Born about 1735 to Christian Mohawk parents in the western Mohawk Valley, Molly Brant’s life of influence began in 1759 when she became the consort of British Indian agent William Johnson.
Bonnie Pulis, who worked at Johnson Hall State Historic Site in Johnstown, and state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation archaeologist Lois Feister-Huey are authors of “Molly Brant: A Legacy of Her Own.” The book was published in 1997 by Old Fort Niagara Association.
Feister-Huey said, “There are certain groups born to power in Iroquois society. Molly Brant was not. She became powerful because of her connections with Sir William Johnson and the British.
“The main reason we wrote the book was to get rid of the legends of Molly Brant as a forest nymph or a concubine.”
William Johnson had one son, John Johnson, with his first wife, Catherine Weissenberg. Weissenberg died the year Molly and William’s first child, Peter Warren Johnson, was born. The child was named for William Johnson’s uncle and patron, Peter Warren.
Initially, Johnson and Brant, sometimes called Mary Brant, lived together at Fort Johnson. Later, they founded Johnson Hall, decorating the mansion with European and Indian objects.
“We know the most about her from this period,” said Feister-Huey. For example, Brant could read and write the Mohawk language. Her letters that have been preserved are English translations.
Feister-Huey said Brant was a liaison between Sir William and the Iroquois, “She and Sir William were useful to each other. People describe them as a love match.”
Pulis said, “As mistress of Johnson Hall she managed 200 slaves and servants, handling 10 to 30 guests at a time.”
Brant and Johnson had eight children who survived into adulthood but their marriage bond “was not viewed as legitimate under English law,” according to the authors.
Sir William died in 1774. He left Johnson Hall to his son by his first wife, John Johnson. Sir William provided substantially for Molly and her children in his will, leaving them money, slaves and land.
After a previous column on the death of William Johnson, Nina Rindenello, who grew up in Johnstown, inquired about the fate of Molly Brant and her eight children. After Sir William died, Brant and her children at first relocated to the western Mohawk Valley. As the American Revolution spread they moved to Canada.
Wanda Burch, former manager of Johnson Hall and vice president of the Hall’s friends’ organization, said that both of Brant’s sons died in combat. Her oldest son, Peter, was killed in 1777 in the Revolution. Her son George died in a later war. Molly died in 1796.
Burch said Molly was influential in the unsuccessful Loyalist fight to put down the revolution. “After the war, [she] settled at Carleton Island with a pension. Several of the girls married military officers. Molly is buried in Brantford, Ontario, and there are quite a number of descendants of Molly’s children among the Six Nations reserve in Canada. They come frequently to Johnson Hall.”
In Canada, Brant is regarded as a founder. No portrait of her exists but a Canadian stamp was issued in 1986 with artist Sara Tyson’s vision of her appearance. That artist’s rendering is on the cover of “Molly Brant: A Legacy of Her Own,” along with portraits of Sir William and Joseph Brant, Molly’s brother, who led Indian troops in devastating frontier raids during the Revolution.
Today, according to Feister-Huey, some Mohawks blame Molly and her brother Joseph for the loss of Indian lands in New York state because the Brants were loyal to the British. Other Mohawks see Molly Brant as someone who made the best of things.
Reach Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.