Thayendanégea, from Iroquois thayeñdane-ke, “He Places Two Bets,” was an important Mohawk chief who was born while his parents were on a hunting trip along the Ohio River in 1742. His father was Tehowaghwengaraghkwin, a Mohawk Wolf clan chief, and his mother was a full- or half-blooded Indian. The father died, and his mother remarried an Indian, Nicklaus Brant, hence the English name. Young Joseph grew up at Canajoharie Castle, the family home in the Mohawk Valley. His older sister Molly married Sir William Johnson, an English trader who later became the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs. After his marriage to Molly, Johnson adopted the boy and assumed the responsibility of his education.
Joseph was educated at Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian Charity School in Lebanon, Connecticut, the forerunner of Dartmouth College. There he became a Christian convert, learned to read and write English, and began translating the Bible into the Mohawk language—a project that occupied him intermittently over the balance of his life.
At the age of 13 he joined Johnson’s forces in the Battle of Lake George against the French in 1755, and four years later provide himself an able fighter in the Niagara campaign. In 1763, shortly after leaving school, Brant fought with the British in the war against Pontiac, and by the 1770s he was recognized as a prominent leader in the Iroquois League. He married the daughter of an Oneida chief in 1765.
As the American Revolution began, Brant became secretary to Guy Johnson, appointed as British Superintendent of Indian Affairs following the death of his uncle William. He accompanied Guy Johnson to England in 1775, where Brant was presented at court and had his portrait painted by George Romney. He came home more devoted than ever to the English cause, and ironically, his influence was a contributing factor in the disunity of the Iroquois League during and after the American Revolution. After long debate, the Six Nations divided; the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Mohawk faction joined Brant and the Oneida and Tuscarora people sided with the Americans. Brant was commissioned a British colonel and participated in devastating raids throughout the Mohawk Valley, particularly in the Cherry Valley and at Minisink; he was also a leader at the Battle of Oriskany.
At the end of the war, Brant used his influence to keep peace on the Mohawk frontier and to protect his people from American reprisal. He also tried, although unsuccessfully, to resolve the Iroquois land claims against the new American government. While still a British officer on half pay, Brant returned to England for a visit during which he was rewarded for his efforts with a land grant at Anaquaqua, along the Grand River in Ontario, Canada. He retired at Anaquaqua with his Mohawk followers; other Indians from the League joined the group, and the area subsequently became the Six Nations Reserve.
Brant built the first Episcopal Church in Upper Canada at Brantford (named for him), and devoted his remaining years to translation work. His first wife died, leaving him two children; he married her half-sister, who was childless, and his third wife gave him seven children. He died at Grand River on November 24, 1807, and was buried near the church he built.
While the forces of the American Revolution caused a rupture in the Iroquois League which was never healed, Brant took the course in which he believed, and his loyalty to the British never faltered. He was a complex man—a scholar, translator, man of religion, a highly respected leader of his people, and a courageous, ferocious warrior in wartime.
Source: Great North American Indians by Frederick J. Duckstander