You are here:

Letter to the Chief of the Mohawk Nation

Letter to the Chief of the Mohawk Nation
Sir, Ten days ago I was not aware that such a person existed as the son of the Indian leader Brant who is mentioned in my poem "Gertrude of Wyoming." Last week, however, Mr. S. Bannister of Lincoln's Inn, called to inform me of your being in London, and of your having documents in your possession which he believed would change my opinion of your father's memory, and induce me to do it justice. Mr. Bannister distinctly assured me that no declaration of my sentiments on the subject was desired but such as should spontaneously flow from my own judgment of the papers that were to be submitted to me.

I could not be deaf to such an appeal. It was my duty to inspect the justification of a man whose memory I had reprobated, and I felt a satisfaction at the prospect of his character being redressed, which was not likely to have been felt by one who had wilfully wronged it. As far as any intention to wound the feelings of the living was concerned, I really knew not, when I wrote my poem, that the son and daughter of an Indian chief were ever likely to peruse it, or be affected by its con-tents. And I have observed most persons to whom I have mentioned the circumstance of your appeal to me, smile with the same surprise which I experienced on first receiving it.

With regard to your father's character I took it as I found it in popular history. Among the documents in his favour I own that you have shewn me one which I regret that I never saw before, though I might have seen it, viz. the Duke of Rochefoucaules honourable mention of the chief in his travels. Without meaning, however, in the least to invalidate that nobleman's respectable authority, I must say, that even if I had met with it, it would have still offered only a general and presumptive vindication of your father, and not such a specific one as I now recognize. On the other hand, judge how naturally I adopted accusations against him which had stood in the Annual Register of 1779, as far as I knew, uncontradicted for thirty years. A number of authors had repeated them with a confidence which beguiled at last my suspicion, and I believe that of the public at large.

Among those authors were Gordon, Ramsay, Marshall, Beisham, and Weld. The most of them, you may tell me perhaps, wrote with zeal against the American war. Well, but Mr. John Adolphus was never suspected of any such zeal, and yet he has said in his History of England, &c. (vol. iii. p. 110) " that a force of sixteen hundred savages and Americans in disguise, headed by an Indian Col. Butler, and a half Indian of extraordinary ferocity named Brandt, lulling the fears of the inhabitants (of Wyoming) by treachery, suddenly possessed themselves of two forts, and massacred the garrisons." He says farther, " that all were involved in unsparing slaughter, and that even the devices of torment were exhausted." He possessed, if I possessed them, the means of consulting better authorities; yet he has never to my knowledge made any atonement to your father's memory.

When your Canadian friends, therefore, call me to trial for having defamed the warrior Brant, I beg that Mr. John Adolphus may be also included in the summons. And after his own defence and acquittal, I think he is bound, having been one of my historical misleaders, to stand up as my gratuitous counsel, and say, " Gentlemen, you must acquit my client, for he has only fallen into an error, which even my judgment could not escape. In short, I imbibed my conception of your father from accounts of him that were published when I was scarcely out of my cradle.—And if there were any public, direct and specific challenges to those accounts in England ten years ago, I am yet to learn where they existed. I rose from perusing the papers you submitted to me certainly with an altered impression of his character.

I find that the unfavourable accounts of him were erroneous, even on points not immediately connected with his reputation. It turns out, for instance, that he was a Mohawk Indian of unmixed parentage. This circumstance, however, ought not to be overlooked in estimating the merits of his attainments. He spoke and wrote our language with force and facility, and had en-larged views of the union and policy of the Indian tribes. A gentle-man who had been in America, and from whom I sought information respecting him in consequence of your interesting message, told me that though he could not pretend to appreciate his character entirely, he had been struck by the naivete and eloquence of his conversation. They had talked of music, and Brant said, "I like the harpsichord well, and the organ still better ; but I like the drum and trumpet best of all, for they make my heart beat quick." This gentleman also described to me the enthusiasm with which he spoke of written records.

Brant projected at that time to have written a History of the Six Nations. The genius of history should be rather partial to such a man. I find that when he came to England, after the peace of 1783, the most distinguished individuals of all parties and professions treated him with the utmost kindness. Among these were the late Bishop of Lon-don, the late Duke of Northumberland, and Charles Fox. Lord Rawdon, now Marquess of Hastings, gave him his picture.

This circumstance argues recommendations from America founded in personal friendship. In Canada the memorials of his moral character represent it as naturally ingenuous and generous. The evidence afforded Induces me to believe that he often strove to mitigate the cruelty of Indian warfare. Lastly, you affirm that he was not within many miles of the spot when the battle which decided the fate of Wyoming took place, and from your offer of reference to living witnesses I cannot but admit the assertion. Had I learnt all this of your father when I was writing my poem, he should not have figured in it as the hero of mischief. I cannot, indeed, answer by anticipation what the writers who have either to retract or defend what they may have said about him, may have to allege ; I can only say that my own opinion about him is changed. I am now inclined exceedingly to doubt Mr. Weld's anecdote, and for this reason: Brant was not only trusted, consulted, and distinguished by several eminent British officers in America, but personally beloved by them. Now I could conceive men in power, for defensible reasons of state politics, to have officially trusted and even publicly distinguished at courts or levees an active and sagacious Indian chief, of whose private character they might nevertheles's still entertain a very indifferent opinion. But I cannot imagine high-minded and high-bred British officers, forming in-dividual and fond friendships for a man of feiocious character. It comes within .my express knowledge that the late General Sir Charles Stuart, fourth son of the Earl of Bute, the father of our present ambassador at Paris, the officer who took Minorca and Calvi, and who commanded our army in Portugal, knew your father in America, often slept under the same tent with him, and had the warmest regard for him.

It seems but charity to suppose the man who attracted the esteem of Lord Rawdon and General Stuart, to have possessed amiable qualities, so that I believe you when you affirm that he was merciful as brave. And now I leave the world to judge whether the change of opinion, with which I am touched, arises from false delicacy and flexibility of mind, or from a sense of honour and justice. Here, properly speaking, ends my reckoning with you about your father's memory : but, as the Canadian newspapers have made some remarks on the subject of Wyoming, with which I cannot fully coin-cide, and as this letter will probably be read in Canada, I cannot con-clude it without a few more words, in case my silence should seem to admit of propositions which are rather beyond the stretch of my creed. I will not, however, give any plain truths which I hive to of-fer to the Canadian writers the slightest seasoning of bitterness, for they have alluded to me, on the whole, in a friendly and liberal tone.

But when they regret my departure from historical truth, I join in their regret only in as far as I have unconsciously misunderstood the character of Brant, and the share of the Indians in the transaction, which I have now reason to suspect was much less than that of the White men. In other circumstances I took the liberty of a versifier to run away from fact into fancy, like a school-boy who never dreams that be is a truant when he rambles on a holiday from school. It seems however, that I falsely represented Wyoming to have been a terrestrial paradise. It was not so, say the Canadian papers, because it con-tained a great number of Tories; and undoubtedly that cause goes far to account for the fact. Earthly paradises, however, are not earthly things, and Tempe and Arcadia may have had their drawbacks on hap-piness as well as Wyoming.

I must nevertheless still believe that it was a flourishing colony, and that its destruction furnished a just warning to human beings against war and revenge. But the whole catastrophe is affirmed. in a Canadian newspaper to have been nothing more than a fair battle. If this be the fact, let accredited signatures come forward to attest it and vindicate the innocence and honourableness of the whole transaction? as your father's character has been vindicated. An error about him by no means proves the whole account of the business to be a fiction. Who would not wish its atrocity to be disproved? But who can think it disproved by a single defender, who writes anony-mously, and without definable weight or authority? In another part of the Canadian newspapers, my theme has been regretted as dishonourable to England. Then it was, at all events, no

fable. But how far was the truth dishonourable to England ? American settlers, and not Englishmen, were chiefly the white men calling them-. selves Christians who were engaged in this affair. I shall be reminded, perhaps, that they also called themselves Loyalists. But for Heaven's sake let not English loyalty be dragged down to palliate atrocities, or English delicacy be invoked t9 conceal them. I may he told that England permitted the war, and was therefore responsible for its occur-rences. Not surely universally, nor directly. I should be unwilling to make even Lord North's administration answerable for all the ac-tions of Butler's rangers; and I should be still more sorry to make MI England amenable either for Lord North's administration or for Butler's rangers. Was the American war an unanimous and heartfelt war of the people? Were the best patriots and the brightest luminaries of our Senate for, or against it ? Chatham declared that if America fell she would fall like the strong man—that she would embrace the pillars of our constitution and perish beneath its ruins. Burke, Fox, and Barr& kindled even the breasts of St. Stephen's chapel against it ; and William Pitt pronounced it a war against the sacred cause of Liberty. If so, the loss of our colonies was a blessing, compared with the triumph of those principles that would have brought Washington home in chains. If Chatham and Pitt were our friends in denouncing the injustice of this war, then Washington was only nominally our foe in resisting it and he was as much the enemy of the worst enemies of our constitution, as if he had fought against the return of the Stuarts on the banks of the Spey or the Thames.

I say, therefore, with full and free charity to those who think differently, that the American war was disgraceful only to those who were its abettors, and that the honour of Englishmen is redeemed in proportion as they deprecate its principles and deplore its details. Had my theme even involved English character more than it does, I could still defend it. If my Canadian critic alleges that a poet may not blame the actions of his country, I meet his allegation, and deny it. No doubt, a poet ought not for ever to harp and carp upon the faults of his country; but he may be her moral censor, and he must not be her para-site. If an English poet under Edward HI. had only dared to leave one generous line of commiseration to the memory of Sir William Wal-lace, how much he would have raised our estimation of the moral cha-racter of the age!

There is a present and a future in national charac-ter, as well as a past, and the character of the present age is best pro-vided for by impartial and generous sentiments respecting the past. The twentieth century will not think the worse of the nineteenth for regretting the American war. I know the slender importance of my own works. I am contending, however, against a false principle of de-licacy that would degrade poetry itself if it were adopted ;—but it never will be adopted. I therefore regret nothing in the historical allusions of my poem, except the mistake about your father. Nor, though I have spoken freely of American affairs, do I mean to deny that your native tribes may have had a just cause of quarrel with the American colonists. And I regard it as a mark of their gratitude that they adhered to the royal cause, because the governors acting in the king's name, had been their most constant friends, and the colonial subjects, possibly at times their treacherous invaders.

I could say much of European injustice towards your tribes, but in spite of all that I could say, I must stilt deplore the event of Christians having adopted their mode of warfare, and, as circumstances then stood, of their having invoked their alliance. If the Indians thirster' for vengeance on the colonists, that should have been the very circumstance to deter us from blending their arms with ours. I trust you will understand this declaration to be made in the spirit of frankness, and not of mean and inhospitable arrogance. If I were to vtak to you in that spirit, how easily and how truly could you tell me that the American Indians have departed faster from their old practices of warfare, than Christians have departed from their habits of religious persecution. If I were to preach to you about European huma-nity, you might ask roe how long the ashes of the Inquisition have been cold, and whether the slave-trade be yet abolished ? You might demand, how many—no, how few generations have elapsed since our old women were burnt for imaginary commerce with the devil, and whether the houses be not yet standing from which our great-grandmothers may have looked on the hurdles passing to the place of execution, whilst they blessed themselves that they were not witches I A horrible occurrence of this nature took place in Scot-fluid during my own grandfather's life-time.

As to warlike customs, I should be exceedingly sorry if you were to press me even on those of my brave old ancestors, the Scottish Highlanders. I can, neverthe-less, recollect the energy, faith, and hospitality of those ancestors, and at the same time I am not forgetful of the simple virtues of yours.• I have been thus special in addressing you from a wish to vindicate my own consistency, as well as to do justice to you in your present circumstances, which are peculiarly and publicly interesting. The chief of an aboriginal tribe, now settled under the protection of oar sovereign in Canada, you are anxious to lead on your people in a train of civilization that is already begun. It is impossible that the British community should not be touched with regard for an Indian stranger of respectable private character, possessing such useful and honourable views. Trusting that you will amply succeed in them, and long live to promote improve-ment and happiness amidst the residue of your ancient race, I remain, your sincere well-wisher, Timm/Ls CAMPBELL.

The name bas been almost always inaccurately spelt Brandt in English books. t The following testimony is borne to his fait name by Rochefoucault, whose ability and means of forming a correct judgment will not be denied. " Colonel Brandt is an Indian by birth. In the American war he fought under the English banner, and he has since been in England, where he was most graciously received by the king, and met with a kind reception from all classes of people. His man-ners are semi-European. He is attended by two negroes ; has established himself in the English way ; has a garden and a farm ; dresses after the Eurbpettn fashion ; and nevertheless possesses much intuence over the Indians. He assists at present (1795) at the Miami Treaty, which the United States are concluding with the western Indians. He is also much respected by the Americans ; and in general bears so excellent a name, that I regret I could not see and become acquainted with him.'—Rochefoucaules Travels in North America.

Consideriagthe filial motives of the young chiefs appeal to me, I am not afraid that any part of this letter, immediately relating to him, will be thought os-tentatious or prolix. And if charitably judged, I hope that what I have said of my. self and of my poem will not be Mt as offensive egoti3m. The public has never been troubled with any defences of mine against any attacks on ray poetry that were merely literary : although I may have been as far as authors generally me from bowing to the justice of hostile criticism. To :thew that I have not been Over-anxious about publicity, I must mention a misrepresentation respecting my poem on Wyoming which I have suffered to remain uncontradicted for ten years. Mr. Washington Irving, in a biographical sketch prefixed to it in an American edition, described me as having injured the composition of the poem by skewing it to friends who struck out its best passages. Now I read it to very few friends, and to none at whose suggestion I ever struck out a single line. Nor did I ever lean on the taste of others with that miserable distrust of my own judgment which the anecdote conveys. I knew that Mr. Irving was the last man in the world to make such a mierepreeenution intentionally, and that I could easily contradict it ; but from aversion to bring a petty anecdote about myself before the world, I forbore to say any thing about it. The case was different when a Canadian writer hinted at the patriotism of my subject. There he touched on my principles, and I have de-fended them, contending that on the supposition of the story of 1Vyoming being true, it is a hither compliment to British feeling to reveal than to palliate or hide it.

Article Types: 
Native American Tribes: 

About Us is a place where we find interesting historical stories and present those stories here.


Subscribe to Syndicate