THE WORLD OF SAMUEL MEEKER, MERCHANT OF PHILADELPHIA, AND GILBERT STUART, AMERICAN PORTRAIT ARTIST

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Joseph Brant and events leading up to the Battle of Minisink, a Revolutionary War Engagement in the Upper Delaware Valley 1779


The following events took place primarily in the Sussex area of New Jersey and led up to the Battle of Minisink, in which Major Samuel Meeker (see posts previous to this) played a significant role in leading the American milita in the tragic chase after the Mohawk chief and his followers.

“In the autumn of 1778, Brant, the famous Mohawk chief, made a descent from the borders of Canada into the Minisink valley, at the head of about a hundred Indians and Tories. They confined their atrocities chiefly to the settlements north of the Jersey boundary. ….In July, 1779, he reappeared with a larger force, and effected the destruction of the Neversink settlement, at what is now Port Jervis, in Orange Co. N.Y. The scene of massacre enacted here beggars description. One writer says, “While the inhabitants were attending the funeral of a deceased neighbor at the church, and when the procession was leaving for the burying-ground, the Indians came down upon their settlement, and before they had time to reach their homes the flames of the church gave signs of their narrow escape, and the smoke of their mills, barns, and houses forshadowed the doom of Neversink. Some of the whites—the number is unknown—were massacred in the most merciless manner; others—and among them mothers with their children in their arms or by their sides—fled to thickets, swamps, and standing grass for concealment and safety….

…. Brant shows a bit of Compassion

On their approach to the heart of the village the Indians found the rising hope of the colony in the school-house, under the tuition of Jeremiah Van Auken. The teacher soon fell a victim to their fury, and was dragged, a corpse, from the school-house, and also some of his pupils. Meanwhile, the rest of the boys fled to the woods for safety, while their sisters stood trembling and weeping by the lifeless remains of their teacher. At this instant a savage whoop was heard that reverberated through the forest and seemed like the signal to renewed deeds of cruelty. But even in the bosom of an Indian there still glowed one spark of sympathy that kindled at the scene. A brawny form sprang from the woods, where he had witnessed the tragical event, and with utmost speed approached the little group, with his horn by his side and his brush in his hand, and, dashing his paint-brush across their aprons, cried, ‘Little girls, hold up that mark when you see an Indian, and you are safe,’ and uttering a terrible yell, he plunged into the forest and disappeared. It was Brant. The life-mark was upon the little girls. The ruthless savage, when he saw it, smiled and passed by. The will of the chief was law.” History of Sussex and Warren, compiled by James P. Snell, Everts and Peck Philadelphia 1881. p 55


Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) by Gilbert Stuart 1786 Collection of the Duke of Northumberland

Brant was painted by Gilbert Stuart 1786 in London. Here Brant was celebrated as King of the Mohawks and treated with honors and respect by English high society, including aristocrats and royalty.

“In his role as ambassador for his nation at court, Brant presented a seductive public image that merged diplomat and warrior, gentleman and brute… He played his role through costume, as he donned English suits for some occasions, full Iroquois chieftain garb for others, and even a combination when it suited." Barratt and Miles p 70-71

Did Joseph Brant and Samuel Meeker, merchant, meet in later years in Philadelphia?

Entirely possible!

6 comments:

The Clever Pup said...

Hi Beth,

What did you mean on my site about "going out"? I'm confused.

I didn't know you were going to surprise me today with a Gilbert Stuart of Brant. All this is so interesting.

emikk said...

That was very nice of him, saving the kids from being killed! Too bad there had to be all that violence back then though.

Beth Ahrens-Kley said...

hi Hazel,
cause you were talking in one of your notes about a certain fashion which you were 'going to wear out', i should have added more detail (in the post purple haze(l)
without having gone back to check the responses, you were going to wear a fashion by 'april something' sorry!

Anonymous said...

My Dad's hobby was geneology. Being a VanAuken, he had to tell me about Jeremiah. He also said the Brandt was a Freemason, this has been verified. Then he told me that the mark on the aprons was the Masonic square & compass. Do you know anything about this?
Thanx much -- nangold@charter.net

einbildungskraft said...

Dear Anon~ no I don't, but it seems to me that the Masonic lodge was a very big thing back then, as the 'law of the land' was not so much in force as it is nowadays. It would not surprising that Brandt would be a Freemason.
Maybe someone else knows?

Anonymous said...

Joseph Brant had high scruples against harming any non-combatants. The legend of the painted aprons supposedly occurred just outside of Port Jervis, Orange, NY on present day Rt 6 near the Interstate 84 ramp. There's even an historical marker on the spot. The legend goes on to say that the teacher had the girls press the wet paint from their aprons onto the shirts of the boys to "save" them, too. (Nobody explains how much weight such a mark would make, being backwards on the shirts and all.) Also, Brant could read and write extremely well. He even wrote a translation of the Bible into Mohawk. There was no need for him to use a symbol and not initials or a signature. Anyhow, after reading "Joseph Brant, 1743–1807, Man of Two Worlds" by Isabel Kelsay (a go-to book on the man and a fascinating read) some time ago, I'm 99% sure that she said the whole thing never happened. It certainly sounds like a tall tale. There are so many fanciful legends about Brant that have no basis in reality. Another example is the Wyoming Massacre. Joseph Brant did NOT participate, in fact he wasn't even in PA at all at the time. The reason this painted aprons legend is in a history of NJ is because of the New Jersey Line War. NJ claimed a lot of NY territory, including the Port Jervis area. It wasn't fully resolved until the King approved the agreement in 1773. People on the NJ side of the argument referred the region as NJ for quite a while afterwards.

All the best.

 
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