Joseph Brant's Flintlock Pistols

Joseph Brant's duelling pistols were originally made for the Duke of Northumberland. Yet these guns represent Haudenosaunee sovereignty. The name Haudenosaunee refers to the Six Nations, also known as Iroquoian people.

In 1791 the Duke gave them to Joseph Brant, a Mohawk war chief who fought for the British during the American Revolutionary War. The Mohawk Nation was (and is today) one of the Six Nations.

At this time, all land claims had been established with the British Crown. Joseph Brant knew that the 13 colonies were not going to respect those agreements if they won their war of independence. Therefore Brant believed that fighting on the side of the British was the only way to protect Haudenosaunee land claims.

Brant was an extremely important British ally. Proof of his status amongst the British can be found in this gift. Pistols like these would only be given to a sovereign leader or to high-ranking royalty. These pistols were given to Brant after the British had lost the American Revolutionary War.

They represented an agreement between Brant and the British. Part of this agreement was the Haldimand Land Grant, along the Grand River in Upper Canada (now Ontario).

After the war, Brant and many First Nations people moved from Ohio to the Grand River. Not all Iroquoian People who came to Canada in the aftermath of the American Revolution were followers of Brant.

Even though Joseph Brant was a Mohawk war chief, he was not a true chief or sachem because he was not born into a sachem blood line, which follows the mother’s side. Therefore regardless of his popularity with the British he could never be a true Mohawk chief.

The original Haldimand land grant was quite large. The First Nations people occupied only a small area of this grant. Joseph Brant leased off some of the unused portions of land.

The controversy started here, because leasing off some of this land did not necessarily please all people of the Six Nations. After Brant’s death, further losses of land took place. Today, the Six Nations reserve is the most populous reserve in Canada, yet it covers less than 5% of the size of the original Haldimand tract.

Controversies over First Peoples’ land in the 18th and 19th centuries continue to influence current land claims all across Canada.
Royal Ontario Museum
Historical Advisor: Keith Jameison: Woodlands Cultural Centre

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