Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pipe offered by Thayendanega (aka Joseph Brant) to Dr. Caleb Benton ca 1790

"Joseph Brant," oil on canvas, by the American artist Gilbert Stuart. Painted in London, 1786. Private collection.

“Among us we have no prisons, we have no pompous parade of courts, we have no written laws, and yet judges are as highly revered among us as they are among you, and their decisions are as highly regarded.

Property, to say the least, is well-guarded, and crimes are as impartially punished. We have among us no splendid villains above the control of our laws. Daring wickedness is never suffered to triumph over helpless innocence. The estates of widows and orphans are never devoured by enterprising sharpers. In a word, we have no robbery under color of law.”

—Joseph Brant, 1807

Joseph Brant was one of the most controversial figures of early American history, an influential Mohawk chief who sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Born on the banks of the Ohio River in 1742 while his parents were on a hunting excursion to that region, he was given the Indian name of Thayendanega, meaning "he places two bets".

While still in his early youth, Brant became a favorite of Sir William Johnson, the British superintendent of the northern Indians of America, who was extremely popular with the tribes under his supervision. Johnson commanded Iroquois and colonial militia forces during the French and Indian War, the North American theater of the Seven Years War (1754-1763) in Europe. His role in the British victory at the Battle of Lake George in 1755 earned him a baronetcy; his capture of Fort Niagara from the French in 1759 brought him additional renown. Serving as the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1756 until his death more than 20 years later, Johnson worked to keep American Indians attached to the British interest. He was also a Mason and a former Provincial Grand Master of the New York colony.

Sir William Johnson (1715-1774)
Library and Archives Canada

Brant was selected by Johnson to attend Moors Charity School for Indians at Lebanon, Connecticut--the school which in future years was to become Dartmouth College. He learned to speak and write English and studied Western history and literature. He left school to serve under Sir William from 1755-1759 during the French and Indian War, later becoming Sir William's close companion, joining the Free Masons and helping him run the Indian Department, administered by the British out of Quebec. He also became an interpreter for an Anglican missionary and helped translate the prayer book and Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language. 

As an interesting side note Scottish scientist Alexander Graham Bell, one of the inventors of the telephone, was greatly interested in the human voice, and when he discovered the Six Nations Reserve across the river at Onondaga, he learned the Mohawk language and translated its then unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols. For his work, Bell was awarded the title of Honorary Chief and participated in a ceremony where he donned a Mohawk headdress and danced traditional dances.

"Organic Formation of the Principal Elements of Speech," from Alexander
Melville Bell, 
Visible Speech,  1864. Photograph by the author, courtesy of the
 Curator, Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

In 1776, Brant became the principal war chief of the confederacy of the Iroquois League,

Leaders from the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Tuscaroras tribes gather around the Huron prophet Dekanawidah to recite the laws of the newly formed Iroquois Confederacy.
also known as the Six Nations, a confederation of upper New York state Indian tribes composed of the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Oneidas, and Tuscaroras.

With this high office of leadership, he also received a Captains commission in the British army in charge of the Indian forces loyal to the Crown. Immediately after receiving this appointment, Brant made his first voyage to England, where he met King George III,

King George III, by Sir William Beechey, the National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1790, Brant traveled throughout Haudenosaunee territory in an effort to create a united front against U.S. intrusions. He also tried to form a confederation of Native nations in the Midwest to oppose American expansion. On one of those trips, he fell gravely ill and rested in a private residence near Seneca Lake, believed to be the home of Dr. Benton, who had built a tavern on the western shore of Seneca Lake, the traditional territory of the Cayuga Nation.

On that occasion, Joseph Brant presented a carved pipe to Dr. Caleb Benton thereby  carrying on an ancient Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) practice. Pipes were exchanged at meetings with visiting dignitaries and used to conclude treaties. Between individuals, the gift of a pipe and tobacco affirmed friendship and gratitude for an act of generosity or kindness. 

Effigy pipe associated with Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant, Mohawk, ca. 1742–1807), ca. 1785. New York. Wood, slate, porcupine quill, dye, silver; 79 x 7 x 6 cm, National Museum of the American Indian.

In 1792, the American government invited Brant to Philadelphia where he met President George Washington and his cabinet. 

Source: Pipes of our Presidents

The Americans offered him a large pension, and a reservation in upstate New York for the Mohawks to try to lure them back. But Brant was unsuccessful at brokering a compromise peace settlement between the Western Confederacy and the Americans. The war continued, and the Indians were defeated in 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The unity of the Western Confederacy was broken with the peace Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

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