The story of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk American Indian who fought for the Loyalists during the American War of Independence has been retold by the Iroquois peoples of the Six Nations and American Freemasons for centuries, and today Brant is featured in many Masonic Histories and is the topic of many websites.
The story that is the most endearing is how Brant, a Mohawk chief, witnessed an American prisoner give a Masonic sign and spared the life of his fellow Mason.
This action went down in history, and Brant became the embodiment of the ‘noble savage’ to Victorian England.
This article will explain the events leading up to this event, and how Brant, in death, created even more controversy as the legends of his life grew and expanded.
Brant was born in 1742 in the area around the banks of the Ohio River. His Indian name was Thayendanegea, meaning ‘he places two bets’ and as a child he was educated at Moor’s Charity School for Indians in Lebanon, Connecticut, where he learned English and European History. He became a favourite of Sir William Johnson, who had taken Brant’s sister Molly as a mistress, although they were married later after Johnson’s wife died. Johnson was the British Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs, and became close to the Mohawk people, and enlisted their allegiance in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, with a young Brant taking up arms for the British.
After the war, Brant found himself working as an interpreter for Johnson. He had worked as an interpreter before the war and converted to Christianity, a religion which he embraced. He translated the Prayer Book and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language, other translations included the Acts of the Apostles and a short history of the Bible.
Around 1775, after being appointed secretary to Sir William’s successor, Guy Johnson, Brant received a Captain’s commission in the British Army and set off for England, where he became a Freemason and confirmed his attachment to the British Crown.
Brant was raised in Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge No. 814 in London, early in 1776, although his association with the Johnson family may have been an influence in his links to Freemasonry. Guy Johnson, whose family had Masonic links, had accompanied Brant on his visit to England. Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge had been founded in 1771, and during Brant’s visit to the Lodge, it had met at the Falcon in Princes Street, Soho. The Lodge was erased in 1782. Brant’s Masonic apron was, according to legend, personally presented to him by George III.
On his return to America, Brant became a key figure in securing the loyalty of other Iroquois tribes in fighting for the British against the ‘rebels’, and it was during the war that Joseph Brant entered into Masonic legend. After the surrender of the ‘rebel’ forces at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence River in 1776, Brant famously saved the life of a certain Captain John McKinstry, a member of Hudson Lodge No.13 of New York, who was about to be burned at the stake.
McKinstry, remembering that Brant was a Freemason, gave to him the Masonic sign of appeal which Brant recognized, an action which secured McKinstry’s release and subsequent good treatment. McKinstry and Brant remained friends for life, and in 1805 he and Brant together visited the Masonic Lodge in Hudson, New York, where Brant was given an excellent reception. Brant’s portrait now hangs in the Lodge.
Another story relating to Brant during the war has another ‘rebel’ captive named Lieutenant Boyd giving Brant a Masonic sign, which secured him a reprieve from execution. However, on this occasion, Brant left his Masonic captive in the care of the British, who subsequently had Boyd tortured and executed.
After the war, Brant removed himself with his tribe to Canada, establishing the Grand River Reservation for the Mohawk Indians. He became affiliated with Lodge No. 11 at the Mohawk village at Grand River of which he was the first Master and he later affiliated with Barton Lodge No.10 at Hamilton, Ontario. Brant returned to England in 1785 in an attempt to settle legal disputes on the Reservation lands, were he was again well received by George III and the Prince of Wales.
After Brant’s death in 1807, his legend continued to develop, with numerous accounts of his life and his death being written. One such account lengthily entitled The Life of Captain Joseph Brant with An Account of his Re-interment at Mohawk, 1850, and of the Corner Stone Ceremony in the Erection of the Brant Memorial, 1886, celebrated Brant’s achievements and detailed that a certain Jonathan Maynard had also been saved by Brant during the war.
Like McKinstry, Maynard, who later became a member of the Senate of Massachusetts, had been saved at the last minute by Brant, who had recognised him giving a Masonic sign. Brant’s remains were re-interred in 1850 with an Indian relay, where a number of warriors took turn in carrying his remains to the chapel of the Mohawks, located in Brant’s Mohawk village, which is now part of the city of Brantford. Many local Freemasons were present, and his tomb was restored with an inscription paid for by them.
The legend of Brant saving his fellow Masons was examined by Albert C. Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry in which he referred to a book entitled Indian Masonry by a certain Brother Robert C. Wright. In the book, Wright states that ‘signs given by the Indians could easily be mistaken for Masonic signs by an enthusiastic Freemason’.
Using Wright’s claims that the Indians used similar Masonic signs or gestures within their culture, and these were mistaken by over enthusiastic Freemasons, Mackey was putting forward an argument that the stories of encounters with ‘Masonic’ Indians were perhaps in doubt.
Mackey then put forward the question ‘is the Indian a Freemason’ before examining a number of historically Native American Indians who were Freemasons, including Joseph Brant and General Eli S. Parker, the Seneca Chief who fought in the American Civil War. Mackey concluded:
‘Thus from primitive and ancient rites akin to Freemasonry, which had their origin in the shadows of the distant past, the American Indian is graduating into Free and Accepted Masonry as it has been taught to us. It is an instructive example of the universality of human belief in fraternity, morality and immortality’.
Mackey presented that the Indians, in recognising the universal ethos of Freemasonry within their own culture, were drawn to the Craft. Thus an understanding into Brant’s moralistic approach to fellow Freemasons who were prisoners during the war was being sought, his actions fascinating Masonic historians well into the twentieth century.
Brant became a symbol for Freemasonry, his story being used as a metaphor for the Masonic bond, a bond which became greater than the bond of serving one’s country during wartime. Brant also came to represent a respect for the Native American Indian during a time when the US was promoting the ‘manifest destiny’, an ethos which the United States government saw as God’s right for them to settle the Indian lands of the west.
Brant’s myth even exceeded the traditional Victorian image of the ‘noble savage’, his meeting of other Freemasons while visiting London such as the writer James Boswell and Masonic members of the Hanoverian Household such as the Prince of Wales compounded this. Brant once said:
‘My principle is founded on justice, and justice is all I wish for’, a statement which certainly conveyed his moralistic and Masonic ethos.
The man believed to have been the first Freemason to have set foot in Australia and who helped arrange the ill-fated expedition of Captain William Bligh which led to the famous mutiny on the Bounty, has had a Lincolnshire Lodge named after him.
Sir Joseph Banks Daylight Lodge No. 9828, which meets at Horncastle, is named after a remarkable man with his family roots in Lincolnshire, who became a famous explorer and naturalist, sailing in 1768 with Captain James Cook on the famous Endeavour, exploring the uncharted south Pacific, circumnavigating the globe and visiting South America, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Java.
Banks was born at Westminster on 13 February 1743, a wealthy young squire of Revesby in Lincolnshire, and his link with Horncastle is that he helped set up a local hospital in the town. He was also an active Mason in the Province.
In Gould’s History of Freemasonry, Banks is mentioned as being a member of Old Horne Lodge No. 4 – now Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4, a time immemorial Lodge.
Although the date of his initiation cannot be verified, it has been confirmed that it was prior to 1769. He was a member of Witham Lodge No. 297, which today is the oldest Lodge in Lincolnshire, and remained on its register until his death on 19 June 1820.
It is fitting, therefore, that Witham Lodge should have been the sponsor of the new Lodge, which is actively seeking to link up with Sir Joseph Banks Lodge No. 300 in New South Wales, consecrated in September 1915, and which meets in Banks Town – another honour conferred on him.
His passion for botany began at school, and from 1760 to 1763 he studied at Christ Church, Oxford, inheriting a considerable fortune from his father at this time. In 1766 he travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador, collecting plants and other specimens. He became a member of the Royal Society in the same year, later becoming its longest-serving President in its 347-year history – holding the office consecutively for 42 years.
He was successful in obtaining a place on what was to become Cook’s first great voyage of discovery between 1768 and 1771, during which time the Endeavour proceeded up the east coast of Australia and through the Torres Strait, charting the area in the process.
Banks was interested in plants that could be used for practical purposes and that could be introduced commercially into other countries. On his return from the Cook expedition, he brought with him an enormous number of specimens and his scientific account of that voyage and its discoveries aroused considerable interest across Europe.
It was Banks who proposed that William Bligh should command two voyages for the transportation of bread fruit and plants – including the voyage of the Bounty – which led to the mutiny in April 1789 involving 12 crew members led by Christian Fletcher.
Banks became an influential figure in New South Wales, founded in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet, choosing the governors. He was to recommend Bligh for the governorship, which ended in the latter’s deposition from the post following what became known as the Rum Rebellion in 1808.
Banks’s eminence as a leading botanist was honoured by having the genus banksias, comprising about 75 species in the protea family to be found in Australia, named after him. A distinguished scholar, he promoted the Linnaeus system of Latin classification of botanical specimens.
In 1793 his name was given to a group of volcanic islands near Vanuatu in the Pacific, which were explored and named after him by Captain Bligh in gratitude for the earlier help he had given him.
The inventor Robert Stevenson also honoured Banks by naming a schooner after him which accommodated the artificers during the building of the Bellrock lighthouse in the Firth of Forth off Scotland’s east coast, when Banks was vice-president of the Board of Trade during the passage of the Bill for the lighthouse through parliament.
He was further honoured when the city of Lincoln provided a tropical plant house themed with plants reminiscent of his voyages.
He was knighted in 1781, was appointed to the Order of the Bath in 1795 and became a Privy Counsellor in 1797. George III appointed Banks as honorary director to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Banks promoted the careers of many scientists, sending many of them abroad to find new plants and extend the collection at Kew Gardens. A truly remarkable man, it is fitting that he should be remembered by having a Lodge named after him in his home county.
Classic car runs have become major fund-raising events for Masons, bringing out families and friends in a community day out which involves vehicles and their owners from many parts of the country.
During the summer, the Leicestershire & Rutland Freemasons’ Classic Car Run took place, when 30 pre and post-war classics assembled for the event. The older cars included a 1934 Rolls Royce, a 1933 Aston Martin and a Lanchester.
For the second year, the wartime Willys Jeep, together with driver and passenger in wartime uniform, took part. The post-war classics ranged from a 1948 Allard and included Rolls Royces, Jaguars and a Ferrari.
The run was started by entertainer Engelbert Humberdinck and Lady Gretton, the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire. After being waved off, the cars took a circuitous route to Grimsthorpe Castle, 40 miles away near Bourne in Lincolnshire, quite an onerous run for some of the more elderly vehicles!
This year the runners were raising money for LOROS and the Ruby Rainbow Appeal by sponsorship for the journey. Over the past four years, classic car events held by Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons have raised more than £17,000 for local and national charities.
This year they were hoping to raise more than £5,000, and one participant has already raised more than £1,000 for sponsorship of his classic car in this event.
Researching Thomas Telford, who had been such a well-known member of a Lodge in Shropshire, I was surprised that virtually nothing had been written about his Masonic activities.
In A History of Craft Freemasonry in Shropshire, by Harold Templeton, there was just one paragraph, and no mention of him in the History of Salopian Lodge No. 262 by George Franklin. In Alexander Graham’s 1892 history of Shropshire Freemasonry he is only recorded in the list of members.
Thomas Telford was born at Glendinning, near Dumfries in Scotland on 9 August 1757, in a shepherd’s cottage beside the Megget Water. His father John was a shepherd, but died aged 33 only two months after Thomas was born. It was to his mother, Janet that the responsibility fell to bring up Thomas on her own.
As she was living in a tied cottage, six months after the death of her husband, Janet was forced to move with her infant son to a small cottage at the Crooks, situated in the Megget Valley, a mile below Glendinning. They occupied only one of the cottage’s two rooms, another family living in the other half.
Life must have been extremely hard. Her brother and neighbours helped out financially, which allowed Thomas to attend the local parish school at Westerkirk. At a very early age, Thomas was required to work on neighbouring farms, herding cattle and sheep, living for weeks on end with shepherds in their lonely shelters on the hills, which shaped his character and built up his self-confidence.
On leaving school, Thomas took up an apprenticeship to be a stonemason at Lochmaben, but his new master ill-treated him, so after a few months he was back living with his mother at the Crooks. Janet’s nephew Thomas Jackson came to the rescue and persuaded a Master Mason he knew in Langholm, Andrew Thomson, to take the boy as an apprentice. Telford gained great experience both as apprentice and a fellow of the Craft under Thomson’s guidance and tuition.
The young Duke of Buccleuch succeeded to the family estates in the area and put in hand an extensive programme of improvements. Tracks were paved, bridges constructed to ford rivers and stone construction farm houses began to replace the older ones, which were made from thatch and mud. This was a time when even the town houses had mud walls and again this made work for the team of Thomson and Telford to reconstruct in stone.
In Langholm, it was Andrew Thomson, with his fellow craft assistant, who built the bridge over the river Esk to connect the new town with the old. Telford’s Mason mark can be found on the bridge on the blocks in the western abutment. At this time he became a firm friend with a fellow Mason, Matthew Davidson, who was to play an important part in his life.
Telford left his native Dumfriesshire at 23 and made his way to Edinburgh, where his talents had greater scope with the building of the noble Georgian streets and squares around Princes Street in the new town. Eighteen months later he travelled to London to find both fame and fortune.
Armed with letters of introduction from friends back in Langholm, he was introduced to two of the greatest architects of the day – Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers.
Telford was set to work on the new Somerset House, squaring and levelling the great blocks of the rusticated Portland stone. It was during this time that he qualified as a Master Mason – in the operative sense.
Through his contacts he became acquainted with William Pulteney, who through marriage had succeeded to great estates in Somerset, Shropshire and Northamptonshire.
They became firm friends and many commissions resulted from this friendship, such as alterations at the vicarage of Sudborough in Northamptonshire, followed by building at Portsmouth dockyard.
By 1786 Pultney had become MP for Shrewsbury, so Telford found himself ordered to the town to superintend a thorough renovation of the castle, where living quarters were found for him. Within six months, and probably due to the influence of the local MP, he was appointed the Surveyor of Public Works for the County of Shropshire. Soon after his appointment he was to supervise the construction of the county gaol and the alterations to the old Salop Infirmary.
The prison is still in use at the Dana, and the front entrance particularly has been little altered from Telford’s original design. The bust of John Howard, the prison reformer, who was instrumental in getting Telford the commission, is in prominent position directly above the main entrance. Telford also designed and supervised the building of the Laura Tower at Shrewsbury Castle and the excavation of the Roman City of Uricronium near Wroxeter was another of his undertakings.
It was around this time that he was consulted by the churchwardens of St. Chad’s Church about the repairs to the church roof. After an inspection of the premises he told them that it was pointless thinking of repairing the roof until emergency measures were taken to secure the walls due to poor foundations.
He was scoffed at and dismissed out of hand, the churchwardens making pointed remarks about professional men making jobs for themselves and saying that the cracks he had pointed out had been there for hundreds of years.
He walked out of the meeting and his parting shot was if they were going to continue their deliberations much longer it would be safer to do so outside just in case the church fell down around them.
His words were prophetic, because just three days later in the early morning as the clock began to strike four, the entire tower collapsed with a tremendous roar and crashed through the roof of the nave, completely demolishing the northern arcade. This did Telford’s credibility in the town no harm at all! Although not involved in the restoration of St. Chad’s, he did later go on to design and build a church elsewhere in the county – St. Mary’s in the High Town of Bridgnorth.