Molly Brant - Influential Mohawk Woman

Molly Brant (1736 - April 16, 1796) is today remembered as one of the most prominent Mohawk women in the era of the late 18th century. During the time of the American war of Independence, she provided her support to her famous brother Joseph Brant and worked as a translator, diplomat and stateswoman in the British office of Indian Affairs. She remained ignored for many years by the historians of the United States, until late 20th century where interest in her rose significantly.

Much information about early life of Molly Brant (originally named Mary) remains unknown today. In Mohawk language she was called Konwatsi'tsiaienni "Someone Lends Her a Flower" and Degonwadonti "Two Against One". Molly was born around 1736, most probably in Mohawk village of Canajoharie by the Christian parents of Margaret and Cannassware (some claim that his name was Peter). After her father died, Margaret became married to Mohawk Chief Brant Kanagaradunkwa of the Turtle Clan. To reinforce their connection with stepfather, both Molly and Joseph took his surname as their own. One documented event of her youth tells of her voyage to the Philadelphia, where her stepfather and delegation of Mohawk elders discussed fraudulent land sale with American colonial leaders.

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During late 1750s, Molly started relationship with General Sir William Johnson, superintendent for the British Northern Indian Affairs who often visited Canajoharie and stayed in the house of the Chief Brant. In 1759, she gave birth to his first son Peter Warren Johnson, and in total, she gave birth to the nine children (eight of them living past the infancy). After leaving Canajoharie, she lived with the Sir Williamat Fort Johnson and after 1763 in Johnson Hall. During her stay there, she worked as a "housekeeper", effectively running the entire household, surrounding estate, served as hostess, and supervised the female servants and slaves. After the death of William Johnson in 1774, Molly returned with children to her birth town of Canajoharie, bringing with her money, personal belongings and slaves left for her in Johnson's will.

Molly Brant lived comfortably in Canajoharie until the start of the American Revolution. During those early years, she was under constant harassment from the local Patriots. Turning point came two years into the war in 1777, when Molly found out the plan of the siege of the Fort Stanwix. She alerted the Mohawks and British of this fact, and their army successfully defeated Patriot militia at the Battle of Oriskany. To retaliate for her actions, American army attacked the Canajoharie and pillaged it, but Molly managed to flee in Iroquois capitalOnondaga with her children. After the battle, members of Iroquois tribes held a meeting where they discussed what course to take. After the initial urging of Seneca chiefSayenqueraghta to withdraw from war, Molly Brant entered into discussion criticizing his advice. According to the writings of English official Daniel Claus, passionate talk of Molly Brant carried great weight in the council. It's worth mentioning that he Iroquois union (also called "Six Nations", formed from the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Seneca nations) had the matrilineal tradition in which political input from women was respected. Molly, stepdaughter of the famous Turtle clan Chief, and widow of the important British official carried great influence among her people.

After serving the British army as a diplomat and translator in the American War of the Independence, Molly settled Cataraqui (Kingston, Ontario) where she lived until her death in 1796, at the age of 60. In the recent decades, Molly received several honors. She was included into Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

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