Molly Brant, also known as Koñwatsi-tsiaiéñni is a generally unrecognized Canadian Heroine. She is most often recognized in reference to her brother, Joseph Brant, leader of the Mohawk people and founder of Brantford. She was, however, famous in her own right, and played an important role in both Native and British culture in Kingston during the Loyalist period.
Molly Brant, also known as Koñwatsi-tsiaiéñni is a generally unrecognized Canadian Heroine. She is most often recognized in reference to her brother, Joseph Brant, leader of the Mohawk people and founder of Brantford. She was, however, famous in her own right, and played an important role in both Native and British culture in Kingston during the Loyalist period.

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

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 Hal Read More
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.

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

Through the early part of the American Revolution, Molly Brant sheltered and fed loyalists, and sent arms and ammunition to those who were fighting for the King. She is also said to have conveyed intelligence to the British military which resulted in the successful route of American forces at Oriskany in 1777.1 Such actions, along with the advancing patriots, ultimately left her no choice but to flee, as many others had done before her. She left the Mohawk Valley with her family, two male slaves and two female servants in 1777, and went to Fort Niagara. Her younger children were then sent to school in Montreal.2
 
Now, more than ever, Molly was expected to use her influence over the Mohawk warriors. She was an intelligent woman, and she used the colonial administration to increase her own political power and to promote the interests of her people. The government similarly used her as an instrument of political control.3 In describing a large Iroquois force that had gathered at Carleton Island, the commander of the fort indicated that "their uncommon good behaviour [was] in great measure to be ascribed to Miss Molly Brant's influ Read More
Through the early part of the American Revolution, Molly Brant sheltered and fed loyalists, and sent arms and ammunition to those who were fighting for the King. She is also said to have conveyed intelligence to the British military which resulted in the successful route of American forces at Oriskany in 1777.1 Such actions, along with the advancing patriots, ultimately left her no choice but to flee, as many others had done before her. She left the Mohawk Valley with her family, two male slaves and two female servants in 1777, and went to Fort Niagara. Her younger children were then sent to school in Montreal.2
 
Now, more than ever, Molly was expected to use her influence over the Mohawk warriors. She was an intelligent woman, and she used the colonial administration to increase her own political power and to promote the interests of her people. The government similarly used her as an instrument of political control.3 In describing a large Iroquois force that had gathered at Carleton Island, the commander of the fort indicated that "their uncommon good behaviour [was] in great measure to be ascribed to Miss Molly Brant's influence over them, which [was] far superior to that of all their Chiefs put together".4 Throughout the war, Molly continued to use her influence to steady the warriors, bolster their morale, and strengthen their loyalty to the King.5

After the war, no provision was made for the Iroquois in the Treaty of Paris of 1783: they were left to conduct their own negotiations.6 It is known that Joseph Brant petitioned Governor Haldimand on behalf of the Iroquois; it has also been suggested that Molly used her influence on behalf of her people at this time.7 Eventually, land on the Bay of Quinte was granted to the Iroquois; not all were satisfied, however, and additional lands on the Grand River were requested.8 The Mohawk who had travelled to Montreal during the war settled on the Bay of Quinte, where they were led by John Deserontyou, while those who had been refugees at Fort Niagara went with Joseph Brant to the Grand River.9
  1. Graymont, 1981: 26; Green, 1989: 239-40.
  2. Johnson Hall State Historic Site.
  3. Green, 1989: 240.
  4. Wilson, 1976: 56; Johnson Hall State Historic Site.
  5. Graymont, 1981: 31.
  6. Tooker, 1981: 12; Petrie, 1978: 39; Quinn, 1980: 77.
  7. Green, 1989: 241.
  8. Wilson, 1976: 57; Petrie, 1978: 39-43.
  9. Tooker, 1976: 12.

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

It was decided in 1783 that the site of the old French fort at Cataraqui, originally selected for the Iroquois, would be a good place for the settlement of the other Loyalists. Arrangements were made for the movement of troops, equipment, and even buildings from Carleton Island, located on the American side of the new border. It was at this time that Molly decided to settle at Cataraqui.1 She received a substantial military pension for her service to the King during the war, an amount of £100.2 In a letter dated September 10, 1783, from Major Mathews to Governor Haldimand, no objection is voiced to Molly Brant's request to have a house built for her.3 Molly lived in the barracks until the house was complete.

Unlike the other Loyalists, Molly did not have to draw for lots. The property that she was assigned was Farm Lot A in Kingston Township, along the northern limit of the town. It was only 116 acres instead of the standard 200 acres because it was encroached upon by the Clergy Reserve.4 She was however, as dispossessed as the rest of them: it is probable that she would have arrived with very few personal items.
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It was decided in 1783 that the site of the old French fort at Cataraqui, originally selected for the Iroquois, would be a good place for the settlement of the other Loyalists. Arrangements were made for the movement of troops, equipment, and even buildings from Carleton Island, located on the American side of the new border. It was at this time that Molly decided to settle at Cataraqui.1 She received a substantial military pension for her service to the King during the war, an amount of £100.2 In a letter dated September 10, 1783, from Major Mathews to Governor Haldimand, no objection is voiced to Molly Brant's request to have a house built for her.3 Molly lived in the barracks until the house was complete.

Unlike the other Loyalists, Molly did not have to draw for lots. The property that she was assigned was Farm Lot A in Kingston Township, along the northern limit of the town. It was only 116 acres instead of the standard 200 acres because it was encroached upon by the Clergy Reserve.4 She was however, as dispossessed as the rest of them: it is probable that she would have arrived with very few personal items.

Historical records and recent writings present Molly Brant as a strong individual who retained her native heritage throughout her life, often to the disdain of her European contemporaries. Molly is a controversial figure because she was both pro-British and pro-Iroquois. She insisted on speaking Mohawk, she dressed in Mohawk style throughout her life, and she encouraged her children to do the same. She argued on behalf of the Iroquois before, during, and after the American Revolution. She sheltered and fed her people. She complained when she thought the government was ignoring the Iroquois.5

On April 16, 1796, at the age of about 60, Molly Brant, a true Canadian Heroine, died. She was laid to rest in the burial ground of St. George's Church in Kingston.

More than 200 years after her death, we should continue to honour this exceptional woman. In the words of Ian Wilson, in a past tribute to Molly Brant, "Posterity has done scant justice to this remarkable woman. In her life time she commanded respect from Indian and white alike. Soldiers, statesmen, governors and generals wrote her praise. Her life from the Ohio and Mohawk Valleys to Kingston was not easy. It was fraught with danger and uncertainty and little seemed settled. She survived this turmoil with dignity, honour and distinction as a mother and a leader."6
  1. Quinn, 1980: 78-79; Green, 1989: 241.
  2. Green, 1989: 241; Thomas, 1989: 146; Graymont, 1979: 418.
  3. Cruikshank and Watt, 1984: 108.
  4. Bazely, 1993: 4.
  5. Green, 1989: 241.
  6. Wilson, 1976: 57.

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

1Molly Brant, Canadian Postage Stamp Image

Molly Brant, Canadian Postage Stamp Image

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Where Molly Brant Lived

Where Molly Brant Lived. Access a larger version of this image.

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Privy, Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Privy, Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Corner of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, Partial Foundation, 1989 Excavation

Corner of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, Partial Foundation, 1989 Excavation

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Ivory Toothbrush from the Privy of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Ivory Toothbrush from the Privy of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Buttons from the Privy of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Buttons from the Privy of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Mug from the Privy of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Mug from the Privy of Molly Brant's House in Kingston, 1989 Excavation

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Susan Bazely, Hannah Roth

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


Learning Objectives

  1. Examine the changes in aboriginal culture after French and British contact within the Kingston context.
  2. Learn about the effect the fur trade had upon the economic organization of the Aboriginal communities, looking specifically at the role that Molly Brant played in the relationship between Native Canadian and British cultures.
  3. Research and consider the effect that contact with First Nations had on the development of Canadian culture and identity with reference to Kingston's evolution from a fur trading outpost to a thriving commercial and political centre for the country.

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