April 16: Mary (Molly) Brant (Konwatsijayenni), Witness to the Faith among the Mohawks, 1796

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Mary, or Molly Brant, known among the Mohawks as Konwatsijayenni, was an important presence among the Iroquois Confederacy during the time of the American Revolution. Baptized and raised as an Anglican due to the British presence in her tribal area, she spoke and wrote in English, and she sought to keep the Mohawks, as well as the other tribes of the Iroquois Nation, loyal to the British government during the Revolution.

Born to Peter Tehonwaghkwangeraghkwa and his wife Margaret, she moved west to Ohio with her family and lived there until her father’s death. She and her brother Joseph took the name of their stepfather, Brant Kanagaradunkwa, who married their mother in 1753. Her stepfather was a friend of Sir William Johnson, the British Superintendent for North Indian Affairs. Mary met Sir William in 1759, and though they could not legally marry, she became his common law wife, and together they had nine children. She exerted influence among both the British and the Mohawks, and her voice was often sought among tribal councils and in treaty efforts.

Following her husband’s death, the Oneidas and the Americans, in retaliation for her loyalty to the British and to the Anglican Church, destroyed her home. She and her children fled and were protected by the principal chief of the Five Nations, whose leaders respected her word and counsel.

In 1783, she moved to Kingston, Ontario, where the British Government rewarded her for her loyalty. A lifelong Anglican, she helped found St. George’s Anglican Church in Kingston. At her death her tribesmen as well as the British with whom she had worked mourned her.


I  Maker and lover of all creation, who didst endue Molly Brant with the gifts of justice and loyalty, and didst make her a wise and prudent clan mother in the household of the Mohawk nation: Draw us also toward the goal of our faith, that we may at last attain the full dignity of our nature in our true native land, where with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit thou livest and reignest, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

II   Maker and lover of all creation, you endued Molly Brant with the gifts of justice and loyalty, and made her a wise and prudent clan mother in the household of the Mohawk nation: Draw us also toward the goal of our faith, that we may at last attain the full dignity of our nature in our true native land, where with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:1–7,15–19

Colossians 3:12–17

Matthew 19:28–30

Psalm 111:2-10

Preface of a Saint (1)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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22 thoughts on “April 16: Mary (Molly) Brant (Konwatsijayenni), Witness to the Faith among the Mohawks, 1796

  1. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (title, scripture and Proper Preface) are new.

  2. The Psalm omits verse 1.
    Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, *
    in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

    In the scheme of things why omit this one verse and include the remaining ten?

    Collect and bio: ‘wise and prudent clan mother …’ I know what it means, but it is not mentioned in the bio specifically. It says: she exerted influence, leaders respected her word and counsel, etc.
    And though I am very pleased that the tribal names are used in the bio (Mohawk, Oneida, Iroquois) the collect speaks of the Mohawk nation (without capitalizing Nation as the bio does for Iroquois Nation). According to the bio the collect should say Iroquois Nation shouldn’t it? And then, Five Nations is introduced.
    This bio does a much better job of utilizing tribal names for indigenous people – for that I am very grateful. I especially like the phrase “…the Oneidas and the Americans …’ to distinguish the two.

    Sir William Johnson is noted as the Superintendent for North Indian Affairs. Other sources name him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs? North India is a long way from upstate New York.
    Speaking of upstate New York, might the bio mention Amsterdam, New York, along the Mohawk River for the residence of Sir Johnson and Konwatsijayenni? The house still stands there.

    Konwatsijayenni needs a ‘She died in 1796 and is buried …..’ statement.

  3. This is very confusing. Where is evidence for her being a Clan Mother? If the Oneidas burned her house down, sure she was not regarded with favor by all ! What does it mean to be a Clan Mother in the scheme of things? I also find it confusing that what seems to be a ‘call name’ becomes a ‘family name’,
    i.e., Brant. Where is the evidence for her sanctity, her practice of justice ? Why was it needful to remove
    to Canada after the Amer. Revolution ended ?

  4. She probably had to go to Canada because she had supported the British, and likely was regarded as a traitor by the American government. I, too, don’t know what a Clan Mother is. I am also confused by the various names, alliances, enmities of the Native American tribes and nations. That’s likely because after high school, I took no courses in Amrican history, and focused my studies on English literature and history. But I bet I would not be the only reader of HWHM to be confued by this write-up.

  5. Other than being a “lifelong Anglican,” there is no evidence in the bio of what she did to deserve “Holy Woman” status. Considering that the Episcopal Church was founded by C of E clerical- and lay-Americans who supported the revolution, it seems strange to honor this ardent Tory. One wonders if this is another example of SCLM’s attempts at inclusion of as many groups as possible (“We gotta find a Native American female.”)

  6. Holy Women & Holy Men is rapidly becoming akin to a “Medieval Manuel” with all sorts of inclusiveness that leads to massive confusion with people borrowed from every tradition to make we Episcopalians “nice, nice”. What about King Charles the First, who in spite of all his short comings witnessed to Anglican Tradition that made possible the Episcopal Church as we love it today as opposed the Puritan rags we might be waring today.

  7. I reread the writye-up and have another question: Why couldn’t she and Sir William marry? And was it a sensible thing to do to have nine children under those circumstances? I also, after a second reading, wonder what holy things she did. Her helping found a church in Canada is hardly remarkable. And I echo John Morrell’s comment that it is odd to honor this life-long oppoonant of American independence. Not a few clergy supported the British, and a lot of them fled to Canada. That move was expedient rather than faith-driven. They were liable to charges of treason.

    I have the same trouble with this that I do with inclusion of Confederates and Confederate supporters. Lincoln pardond them, wisely, but they do not need to be valorized in HWHM.

    • I imagine it was then illegal for an Indian (as then called) and a white to marry. C of E clergy were bound by ordination oath to recognize the civil authority of the king, so their refusal to joint the revolution was not completely “expedient.”

    • Would that include every nation we’ve ever been at war against, or just some? Military individuals, civilian citizens, collaborators and supporters, and resident aliens? What about their descendents? Families with some on both sides, or neutrals who didn’t do anything to help our side? Could we exempt babies, old folks, and conscientious objectors?

  8. I don’t think Molly is here merely to fill a quota for a Native American/female/Anglican. Instead, she’s part of our continuing penance for the “rats and vermin” and “Virginia and Massachusetts madmen, met at Philadelphia” (as Samuel Seabury described them with his usual Christian charity) who overthrew our God-appointed king and cruelly imposed liberty upon our unwilling ancestors.
    There’s lots more on Molly at http://www.carf.info/kingstonpast/mollybrant.php#privy, including explanations of her relationship with Sir William (he described her as his “housekeeper,” so HWHM’s “common law wife” is a bit euphemistic), the role of a clan mother, and Molly’s influence on her tribe. Molly is a significant and long-neglected historical figure, but I don’t see much link between her faith and her actions. I’m sure Banastre Tarleton was also a conventionally devout Anglican, but I doubt either he or Molly really belongs in HWHM.

    • I am not sure “Bloody Ban” belongs in the same sentiment as Molly Brant, and I know a discussion of the conduct of the Revolutionary War in the South (Waxhaw, Cowpens, King’s Mountain, etc.) could easily usurp the discussion of the commemoration of Molly Brant. But the point is well taken. Molly seems to be rather a conventional Anglican and nothing in the biography tells me what about her faith and conduct was special and worthy of commemoration. There is nothing in the bio. to tell me how her life might enlighten my life. And there is nothing in the bio. which connects her faith to her deeds. Her activities among the Mohawks seems to be based on tradition. And her ability to move comfortably among the English speaks to a good education and good manners. Since Molly Brant was a Loyalist, I find her commemoration annoying though not quite offensive. After all I am someone whose family was full of rebels, now called Patriots. I do not wish to fight the American Revolution any more than I want to still fight the Civil War. The Episcopal Church was established in spite of the Bishops in England. The Church of England only reluctantly supported the development of a “daughter” church. So unless there is something more about Molly Brant and her faith which is not in the bio., then her commemoration does not seem appropriate at this time.

  9. Mary (Molly) Brant
    I live in the Mohawk Valley, so when I came across details that set this commemoration here it grabbed my interest and raised my hopes for a good and interesting commemoration. However, after reading its content I have to agree with the criticisms that ask, in effect, “where’s the beef?” This is “Holy Women, Holy Men,” and the “Holy” part isn’t present (or “presented”). Earlier today I took issue with a statement making nationalistic commitments a litmus test for HWHM inclusion (and exclusion), but I have to stand foursquare with Suzanne that this commemoration falls short of RELEVANT religious criteria: as she says, “nothing in the biography tells me what about her (Brant’s) faith and conduct was special and worthy of commemoration. There is nothing in the bio. to tell me how her life might enlighten my life. And there is nothing in the bio. which connects her faith to her deeds.” I have to agree.
    I part company with criticisms urging national matters be used as litmus tests regarding a candidate’s faithfulness to the Kingdom of God; that would be an idolatrous methodology. Getting beyond such divisions and nationalistic egocentricity is no small thing, and there probably will be some where we just don’t transcend those divisions or achieve reconciliation regarding them. So be it; we’re sinful even after baptism (and confirmation; and Communion; and maybe even Rosary with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, or a revival meeting with glossalalia and laying on of hands for healing – and exorcism — at the conclusion of the Novena , just prior to Choral Evensong). But God won’t be shocked. God can handle our shortcomings without colluding with our denial.
    I would love to see any number of Native Americans commemorated (especially some with local ties) in HWHM – but only if they meet the criteria we rightly expect for anyone’s inclusion in HWHM. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t.

  10. I recommend that in the title we omit the Mohawk name and her baptismal name, and call her simply “Molly Brant”.

    Line 6, second paragraph: substitute “Molly” for “Mary”.

    Line 1, third paragraph: substitute “Johnson’s” for “her husband’s”.

    Line 1, third paragraph: add “in 1774” after “death”.

    Line 3, fourth paragraph: substitute ” in Ontario, on April 16, 1796, she was mourned by her tribespeople,” (or …”tribe,”) for “her tribesmen”.

  11. To clarify on litmus tests, within the confines of HWHM, I try to be one of those who like Melville’s Father Mapple “acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven.” I’m not nearly as troubled by the inclusion of Molly Brant (although nothing I’ve read persuades me she’s worthy of commemoration in HWHM) as I am by the omission of others of the same era whose religious convictions clearly did influence their lives and whose witness and accomplishments continue to inspire (even if many of those they inspire don’t realize whose examples they emulate): Peter Muhlenberg, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison . . .
    I’m aware that some of the latter three had Deist leanings, but they were faithful Anglicans (and later, Episcopalians) by the standards of their own time. Are Deists really farther from mainstream Anglicanism than Baptists and Roman Catholics (especially those who rejected Anglicanism for Rome)?
    Having mentioned Father Mapple, how did HWHM miss his real-life inspiration, Father Edward Thompson Taylor, “the sailor’s apostle”? He was a Methodist but gets my vote anyway. (And yes, many 19th century Methodists really did call their pastors “Father”).

  12. On another front altogether– what an arresting, but odd image. It seems quite out of keeping with what we generally see in HWHM: contemporary picture/portraits, icons, and the like. (Well, and the occasional Lego scene.) If an individual’s artwork is used, as is clearly the case here, I’d like to see it credited.

    Steve, “Deist leanings” seems a bit of an understatement about Jefferson, for one. I should recuse myself since his birthday, April 13th, is mine and my husband’s as well, and has no commemoration at the moment. (And why not St Caradoc, Welsh hermit & harpist, who stood against the English incursions of Henry I?)

    Nevertheless: I am not sure whether it is to his favor, but Jefferson had a great interest in theology in general, and the Bible in particular. Of course, creating his own version that edits out all the miracles (with scissors!) was a bit over the top…

  13. At first I was, surprised to see a United Empire Loyalist commemorated by the Episcopal church but then I remembered that we commemorate both Protestant and Catholic English martyrs of the reformation so it made sense that we would commemorate people from both sides of the Revolution.
    We need more information about how Molly Brant is holy.

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