Joseph Brant of the Mohawk Nation was born in what is now Ohio in 1743 and Martin was fascinated by Brant’s life. The younger brother of Sir William Johnson’s longtime consort Molly Brant, Joseph Brant and Sir William’s son John led devastating raids in the Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution.
Sir William, Britain’s Indian agent in our region, died in 1774 before the war. However, his good relations with the Iroquois Confederacy kept most of them on the side of the British during the Revolution.
In 2006 Martin co-authored Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution with Joseph Glatthaar.
Martin said Sir William Johnson didn’t have particularly good relations with the Oneidas and the Oneidas became “good, faithful and active allies of the American rebels during the revolution.”
Martin said most of the other nations in the Iroquois Confederacy thought the British would do more for them during and after the war.
“As it turned out it didn’t work that way for either side,” Martin said. “The British in 1783 in the Peace of Paris did nothing to protect the Mohawks and other Indians who had supported them. In the end the Americans didn’t do very much for the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras. So it’s not a real happy story at the end and the wounds are still evident today among the Six Nations. And the Oneidas are treated sometimes as, well you’re the brothers that went in the wrong direction and really separated from the confederacy.”
Martin, who serves as a history adviser to the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, said the Oneidas went through “rough times” in the 1800s and early 1900s and lost most of their land.
Martin said, “It’s been an amazing recovery for the Oneidas with their huge resort complex Turning Stone [opened in 1993]. There’s a success story there today that has really brought them back. And they’re major contributors to the economy and cultural understanding today on the role of Native Americans in American history.”
Martin was one of six authors participating in a weekend conference earlier this month called the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley.
Another speaker was Don Hagist, author of The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers behind the Photographs.
“It’s my take on an old book, book called The Last Men in the Revolution,” Hagist said. The original book appeared in 1864 and consisted of photos of surviving Revolutionary War soldiers.
One of the veterans photographed was Samuel Downing who served at Fort Plain. Hagist said Downing’s case is one of the few where a specific soldier can be documented as being in a specific location.
Downing was with the Second New Hampshire Regiment and was at Fort Plain in 1782. The Fort Plain Museum has a photo of Downing on exhibit.
Over 100 attended the history conference organized by the Fort Plain Museum. Guests came from the Mohawk Valley and other parts of New York. Several came from Canada and there were attendees from California, Colorado, Texas, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
In addition to the speaking program, there was a bus tour to historic sites in western Montgomery County: Nellis Tavern, Fort Klock, Van Alstyne Homestead, Isaac Paris House, Palatine Church, Stone Arabia Church and Fort Plain Museum.
The second annual conference has been scheduled for June 10 through June 12 in 2016. Organizer Brian Mack said, “We want to put the Mohawk Valley back on the map.”
Interviews with Jim Kirby Martin, Don Hagist, Brian Mack and other conference participants can be heard online on a recent Historians Podcast.
Photo of Oneidas at the memorial of the Battle of Oriskany in 2009. Courtesy the Oneida Indian Nation.
A version of this story was first published at the Daily Gazette.