Molly Brant was born in 1736, possibly in the Ohio Valley1 where her family lived for some time. When Peter, her father died, Margaret, her mother returned to Canajoharie with her two children Molly and Joseph where she remarried. Nickus Brant, Molly's step father, owned a substantial frame house, lived and dressed in the European style, and, interestingly enough, included William Johnson, Molly’s future husband, as a close personal friend.2 Molly was well educated in the European ways of life, with her formal education likely taking place in an English mission school, as she learned to speak and write English well.3

Molly married Sir William Johnson. At the time of the birth of their first son Molly was about 23, while Sir William was 44 years old. They had seven more children who survived infancy.4 The family lived first at Fort Johnson, from 1759 to 1763 and then, after it was built, at Johnson Hall from 1763 to 1774.5

It is clear from contemporary records that, for Molly Brant, life at Johnson Hall was far from uncivilized. Her settled and civilized existence contradicted the general view of Natives held by Europeans at the time, a view that perceived Natives as an inferior race and led to their commonly being referred to as savages. Johnson Hall was even more elegant than Fort Johnson, and it was larger.

Aspects of her traditional Mohawk upbringing served her well in her role as Sir William's consort. Iroquois women in their own society enjoyed more power and higher status than did white women in their society.6 Molly was obviously able to successfully transfer both power and status to her position, as she apparently dominated the Johnson household. It has also been suggested that she took responsibility for the daily affairs of the Indian Department when Sir William was away.

A contemporary visitor to Johnson Hall, an English woman, described Molly Brant: "Her features are fine and beautiful; her complexion clear and olive-tinted . . . She was quiet in demeanour, on occasion, and possessed of a calm dignity that bespoke a native pride and consciousness of power. She seldom imposed herself into the picture, but no one was in her presence without being aware of her."7

It is somewhat puzzling to see a prominent, capable woman deviating from the traditions that provided her power and influence. Surely she would have recognized that the acculturation of Mohawk traditions to those of the Europeans would eventually cause the Mohawk to loose both economic power and political influence in their society.8 She was, however, obviously happy with her position in both Mohawk and Colonial society; her influence among the Mohawk people benefitted Sir William in his position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and it is certain that his position enabled her to maintain her power and influence.9

Sir William Johnson died suddenly, in July 1774, at the age of 59.10 Neither the emotional nor the political turmoil in Molly Brant's life at this time can be gauged. It can be assumed that she took this in stride, moving her family of eight children, who ranged in age from infancy to 15 years, to Canajoharie.11 Molly wasted no time in reestablishing her influence among the Mohawk, for she established a trading business immediately.12
  1. Wilson, 1976: 55; Graymont, 1981: 26.
  2. Green, 1989: 236.
  3. Wilson, 1976: 55; Graymont, 1979: 416.
  4. Wilson, 1976: 56; Green, 1989: 246; Graymont, 1979: 417.
  5. Johnson Hall State Historic Site; Wilson, 1976: 56.
  6. Graymont, 1981: 31.
  7. Wilson, 1976: 56; Johnson Hall State Historic Site.
  8. Green, 1989: 236.
  9. Wilson, 1976: 56; Thomas, 1989: 143; Green, 1989: 238; Graymont, 1979: 417; Graymont, 1976: 31.
  10. Wilson, 1976: 56; Thomas, 1989: 143; Green, 1989: 239; Graymont, 1979: 417.
  11. Thomas, 1989: 143; Thomas 1986: 66; Graymont, 1979: 417.
  12. Graymont 1979: 417; Johnson Hall State Historic Site.

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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