Abstract

John Norton (fl. 1770–1823) has long fascinated historians. After having been taken in by the prominent Mohawk leader Thayendanegea Joseph Brant as a young man, Norton claimed to imperial outsiders that he occupied a position of great influence among the Haudenosaunee. Norton bolstered this assertion with the improbable story that his own father had been Cherokee. While many historians have accepted Norton’s claims, there is good reason to reconsider this view. Existing records, including Six Nations council minutes, suggest that not only did Norton misrepresent his ancestry, he greatly exaggerated his standing among the Grand River communities. Rather than an authentic representative of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, it appears much more likely that Norton mobilized his claims of Cherokee blood and Six Nations belonging in order to gain remarkable influence in the British Atlantic World. Recognizing the power of these claims, his opponents eventually succeeded in undermining Norton’s self-presentation, eventually resulting in his political marginalization and ultimately in his exile from the Grand River under pain of death.

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