Joseph Brant (Thayendanagea)
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

Joseph Brant. as painted by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), in 1789.
Courtesy of the New York Stare Historical Association, in Cooperstown, New York.

Joseph Brant, a Mohawk, was the grandson of a recognized leader (one member of "The Four Indian Kings"). His grandfather, Sagayeathquapiethtow (portrait below), went to England, in 1710, to visit Queen Anne, and they were all well received. Sagayeathquapiethtow was painted by four different British artists, in his regalia, and copies of these paintings hang in art museums still today.

Another one of the Four Indian Kings was Tiyanoga or King Hendrick, as he was called by the Dutch (Germans).

Joseph Brant's mother's family lineage is not known. She was known as "Owandah" or Sagetageatat [which means "wife of Sagayeathquapiethtow."

As the Mohawk were a matrilineal culture, he was born into his mother's Wolf Clan. Anglican Church records at Fort Hunter, New York, noted that his parents were Christians and their names were Peter and Margaret Tehonwaghkwangearahkwa. His father died before 1753. After his father's death, his mother Margaret (Owandah), the niece of Tiaogeara[citation needed], a Caughnawaga sachem, returned to the province of New York from Ohio with Joseph and his older sister Mary (also known as Molly). They settled in Canajoharie, a Mohawk village on the Mohawk River, where they had lived before.

There are some myths about his mother being English. These myths are not true. We do know that Joseph's mother Margaret married four times to men of various stature within Mohawk society. Margaret's fourth husband was a sachem. Her third husband, Lykas (d. 1750), was a well-known Mohawk. Lykas was called a "Principal man," [sic], in war records, and he died fighting the Catawbas.

Margaret Brant was widowed four times and later in life she had to enter the local liquor trade. She sold liquor, in her village, to pay for her and her children, this was before husband four. Then in 1752, when ginseng became popular in world trade, Margaret Brant collected all the wild ginseng that grew on Mohawk land and sold it. Ginseng was highly prized, at this time. This was a cash crop.

Ginseng is a herb, a shrub, whose aromatic roots are used in medicine. American ginseng (Panax quinquwfolium) is the variety she harvested. The Chinese imported large quantities of the wild American variety of ginseng to supplement their own diminishing supplies in the orient. "The trading began as a direct consequence of correspondence between two Jesuit priests. A Canadian priest was living in China. He sent a sample Chinese root to a fellow Jesuit, Father Lafiteu, in Montreal" (Kruger). Father Lafit then began exporting American ginseng, to China, in 1718. This trade was lucrative until the end of the nineteenth century when the American supply also became scarce.

The Chippewa and Ojibway used the ginseng root to relieve nausea, and as an ingredient in love potions. Wild American ginseng was native to cool wooded areas in the north east. Today American ginseng is cultivated commercially in Marathon, Wisconsin. The Chinese thought their own Oriental ginseng was more potent.

Margaret's involvement in the ginseng trade raised no eyebrows, but the Anglican clergy did frown upon Margaret's livelihood, of selling liquor, as being sinful. Margaret, a former Huron, did not have a family to help her live, so she had to do what she could to remain alive, while she was a widow. The Iroquois and the Church both had issues, as alcohol ruined many native's lives.

The Anglican Church refused to baptize Margaret's last son, until she confessed, repented, and shunned her sinful ways. Margaret and Brant were already married in the Indian way. Margaret, a devout Christian, then was able to marry, in the church, to her last husband, Sachem Brant Canagaradunska. Brant was responsible for aiding in the education of Margaret's children. However, he was supposed to marry his deceased wife's sister, as is custom, since she was a widow. This tainted their marriage in the eyes of the tribe. Apparently, later Brant later made amends? Brant Canagaraduncka died during the mid-1760's, but the family remained in his home. Joseph lived in his stepfather's home for some time. The house was always full of people. relatives, and friends (both white and Indian). The only thing that remained of this home was a cellar, which still stood there until 1878. The house was located on a hill near the home of William Johnson. This was in the village of Canajoharie. Canajorie Castle, as it was called by the English, was run by Seth Tekarihoga, head chief/sachem of the Turtle Tribe.

Near the mouth of Schoharie Creek was the Indian village of Tiononderoga (Fort Hunter). My Crysler family lived in Schoharie for some time. Margaret Brant's death is not clear. She did not ask for compensation, after the war in 1784, so it is thought that she died before this. Guy Johnson (a nephew of William Johnson) mentions Margaret Brant, in his records, on January 8, 1780. Colonel Guy succeeded William as Indian Superintendent. It was noted that Guy gave Joseph Brant's mother some "handsome clothing." Margaret Brant was said to have given her son her courage and indomitable character. She left her son, Joseph, her old Mohawk prayerbook, which Joseph later gave to the Moravian Missionary, Gottlieb Sensemann. The prayerbook was cherished by Margaret even though she could not read it, and it was passed among her children.

Joseph Brant rarely spoke in the idiom of his people, since he was schooled in English schools. His tuition was paid for by Brant Canagaraduncka. Brant Canagaraduncka gave him his surname. One must remember that in Mohawk society that it is the mother that has the hereditary gene, not the father. Matrilineal societies are run by women. Hereditary chiefs were chosen from certain leading Mohawk families. Since his mother's family were not really Mohawk, she had no standing within the tribe. Joseph's mother, baptized Margaret, told him that his Wyandot (Huron)grandmother was captured by the Mohawks and lived her entire life there. Joseph's grandparents were influenced by the French and became Catholics. His grandfather was said to have worn a crucifix around his neck. While Joseph's parents were influenced by the British and thus embraced the Anglican faith.

Joseph's father was named Tehowaghwengaraghkwin, which meant "Man taking off his snowshoes." His father took the Anglican and was baptized as "Peter."

This is a painting by Jan Verelst (1710)
of Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, the
grandfather of Joseph Brant. This painting
is now in the National Archives of Canada.

Thayendanagea (1742-1807) means "bundle of sticks tied together," a name which signifies strength. Later this famous leader was known as Joseph Brant. Thayendanagea was born about March 1742 in Northeastern Ohio, and died in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. He was a Mohawk of the Wolf Clan (his mother's clan). He went to English schools, and became a Christian. In 1775 he went to England to represent the Mohawk Nation. Joseph dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of the Five Nations to be free. He was an intellectual, a military strategist, and a translator of religious documents. Joseph Brant was one of the most famous men of the Five Nations. The Mohawk's fought, on the side of the British in the Revolutionary War. The war began after Brant's fact-finding mission to England. Joseph Brant was no stranger to Washington, D.C. and he was known for his eloquence and good sense. He died in battle on November 24, 1807, and is buried in the graveyard of the Chapel of the Mohawks (near Brantford, Ontario, Canada) on Six Nations Reserve (Oshweken).

Joseph Brant, Hero or Sellout?:

"Critics of Joseph Brant have said that he was 'too English' and adopted British dress and customs, and turned his back on Iroquois traditions, and the Old Religion. Many have said that Brant was wrong to sell thousands of hectares of reserve lands to non-Indians. They felt that all the original grant to the Six Nations People should have been preserved" (Hill, Bruce, Ian Gillen, Glenda MacNaughton, Six Nations Reserve, Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1987, 39).

"Arrogant, noble, principled, devout, courageous, and legendary, a warrior and a sellout-in such contradictory terms did the Six Nations of Grand River use to describe Joseph Brant or Theyendanegea, as he was called by the Mohawks" ( "Brant: A Six Nations Perspective" by Tom hill. Portraits of Thayendanega, Joseph Brant. published by the Burlington Cultural Centre, 1993 and the Government of Canada).

Other legendary heroes such as Hiawatha, Deganawidah, and Handsome Lake are far more respected in the community than Joseph Brant.

. Sir William Johnson. William was born an Irishman. His father was Christopher Johnson was born to minor gentry. Sir William Johnson (Warraghiyagey) was the British Superintendant of Indian Affairs. His name meant "a man who undertakes great things." He married Joseph Brant's half-sister, Molly Brant, in forest fashion. He was then Joseph's brother-in-law. Molly was the daughter of Margaret's first husband, Cannassware. Molly Brant and William Johnson lived at Johnson Hall. They never married but they had eight children. Johnson's married (1) Catherine Weisenburg, his German housekeeper, and she died in 1759. Their marriage produced two children.

Joseph Brant married (1) Margaret or "Peggy," the daughter of Isaac "Dekayenensere" and his wife known as Sophia Nugea, on July 22, 1765. Peggy died in 1771 of TB. (2) Joseph married Suzanna "Dekayenesere" (Peggy's sister) in the winter of 1773. Their children were A. Karaquantier (christened Isaac)who died in 1796, and Christina. (3) Joseph married Catherine "Adonwentischen" Crogham in late 1779, in Ft. Niagara, Ontario, Canada. Their son was born in 1784.

As I said previously, Brant was the descendant of a Huron captive. His father was born Tehonwaghwengaraghkwin (baptized Peter). Joseph's mother, Margaret, was said to be a "woman of high status." This status came after marrying Lykas, her third husband. Her first husband, Cannassware, died young, and they had a daughter, Mary Degonwadonti (meaning "Several Against One"), who was baptized in April 13, 1735. She was later known as "Molly Brant" (they lived in Canajoharie). Joseph's half-brother was born in 1741 and his half-sister in 1742. Both of his half-siblings died young, and are not named in most chronicles of the family.

A sachem, later named Brant of the Turtle Clan, was born Canagaraducka and he fathered a child called Jacob Brant, who was christened on March 4, 1753. Brant Canagaraduncka married Margaret on September 9, 1753.

People say that Margaret's second husband (Joseph's father), Peter Tehowaghwengaraghkwin was a nobody, and so was Margaret, although she raised in tribal standing with each new marriage. This is shown by the fact that none of the high-ups in Mohawk society attended their wedding or the baptisms of their children.

Some records say that Peter Brant was a hero within his tribe, however, we know that Peter was too young to have fought the French in Queen Anne's War of 1702-1713, nor was Peter recorded as having fought in King George's War of 1744-1748. Again, even if Peter had been a hereditary Tekarihoga, the leading sachem of the Mohawks, that would not have helped his son Joseph.

Joseph Brant's mother and father, Margaret and Peter Brant's children were:

  1. Christina Brant - born February 1742.
  2. Joseph Brant was born, in Ohio in March 1743. His name was Thayendanegea ("two sticks of wood bound together"). Many think that both of Joseph's parent's lineage came from Huron captives who married Mohawks. No one knows what status his ancestors might have had among the Huron. Joseph is thought to have been baptized by German clergy. I do know that Joseph Brant was a childhood friend of many of the Cryslers (my own family line.) Adam Crysler, the famous loyalist, in particular. Peter Brant died of an epidemic and left Margaret a widow.

Timeline Relating to the Life of Joseph Brant: