A woman of many dimensions

Daily Reading for April 16 • Mary (Molly) Brant (Konwatsijayenni), Witness to the Faith among the Mohawks, 1796

Very active in the Anglican community in Kingston, Molly Brant was the only woman listed in 1792 in the founding charter of the church. That same year, traveler John C. Ogden saw her there: “We saw an Indian woman, who sat in an honourable place among the English. She appeared very devout during the divine service, and very attentive to the sermon. . . . When Indian embassies arrived, she was sent for, dined at governor Simcoe’s and treated with respect by himself, his lady, and family. . . . She retains the habit of her country women, and is a Protestant.” . . .

Brant was described variously by her contemporaries as handsome, sensible, judicious, political, faithful, prudent, pretty likely (good-looking), well-bred, pleasant, delightful, uncommonly agreeable, understanding, artful, at ease in society, capable of scolding, influential, of great use, large-minded, zealous, possessed of a violent temper, capable of mischief, civil, devout, and respected. This variety of descriptions from the eighteenth century demonstrates that Molly Brant was a woman of many dimensions. As a woman, mother, and political force, she was a legend in her own century. For fifteen years, she was a vital link between her people and Sir William Johnson in the management of Indian affairs. For the next ten years, she acted as an intermediary and conduit between the Iroquois and the British government. At the same time, she had to provide for eight children, see to their educations, and try to regain some of the fortune they had lost. Her choice of political roles during this time is controversial; her success in her domestic role is admirable. Today she is seen by Canadians as a founder of their country. Yet in the United States, her loyalist activities have tended to overshadow her fascinating story. Unlike Pocahontas and Sacajawea, two Native American heroines familiar to the American public, Molly Brant is not yet a highly visible figure.

From “Molly Brant: Her Domestic and Political Roles in Eighteenth-Century New York” by Lois M. Feister and Bonnie Pulis, in Northeastern Indian Lives, 1632-1816, edited by Robert S. Grumet (Amherst, Mass.: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1996).

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