- Gilbert Stuart
- Portrait of the Mohawk Chieftain Thayendanegea, known as Joseph Brant (1742–1807)
- inscribed, verso, on the relining: Joseph Theanandagen (commonly called Capt Brandt [sic]) Chief Warrior of Sachem of the Mohawk / Nation of Indians who served with the Duke of Northumberland in America in the Year 1776 / Transcribed 27th June 1955
- oil on canvas
- 76.2 by 61 cm.; 30 by 25 in.
By descent to his son, Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland (1785–1847);
By inheritance to his brother, Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland (1792–1865);
By inheritance to his cousin, George Percy, 5th Duke of Northumberland (1778–1867);
By descent to his son, Algernon George Percy, 6th Duke of Northumberland (1810–1899);
By descent to his son, Henry George Percy, 7th Duke of Northumberland (1846–1918);
By descent to his son Alan Ian Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland (1880–1930), who married Helen Gordon-Lennox (1886–1965), daughter of Charles Gordon-Lennox, 7th Duke of Richmond;
By descent to their second son, Hugh Algernon Percy (1914–1988), who succeeded his brother, the 9th Duke, as 10th Duke of Northumberland in 1940, after he was killed in action whilst serving with the Grenadier Guards during the retreat to Dunkirk;
By descent to his son, Henry Alan Walter Richard Percy, 11th Duke of Northumberland (1953–1995);
By inheritance to his brother, Ralph George Algernon Percy, 12th and present Duke of Northumberland (b. 1956), the current owner.
London, Christie’s, 24 August – 25 September 1960;
Washington, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1 May 1976 – 1 April 1977;
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilbert Stuart, 18 October 2004 – 27 February 2005, no. 17;
Washington, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, Gilbert Stuart, 8 April 2005 – 31 May 2005, no. 17;
Washington, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, American Origins 1600–1900, 2006, no. 66.
Alnwick Castle, Sy.H.VIII.1.b, Syon House Inventory, 1847, p. 212;
M. Fielding, 'Paintings by Gilbert Stuart not mentioned in Mason's Life of Stuart', in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1914, vol. 38, pp. 311–34;
M. Fielding, 'Addenda and Corrections to Paintings by Gilbert Stuart not noted in Mason's Life of Stuart', Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1920, vol. 44, pp. 88–91;
L. Park, Gilbert Stuart. An illustrated descriptive list of his works, New York 1926, vol. II, p. 747, no. 831, reproduced, vol. IV, p. 516;
C. H. Collins Baker, A Catalogue of the Pictures in the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, London 1930, cat. no. 702 (hanging at Albury Park).
J. R. Fawcett Thompson, ‘Thayendanegea the Mohawk and his several portraits. How the ‘Captain of the Six Nations’ came to London and sat for Romney and Stuart’, in The Connoisseur, vol. 170, January 1969, p. 51, reproduced fig. 3;
D. Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart, Princeton 1999, p. 44, reproduced p. 45;
C. R. Barratt and E. G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2004, pp. 68–71, reproduced in colour p. 69.
It is recorded of Him that a bruised reed he never broke. Cease then to call yourselves Christians, lest you declare to the world your hypocrisy. Cease too to call other nations savage, when you are tenfold more the children of cruelty than they.
No person among us desires any other reward for performing a brave and worthwhile action, but the consciousness of having served his nation.
I bow to no man for I am considered a prince among my own people. But I will gladly shake your hand."
Joseph Brant to King George III, 1786
Painted in 1786, whilst the sitter was on his second visit to England, this powerfully evocative painting is possibly the finest portrait of one of the seminal figures of early American history. The paramount war chief of the Iroquois Nation, as well as a missionary and diplomat of consummate skill, Thayendanegea was the Native American best known to Europeans of his generation. An inspirational leader, he lobbied tirelessly with both British and American authorities to secure his nation's survival. Commissioned by his close friend and old comrade in arms, Hugh, Earl Percy, later 2nd Duke of Northumberland (1742–1817: see fig. 1), whilst Brant was in London in the winter of 1785–86, negotiating land claims with the British Crown, this portrait is a visual expression of a fraternal bond forged in adversity, and a friendship that traversed culture, race and an ocean. Brant and Percy had met in 1776 when both commanded allied troops around Boston and New York during the American Revolution. By repute Brant is believed to have been with Percy in the flanking movement that cut through the Jamaica Pass during the Battle of Long Island, when British forces under General Howe retook New York, and the pair formed a bond that led to Percy’s adoption by the Mohawk as a warrior of their nation, under the name Thorighwegeri (or The Evergreen Brake, implying ‘a titled house that never dies’).1 Following Percy’s return to England they kept up a lifelong correspondence and exchange of ceremonial gifts. In the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, are a pair of flintlock pistols, inlaid with silver escutcheons engraved with the letter 'N' surmounted by ducal coronets, that were sent by Percy, by then Duke of Northumberland, to Brant in 1791. The many surviving letters between the two, several of which can be found in the British Museum, as well as in various archives in America, convey a strong mutual respect and a genuine affection on both sides, in what was to be Brant’s only lasting friendship with a white man.
Born in 1742 on the banks of the Cayahoga River, Ohio, Thayendanegea, known to the English as Joseph Brant, was the son of Tehowaghwengaraghkwin, a prominent Mohawk warrior. From his mother, Owandah, he descended from the Mohawk chief Theyanoguin and was born into the Mohican Wolf Clan, one of the chief tribes of the Iroquois Nation. His name, Thayendanega, translates as 'two sticks bound together', or 'he who places two bets' denoting strength and wisdom. Anglican Church records at Fort Hunter, New York, show that his parents were Christians whose English names were Peter and Margaret, but that his father died when he was still in infancy. Details of his early years are scarce, but at some point after his father’s death Joseph’s mother took him and his elder sister, Konwatsi’tsiaienni, known as Molly or Mary, to live with her people in the Mohawk Valley, and in 1753 remarried a widower named Canagaraduncka, a Mohawk sachem, or paramount chief, who was known to the whites as Barnet, or Bernard, and by contraction Brant. As such, young Joseph became known to the whites as Brant’s Joseph, and later Joseph Brant.
Brant’s step father had connections with the British, his grandfather having been one of the Four Mohawk Kings who visited England in 1710 (fig. 5), and was a friend of the influential and wealthy General Sir William Johnson (circa 1715–74), Superintendent for Indian Affairs in the Northern Colonies. During Johnson’s frequent visits to the Mohawk he stayed with the Brants’ at Canajoharie, on the banks of the Mohawk River, and formed a relationship with Joseph’s sister Molly, with whom he lived as his common-law wife from 1763. Molly became something of a legendary figure in her own right and lived publically with Johnson, managing his estate during his many absences and running his household, as well as bearing him nine children. Through Johnson’s influence Brant became acquainted from a young age with many influential white figures within the New York colony, and the Superintendent took a personal interest in the young boy’s development and education. In 1761 Johnson arranged for Brant, along with two other Mohawk boys, to be educated by Dr Eleazar Wheelock, at Moor's Indian charity school in Connecticut, the precursor to Dartmouth College. He learned to speak, read and write English fluently, as well as being taught a number of other academic subjects. Brant's clear intelligence and diligence greatly impressed Wheelock, who described his promising student as being 'of sprightly genius, a manly and genteel deportment, and a modest and benevolent temper',2 and planned to send him to college in New Jersey.
A warrior noted for his bravery, as well as a distinguished missionary and diplomat in later life, Brant's rise to prominence began at an early age. His first military service came with the outbreak of hostilities between the French and British in North America in 1754. Early in what is referred to in America as the French and Indian Wars, part of the greater global conflict of the Seven Years War, Brant joined the Mohawk war parties which, along with other tribes of the Iroquois nation, allied themselves with the British. At only fifteen he took part in Major-General James Abercrombie's campaign to cross Lake George and invade French Canada, and in 1758 was one of the Iroquois warriors under the command of Sir William Johnson who accompanied General Jeffrey Amherst’s expedition against Fort Niagara, near present day Youngstown. The following year Brant was again with Amherst when he led a force of British regulars and local rangers down the St Lawrence River to besiege and capture Montreal, thereby ending French hegemony in North America, and was one of the 182 Native American warrior's to be awarded a silver medal by the British for his service.
Brant's intelligence and inspirational leadership inspired the esteem and respect of both his own Native American warriors and their British allies. As well as speaking English he was fluent in at least three, if not all of the Six Nation Iroquoian languages that made up the Iroquois confederacy, and from 1766 Brant worked as an interpreter for the British Indian Department. In the Spring of 1772 he moved to Fort Hunter, in upstate New York, where he collaborated with the Reverend John Stuart, an Anglican missionary, on the translation of the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, as well as other Christian texts. With his learning and language skill, and his connections with the British, Brant rose swiftly through tribal ranks to become one of the leading war chiefs of the Iroquois nation, and with Johnson's encouragement, the primary spokesman for the Mohawk in Anglo-Indian relations. In 1775, with rising tensions between the American colonists and the British authorities, Brant, who remained loyal to the Crown, was appointed ‘Interpreter for the Six Nations Language’, at an annual salary of £85. 3s. 4d. In November of that year he travelled to England with Guy Johnson (1740–88), Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs and Sir William’s nephew, to petition the British government for aid (fig. 2). Specifically Brant hoped to secure assurances of support from the Crown in redressing past Mohawk land grievances against American colonists, in return for Iroquois military support in the coming conflict.
In London Brant's combination of civilised erudition and savage romanticism created a sensation, and he was universally lionised by both politicians and the beau monde. With his customary charisma and keen comprehension for cultural difference he adopted English style politeness for his negotiations with Lord Germain, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, whilst dressing in full Iroquois chieftain’s dress when in public. The Earl of Warwick commissioned Brant's portrait from George Romney (fig. 3: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), he was inducted into the Freemason’s, and was received at court by George III at St James’s Palace. The King presented Brant with the silver gorget, emblazoned with the Royal crest and inscribed ‘The Gift of a Friend to Capt. Brant’, which he is depicted wearing in this portrait, accompanied by a portrait cameo of the monarch.3 George was sympathetic to the Indian cause, and Brant returned home in June 1776 with the reassurances of protection for his people and their land which he had sought. In a letter Lord Germain further guaranteed that, in return for the loyalty of the Six Nations, the Iroquois could be assured ‘of every support England could render them’.4
Brant landed back in North America in July 1776, in time to join General Howe’s forces as they prepared to retake New York. Though there is no official record of his service, it is here, under the command of Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, that he is believed to have first made the acquaintance of the man that would become his greatest friend among the whites, Hugh, Earl Percy. Percy commanded six battalions, as well as a contingent of artillery, in the column that marched through the night at Jamaica Pass to attack the Americans’ flank on 27 August 1776. The plan was audacious, requiring knowledge of the local terrain, and Brant is believed to have led a party of Mohawk warriors in the attack, and distinguished himself for bravery. In November, following the capture of Fort Washington, at the northern end of Manhattan Island, in which Percy led the charge, Brant travelled north, raising a force of Mohawk warriors and white loyalist militia. Known as Brant’s Volunteers they operated out of Onoquaga, an Iroquois village on the Susquehanna River, and in the summer of 1777 joined forces with British regulars under Brigadier General Barry St Leger to besiege Fort Stanwix, defeating a Continental Army led by Nicholas Herkimer (circa 1728–77) at the Battle of Oriskany on 6 August. In July that year Brant had finally persuaded the council of the Six Nations to abandon their neutrality, and enter the war on the British side. For the next six years he led Iroquois forces in a dazzlingly successful campaign throughout the Mohawk Valley and the area around the Great Lakes in support of the British. One of the most active partisan leaders in the frontier war, in April 1779 Lord Germain sent the governor of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand, a commission signed by George III, appointing Brant Colonel of Indians, in recognition ‘of his astonishing activity and success in the king’s service’.5 The document was suppressed, however, for fear of creating resentment among the other leading Iroquois warriors, and it was not until July 1780 that Brant received an official commission, when (at the recommendation of Guy Johnson) he was appointed Captain of the Northern Confederate Indians. Despite the delay in official recognition, however, Brant was widely praised for his leadership and skill, and British officers who served with him always had the highest praise for his abilities. He was described in official dispatches as ‘the perfect soldier, possessed of remarkable physical stamina, courage under fire, and dedication to the cause, as an able and inspiring leader, and as a complete gentleman’.6 Indeed white volunteers are known to have requested to fight under his command among Iroquois war parties, rather than serve in the rangers, such was their confidence in his abilities.
Following the treaty of Paris in 1783, which despite pre-war British promises made no provision for the welfare or sovereignty of their Native Americans allies, or showed any concern for the economic viability of the Six Nations, Brant travelled to England a second time to again petition the Crown on behalf of the Iroquois. In London he was once more feted by high society, and hailed as the ‘king of the Mohawks’. The reputation and fame he had acquired during the war meant that he was held in high esteem by the British aristocracy, and he used the opportunity to reacquaint himself with many of the British officers with whom he had served in North America. At court Brant ‘presented a seductive public image that merged diplomat and warrior, gentleman and brute’,7 astutely adapting Iroquois custom and dress to suit the occasion. The Baroness von Riedesel, who had known Brant in North America, described the magnificence of the spectacle he presented in her diary: ‘I saw… the famous Indian Chief, Captain Brant. I dined once with him at the General’s. In his dress he showed off to advantage the half military and half savage costume. His countenance is manly and intelligent, his disposition very mild. His manners are polished and he expresses himself with fluency’.8 It was a display that clearly impressed the teenage Prince of Wales, later George IV, who took Brant on many excursions in the capital, and he was much in demand in the salons of the establishment, even attending a masquerade ball.9 This second visit also afforded the opportunity for Brant to reacquaint himself with old comrades who had served with him in North America, and in particular his blood brother Percy, who took the opportunity to commission the great American portrait artist Gilbert Stuart to paint Brant's likeness. Stuart, who had moved to London in 1775, was also commissioned to paint Brant’s portrait by Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings (1754–1826), who, like Northumberland, had seen active military service in North America during the revolution (fig. 4: Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.). His exotic appearance was clearly an appealing subject for artists and Brant also sat to John Francis Rigaud whilst in London. The portrait depicted him in the uniform of an officer on the British Indian Department, together with an Iroquois headdress, and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the summer of 1786 (whereabouts unknown).
Both Stuart’s portraits of Brant reinforce his Native American heritage, but it is only in the Northumberland portrait that the purpose of Brant’s embassy to London, and his allegiance with the British, is made explicit. With a fully modelled visage that portrays a man of intelligent determination, Brant is depicted in the costume of an Iroquois chieftain, his clothing proclaiming both his nationality and his dignity. The silver rings embroidered into his clothing, his plumed headdress, and the silver amulets on his upper arms and wrists all declare his high rank and status. Around his neck, suspended by a blue ribbon, he wears the gorget presented to him by George III, with a medallion portrait of the King in an imposing brass locket below, clearly demonstrating his political allegiance. He is, as Carrie Rebora Barratt wrote in her catalogue entry to the 2004 exhibition, ‘by Stuart’s brush, the exemplification of the savage and noble, an Iroquois statesman ornamented by the British. He entertains the royal encomiums, even as his poignant facial expression seems to acknowledge the equivocation in the King’s promises of assistance’.10 More than this, however, the painting is a statement of fraternity and eternal friendship; a token of affection between an English Lord and his brother warrior in the forests. Clearly it was an object which Percy held in high regard, for he mentions it in a letter to Brant in 1791 stating ‘I preserve with great care your picture, which is hung in the Duchess’s own room’, signing the letter ‘continue to me your friendship and esteem, and believe me ever to be, with the greatest truth, Your affectionate, Friend and Brother, Northumberland, Thorighwegeri’.11
Returning to North America in June 1786, Brant settled in Quebec, from where he continued to campaign tirelessly on the issue of Indian land sovereignty. Negotiating both with the British and the American Governments, in 1792 he travelled to Philadelphia to meet George Washington and negotiate Mohawk land claims in upstate New York. Though not a hereditary sachem (paramount chief) Brant’s education, fluency in English, and his many contacts with government officials in England and Canada, as well as his knowledge of the laws and customs of the whites, meant that he was entrusted as one of the primary spokesmen for his people. In the many territorial negotiations with the governments of Canada and United States that would be held in the years to follow, it was to Brant that the chiefs entrusted their diplomacy. In 1795 Brant secured a large tract of land from the Mississauga Indians, in the vicinity of Burlington Bay, on Lake Ontario, where he built a fine house and lived in genteel English style. He never forgot the cause of his people, however, and would actively pursue recognition of Indian rights until his death in 1807, at the age of 64.
Educated at Eton and St John’s College Cambridge, Hugh, Earl Percy, later 2nd Duke of Northumberland, was gazetted into the army in 1759 at the age of sixteen, first as an ensign in the 24th Regiment of Foot, and later that year as captain of the 85th. In 1762 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the newly raised 111th Regiment of Foot, and shortly afterwards received a commission in the Grenadier Guards. In 1764 he married Lady Anne Stuart, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713–92), though they were soon divorced, and was appointed aide-de-camp to the King, George III. Despite being elected to parliament in the 1774 general election, in May of that year Percy left with his regiment for service in North America. As a commander he was hugely admired by his troops, marching on foot alongside them and maintaining a vigilant eye on their welfare. He would often furnish his men with food and clothing at his own personal expense, and is known to have paid the cost of the return passage home for those widows whose husbands had died in his service. Extravagant and generous, he was one of the richest men in England and an important and long standing sponsor of Gilbert Stuart’s, whom he rescued from debt in 1785 and who took on something of a role akin to that of a court painter to the Percy household. Percy was therefore a crucial early patron of an artist who went on to become one of the greatest American portrait painters in history. As well as the portrait of Joseph Brant, Stuart painted several half-length portraits of the Duke himself, full-length portraits of the Duke and the Duchess, as well as a large scale portrait of his four children (Northumberland Collection, Syon House).
1. W. L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea, including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, 2 vols., New York 1838, vol. II, p. 337.
2. B. Graymont, 'Thayendanegea', in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. V, University of Toronto, online version.
3. Brant’s gorget is now in the Rochester Museum and Science Centre, Rochester, New York.
4. B. Graymont, op. cit.
7. C. R. Barratt and E. G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart, exhibition catalogue, New York 2004, p. 70.
8. Quoted in L. A. Wood, The War Chief of the Six Nations. A Chronicle of Joseph Brant, Toronto 1914, p. 109.
9. An account of which is given in W. L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea, including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, 2 vols, New York 1838, vol. II, p. 259.
10. C. R. Barratt and E. G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart, exhibition catalogue, New York 2004, p. 71.
11. Quoted in W. L.Stone, Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea, including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, 2 vols., New York 1838, vol. II, pp. 337–38.