The Iroquois Confederation

The Six Nations of the Iroquois — the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras — formed a powerful confederacy that controlled a block of territory that was bounded by Lake Ontario in the north, Lake Erie in the west, the Susquehanna River in the south, and the Catskill Mountains in the east. The Iroquois had held their own during the wars between the British and French and sided with the victors in the French and Indian War. The American Revolution would prove the undoing of the Iroquois Confederacy. Divided in their loyalties, most Iroquois sided with the British. Military defeat brought ruin and an end to Iroquois independence.

The Johnson Clan

The remarkable Irishman William Johnson had served as superintendent of Indian affairs in the north for almost twenty years. He had developed a close relationship with the Iroquois, even to the point of living with a Mohawk woman. Upon his death in 1774, much of his influence passed to his son John Johnson and his nephew Guy Johnson, who became the new Indian superintendent.

The Johnsons remained true to the Crown in 1775. Echoed by Guy Johnson's assistant, John Butler, they began encouraging the Iroquois to fight for the British. John Butler and his son Walter would become the widely feared leaders of loyalist rangers. Guy Johnson left for Oswego after hearing of the fighting at Bunker Hill. He took the Butlers and Joseph Brant with him. At Oswego he persuaded delegations of Mohawks, Cayugas, Onondagas, and Senecas to travel to Canada with him. There they agreed to go to war against the King's enemies, splitting the Iroquois Confederacy. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras, under the influence of the missionary Samuel Kirkland, sided with the Americans.

The activities of the Johnsons finally brought the wrath of the Patriot authorities in New York upon them. General Nicholas Herkimer marched to Johnson Hall, where John Johnson was guarded by 150 loyalists and Mohawks in 1776. Johnson surrendered and was freed on parole. A few months later Johnson broke his parole and fled to Canada, abandoning his father's great estate at Johnstown.

Joseph Brant of the Mohawks

Joseph Brant ranks as one of the most able and accomplished Native American leaders of the eighteenth century. William Johnson had seen to it that Brant was well educated, sending him to Reverend Eleazar Wheelock's school for Indians, the forerunner of Dartmouth College. Brant became a devout Anglican and helped translate the Gospel of Mark into Mohawk.

As an adolescent, Brant served in the French and Indian War. After accompanying Guy Johnson to Canada, he traveled with him to London. Here he was well received at Court. He was painted by George Romney, interviewed by James Boswell, and inducted into the Masons by the King himself.

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