Mary “Molly” Brant: Challenging Traditional Roles Of Women


Before the Revolutionary Era in American history, people and researchers often tended to misrepresent women. Mary “Molly” Brant, a Mohawk female leader, was perceived as the wife of Sir William Johnson, who was the British chief officer. A more in-depth analysis of historic documents shows that Molly significantly influenced the change in the gender roles of women. Although Mary Brant is criticized for her pro-British actions, she contributed to establishing intercultural relationships between the Iroquois and British, while also promoting the idea that women can be active participants in politics.

Combining Indian and European Cultures

In traditional Iroquois culture, people perceived females as the creators of life, which allowed them to make important decisions. In particular, clan mothers were able to either accept or reject grooms and brides, decide when ceremonies would begin, resolve issues about raising children, and so on. At the same time, the European colonists practiced patriarchal views, where females had few powers and freedoms. According to Kern (2013), Brant understood that she could become a change agent by joining the British army and marrying a British officer. She was “a cultural broker between the Six Nations and the British Empire” (Kern, 2013, p. 4). This woman created new political and social gender roles by supporting the alliance between the two cultures. Molly understood that the Iroquois had to interact with the British to preserve their identity.

Empowering Females and Creating Opportunities

Due to the American Revolution, Molly Brant expanded her cultural power by promoting Iroquois gender customs in her relationships with the British people. While being a housekeeper for her husband, Brant’s trade good distribution between colonists and local merchants allowed her to gain authority and create networks of influence (Lauter, 2020). As a result, she obtained a title of a Mohawk clan mother and supporter of the Covenant Chain alliance. These efforts ensured the exchange of products, which contributed to a higher quality of life for both involved cultures.

In terms of politics, Molly Brant played an essential role in managing Indian Affairs when her husband made trips for work purposes. It was a breakthrough experience for that period since neither Iroquois nor British females were engaged in political affairs (Herrmann, 2019). As an influential figure, she participated in councils and “established her distribution networks in several different locations in Iroquoia” (Kern, 2013, p. 39). This prominent woman also acted as a mediator of tensions between the two sides, ensuring that garrison officers provided the people of her tribe with the products and services they needed. Molly Brant’s power allowed her to remain open to any person, who wanted to speak to her (Lauter, 2020). Namely, she launched a small store in Canajoharie, where not only goods were sold, but also Indian warriors could visit her for sound consultation. In other words, it was a central meeting place to further support the Covenant Chain alliance.


To conclude, Mary “Molly” Brant was a prominent female figure, who managed to preserve her unique Iroquois traditions, while also aligning them with the European culture and creating the Covenant Chain alliance. Brant created an image of a politically and socially active woman, thus showing other women that their voices can be heard. In general, the American Revolution was decisive for females as it opened new opportunities in social and political areas. Many women began to understand that their traditional roles as housekeepers could be transformed and that there were ways they could contribute to the future of their societies.


Herrmann, R. B. (2019). No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution. Cornell University Press.

Kern, B. D. (2013). An Iroquois Woman Between Two Worlds: Molly Brant and the American Revolution [Doctoral Dissertation, Miami University]. OhioLink ETD Center.

Lauter, P. (2020). A companion to American Literature and Culture. John Wiley & Sons.