Joseph Brant (1742–1807),
whose Mohawk name was
together, denoting strength.
Oil on canvas, circa 1807
The story of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk American Indian
who fought for the Loyalists during the American War of
Independence has been retold by the Iroquois peoples of
the Six Nations and American Freemasons for centuries,
and today Brant is featured in many Masonic Histories and
is the topic of many websites.
The story that is the most endearing is how Brant,
a Mohawk chief, witnessed an American prisoner give
a Masonic sign and spared the life of his fellow Mason.
This action went down in history, and Brant became the
embodiment of the ‘noble savage’ to Victorian England.
This article will explain the events leading up to this event,
and how Brant, in death, created even more controversy
as the legends of his life grew and expanded.
Brant was born in 1742 in the area around the banks of the
Ohio River. His Indian name was Thayendanegea, meaning
‘he places two bets’ and as a child he was educated at Moor’s
Charity School for Indians in Lebanon, Connecticut, where
he learned English and European History. He became a
favourite of Sir William Johnson, who had taken Brant’s
sister Molly as a mistress, although they were married
later after Johnson’s wife died. Johnson was the British
Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs, and became
close to the Mohawk people, and enlisted their allegiance
in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, with a young
Brant taking up arms for the British.
After the war, Brant found himself working as an
interpreter for Johnson. He had worked as an interpreter
before the war and converted to Christianity, a religion
which he embraced. He translated the Prayer Book and
the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language, other
translations included the Acts of the Apostles and a short
history of the Bible.
Around 1775, after being appointed secretary to Sir
William’s successor, Guy Johnson, Brant received a Captain’s
commission in the British Army and set off for England,
where he became a Freemason and confirmed his attachment
to the British Crown.
Brant was raised in Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge No. 814
in London, early in 1776, although his association with the
Johnson family may have been an influence in his links to
Freemasonry. Guy Johnson, whose family had Masonic links,
had accompanied Brant on his visit to England. Hiram’s
Cliftonian Lodge had been founded in 1771, and during
Brant’s visit to the Lodge, it had met at the Falcon in Princes
Street, Soho. The Lodge was erased in 1782. Brant’s Masonic
apron was, according to legend, personally presented to him
by George III.
On his return to America, Brant became a key figure in
securing the loyalty of other Iroquois tribes in fighting for
the British against the ‘rebels’, and it was during the war
that Joseph Brant entered into Masonic legend. After the
surrender of the ‘rebel’ forces at the Battle of the Cedars on
the St. Lawrence River in 1776, Brant famously saved the life
of a certain Captain John McKinstry, a member of Hudson
Lodge No.13 of New York, who was about to be burned
at the stake.
McKinstry, remembering that Brant was a Freemason,
gave to him the Masonic sign of appeal which Brant
recognized, an action which secured McKinstry’s release and
subsequent good treatment. McKinstry and Brant remained
friends for life, and in 1805 he and Brant together visited the
Masonic Lodge in Hudson, New York, where Brant was
given an excellent reception. Brant’s portrait now hangs in