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Effigy pipe

Effigy pipe associated with Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant, Mohawk, ca. 1742–1807)
ca. 1785
New York
Wood, slate, porcupine quill, dye, silver
79 x 7 x 6 cm
Presented by Joseph Keppler

“Among us we have no prisons, we have no pompous parade of courts, we have no written laws, and yet judges are as highly revered among us as they are among you, and their decisions are as highly regarded.

Property, to say the least, is well-guarded, and crimes are as impartially punished. We have among us no splendid villains above the control of our laws. Daring wickedness is never suffered to triumph over helpless innocence. The estates of widows and orphans are never devoured by enterprising sharpers. In a word, we have no robbery under color of law.”
—Joseph Brant, letter to an unknown correspondent, 1807

When Joseph Brant presented a carved pipe to Dr. Caleb Benton sometime in the early 1790s, he was carrying on an ancient Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) practice. Pipes were exchanged at meetings with visiting dignitaries and used to conclude treaties. Between individuals, the gift of a pipe and tobacco affirmed friendship and gratitude for an act of generosity or kindness.

After the Revolution, Britain’s Haudenosaunee allies were left vulnerable, their lands open to expropriation. Brant, a commissioned officer for the Crown, led many displaced Mohawks to a new homeland on the Grand River in Upper Canada (now Ontario). He also sought compensation for Mohawk territorial losses from New York state and from the federal government in Philadelphia.

Brant may have received or purchased the Benton pipe during a visit to the capital in 1790. He traveled throughout Haudenosaunee territory shortly afterward in an effort to create a united front against U.S. intrusions. He also tried to form a confederation of Native nations in the Midwest to oppose American expansion. On one of those trips, he fell gravely ill and rested in a private residence near Seneca Lake. This may have been the home of Dr. Benton, who had built a tavern on the western shore of Seneca Lake, the traditional territory of the Cayuga Nation.

Brant would have known of Benton’s involvement in the Genesee Land Company, which used bribery and intimidation to buy and sell Native lands, often at enormous profits. But a personal friendship with one of the non-Native leaders of western New York would have been important to Brant’s strategy. The pipe may also have been Brant’s way of expressing his gratitude for Dr. Benton’s medical assistance.

—Doug George-Kanentiio (Akwasasne Mohawk)

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