John Norton (Mohawk chief)

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John Norton
John Norton.jpg
Teyoninhokovrawen (John Norton)
Born Unknown 1760's
Unknown, likely Scotland
Died Unknown - sometime after 1826
Nationality Mohawk (adopted)

John Norton (Teyoninhokovrawen) (b.c. 1760s Scotland (?)- d.after 1826, adopted as Mohawk) was a military leader of Iroquois warriors in the War of 1812 on behalf of Great Britain against the United States. Commissioned as a major, he led warriors from the Six Nations of the Grand River into battle against American invaders at Queenston Heights, Stoney Creek, and Chippawa.

Likely born and educated in Scotland, he had a Scottish mother and a father who was born Cherokee in Tennessee but raised from boyhood with the English. Norton joined the British Army, serving in Ireland before being assigned to Lower Canada after the American Revolutionary War. While there he became interested in the Six Nations of Grand River, ultimately learning the Mohawk language and culture and being adopted into the tribe. In 1804 on a diplomatic trip representing the Iroquois to England, he translated the Gospel of John into Mohawk for the British and Foreign Bible Society; it was distributed in Upper Canada beginning in 1806.

Early life[edit]

John Norton was likely born in Scotland in the early 1760s to a Scottish mother and a father born Cherokee in Tennessee and raised from boyhood in England.[1] His father had been rescued as a boy by British soldiers when his hometown of Keowee (Tennessee) was destroyed during the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War. The boy was taken back to England and raised in an English family. John Norton was likely educated as a boy in Scotland.

He served an apprenticeship as a printer, but ran away to join the army. He was assigned to Scotland, where he married. Next he was stationed in Ireland, where there were numerous Scots and border English immigrants. In 1785 he was assigned to Lower Canada (Quebec) after the end of the American Revolutionary War.

While stationed with his regiment at Niagara (Upper Canada) in 1787, Norton deserted the army and was discharged. For a time, he taught at the Mohawk settlement of Tyendinaga on the Bay of Quinte, west of Kingston, Ontario. In 1791 he traveled through the Ohio region as a trader, establishing many contacts.

During this time, he became increasingly involved with the Iroquois Six Nations of the Grand River. In 1794, he returned to Fort Niagara, where he served as an interpreter for the British Indian department. He became known to Joseph Brant, the prominent Mohawk people leader who became his mentor. In his early 30s, Norton was adopted into the Mohawk, with Brant as his uncle.

Estimated to be in his early 30s, Norton was adopted by a Mohawk family, with prominent leader Joseph Brant becoming his uncle. He was given the Mohawk name of Teyoninhokovrawen to mark this passage. Norton moved to the Grand River reserve, where he married Catherine, a woman from one of the six Iroquois nations.

Mohawk chief[edit]

Portrait of Major John Norton as Mohawk Chief Teyoninhokarawen by Mather Brown, ca. 1805. Yale Center for British Art

Norton was strongly influenced by Joseph Brant (Thayendanega), the most prominent Mohawk chief, who had led much of the tribe through the end of the American Revolution and their resettlement in Upper Canada. Norton became a protégé of Brant,[2] learning the Mohawk language and culture; he was adopted into the people as Thayendanega's nephew. Later he was appointed a "Pine Tree Chief," in a public ceremony, according to Iroquois custom. This was an honorary position and was not within the hereditary line.[3]

Norton supported Brant's efforts to make the new settlements at Grand River yield more revenues for the Iroquois, especially his plan to lease land to settlers to develop it in a mutually beneficial way. The Iroquois were in transition to the kind of settled agricultural community which was a goal of the British. By 1796 Brant felt he had to compete with the reserves established at Buffalo Creek in New York for the Seneca and Tyendinaga for Mohawk at the Bay of Quinte in order to attract more Iroquois to settle at Great River. On the other side of the border in the United States, the Onondaga and Seneca were receiving annuities for the land they had ceded.

Unable to develop the lands rapidly enough for agriculture, Brant proposed leasing them to settlers; he was also worried that European-Canadian settlers would otherwise squat on the Iroquois lands and gain control. The British colonial governor John Graves Simcoe wanted all sales or leases handled by the British. "[B]y stereotyping Indians as naive primitives, colonial officials frustrated native attempts to exploit the commercial potential of their land."[4] He opposed the idea of having whites lease from the Mohawk and used William Claus, deputy superintendent of the Six Nations at Grand River, to carry out his policy.[5] With the approval of the Mohawk but not the British, in 1798 Brant sold major blocks of unused land, with revenues to be invested in a British-Canadian bank to yield an annuity for the Mohawk people.[2] Brant died in 1807.

Bible translator[edit]

In the spring of 1804, Teyoninhokarawen (John Norton), went to England to negotiate treaties with the English on behalf of the Iroquois. At the request of the British and Foreign Bible Society, he translated the Gospel of John into Mohawk. His work would represent a number of firsts for the newly formed Bible Society: its first translation; first publication; and first distribution in a foreign land when it was sent to Canada.

In the Mohawk Chapel at Brantford, Ontario, a memorial stained-glass window portrays the 1806 distribution of the Gospel in Mohawk. The bottom panel of the window is inscribed with Norton’s preface to his translation: “Let us strictly adhere to what the Lord has transmitted to us in the Holy Scriptures, that thereby the unbelievers may know that love we bear the commandments of God.” (from bookmark produced by the Canadian Bible Society)

To Cherokee country[edit]

In 1809-1810 Norton had a lengthy trip to the American Southeast, where he traveled through the still extensive Cherokee territory, in part to try to find his father's people. He did meet relatives and was accepted as Cherokee. The people were under pressure from land encroachment by settlers and state governments, particularly Georgia. He kept detailed accounts of what he saw and described Cherokee towns and culture in his The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816. This journal was edited by Carl F. Klinck and James J. Talman and republished as part of the General Series of the Champlain Society in 1970.[6]

War of 1812[edit]

Norton stayed active with the Mohawk after Brant's death, although he had to deal with intervention from Claus, who had been promoted in 1800 to deputy superintendent of the Indian Department of Upper Canada. Claus courted the Mohawk and other local tribes to gain their alliance in a period of growing tensions with the United States after 1807.[5] Norton led a handful of Six Nations warriors into battle in Tecumseh's offensive in 1811 against the Americans at Tippecanoe. When the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States began, Norton was quick to join General Isaac Brock at Detroit, despite the official neutrality of the Canadian Six Nations. Following Brock's success at Detroit, more Six Nations warriors joined the British forces as allies. Their timely arrival at Queenston Heights, under the leadership of Major Norton, John Brant (Joseph's son), and Lieutenant Kerr of the Indian Department, was crucial to British victory. William Claus also commanded a unit there.

Following Queenston Heights, Norton continued to lead larger bands of Iroquois warriors into several of the war's most significant battles. His journal, published under the title The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816, offers one of the most thorough firsthand accounts of the War of 1812. Norton included in the journal an account of his travel to the Cherokee in the American Southeast around 1809-1810. He described their settlements and culture at the start of their final golden age before the Trail of Tears and forced removal west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s. Norton always intended his journal as a document for publication.

Historian Carl Benn addresses the question of "how Mohawk" Norton was and what viewpoint his journal of the War of 1812 reflects. He notes that Norton's formative years were spent in the Scotland, with a Scots mother and a Cherokee father who was raised from a boy with the English. Norton was not adopted by the Mohawk until after the age of 30 but was very close to his mentor Joseph Brant. Benn concludes that, "by the Mohawk standards of the period, John Norton was a Mohawk;" the tribe had a tradition of incorporating persons of other ancestries into their culture, although such adoptions usually were of more malleable children and young women. Benn noted that some of Norton's "adversaries used his origins to defame him."[7]

Later years[edit]

Norton's final years are a mystery. There were suggestions that he had left Canada and moved as far as Laredo, Mexico. His date of death is unknown but his last mention in records was in 1826.[8]

Family tree[edit]

(MEN) Walter G. McNaughton; George S. Norton; John (Teyoninhokovrawen) Norton; Abrham Q. Norton; Theodore D. Norton; Daniel Sheldon Norton; John M. Norton Sr.; John M. Norton Jr.; Daniel J. Norton; David R. Norton; Connor J. Norton; Alec R. Norton; Robert Norton; Peter Norton.

(WOMEN) Martha A. McNaughton; Florence T. Norton; Elizabeth M. Norton; Agness W. Norton; Jane P. Norton; Barbara W. Norton; Kathleen E. Norton; N/A, Amanda G. Norton.


  1. ^ Taylor, pg. 359
  2. ^ a b Taylor, The Divided Ground, pp. 332-334
  3. ^ "The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816, ed. Klinck, Carl F. pgs. cx-cxi". The Champlain Society, General series 46.; 1970. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  4. ^ Taylor, The Divided Ground, p. 43
  5. ^ a b Tucker (2012), Encyclopedia of War of 1812, p. 136
  6. ^ Norton, John (1970). Klinck, Carl; Talman, James, eds. Journal of Major John Norton, 1816: The Publications of the Champlain Society. Toronto: Champlain Society Publications. doi:10.3138/9781442618039. 
  7. ^ Benn, Carl (1998). The Iroquois in the War of 1812. University of Toronto Press. pp. 7–9, 33. ISBN 978-0-8020-8145-2. . Online at Google Books
  8. ^ [1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Johnston, Charles M. "William Claus and John Norton: A Struggle for Power in Old Ontario." Ontario History 1965 57 (2): 101-108.
  • Klinck, Carl F. "New Light on John Norton." Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada 1966 4 (Section 2): 167-177.
  • Klinck, Carl F. and James J. Talman. The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816. Toronto: Champlain Society Publications, 1970.
  • Boyce, Douglas W. "A Glimpse of Iroquois Culture History through the eyes of Joseph Brant and John Norton." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 1973 117 (4): 286-294.
  • Fogelson, Raymond D. "Major John Norton as Ethno-Ethnologist." Journal of Cherokee Studies 1978 3 (4): 250-255.
  • Taylor, Alan, The Divided Ground, Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, 2006, ISBN 0-679-45471-3
  • Tucker, Spencer B. The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History, ABC-CLIO, 2012

External links[edit]