|The Iroquois chief John Norton
emerges as one of the most intriguing personalities of the War of 1812.
Many details about his life remain unclear, but his role in the conflict
between British and U.S. forces in North America is quite well documented.
John Norton was born the son of a Cherokee father and a Scottish mother, probably around the year 1770. It seems that Norton's father joined the British Army and eventually settled in Scotland where he later married. John Norton was most likely educated in Scotland and followed his father into the army at a young age.
He was stationed in Ireland at the age of fourteen and found himself in Quebec in 1785. While with his regiment at Niagara in 1787, he deserted the army. It must have been during this time that he became involved with the Six Nations of the Grand River.
For a time, Norton taught at the Bay of Quinte, an Iroquois village west of Kingston. He also began the first of his many rambles throughout North America, traveling through the Ohio region as a trader and establishing many contacts. The call of the Grand River settlement proved to be stronger.
Norton was especially inspired by the Mohawk chief, Thayendanega (Joseph Brant). Norton acquired Mohawk language and culture, and was adopted into the community as Thayendanega's nephew. He acquired the status of chief from his adopted uncle and was given the name "Teyoninhokarawen". which is Mohawk for "open door." The name suggests that Norton had a strong, dual nature; he was a chief for peace and a chief for war.
Like Tecumseh, Norton came to believe that the best hope for the First Nations lay in native solidarity. The multi-ethnic nature of the Grand River community reinforced this vision. Embarking on a year-long journey in 1809, Norton traveled south to learn about his Cherokee ancestry and become acquainted with the conditions of other First Nations in the US
As the British-American conflict approached in 1812, Norton was considered an obvious ally by the British administration. He had retained aspects of his white heritage (he was a devout Anglican) and had maintained close contact with the British while living on the Grand River.