After receiving an education in Dunfermline, Norton enlisted in the British 65th Foot Regiment in 1784. He arrived in Lower Canada with the regiment in 1785, and was sent to Fort Niagara (Upper Canada) in 1787. Norton received his discharge in 1788, and worked in the fur trade from 1791-95 for John Askin, an American trader based in Fort Detroit, serving as both an interpreter and trader. He dealt with the First Nations south of the Great Lakes (Maumee, Wyandot, Shawnee). Following the victory of the American army over Maumee and their allies at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (20 Aug 1794), Norton returned to Canada.
Norton was retained by the Indian Department at Niagara as an interpreter, during which time he met Joseph BRANT. Impressed by Norton's skill as an interpreter and negotiator, Brant convinced Norton to join the Grand River Mohawk. Norton resigned from the Indian Department. Brant adopted Norton as his nephew and granted him the title of Peace Chief, assigning him the task of negotiating land settlements with the British government. Norton was aided by Brant's son John, but they were unable to reach an agreement favourable to the Grand River Mohawk. During these negotiations, John Norton was approached by the British and Foreign Bible Society to translate the Gospel of St. John into the Mohawk language; when published in 1806, it was the first translation of the gospel in a First Nations' language.
In the spring of 1809, Norton travelled to the land of the Cherokee where he re-established contact with members of his father's family. He travelled through Shawnee lands during his return, arriving in Grand River in June 1810. About this time he met TENSKWATAWA and TECUMSEH. With the outbreak of the WAR OF 1812 between Britain and the United States, Norton was given the rank of captain in the British army. He recruited Grand River Mohawk and others and led them at the BATTLE OF QUEENSTON HEIGHTS (13 October 1812). After the death of Sir Isaac BROCK early in the battle, Norton led the Mohawk in the attack on the American troops. The action proved decisive, for it gave General SHEAFFE time to prepare a successful counter attack and crush the American force.
The following year, Norton and his warriors covered the retreat of the British forces to Burlington Heights after the Americans had taken Fort Niagara. The American advance was halted at the BATTLE OF STONEY CREEK (6 June 1813), where Norton's Mohawk provided scouts prior to a successful night attack by Brigadier John VINCENT and the 49th Regiment. Days later, the British completed the rout of the Americans at the BATTLE OF BEAVER DAMS (24 June 1813) with the aid of Grand River and Kahnawake Mohawk warriors.
After the war, Norton and his wife, a Lenape (Delaware) woman called Karighwaycagh, travelled to England where Norton received the brevet rank of major in the British army. They returned to Grand River in 1816. In 1823, Norton was found guilty of manslaughter after a duel involving his wife's suspected infidelity and after that he essentially disappeared from the historic record. The last known correspondence from him was in 1826. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Norton died in northern Mexico sometime in October 1831.
Author D.S. DAVIS
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
A biography of John Norton, schoolmaster, Indian Department interpreter, Mohawk chief, army officer, and author. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Courage and Reward in the War of 1812
This article reviews issues concerning the recognition and rewarding of courage and bravery shown by British forces and local militia in the War of 1812. Scroll down to page 99 for a note about British soldiers at the siege of Fort Meigs in 1813. See page 102 for a reference to John Norton. From the Canadian Army Journal.
Battlefield House Museum
See an illustrated history of the Battle of Stoney Creek and other features related to the War of 1812. Also, click on "The People" (at the top of the page) for a brief account of how local resident Billy Green assisted the British forces during the War of 1812.
Leading Myths of the War of 1812
This article debunks some of the more outlandish myths about British and American achievements in the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
A biography of William Claus, British Indian Department official and military officer during the War of 1812. Includes notes about his feud with chief John Norton. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Unturned Stones in War of 1812 Studies
This article identifies a number of significant, but underreported, events in the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military: In Defence of their Homelands
Scroll down the page for an illustrated account of how the leaders of the First Nations actively supported the British fight against American forces in the War of 1812. From the website for the Department of National Defence.
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