This Week in History


A Voice of Sovereignty Dies

This story was initially published in 2001

On November 24, 1807, Joseph Brant, also known as Thayendanega, died. As a warrior of the Mohawk Nation in the Iroquois Confederacy, he had dedicated his life to maintaining the sovereignty of his people.

Joseph Brant, Thayendanega, v.1800
© Archives of Ontario / S 2076

Brant was born in 1742 in a hunting village along the Ohio River. With the backing of Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, he was educated and became accustomed to European culture. The growing threat of expansion of the American colonies into Indian Territory, however, made Brant abandon his studies. He warned his people that they needed to be responsible for keeping American colonists off their land. Sailing to England in 1775, he sought the aid of the British Government, whom he felt would better protect Aboriginal lands. The British promised support, and Brant declared loyalty to them.

When the American Revolution began the next year, Brant convinced many of the Six Nations to ally with the British in this conflict. Brant and the Loyalist Corps of Butler's Rangers successfully attacked several American positions. The Six Nations assumed that these victories guaranteed the protection of their lands. Unfortunately, the British and the Americans ignored Aboriginal rights during peace negotiations, giving Aboriginal lands north and west of the Ohio River to the Americans. Brant was furious and began negotiations with representatives of the Crown and the Americans to rectify the situation. The Six Nations received land in Grand River, Upper Canada, as compensation for their allegiance.

After the American Revolution, Joseph Brant travelled to England, the United States, and Canada, trying to help his people keep their land. He hoped that by establishing a confederacy of all of the First Nations peoples, they would have strength to resist American advancement. After a trip to England though, in 1785-86, the British again disappointed Brant. He realized that they would no longer help. The Americans began to advance over First Nations' lands.

Joseph Brant Memorial, Brantford (Ontario)
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-195401

In 1793, Brant tempered his dream of a confederacy of nations and concentrated on the sale and distribution of the Grand River lands. He also promoted Mohawk education and spiritual growth. Brant wanted his people to adopt some European practices to help them adjust to their changing world. He focussed on this for the rest of his life.

For his alliance with Britain and assistance in securing the Grand River settlement, Thayendanega (Joseph Brant) was designated a national historic person.

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