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The Pine Tree Totters

It came to pass before long that the Indians wished to dispose of some of the land granted to them on Grand River. The United Empire Loyalists and others, lured by the prospect of cheap land, kept crossing into Canada from the United States; accessions to the population of the Great Lakes region had come by immigration from the British Isles, and the country was making forward strides. Straggling settlers and speculators were often anxious to purchase land in the richer districts when they could get it at a low price. It happened, however, that after the redskins had sold and leased bits of their territory to such persons, the provincial government began to interfere. The land, it said, belonged to the Indians only so long as they remained upon it. They could not, therefore, sell any of it, as they had no direct ownership of the soil.

This decision shed a new light upon the proprietary rights of the Six Nations in Canada and the Indians were sorely perplexed. All along they thought that they held their lands like other settlers who had proved their loyalty. Brant vigorously took up their case, made several able speeches on their behalf, and freely corresponded with the authorities of the province regarding the matter. In 1793 Governor Simcoe issued a new proclamation respecting the grant, but this did not end the dispute. The province still claimed the right of pre-emption with respect to the whole of their reserve. Later on the matter was carried to England, and the British government tended to favor the Indians' claims. But nothing was done, owing to contentions among the redskins themselves. It was only, indeed, after Brant's death that the affair was finally settled. The sale of large tracts of Indian land was then authorized, and the money received was safely invested for the benefit of the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations in Canada. In connection with this difficult question Brant had intended making a trip to England, but was forced to abandon the idea.

During the latter part of his life Brant visited different parts of America and twice journeyed as far as the Atlantic seaboard. On these occasions he had the opportunity of talking over old campaigns with officers who had fought against him in the war, and he delighted his listeners with stirring stories of his experiences in the field. On one occasion, when in Philadelphia, he was entertained in sumptuous fashion by Colonel Aaron Burr. A dinner party was held in his honor, and among the guests were Talleyrand and Volney. Early in the evening the War Chief was rather taciturn, and the other guests were somewhat disappointed. But this was only a passing mood, from which Brant soon freed himself. Launching into the conversation, he was soon the centre of attraction.

Though Captain Brant was able to pass his later years in comparative ease, his life was marred by the occurrence of two untoward events. His eldest son, Isaac, was a reprobate over whom the father exercised little influence. Isaac had been guilty of acts of violence and had begun to threaten Joseph Brant himself. He was jealous of the numerous children of Catherine Brant and took occasion to offer her various insults. In 1795 both father and son were at Burlington Heights, at a time when the Indians were receiving supplies from the provincial government. Isaac, crazed with liquor, tried to assault his father in one of the lower rooms of an inn, but he was held in check by several of his youthful companions.

Captain Brant drew a dirk which he usually carried with him, and in the excitement of the moment inflicted a slight wound on Isaac's hand. The cut was not serious, but Isaac would not allow it to be properly treated, and subsequently died from an attack of brain fever. The War Chief was sorely grieved at the result of his hasty action, and fretted about it until the end of his days. He is said to have hung the dirk up in his room and to have often wept as he gazed upon it. The other source of trouble to Brant was the revolt against his rule of a small minority among the tribes. This movement was led by Brant's old adversary, Red Jacket, and another chief, the Farmer's Brother. A council was held by the dissenters at Buffalo Creek in 1803, and Joseph Brant was formally deposed as head of the confederacy of the Six Nations. But as this meeting had not been legally convoked, its decisions were of no validity among the Nations. The following year, at another council, legitimately assembled, the tribesmen openly declared their confidence in the War Chief's rule.

Because of Brant's many services to the crown, the British government gave him a fine stretch of land on the north-west shore of Lake Ontario, near the entrance to Burlington Bay. On his estate, known as Wellington Square, he erected a large two-storey house, in which he might spend the remaining years of his life. A number of black slaves whom he had captured in the war were his servants and gave him every attention. Brant is said to have subjected these negroes to a rigid discipline and to have been more or less of a taskmaster in his treatment of them. In his declining years he was wont to gaze over the waters of Lake Ontario, remembering the country stretching from the southern shore where once he had struggled, and the valley of the Mohawk, where had been the lodges of his people.

But the giant pine-tree of the forest was now beginning to bend. Tall and erect, it had out-topped and outrivalled every other tree of the woodland. Men knew that that pine-tree was tottering. In the autumn of 1807 the Captain of the Six Nations was in the grip of a serious illness. Friends and neighbors came to bring solace and comfort, for he was widely revered. Racked with pain, but uncomplaining, he passed the few weary hours of life which were left. On November 24, 1807, the long trail came to an end. Close by Brant's bedside. John Norton, [Footnote: Norton was a Scotsman who, coming to Canada early in life, settled among the Mohawks and won a chief's rank among them. He played an important part in the War of 1812.] a chieftain of his tribe, leaned to catch the last faltering word.

'Have pity on the poor Indians,' whispered the dying War Chief; 'if you can get any influence with the great, endeavor to do them all the good you can.'

The body of Captain Brant was taken to Grand River and buried beside the walls of the church he had helped to rear. In the centre of the busy city of Brantford--whose name, as well as that of the county, commemorates his --stands a beautiful monument, picturesque and massive, to his worth and valor; in the hearts of the people of Canada he is enshrined as a loyal subject, a man of noble action, and a dauntless hero. Seldom in the annals of Canada do we find a character so many-sided as the Captain of the Mohawks. He was a child of nature, and she endowed him with many gifts--a stout and hardy frame, a deportment pleasing and attractive, and an eloquent tongue. It was these natural endowments that gave him endurance in the conflict, pre-eminence in council, and that won for him the admiration of his contemporaries.

The education which Brant received was meager, but he could hardly have put what knowledge he had to better advantage. After he had been relieved from the arduous life of the camp, he began to satisfy again his desires for self-culture. His correspondence towards the close of his life shows a marked improvement in style over that of his earlier years. There is no lack of convincing evidence that Brant had a penetrating and well-balanced intellect; but his chief glory is the constant efforts he put forth for the moral and religious uplift of his people.

With respect to Brant's abilities as a military leader, there will continue to exist differences of opinion. That he possessed the craftiness of his race in a superlative degree, and that he used this to baffle his opponents on the field of battle, cannot be denied. Some will go further and assert that he had a remarkable genius in the art of stratagem. Whatever powers he had he used, from his boyhood days, in the interests of British rule in America, and the services rendered by this last great leader of the Six Nations in the War of the Revolution were not among the least of the influences that enabled Great Britain to maintain a foothold on the North American continent. Joseph Brant in the War of the Revolution and his descendants in the War of 1812 played essential parts in firmly basing British institutions and British rule in Canada.


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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