FACT OR FICTION: Did Joseph Brant sell out Six Nations?

SIX NATIONS – It has been said by modernists and the uninformed of both the settler and Haudenosaunee of today that Joseph Brant sold out his people to Britain and was flattered into doing the will of the King of Britain and succumbing to another government other than his own.

But objective history and contemporary communications between Brant and those he fought along side and fought against seem to tell quite another story. Hand-written letters to and from Brant on a myriad of topics still exist and are crucial to understanding what the truth of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s was at this time in our joint history.

The following is one such letter, written on May 10th, 1799, in the hand of Brant himself and addressed to Sir John Johnson. John Johnson was the oldest son of Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs and took over the responsibilities of his much beloved and respected father upon his sudden death in 1791 while vacationing in his home village in the Swiss Alps.

When the American Revolution broke out in 1776, John Johnson’s job was to ensure the Six Nations’ loyalty to the Crown or to ensure their neutrality as a plan “B”.  Brant knew he had the leverage over Britain by threatening to stay with he Americans following the war and negotiated what became known as the Haldimand Proclamation in 1784. Almost before the ink dried, Britain’s representatives began reneging and by 1799 — Brant was pretty incensed about how the initial intent of the Proclamation, which he and Haldimand drafted together, had been twisted after the sudden death of Haldimand.

Frustrated that the Crown had not moved faster in codifying that agreement contained in the Haldimand Proclamation into law, Brant confided in Sir John, whom he felt was the only one that would listen. This is only one of several letters of complaint Brant sent, first asking, then demanding resolutions regarding the free ownership of the tract which he could relay to the people of  Six Nations.

Letter to Sir John Johnson. May 10, 1799.


I hope you will excuse troubling you concerning our affairs –  I have lately had the honour of a conversation with Lieutenant General Hunter, which altho’ I comprehended it myself, as it was not sufficiently explicit enough for an answer to the people.

I have writ (sic) to Captain Claus as he was present, to be of the particular purpose (or perception) of what was said, so as for me to acquaint the people who will meet for that purpose in a few days – 

I understand however, so far from what he has said, that we are not to be permitted to have any white people settle within our limits or to do anything further with our lands than living on them; but the township that (my) people confirmed – I believe that is allowed of – ….

I regret much to have to say that I find that I had a mistaken idea when I thought the acting up to the integrity of my ancestors in their adherence to the King’s cause would be my support and honour, I find that their preserving the fidelity, and also mine, is now forgotten as times have changed – notwithstanding the many assurances given us that we were linked together by a silver chain which should continually be brightened with the implicit confidence we placed in our brothers, which our conduct fully proved – we find that we are suspected enemies rather than treated as our steady fidelity merits – letters are sent under ground to prevent the uniting and counselling of different nations of Indians together considering it as dangerous to the country – and for myself I am said to be very troublesome, thus I find that my ancestry and myself have been deceived, and that all our fidelity avails nothing. 

They however have had the good fortune not to live to see our present situation I have – Had I been overcome and taken prisoner by an enemy, I could but say it is the fortune of war. He has been fortunate and had overcome me – but when I find I am reduced by the deception of a friend, of a brother, whom I confided in what will not my mind suggest for me to say in my anger – I have repeatedly been very particular in explaining to you our grievance knowing that you are perfectly acquainted with our sufferings, and the many valuable friends I have lost in support of the King’s cause. – it is not in expectation of reward that we fought, but it was in consideration of the former alliance and friendship of our ancestors and the promises made on this head by the King’s representatives that encouraged us to sacrifice our lives and all that was dear to us in this cause. I will observe one instance as a proof of my moderation in demands. That is when I gave in an account of the losses of our people we got a list of the particular articles such as guns, traps, ????, ????, cows, hogs, to which occasioned the Minister to laugh as being of such small considerations. I never made any mention of the woodlands which remained unsold expecting to have this land in lieu of it – but I am much surprised to find circumstances so much changed as to cause so rich and powerful a nation to think of so serious import such a narrow tract of land as this is and make so much objections to grant us the free use of it.

Dear sir, I apply to you now as the King’s representative to us and hope you would endeavour to have some moderate plan fixed on – for it is very hard for us to live there on the present conditions and it would be yet harder for us to give up our right to this river.

As for my own part I mean to withdraw myself from a public capacity – and act only in the private (lane) I have ever endeavoured to conduct myself with the strictest integrity towards Government and the people I represented, and now if I had had any other designs I would have kept under the confidential letter I have discovered, but I suppose it has been caused by some ill-founded reports, it may yet be rectified on proper representation.

I am surprised and can not imagine why such trifling things should be made of such consequence and be looked on with a jealous eye, for when ………….. could be apprehended of dangerous consequences from us? Considering the smallness of our numbers and our situation. 

I wish you would be so good as to inform and advise me in some measure to …. the shame and sorrow I feel at having been so much disappointed and deceived in the confidence I had placed in our brothers. I have already fully acquainted Capt. Claus that in future no public messages are to be sent to me, as I mean to advise or interfere no more in these matters.

Captain Brant

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