Friday, December 14, 2018

Mary 'Molly' Brant; Hero and Villain of the American Revolution

Molly Brant and her brother Joseph were important characters in the Mohawk Valley of New York before and during the American Revolution. Today most Americans don't recognize their names, but in Canada they are remembered as heroes. Here is a little bit about her fascinating life.

Mary's parent were christian Mohawks living in the Upper Castle, Canajoharie, on the south bank of the Mohawk River. The Native American towns were heavily fortified and the English referred to them as 'Castles.' Her birth year is estimated at 1736, her mother's name was Margaret Sahetagearat Onagsakearat. Her father's name cannot be confirmed but it is possible that she shared a father with her younger brother, Joseph. His father is known to have been Peter Tehowaghwengaraghkwin. The place of her birth is also unknown but has been speculated to have been in Canajoharie. At birth, Mary's Native name was Gonwatsijayenni, which means 'someone lends her a flower.' Later in life she went by Dagonwadonti, 'she against whom rival forces contend'. [1]As the Mohawk are a matrilineal society, children belong to their mother's clan, in this case Mary and Joseph were part of the Wolf Clan.

Peter died in the 1740's leaving Margaret destitute. She had a brief marriage at the end of the 1740's to a War Chief by the name of Lykus, but he was killed in May of 1750 in a raid. In September 1753 Margaret married the man who would lend Mary and Joseph their surname; Brant Kanagaradunka. Brant was a Mohawk sachem from the Turtle Clan, and he was wealthy. [2] Some sources claim that Margaret married Nickus Brant, the son of Brant Kanagaradunka. [3] Barbara Graymont says the stepfather was named Carrihogo, News-Carrier, known to the whites as Bernard, Barnet or Brant. [4] Most source seem to agree that Brant Kanagaradunka was Mary's stepfather. [5]

According to author Peggy Dymond Leavey, Brant built a large house for Margaret in Canajoharie, complete with glass windows and middle-class European furniture. [6] From this point on, Molly and Joseph had a foot in two worlds, their native culture and that of the New York Colony. Her step father and stepbrother Nickus, who one author described as a 'Chief.' had frequent interaction with William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a frequent visitor to Canajoharie. His Native name was Warraghiyageh, "he who does much business'. [7]

middle years

In 1759, 23 year old Molly began a relationship with the much older Sir William Johnson. He his wife, Catherine, had died. It is rumored he married her on her deathbed to legitimize his children by her. There is no proof of an English marriage between William and Molly, but it is possible they had a traditional Mohawk ceremony. In any case she moved into his home, Fort Johnson, and took the running of his household. She was sometime's referred to as the 'Brown Mrs. Johnson'.

Molly gave birth to at least eight children. Sir William eventually built a larger house to show off his status and accommodate his large, and growing family. [8] Together they entertained the leaders of both the Iroquois Confederacy the English Colonies, political, military as well as businessmen. Her home was open to any and all and she and Sir William entertained constantly. In 1763 they moved into the larger, grander Johnson Hall. John Johnson, Sir Williams legitimate son and heir took over Fort Johnson. 

Sir William passed away in 1774. In a way, his death symbolized the death knell of English rule in America.  Already the seeds of revolution were germinating in the thirteen colonies. Molly relinquished control of Johnson's estate to his eldest son and heir, Sir John Johnson and moved with her children to Canajoharie.

american revolution
The American Revolution brought an end to the thousand year old Iroquois Confederacy, splintering the tribes. The Mohawks choose the side of the King. From her home in Canajoharie, Molly kept an eye on the rebel movements. In October 1777 she gave warning to the British of the approach of an American force resulting in the Battle of Oriskany. A band of Oneida's, burnt her house to the ground in retribution. She fled for the safety of the Cayugas, eventually making her way to Fort Niagara. [9]
Molly supported the efforts of her brother Joseph, who lead a group of white Tories and Mohawks. She eventually landed at Carleton Island for the duration of the war, trying to broker peace between unhappy Mohawks and the English.

After the war she was awarded a pension from the crown and settled in Kingston, Ontario, on the mainland. Today, Carleton Island is part of the United States. Five of her daughters married Canadians. She had one son who survived, George, who worked for the Indian Department.

Molly lived in Kingston for the rest of her life. She died in 1796. Sir William's heir attempted to reclaim their lost American property, to no avail.

Blood in the Valley
Blood in the Valley is my next book, in it's final editing stages, it should be available Spring 2019. Molly and her brother feature in this novel set before and during the American Revolution. 


[1] Peggy Dymond Leavey, Molly Brant: Mohawk Loyalist and Diplomat, (Toronto: Dundurn, 2015).

[2] Isabel Thompson Kelsay, Joseph Brant, 1743-1807, Man of Two Worlds, Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.

[3] Marshall, George L, Jr., Chief Joseph Brant: Mohawk, Loyalist, and Freemason:

[4] Barbara Graymont, “THAYENDANEGEA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Universit√© Laval, 2003–, accessed December 13 2018.

[5] James Taylor Carson, "Molly Brant, From Clan Mother to Loyalist Chief," Sifters: Native American Women's Lives, 

[6] Peggy Dymond Leavey, Molly Brant: Mohawk Loyalist and Diplomat, (Toronto: Dundurn, 2015).

[7] Leavey, Molly Brant.

[8] The Editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Mary Brant", Encyclopedia Britannica ( : accessed 13 December 2018).

[9] Carson, Molly Brant.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wikitree Scan-a-Thon January 2019

Calling all hoarders of genealogy docs, old photos, ephemera Wikitree has issued a challenge. Let's get that stuff scanned and uploaded to the cloud and preserve it for future generations. 

the details
Beginning January 11th thru the 14th, that's 72 hours in case you're counting, Wikitree is challenging everyone, to scan and upload their stash of genealogy docs, etc.Volunteers can participate during the 72-hour period by scanning photos and documents in their collection and uploading them to the Internet. Members of WikiTree can register here. Non-WikiTreers can sign up here

There will be live chats to keep everyone encouraged. 

We live in an disposable age, everything gets tossed. What will future generations know about us, who we were, how we lived, what we thought? Let's preserve our past for their future. Scan old letters, post cards, school awards, ticket stubs, photos, anything you have that says this is who I am, who my parents are and who my ancestors were! 

Yes, it's a chore. I spent an entire summer scanning thousands of photos that were my mothers and it was worth every minute. They are all safe in the cloud and even better my family all has access to them at anytime. 

January is a slow month; the frenetic rush of the Christmas holidays is behind us, dreams of distant summer just beginning to form. Take a few hours to contribute to the future of genealogy and family history, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

1718 Scots-Irish Migration: From Londonderry, Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts

If you are interested in early colonial American history then you know of the phenomenon called the Puritan Great Migration which began in 1630 and lasted for 15-20 years. But less than one hundred years later there was a second smaller migration from the North of Ireland that has been labeled the 1718 Migration. The people who made up this migratory group were Scots-Irish or Ulster-Scots as they are called in Ireland today. This year (2018) marked the 300th anniversary of their voyage to America. This fascinating phase in the peopling of America is understudied and deserves more attention. There is a great facebook page dedicated to the 1718 Migration which I have found very helpful. There is also a familytreedna project trying to connect descendants of those immigrants to their ancestral origins in Ireland and Scotland. Long time blogger Heather Wilkinson Rojo has profiles on many of the early Londonderry (Nutfield) on her blog a must read.

I've only recently become interested in this integral piece of my family history, hopefully you'll catch the bug as well. 

Scottish Origins
The Scots-Irish/Ulster Scots, as their name implies, have their origins in Scotland. A large number of Scottish immigrants arrived in the Northern counties of Ireland during the plantation schemes, from 1607 until 1697. The plantations were limited to the counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Donegal, Cavan, Fermanagh and Derry. The purpose of the scheme, organized and fully supported by the Crown, was to fill the North of Ireland with loyal subjects. Most those who left the mainland were from Scotland but there were also English immigrants from the north of England. Scotland was only happy to rid itself of the marauding lowland border inhabitants, know as reivers.

Unsettled Times
By the late 1690s many of the Scots-Irish settlers were unhappy with life in Ireland. Most were excluded  from many aspects of government and civic duties. They were being hampered in their religious life as well. Many had leases that were about to expire and faced significantly higher rents, a process known as rack-renting. The economy was weak and the British controlled export prices, the export of woolen and linen items was hampered by the Irish parliament.The Woolens Act prohibited the exportation of Irish wool and cloth to anywhere except England and Wales. To top it all off the weather lead to crop failures. A five year drought from 1714 to 1719 led to crop failures. This affected both the food supply but also the supply of flax for linen production.

 A letter, drafted in Ireland and signed by eight Presbyterian ministers and 319 men was sent to Governor Shute. The letter was a request to settle in the Colony. The letter was sent with Reverend Boyd, however the immigrants did not wait for a reply. The Reverend James McGregor organized about 120 families from Antrim and Londonderry and set sail from Derry and Belfast for America. They arrived in four or five ships between August and September of 1718.

Massachusetts was still a Puritan stronghold in 1718. But, they had a slight problem, the Native population continued to threatened their borders. The immigrants were not overwhelmingly welcomed and were dispatched immediately to distant settlements in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, where they could act as a barrier between Indian territory and the settled areas of Massachusetts of which Maine was still a part. The ship the Robert sailed for Casco Bay in Maine, its passengers forced to winter aboard the ship.

My Ancestors
My 1718 Migration ancestors were the Thornton family who are said to be from the Strabane Valley of County Tyrone. We know that James Thornton said his father William was born in Tyrone County. William was born in 1713, son of James Thornton. There is a manuscript in the New York archives, which I have not read, which says the Thorntons were in Londonderry, Ireland during the seige, but little else. Many people believe that the Thorntons originated in Yorkshire, England, which would preclude them from being Scottish.

The Thornton Family arrived in Boston, probably on the ship the McCallum. They were part of the group who headed to Maine, first to Merrymeeting Bay and then closer to Bunswick. James had a homestead in Brunswick, Maine on the Rossmore Road. This home was consequentially burned by Natives in June of 1722. The family was forced to flee. I believe they found refuge in Marblehead.

There is a baptismal record for Hannah and Sarah Thornton in Marblehead in 1726. There is no further record of James and Catherine Thornton in Marblehead, so I believe that this is a record of their known daughter Hannah and unknown daughter Sarah.

James, along with other Marblehead Scots-Irish removed to Worcester, Massachusetts in the late 1720s. James bought and sold land, was listed in the meeting house seating records along with his two sons William, my ancestor, and Matthew, the signer of the Declaration of Independence. Worcester was not as welcoming to the Scots-Irish as they had hoped, and after some years, James and others purchased land for their own town of Lisburn/Pelham. James ended his years in the Scots-Irish stronghold of Derry.


Bolton, C. Knowles. (1910). Scotch Irish pioneers in Ulster and America. Boston: Bacon and Brown.

Parker, E. L. 1785-1850. (1851). The history of Londonderry, comprising the towns of Derry and Londonderry, N. H.. Boston: Perkins and Whipple.

Dickson, R. J. (1966). Ulster emigration to colonial America, 1718-1775. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Lunney, Linde. "The 1718 Migration." North Irish Roots 22, no. 1 (2011): 18-25.

Nutfield Genealogy

Have a great day!