Mary “Molly” Brant was born in 1736, possibly in the Ohio Valley. She was the sister, or half-sister (historians are in debate about the relationship) of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk military leader, and the wife of Sir William Johnson, an official of the British Empire. Brant played a major role during both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, and spent her life working on sustaining the Anglo-Iroquois alliance.
Growing up in Canajoharie, Molly was known as Gonwatsijayenni, and her name would later be changed to Degonwadonti . Molly was a very diplomatic person, due to the fact that she was being raised to be a clan matron .
Molly would later go on to be a “wife” of Sir William Johnson, a successful colonial trader who was later appointed as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the province of New York, and the man who would give the orders to construct Fort William Henry, which sat at Lake George’s southern bank, in 1755 after the narrow victory over the French at what would be known as the Battle of Lake George.
Molly and Johnson first resided at Fort Johnson, and later at Johnson Hall after it had been completed. Johnson Hall would later become the headquarters of the Iroquois, primarily for the Mohawk who sided with the British during the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War where they would meet and discuss various actions to take during the war.
Molly was very influential when it came to Native American/British relations; it was said that after the death of Johnson, Molly was the only person who both groups would listen to. Her influence played a major role during the American Revolution. While other Iroquois Nations sided with the Patriots, Molly urged the Mohawks to side with the British, which in turn may have had an effect on her brother, Joseph, who became a powerful military leader. Even after the British defeat at the Battles of Saratoga, Molly urged the Mohawks to stay on the British side, firmly believing that they would be less oppressive leaders.
There have been many strong and influential women throughout history, but history does not always highlight the strong and influential women, history covers up the women and tells the story of the men. However, Molly Brant was a strong and influential woman. Having been raised in the Mohawk traditions where women were highly regarded, she brought power and status to her position, and she dominated the household . “Historical records and recent writings present Molly Brant as a strong individual who retained her native heritage throughout her life, often to the disdain of her European contemporaries. Molly is a controversial figure because she was both pro-British and pro-Iroquois. She insisted on speaking Mohawk, she dressed in Mohawk style throughout her life, and she encouraged her children to do the same. She argued on behalf of the Iroquois before, during, and after the American Revolution. She sheltered and fed her people. She complained when she thought the government was ignoring the Iroquois” . She cared for her people, both Iroquois and British alike.
Alice Lavers Clark, Molly Brant Degonwadonti: Mohawk Heroine (Lincoln, NE: iUniversity Inc., 2004).
Earle Thomas, “Molly Brant” (Kingston, NY: Historic Kingston, Vol. 37, 1989).