The plot to assassinate Joseph Brant

An ancient document reveals a feud between Mohawk families over the Haldimand Tract lands

SIX NATIONS — A number of weeks ago we published a history piece about Joseph Brant, asking our readers if they were aware of any serious issues that would legitimately brand him a traitor or a sell out. We got several responses most of which defended the legacy of Brant, but not everyone of the Six Nations in the 1790’s held him in such high esteem. Some say he was a great man with exceptional skills in negotiations on behalf of the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations who came with him to receive the Haldimand Deed lands.

One reader provided us with a document that is intriguing, to say the least.

It was September of 1800, and a Mohawk council meeting was held at the Mohawk Village in the Bay of Quinte, known today as Tyendinaga. The gathering was organized to discuss the differences existing among the Mohawks of that village. It was revealed in the minutes of a meeting with Acting Departmental Superintendent General, Captain Claus, that two parties of Mohawks had come to Brant’s Mohawk Village on the Grand River with the said purpose of assassinating Joseph Brant.

The complaint was that Brant had encouraged United Empire Loyalists, whites who fought alongside the Six Nations and Britain during the American Revolution, to share the Haldimand Land under 99 to 999-year leases – outright giving Haldimand Tract land to whites.

From Brants vantage point, he could see the Haudenosaunee had to change to keep up with the wave of European immigrants he knew was coming. European and settler styles of farming and cultivation were not being embraced or practiced by the Six Nations people and Brant thought it would be best to invite Loyalist whites to farm some of the Haldimand lands.

According to the document, some rejected that idea outright and thought of Brant as a sell-out. There was also a matter of a missing $500 given to Brant and Captain John by Claus for partial compensation for lands sold in the Mohawk Valley, and expenses. According to the account, Brant and John (also a Mohawk) kept the money for themselves.

Leading the protest against whites on Haldimand land, was Captain Isaac and Captain Aaron, also Mohawks. They lobbied Lord Dorchester, also known as Guy Carleton – then Governor General of Canada and the man who preceded Sir Frederick Haldimand as Governor of Quebec to help settle the dispute on Brant giving lands to white settlers they saw as illegal squatters. Dorchester suggested the best resolution would be to remove all whites from Haldimand Tract land, and he set out to do that, although unsuccessfully.

“If His Lordship had done so, none of the disturbance or the late unfortunate business which has happened here, would have taken place, as what has happened was through the means of a white man among us by the name of ‘Miracle,’” they said.

The Bay of Quinte Mohawks were also upset that Brant did not bring the prospect of inviting white men on Haldimand land before he started gifting and leasing land to them. The minutes show deep divisions among the Mohawks themselves in the late 1700’s, early 1800’s.

The council lasted from the 2nd to10th of September of that year. The minutes of those meetings reveal much.

By reading the account of that series of meetings, it was easy to see that Brant was not loved and respected by all of Six Nations or even all of the Mohawk Nation. In fact there were several serious divisions among the Mohawks of the late 1700’s.

Captain Claus opened the council sessions explaining that the meeting they were attending was ordered by General Hunter to help resolve internal Mohawk issues that had festered into violence between themselves.

Claus said, “Brothers — the melancholy business which has lately happened here induced your Father, General Hunter, to order me down to meet you and to enquire into the cause of your disputes, and if possible to bring you together again.” Captain Issac, a Mohawk, offered a brief background on the issue at hand.

“I will tell you, Brother, the whole business in a very short time,” he began. “There was some money brought from Albany, (in the sum of ) $500 by Captain Brant and $500 by Captain John for the payment of the Lands sold to the American government on the Mohawk River. When Captain John arrived here we enquired whether he had sold the lands and brought the money, and what news he brought with him.

Captain John answered, ‘The Americans and us are two different people, and are not fond of communicating any news to us, knowing we belonged to a different country.’ We then asked John what he had done in the business he went upon and he answered, it would do very well for a Messenger to be questioned in that manner, which he did not consider himself to be.

Captain Issac said that he had heard that money he had brought and that he had made away with the greatest part of it, “which made a great riot in the Village.”

“This was three years ago last spring — sometime after that Captain John went to Montreal, and no one knew on what business, until he returned, when he held a Council with the whole village, except for Captain Isaac,” whom he already had odds with.

Issac and a delegation of Mohawks held a council with the Seven Nations of Canada, at LaChine. A controversy developed over the building of a Mill which both Isaac and Captain John had designs on and it became heated to the point of death threats. This seems to be the origin of the deep hatred they had for one another.

The next day, September 4th, Captain John had the floor.

Brothers: “Following the American Revolution, some Mohawks went to Bay of Quinte, after rejecting land in Nova Scotia, and others went with Brant to the Grand River,” he opened.

Captain John went on to offer his take on the matter, saying that, following both groups were United Empire Loyalists who also accepted land as recommence for war losses, as the Mohawks did.

But as it turned out, they got to keep and sell whatever portion other land they wished, but Six Nations was finding out they could not do the same.

Colonel Claus wanted to know who were going to Grand River and who were going to remain at Bay of Quinte and a council was called to fulfill that request. Captain Isaac and his family moved to Grand River, arriving on May 22nd, 1784. (Interesting to note people were moving to the Grand River before Brant officially received the Haldimand Deed in late October of that year.)

Claus advised the Isaacs group to try to get along with the Mississaugas who were already residing there.

Captain John recorded, “We arrived there on the 22nd of May and found a great number of native Mississaugas at this place who were very glad to see us and we were happy together.”

A joint council was immediately arranged between the Mississaugas and the Mohawks where their friendship was salted.

But there was still division in the Mohawk house and about this time the Isaac group decided to break away from the John Mohawks of Quinte. It is revealed in the minutes the disagreement between Captain Isaac and Captain John.

On September 4th, the meeting resumed and Captain John addressed the assembly. He took the people through the circumstances which lead to the American Revolution and spoke of the the Mohawk’s role in it.

“When peace was made we were told we were going to Nova Scotia, but not liking that situation, we went to General Haldimand on May 27th, 1783, who told us to pick out any unceded land they wanted.”

They settled on land at the Bay of Quinte and reported that to a pleased Haldimand. The Quinte Mohawks told Haldimand that there were Loyalists among them and they both looked forward to a peaceful existence together.

But the mistrust was too deep and rather than bring them together, it seemed to polarize to two Mohawk Villages at Grand River and Bay of Quinte.

Captain John told the assembly gathered, “Captain Isaac and Captain Aaron, with their parties intended to kill Captain Brant, and took arms for that purpose, and they left the Grand River in consequence of that dispute.”

Lord Dorchester tried to explain to Captain Isaac and Captain Aaron that he could not believe the allegations, and that trouble makers were stirring up detention, naming a certain Hill family as its source.

Captain Isaac and Captain Aaron told Dorchester that the dispute at Grand River was in consequence of Captain Brant bringing white people to settle on their lands. Dorchester told them if that was the case of disagreement, he could easily settle it by ordering all the whites off of the Haldimand Tract. There were attempts made to do that but only half hearted ones that never really worked, resulting in hundreds of unwanted white squatters and their black slaves were pouring in faster than ever.

Perhaps Brant heard about the plot to assassinate him, but coincidentally at the same time, Brant was given the Burlington tract he built a home on and resided there among a large contingent of British ex-patriots and soldiers for protection until his death in 1807. It was while in Burlington, Brant and his eldest son Isaac got into a heated argument, of which there is no record of the issues discussed, a drunken Isaac is said to have pulled a knife on his warrior father who instinctively struck Issac with a war club and killed him.

But was Isaac being paid as an assassin? Since Brant was now so heavily protected and Isaac had full access to his father, maybe one day a document like this one will surface that will answer that question, one way or another.

The bottom line is, Joseph Brant was not assassinated and history picks up the story from here.

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