the Bible, and in a brief explanation of the Catechism, in the dialect of the Mohawks. It is related that a belated missionary, footsore and weary, crept one day to Brant's abode, where he was given food and cared for in his sickness. 'Joseph Brant,' the missionary wrote in grateful tribute, 'is exceeding kind.'

It was well that a man of judicious mind and fearless heart was coming to the fore among the nation of the Mohawks. A cloud had begun to fleck the horizon; soon would come the sound of the approaching tempest. How would it fare with the Six Nations in the day of turmoil?


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

 

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