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Statesman of the Tribe

When Brant appeared again in the open councils of his people, he found the red men still in a fretful mood. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix was a source of constant aggravation to them. The white settlers were pressing over their frontiers so boldly that the Indians felt that their lands must sooner or later slip from their grasp. England feared an outbreak of war, and the Indians believed that in such a case she would aid them. A proof of this was the manner in which she was keeping garrisons in the western posts which she had agreed to surrender. It is now conceded that this was done because the United States had failed to live up to its pledges. Be that as it may, Joseph Brant was expected in case of hostilities to organize the strong league of native races that he had planned to form.

In November 1786 a great council of Indian tribes was held at Huron Village, on the Detroit river. This was well attended, and its deliberations were very grave. An address, probably written by Brant, was sent by order of the assembled Indians to the Congress of the United States. Peace was desired, but it would be necessary for the Congressional representatives to treat with the redskins as a whole; difficulties had been engendered because the United States had entered into negotiations with separate tribes--'kindled council-fires wherever it saw fit'--without ever deigning to consult the Indians as a whole; this, affirmed the address, must happen no longer.

During the next few years the War Chief was unsparing in his efforts to come to some solution of the problem which the attitude of the United States had presented. He was quite aware that there was not enough concerted action among the various tribes. In his efforts to unite them he was aided and supported in all that he did by the English officials. But, try as Brant might, it seemed impossible to arrive at that wide union among the tribes at which he was aiming. On every hand were differences of opinion and petty jealousies. In 1789 General St Clair, indeed, was able to make two separate treaties with the Indians, much to the delight of the government at Philadelphia. 'I am persuaded,' St Clair wrote confidently, '[that] their general confederacy is entirely broken. Indeed it would not be very difficult, if circumstances required it, to set them at deadly variance.'

But though unwilling to unite, it was with jealous and angry eyes that they watched the white men cross the Ohio. The year 1790 found the western tribes ablaze with passion and again on the war-path against the United States. The Shawnees, Potawatomi, and Miami were the leaders of the revolt. An expedition under General Harmar marched against them, but it was defeated with great loss. The Six Nations were the next in arms, and fell without mercy on the settlements by the Alleghany river.

The horizon was now dark and it seemed as though a widespread struggle with the Indians was certain to occur. While the British authorities trusted implicitly in Joseph Brant, the executive of the United States was also trying to win his confidence. Both sides clearly recognized that the future of the red men depended largely on the policy that Brant should adopt. To have two great nations each striving to enlist one's services is a fair indication that the possession of those services will give either nation a distinct advantage. Brant did not lack vanity, and on this occasion he was more than flattered. But, to do justice to Brant, it must be admitted that all the time he had been in favor of peace. He did not wish the tribes to go madly into an unequal contest when there was very slight hope of success, and yet he was strongly of the opinion that his people must not bow too readily to the avarice of the pale-face. The Ohio river should be the dividing-line between the Indian territories in the west and those of the republic, and by this they must stand or fall.

The government of the United States at length concluded that neither Brant nor the tribes would listen to its terms and that war was inevitable. It determined to carry the fight vigorously into the very strongholds of the western tribes. General St Clair was chosen for this purpose, and he was given a large force to deal with a certain unrest which had developed in the country of the Miami. What the War Chief had feared was now about to happen. His hatchet was dull and rusted, and he had grown unused to the strain and hazard of the war-path. But could he hold aloof? The 'Long Knives' were moving against the lodges of his brethren in the west, and so he bent his ear once more to hear the warrior's call.

St Clair set out from Fort Washington in September 1791 and proceeded in the direction of the Miami villages, to the south-west of Lake Erie. As he advanced, he found himself worried by bands of redskins who hung upon his line of march. By November 3, however, he had come within fifteen miles of the Indian villages. When he pitched his camp, his army of militiamen and regulars numbered about fourteen hundred men all told. The Indians were also fairly numerous, and were under the guidance of Little Turtle, a brave chief of the Miami. Though drawn from various nations, their hearts were knit together by the peril which confronted them. Within their ranks were a hundred and fifty stalwarts of the Mohawk tribe, as well as a number of white men and half-breeds from Canada, who had come to their assistance.

When the fight began the Mohawks were seen to do the bidding of a tall and agile chieftain. Though Little Turtle was the nominal leader, it is conceded that the main antagonist whom St Clair had pitted against him in this engagement was Joseph Brant. Having sent his militiamen on in advance, the American general had bivouacked with the regulars by the side of a small stream, which ran into the Wabash. Just before daybreak on November 4, the raw militiamen found themselves suddenly attacked by a force of redskins. The Americans, who were about a quarter of a mile from the principal camp, turned and fled in confusion. This was what the Indians desired. So hotly did the militiamen retreat towards the camp that St Clair's main force was almost carried off its feet. A rally was made, but the Indians dashed forward with swiftness and daring. Following on the heels of the fleeing militiamen, they were soon at the very edge of the encampment. There they began to pick off the American gunners one by one.

In a short time St Clair's invading army was hemmed in on every side and many of his officers had fallen. Charge after charge was made by his men, but all to no avail. At length he saw that the day was lost and gave orders for retreat, hoping to save what was left of his force. A weak spot was found in the redskins' line, and a remnant of St Clair's proud army went free, scurrying off in wild precipitation to Fort Jefferson, thirty miles away. The ground was thickly strewn with their dead. It has been computed that in this battle eight hundred of St Clair's force were killed or wounded.

This disaster in the country of the Miami showed the United States how hard it would be to break the spirit of the red men. War having effected nothing, it was again decided to resort to entreaty. A number of chiefs of different tribes were invited to go to Philadelphia, and among them was Captain Brant. 'I can assure you,' wrote the secretary of state in the federal government to Brant on February 2, 1792, 'that the President of the United States will be highly gratified by receiving and conversing with a chief of such eminence as you are, on a subject so interesting and important to the human race.' After some persuasion Brant consented to go and, proceeding on horseback by way of the Mohawk valley, he arrived at the capital city on June 20. There he was gladly welcomed, and every effort was made to win him for the United States. 'I was offered a thousand guineas down,' wrote the War Chief at a later time, 'and to have the half-pay and pension I receive from Great Britain doubled, merely on condition that I would use my endeavors to bring about a peace. But this I rejected.' The American authorities then held out an even more tempting bait. They would give him pre-emption rights over land estimated to be worth twenty thousand pounds and an annual allowance of fifteen hundred dollars. But Brant steadfastly refused, and his reason was very plain. How could he accept such a bribe? 'They might expect me,' he said, 'to act contrary to His Majesty's interest and the honor of our nations.' He did, however, promise that he would urge the Miami to come to terms with the United States, and that he would go to them for that purpose.

As he was on his way home from Philadelphia he found that a Dutch-American, named Dygert, was pursuing him with the intention of making an attempt upon his life. In New York, while he was talking to several officers at his lodgings in Broadway, he happened to peer out, and saw a man in the street below with his eyes intently fixed on the window of his room.

'There is Dygert now,' he cried.

Colonel Willet, one of the officers, went down and accused the man of basely plotting Brant's assassination.

'Do you know,' said the colonel, 'that if you kill that savage, you will be hanged?'

'Who,' said Dygert in surprise, 'would hang me for killing an Indian?'

You will see,' answered Willet; if you execute your purpose, you may depend upon it that you will be hanged up immediately.'

At this the would-be criminal went off and did not trouble the War Chief any more.

On his safe return to Canada Brant was taken ill and was not able to attend a grand council held in the autumn at Au Glaize, on the Great Miami. When the council met it was agreed that hostilities should be suspended until a fresh council should be held at Miami Rapids.

During the winter of 1792-93 Brant received a visit from Simcoe, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, at his home on Grand River. This officer, who had lately been installed at Niagara, carried a letter to the War Chief from his old friend Lord Percy, now the Duke of Northumberland, together with a brace of pistols that the duke had sent to him. Simcoe was on his way to Detroit by sled, and stopped for three days at the Mohawk village. A feu de joie was fired in his honor, flags were hoisted, and the Indians made a display of their trophies of war.

Brant and some of the redskins accompanied the lieutenant-governor as far as the Thames river, where was situated the village of the Delaware. Here the War Chief was forced to return. Soon afterwards His Excellency again halted at Grand River on his way back. The Indians entertained him in royal style, performing the calumet dance, the feather dance, and several other dances of their tribe.

In the middle of the summer of 1793 a great assembly of Indians took place at Miami Rapids. Commissioners who were sent to represent the United States were not allowed to approach the place of meeting. Brant made three speeches, urging upon the Indians the advisability of peace. But the red men were still headstrong, and the commissioners had to go away without having reached any understanding with them.

The end of the struggle, however, was coming fast. In 1794 General Wayne marched to the neighborhood of Fort Miami with a numerous force, defeated the Indians at the Fallen Timbers, and drove them before him in all directions. Crestfallen and heartsore, they saw that the day of the white man had come at last. Brant stood by as their helper to the very end, but it availed them little. The Black Snake, as they called General Wayne, had beaten them, and they knew he would beat them again. The tribesmen who had come from the far west withdrew sullenly across the Mississippi, the other races submitted, and the Treaty of Greenville was signed with General Wayne on August 3, 1795. The ox-cart began to rumble north of the Ohio; the tall forests fell before the settler's axe, and the red man lived and walked no more alone by the 'River Beautiful.'


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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