Post details: Seventh of Twelve: Molly Brant


Permalink 07:00:00 am, by Email , 1443 words   English (CA)
Categories: One Dozen Canadian Heroes

Seventh of Twelve: Molly Brant

For the next Six Fridays, I'm doing blog posts about Canadian heroes of History... some you may have heard of... others you may not know... in under 800 words (not including my usual last note), I'm going to TRY and introduce them to you as best I can...

So far, I've done posts about...

- Mary Shadd Cary
- Madeleine de Verchères
- James FitzGibbon
- Harriet Tubman Davis
- Crowfoot
- Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry


Molly Brant
Image above from The Molly Brant Foundation

In a patriarchal, white-European society, women were not often venerated, thought terribly highly of, or acknowledged publicly for their contributions... the concept of a Native or First Nations woman even less so... tack on the "rumours" that she was the white man's (whom she lived with) mistress and boy howdy, things should get rotten...

You'd assume then that this aboriginal woman living with a white man (not married in a European church) in the mid-to-late 1700's would be... well... pretty much neglected, forgotten, and unacknowledged...

With Molly Brant, you'd be dead wrong.

Mary "Molly" Brant came into this world in (roughly) 1736 in the Mohawk Valley of (then the Province of) New York... the older sister of warrior Joseph Brant and daughter to a Mohawk father and an Iroquois mother.

Molly's rise happened when she became "housekeeper" to Sir William Johnson at age 23, he was a trader and also Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Indian Department's Northern District.

Now, let's not split hairs... It's very clear that Johnson was quite taken with Molly... so much so that there are rumours and some thoughts that they were married through a traditional Mohawk ceremony (not, although, acknowledged by the European community)... and Johnson was a good husband and eventual father of his and Molly's nine children. It was reported by one of her biographers that Molly... "was as highly respected by the Indians as was her husband, and she was as versatile. He could dance, painted and naked except for a breach clout, around a fire with his native friends, and she could entertain the cream of white society graciously and properly in the grand rooms of Johnson Hall, with their Chippendale furniture and fine china."

It should also be pointed out that Iroquois Clan Mothers were no slouches and considered very highly by the tribe...

Therefore, Molly wielded almost automatic influence... and it seemed, this transcended through the racial and territorial divides. This would play greatly into her future.

In 1774, rumblings in America were starting. Some of the colonists wished to cede from Britain to form a new nation... what isn't well reported is that many did not... in honesty, modern historians feel that 1/3 wanted to break the bounds of the British crown, 1/3 didn't really care and were too busy scraping out a new life in the colonies, and 1/3 remained loyal to King George.

Sir William and Molly both went to work... they did everything in their power to keep the Iroquois and Mohawk nations loyal to the crown... and with some justification. Their efforts were not in vein as most of the aboriginal nations sided with Britain in realising that the "new" nation's colonists were hungry for land... their land... and it wouldn't be pretty.

Sadly, also in 1774, Sir William passed away... but in his will, provided for Molly and his children. Molly set up a store in Canajoharie and managed to eek out a decent living for herself and her kids.

Within a year, the rumblings turned to violence as The American Revolution came to a full boil.

Here's the next part some of my readers to the South of the Great Lakes won't like... Mel Gibson was WRONG. The movie The Patriot was fictional... Most historians, in America and other places familiar with the time of the American Revolution know that in fact, it was the Loyalists that were treated worse than most. Patriots literally burned them out, tarred and feathered folks loyal to Britain, and worse...

Molly provided safe haven for fleeing loyalists (running from those zealous patriots) saving literally hundreds and ensuring their safe passage into Canada and she helped supply arms to those fighting to maintain the Crown in North America. She even gathered intelligence to aid the Loyalist armies in their efforts.

Joseph, Molly's brother, also became famed for ambushing and killing 800 rebels with only 400 warriors and a handful of white militia at the Battle of Oriskany which also pushed the Mohawks into a more warlike stance... this pushed almost all the tribes, save the Oneidas and some Tuscaroras to the British cause.

The Patriots craved revenge and George Washington himself dispatched eleven regiments to "chastise" the Iroquois. The Mohawks, with Molly, fled this army North into Canada where Molly still worked to keep the tribes loyal to the Crown.

Molly, firmly believing in Sir William's ideas, continued her work. Although she could not initially sway the Iroquois to the British side, they did stay neutral. The Mohawks, on the other hand, did side with The British thanks to Molly's efforts.

The war ended in 1783... and Molly and the tribes were to face a more ignoble fate. In the peace agreement between America and Britain, the natives were completely left out. The Iroquois lands ceded to America as they were South of the Great Lakes.

Still, for her many efforts and bravery, Molly was given a pension and a house in Cataraqui (present day Kingston, Ontario) from the British where she and her children lived. This was for her "uniform fidelity, attachment and zealous services rendered to His Majesty's Government".

Her brother Joseph and the Mohawks settled in the area at Grand River, Ontario, where the Mohawks (Six Nations) still reside.

To give you an idea of how well thought of she was, in the 1790's, the "old enemy" (America) came to ask for her help. The U.S. government came North to ask that she help tensions that were growing in the Ohio Valley. Molly was not interested in helping the Americans (as she realised that the real reason they wanted her to slow these rumblings was to achieve a land grab from the natives in that area) and she contemptuously refused.

None-the-less, she and Joseph did work to avoid bloodshed and tried to convince their Western brethren to negotiate with the Americans... but it was all for not.

In 1794, the natives fought and were slaughtered by the Americans under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne at The Battle of Fallen Timbers... this action would lead to the rise of Tecumseh (and his brother, The Prophet) and the Natives falling in with the British a few years later during The War of 1812 (The American War).

Saddened and relegated to the fate of her people, but continuing to be a well respected "diplomat", she finished her years in Kingston dying in 1796.

A late-eighteenth century writing from a visiting European gives us an idea of her noble bearing during her later years...

In the Church at Kingston we saw an Indian woman, who sat in an honourable place among the English. She appeared very devout during Divine Service and very attentive to the Sermon. She was the relict of the late Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the province of New York, and mother of several children by him, who are married to Englishmen and supported by the Crown.... When Indian embassies arrived she was sent for, dined at Governor Simcoe's, and was treated with respect by himself and his lady. During the life of Sir William she was attended with splendour and respect, and since the war receives a pension and compensation for losses for herself and her children.

A woman of uncommon bearing... someone who stood and was counted and did more than many men... respected by all parties... friends and enemies... men and women...

She left a legacy of loyalty that stayed with the Iroquois Confederacy for generations.


"Her Story - Women from Canada's Past" by Susan E. Merritt
Gala Film's War of 1812 Site
Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Wiki - Mary "Molly" Brant



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Comment from: MsDemmie [Visitor] ·
WOW - she sounds like a remarkable woman - thank you.
PermalinkPermalink 11/03/06 @ 13:17
Comment from: admin [Member] Email ·
Hey MsDemmie... she certainly was... and I am SO pleased that my personal "Top Twelve Canadian Heroes" contains four woman (and if I had gone to "fourteen", the next two would be women as well,) of uncommon bravery, courage, fortitued, and dignity. I ensure my steplings (all girls) are WELL versed in these amazing women.

I admit, however, my favourite of all of them (although it's a tight race) is Harriet Tubman Davis... Click here if you didn't get a chance to read that one... it's worth it.
PermalinkPermalink 11/03/06 @ 21:48
Comment from: CyberCelt [Visitor] Email ·
I love this. Living in Texas, I forget the Canada and the USA were once one.
PermalinkPermalink 12/16/08 @ 00:44
Comment from: admin [Member] Email ·
Hey CyberCelt... Bypassing all the weird "One World Order" stuff and the neurosis about possible amalgamation, I'd like to think that we actually still are... really, we're neighbours and friends... and that won't change!
PermalinkPermalink 12/17/08 @ 08:57



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