Who were they?
Although many saw Brant and his Volunteers as superhuman, I can assure you, they were just men. Men pushed to the limit. Men fueled by revenge. But mortal just the same.
What they wore on campaign is a matter of debate. They are perhaps most famous (or infamous) for dressing as Indians, earning them the title of “Blue-eyed Iroquois” from their enemy. “Indian dress” was generally defined as a shirt, breechcloth, leggings and moccasins.
” Cherry Valley Aug't 12th 1778.
The Examination & Declaration of Several Tories Bro't In this Day by ye Scout. 1st. Ephrum Marsh Being Examln'd Confess'd that he was with Brant in the Distroying Springfield. That their wase 106 Indians; their party near one half tories, & that Brant Left him at the Butternuts & was to Join him again; that Brant went to Yunadilla with a Number of Cattle he took at Springfield, and like wise, says that John Shelden in Indian Dress was one of Brant party at the Distruction of Springfield that Shelden returned with Brant to Yunadella and Return'd back with him to the Butternuts where Brant left him In Quest of Cattle.”(Testimony Of Tories Captured By Captain Ballard Taken Before Colonel Alden, George Clinton papers, courtesy of Mark Hersee)
Alden’s own report to General Stark that same day reads:
“Brought In Likewise two of Brant's party, who ware Collecting Cattel at the Butternuts for Brant. Ware Clothed and painted Like Indians.” (Col. Alden to General Stark, 12 Aug 1778, courtesy of Mark Hersee)
“Four days before the action of the 10th inst at Torloch, Henry Mlrch who went off to the enemy last Fall, came to Torloch and informed us that Joseph Brant was coming with a strong party of Indians and Tories to Destroy Curry Town, which party arrived on the Borders of Torloch the Day following, where they were furnished with provisions, and on the next day being Sunday, Marched from Torloch for Curry Town being joined by Lieut. Conrat Brown, Christian Olman, Christopher Riddich, Jacob Hanes, Jun'r, Henry Frauts, Michael Mirch, Jacobus Hopper, Matthias Mirch, Earnest Frets, Andres Fichter, Martis Bowman, Michael Fichter, George Walker, Godleap Bowman. John Summers, Henry Hanes, Frederick Mirch, Henry Loucks, Conrat Hopper, Christian Hanover, John Conradt, Jacob Coughman, Charles Hearwager, Michael Fredericks, Henry Hanes, Jun'r, Jacob Fraunce and myself, all Inhabitants of Torloch and Rynbecks; (we were all painted and equiped like Indians as were all the Tories belonging to the party). We were promised by Joseph Brandt and Barent Fry, the two Commandants of the Indians and Tories, Ten Dollars for every Scalp we took, and that each person who would join them should have fifty acres of land.” (July 1781 affidavit in the George Clinton papers, courtesy of Mark Hersee)
Was Tryon County militia surgeon, Moses Younglove speaking of Brant’s men and/or Indian Department rangers when he penned the following lines?
“Of two departments were the assailing foes;
Wild savage natives lead the first of those…
”With them, of parricides a bloody band,
Assist the ravage of their parent land:
With equal dress, and arms, and savage arts;
But more than savage rancour in their hearts.”
(Poem of Tryon County Militia Surgeon, Moses Younglove, about the Battle of Oriskany.)
Doing so was not a new practice. George Washington wrote of changing into Indian dress on his way back from messenger duty to the French. As an officer of the Virginia Regiment during the French & Indian War, he wrote:
My Men are very bare of Cloaths (Regimentals I mean), and I have no prospect of a Supply; this want, so far from my regretting during this Campaigne, that were I left to pursue my own Inclinations I wou'd not only order the Men to adopt the Indian dress, but cause the Officers to do it also, and be the first to set the example myself. Nothing but the uncertainty of its taking with the General causes me to hesitate a moment at leaving my Regimentals at this place, and proceeding as light as any Indian in the Woods. 'Tis an unbecoming dress, I confess, for an officer; but convenience rather than shew, I think shou'd be consulted. The reduction of Bat Horses alone, is sufficient to recommend it; for nothing is more certain than that less baggage will be requir'd, and that the Publick will be benifitted in proportion." (Washington to Col. Bouquet; Camp near Fort Cumberland, July 3, 1758.)
From various records, it seems Brant’s white Volunteers were supplied just like their Indian brothers in arms.
Yet, they were dressed, at least on occasion, in regular Euro-style clothing. Guy Johnson noted in his “Account of ID Expenses”:
“to 36 pairs of Coating Trousers for Volunteers 20/ ea 36£ total.”(Haldimand Papers, 29 Feb 1780, courtesy of Mark Hersee)
According to the deposition of a George Cannotts, as a badge to distinguish themselves, they wore a piece of wool tape on their hat:
Wearing Indian Dress made sense on many levels.
1. As Washington’s quote shows, it allows one to travel light and move quickly. Exactly what a raiding party needed.
2. The psychological aspect. Most whites on the frontier had an innate fear of Indians. The more “Indians” running around, the greater the fear. Fear spreads. Fear is a weapon.
3. Disguise. These men expected to return home. They figured the British would be victorious and they would go back to their towns and continue on with life. They didn’t want their neighbors to recognize them as the ones who burnt their barn or killed their brother.
I have seen the value of being painted first-hand. At various events, people I had known for a few years have walked right past me when I was wearing war paint. Guys I know fairly well are barely recognizable when painted up and running through the woods.
At the End
On 24 March 1780, Joseph’s party consisted of 91 men, 172 women, and 186 children according to Guy Johnson (Return of Indian Department. Haldimand Papers, B109:51).
Some of the Volunteers drifted away to other units. After all, Brant’s Volunteers received no pay, unlike other Loyalist units. They were fed and much of their clothing and gear was supplied at Joseph’s expense. Some were ordered from the stores at Niagara and charged to Daniel Claus’ account. They received little from the British government, only the occasional provision or clothing handout.
The majority of Joseph’s men were frontier farmers with little money. With a couple of exceptions, they were a bit older or younger than your typical soldier of the time and had small landholdings before the war, some being borderline destitute.
After the fighting had wound down, 15 are known to have still been with Brant as of 1783, aged between 16 and 51 years of age.
Some received land grants in modern-day Ontario after proving their service. Doing so was often difficult as they were not paid, hence no written record of them serving. Joseph himself testified for some of them:
“I do hereby certify that Archd. THOMSON, John CHISHOLM, Daniel ROSE, James PARKES, Lodowick ZIELY & Rudolph JOHNSTON, have Served along with me as Volunteers, from the Year 1778 to the end of the late war and have always behaved themselves as faithfull Subjects to his Majesty and that they have not yet received any Gratuity for said Services.
Niagra 29th Augt. 87
In closing, as someone whose family didn’t arrive until 1912 and 1962, my interest in American history may seem odd. Even more oddly, as a re-enactor, I portray Loyalists who fought against America. When I first started re-enacting, I wondered why any American would portray a Loyalist or, Heaven-forbid, a redcoat.
But after studying my chosen historical periods, I came to a stunning conclusion.
A country is defined as much by its enemies as it is by its own people. To understand one, you must understand the other.
Delivered to the Greater Milford Historical Association on March 18, 2012
I'd like to publicly thank Mark Hersee for his generosity with information he's found.