Christian Daniel Claus

(1727-1787)




Claus, Christian Daniel, Indian department official; born 13 September 1727 at Boennigheim (near Heilbronn, Federal Republic of Germany), son of Adam Frederic Claus, the town prefect, and his wife Anna Dorothea; died 9 November 1787 near Cardiff, Wales.

          Christian Daniel Claus was born into a prominent family of southwestern Germany.  In 1748 or 1749 a German emigrant visiting from America involved him in a plan to export raw silk and tobacco from America for processing in Germany.  When Claus arrived in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1749, he discovered that the scheme was more imaginary than real.  With few contacts and apparently unable to afford the voyage home, he resolved to find employment during the winter and return to Germany in the spring.  He made the acquaintance of Johann Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania's Indian agent, and was probably hired at that time as a tutor for Weiser's son.  In 1750 Claus accompanied Weiser on a journey to the Hudson-Mohawk valley of New York, and during their stay with the Onondagas he began to compile a vocabulary of Indian words.  On his return to Philadelphia he met the governor who, recognizing his interest in languages, arranged for him and Weiser's son to be sent to live among the Mohawks.  He stayed for a while with King Hendrick [ Theyanoguin], who instructed him in the language, history, and customs of the Six Nations.

          In 1755, when the management of Indian affairs in the northern colonies was centralized under the direction of William Johnson, Claus was made a lieutenant in the Indian department and a deputy secretary of Indian affairs.  With the outbreak of the Seven Years' War at this time, the department was strained to its utmost for some years.  Johnson's connection with the Six Nations became a vital part of the British effort to wrest control of eastern North America from France.  Claus played an important role as an interpreter and diplomat in the frequent conferences and negotiations with the Indians.  The collapse of New France added new pressures to the department; Johnson found that his traditional role with the Six Nations and his new concerns with the Indians of the Ohio country left him no time to look after Canada.  Claus was accordingly made the deputy agent to the Canadian Indians on 20 September 1760.  He was based at Montreal and reported both to Johnson and to the local military government.

          The world of the Indian department was a quasi-military one.  In 1756 Claus had been made a lieutenant in the Royal Americans (62nd, later 60th Foot).  With Johnson's financial assistance he purchased a captaincy in 1761, but he sold it the following year.  He became colonel of the Albany County militia on 18 February 1768 and acquired the colonelcy of another militia regiment on 7 July 1772.

          These middle years of Claus's career were busy but pleasant.  He married Ann (Nancy), the daughter of Johnson and Catherine Weissenberg (Wisenberg), on 13 April 1762.  He occupied an important government post, and he owned considerable land in the vicinity of Albany.  His success was deserved: he was charming, honest, and hardworking.  The American revolution and administrative change in the Indian department, however, ended this comfort.

          Sir William Johnson died suddenly on 11 July 1774 and was succeeded in the department by another son-in-law, Guy Johnson.  Governor Guy Carleton, resenting the Johnson influence over Indian administration in Quebec and wishing to place the Montreal agency more nearly under his own control because of the approaching conflict with the Americans, used this opportunity to institute a change in personnel.  Daniel Claus, who according to his own statement had for 15 years borne "the whole weight and management of... the Indian Department" in Canada, was summarily dismissed from office in 1775 and replaced by John Campbell, the son-in-law of Luc de La Corne.  On 11 November 1775 Claus took passage to England in company with Guy Johnson, Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea], and others seeking the cancellation of Carleton's arrangements.

          Claus returned in June 1777 with an appointment as superintendent of the Six Nations Indians who were to accompany Barrimore Matthew St. Leger on an expedition into the Mohawk valley by way of Oswego, and he was present at St. Leger's unsuccessful siege of Fort Stanwix (Rome, New York) in August.  With John Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga (Schuylerville) in October, the loyalist cause in the upper Hudson valley was lost, and Claus's family fled to Canada, abandoning lands and possessions.

          The final period of his career opened with his appointment in August 1778 as a deputy agent for the Six Nations in Canada, subordinate to Guy Johnson.  Several factors were involved.  Frederick Haldimand had replaced Carleton as governor in June.  He knew Claus and was sympathetic to the needs of the Indian department.  Burgoyne's surrender had left the future of the Six Nations, especially the Mohawks, in doubt, and someone was needed to act as an official liaison with Indian leaders.  Claus, who was familiar with the Iroquois and spoke some of their dialects, was the obvious choice; Campbell did not speak any Indian tongue and was fully occupied with the affairs of the Canadian Indians.

          In his last years Claus supervised, along with John Butler, the establishment of various groups of Six Nations Indians on British soil, particularly at the Bay of Quinte and the Grand River (Ontario).  His time was spent chiefly in Montreal and Quebec, but he made regular journeys to the western country.  He was also greatly concerned to obtain compensation for his losses in the American revolution, and he died in Britain in 1787 while pursuing this interest.  His son William later became deputy superintendent of Indian affairs.

          Claus's career demonstrates the intricacies of office-holding and the complexity of Indian-white relations in the late 18th century.  He was a consummate politician, who strongly defended the Johnson interests in the Indian department, and an ambitious official who took his responsibilities seriously and carried them out with great competence.

—  Douglas Leighton, Assistant professor of history
Huron College, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario





Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Christian Daniel Claus (the original article)
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