Joseph Brant and the Fall of the Iroqouis.

The Rise.
The foundations of the success of the “Great League of Peace and Power” were centred on a unified vision of cooperation and neutrality. From the early days until the mid 18th century the Haudenosaunee, proved adept in using their network of alliances to expand their territory and influence their neighbours.
When the Europeans had grown stronger. It had become obvious to the leaders of the League that they must not allow themselves to get embroiled in matters of no concern to them. Therefore they retained their powerful position and remained aloof while the French and British manoeuvred to gain influence over them.
As long as this status quo continued it seemed as if the Iroquois might survive as a nation, they were still expanding, and European trade was profitable. The “French and Indian War” changed everything. With the two great foreign powers locked in a death struggle for control of America, the Iroquois were inevitably drawn into the conflict. In this war they chose the winning side, mostly because the Mohawks respected William Johnson.
After the war and Pontiac’s failed uprising, the League tried to go back to its former course. However their strong policy of neutrality was gone, and they now had bonds of alliance and obligations to Britain, meaning that if there was another war they would get sucked into it again. Between 1758 and 1770 things went along peacefully for the Haudenosaunee. Men hunted and traded and went on raids, women farmed, oversaw things in the longhouse and had babies, winter turned to spring. Everything seemed normal, even if there was a war, there was no reason to think it would change anything. The British had beaten the French, and no one imagined another war on that scale occurring again. Few could have realised what was to come. Joseph Brant in many ways encapsulates the story of the Iroquois during this time. A legendary figure, still labouring under the stigma of Patriot propaganda, he was central to the Indian story of the American Revolution. For more on the rise of the Iroqouis please read my blogs on the subject by following the links above.


Continue reading “Joseph Brant and the Fall of the Iroqouis.”

The Island Rose.


Last year I was suddenly and briefly transfixed by the story of Princess Kaiulani and the short lived Hawaiian monarchy. At this point I am not prepared to give any meaningful account of the fall of the last Queen of the island kingdom, nor the life of her niece the crown princess, except to say it was a great shame that the kingdom did not continue and that it was not returned after Annexation. Perhaps the tale is the more poignant because unlike other peoples of the Americas and Pacific, the Hawaiians had successfully begun to meld a constitutional monarchy with a tribal society. Making the best of a bad, situation instead of resisting the inexorable advance of European and American interference the leaders of Hawaii from Kamehameha the Great actively sought to maintain their independence by integration of indigenous and foreign culture. Utilising concepts from both worlds. The Kingdom of Hawaii therefore was no kind of “inferior” race that the “civilised” world needed to take in hand. If this model had been allowed to flourish who knows what might have happened, but instead the greed of big business and America’s brief flirtation with imperial ambition swallowed it.

Poppies”, landscape of the Scottish countryside, oil on canvas by Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn, (father’s name) 1890. A letter written to her Father from Great Harrowden Hall, near Wellingborough, indicates that she painted this for her ‘Auntie Liliu’, Princess Liliuokalani.

During the all too brief golden age of the Kingdom, presided over a court full of diversity and mixed traditions. They entertained heads of state and patronised artists, offering a sanctuary for the perpetually ailing Robert Louis Stevenson who befriended the father of the Crown Princess, Victoria Kaiulani (Cleghorn). In the spirit of the age, & in keeping with the role the Hawaiian monarchy wished to play in it, the princess was to be sent abroad, to Britain for a formal education. Before she left her friend Stevenson penned a small farewell poem in her autograph book.

Scottish Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Princess Victoria Kaiulani, c. 1891, Bishop Museum.

“Written in April to Kaiulani in the April of her age; and at Waikiki, within easy walk of Kaiulani’s banyan! When she comes to my land and her father’s, and the rain beats upon the window (as I fear it will), let her look at this page; it will be like a weed gathered and pressed at home; and she will remember her own islands, and the shadow of the mighty tree; and she will hear the peacocks screaming in the dusk and the wind blowing in the palms; and she will think of her father sitting there alone. – R. L. S.”


Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.”

In 1894, Stevenson died, but though saddened, Kaiulani’s world had already fallen apart. The year before a perfunctory telegram had announced flatly that the monarchy had been abrogated. The same year that Stevenson passed away the Republic of Hawaii was created, a step that lead to American annexation in 1898. The princess died in 1899 of inflammatory rheumatism, in Hawaii, brought on by a bout of pneumonia contracted the year before. Her legacy is one of romantic tragedy & idealism, she was the hope of her people, strong & couragous in many ways but indeed also as her old Scottish friend alluded in his touching little poem, as fragile & delicate as an Island Rose.



Captain Kendrick’s Underwear.

Painting by Gordon Miller

This is a story of adventure, massacre, honour and revenge and it all started because of some underwear. There are many non-wars with odd names, such as the Pig War, and perhaps if this non-war could have been called anything other than the Underpant War, perhaps this would have joined the list. It is the story of two ultimately flawed men, victims of their times and cultures, set in a mysterious beautiful and dangerous land, and it was all started because someone hung the washing out to dry. Read on and I’ll tell you about it. Continue reading “Captain Kendrick’s Underwear.”

Recuerden El Alamo.

Alamo Church San Antonio

The city of San Antonio sprawls shimmering in the heat of southern Texas. During hot summer days it is surrounded by a milky halo of haze that dirties the bottom edge of the endless roof of cloud flecked blue above. Traveling down the US 281 southbound towards the downtown area, the glass of it’s skyscrapers glint like diodes in the distance. 2.23 million people live in the greater metropolitan area making it the 2nd most populous city in Texas, it is 130 miles from the Mexican border across the Rio Grande and it is bisected by the San Antonio River that flows through the city. The watercourse is usually choked by ferries of tourists and pleasure boats motoring slowly under it’s many bridges. The idyllic setting of modern architecture, hot sun and the iron blue water chugging it’s way towards the Guadeloupe River, that pours into San Antonio Bay and the Gulf of Mexico over 100 miles away from the city, has attracted a fringe of fashionable Cafe’s and Restaurants to its twin concrete banks. The city also has a thriving tourist industry, every year 26 million people come from all over the world to see the sights, and not a few of these will be heading there because of one thing, they remembered that the Alamo is in San Antonio. Continue reading “Recuerden El Alamo.”

Castillo’s Oranges.

Bernal Diaz says he planted the first Orange seeds in America.

In his book “A true history of the conquest of New Spain” (Un veridad historia de la conquista de Nueva España) Conquistador Bernal Diaz de Castillo wrote that after experiencing many hardships and battles, Juan de Grijalva’s 1518 expedition to Yucatan, landed in the Tobasco region of Mexico on the 1st of May. There he tells of a very poignant little story, that I found strangely moving, possibly about how the first Oranges came to central America. Continue reading “Castillo’s Oranges.”

The Delafield Commission.

The Crimean War was one of the first to be widely photographed. The first as far as anybody with a degree knows was the Mexican American War. An anonymous artist took several daguerreotypes of US soldiers on campaign. Then a Hungarian with the per usual unpronounceable name of Carol Pop de Szathmari took over 200 images, now mostly lost, of the Russian Turkish conflict that lead up to the Crimean War. While searching around to see if I’d missed anything I found an interesting one called the American Commission, so here’s a brief adventure in Historyland about it. Continue reading “The Delafield Commission.”