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Molly Brant: Loyalist and Diplomat

For the week of April 11, 2016

On April 16, 1796, Molly Brant died in Kingston, Ontario. An influential Mohawk and Loyalist, she encouraged five of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy to side with the British during the American Revolution, which ultimately secured Canada from the American Revolutionary Army.

A drawing representing the three parts of Molly Brant’s life: the Iroquois, the Loyalist, and the European
© Sara Tyson / Library and Archives Canada / Canada Post Corporation

Born into a Mohawk family in upstate New York around 1736, Brant's influence on British and Aboriginal affairs began during her years as the partner of Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs north of the Ohio River. Brant raised their eight children, and helped Johnson win the confidence of the Confederacy. The influence she and her brother Joseph Brant held was furthered by intelligence and an ability to give good counsel.

After Johnson’s death in 1774, Brant returned to her home village. The American Revolution began the next year. In 1777, suspected of being a British informant, she was forced to flee with her family to Fort Niagara, at the western end of Lake Ontario. Loyal to the British Crown and convinced that the British were more likely to honour Iroquois traditions and land claims than the Americans, she advocated for the alliance of First Nations leaders with the British, reminding the disillusioned chiefs of their friendship with the late Sir William Johnson and their previous loyalty to the Crown.

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A postage stamp celebrating Molly Brant
© Library and Archives Canada

In the fall of 1779, Molly Brant moved to Carleton Island, near Kingston. For the next five years she lobbied the Iroquois to continue to fight in spite of repeated British losses. Alexander Fraser, the Commanding Officer at Fort Haldimand, wrote that Brant had more influence over the First Nations than all of the Chiefs put together. Her work was integral in ensuring that the American rebels did not advance into Canada. She was rewarded with a pension and a house in Kingston following the war.

Despite Brant’s belief that supporting the British would protect her people, First Nations lost control of their lands in New York, received little land in Canada, and were not included in the American/British peace negotiations following the war.

A remarkable Mohawk woman, Molly Brant is designated as a national historic person for her diplomatic efforts during the American Revolutionary War.

To learn about Molly Brant’s brother, Joseph Brant, read “A Voice of Sovereignty Dies” in the This Week in History archives.

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