Joseph Brant was a Native American war chief of the Tribe of Mohawk who sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Born in 1742, while his parents were on a hunting trip, he was born on the banks of the Ohio River. He was named Thayendanega, which means “he places two bets”. While a young man, he became of favorite Sir William Johnson, who was the British superintendent of the northern Indians of America. Sir William Johnson was also a Freemason and a former Provincial Grand Master of the New York Colony. After his wife died in 1759, he married his former mistress, Molly who was Joseph Brant’s sister.
Brant was selected to attend Moors Charity School for Indians which was located in Lebanon, Connecticut. (As an aside, this school would later become Dartmouth College). He learned to speak English and studied Western history and literature. He left school to serve under Sir William during French and Indian war from 1755-1759. After this, he assisted Sir William with running the Indian Department, administered by the British out of Quebec. He also acted as an interpreter for an Anglican Missionary, and helped translate a prayer book and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language. He married in 1768 to Christine, a daughter of an Oneida chief. He then settled with his wife on a farm near Canajoharie.
He continued his translations of Anglican and Biblical text into Mohawk. His wife passed away in 1771, leaving him with a son and a daughter. In 1773, he married his late wife’s sister, Susannah. She passed away a few months later. Both of his wives died due to Tuberculosis. In 1774, Sir William died. He was succeeded by his son, Sir John Johnson, and his son in law, Col. Guy Johnson. Both John and Guy were Freemasons. In August 1775, the confederacy of Six Nations staged a council fire near Albany, after the news of Bunker Hill. After much debate, the decision was made that the war between the British and American Colonists was their own affair, and that the Six Nations should stay out of it. However Brant and the Johnsons were able to influence four tribes to the British Side, namely the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The other two tribes, the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, sided with the Americans.
In 1776, Brant became the principal war chief of the confederacy of Six Nations. He also received a Captain’s commission into the British Army in charge of the Native troops who were loyal to the Crown. Upon receiving his commission, he made his first trip to England. He was made a Freemason "and admitted to the Third Degree" at London, England, on April 26, 1776. This was in a Lodge of the Moderns, the Falcon, in Princess Street, Leicester Fields. He had the distinction of having his Masonic apron given to him from the hand of King George III.
Brant returned from England and saw action in the Battle of Long Island in August 1776. He then snuck back to his homeland. Upon returning to his tribe, he attempted to stir up support for the British cause in the villages in his region. He is linked to participating in several battles in the war, The siege of Ft. Stanwix; Oriskany; the Wyoming Valley of the Upper Susquehanna; Mohawk Valley and German Flats; Cherry Valley; Minesink-Port Jervis; Chemung River-Elmira area; Johnstown; Fort Plain; Fort Clyde; Fort Plank; Mohawk Valley and the Western Frontier, all of which occurred during the six year period from 1775-1781.
However, the incident that Brant is Masonically famous for occurred following the surrender of American Forces at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence River in 1776. Colonel John McKinstry, who lived near Hudson, New York, at the time was a captain of a company in the unfortunate invasion of Canada, by American troops in 1776. At the battle of the Cedars, forty miles above Montreal, in May of that year, in a severe engagement, Captain McKinstry was wounded and taken prisoner by the Native forces. They intended to torture him and/or burn him alive, and had made preparations to do so by tying Captain McKinstry to a tree. McKinstry knew Brant to be a Freemason. He gave the Grand Hailing sign of distress to Brant. Upon seeing this, Brant, with other British officers (one can also assume they were Freemasons), bought an ox which they presented to the Native forces in place of Captain McKinstry. There was then a feast. McKinstry was then given to some English Freemasons, who returned him to the American lines.
After the war, Brant was a warm and devoted friend of McKinstry, making an annual visit at his house near Hudson. Brant strongly urged McKinstry to move and settle near him in Canada, offering to give him five hundred or one thousand acres of land from the grant made to him by the British Government after the close of the war. Brant also would attend the meetings of the Masonic Lodge in Hudson with McKinstry. Brant became affiliated with Lodge No.11 at the Mohawk village at Grand River, of which he was the first Master. He later affiliated with Barton Lodge No. 10 at Hamilton, Ontario. The town of Brantford, Ontario, is named in his honor. Brant died on November 24, 1807, at the age of nearly sixty-five years at his home on Grand River, Ontario. In 1850, the Freemasons restored his tomb, and placed and inscription on it.
WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.