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Dispatch Case

Curated Submission
Late 18th - early 19th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
38.5 x 27.5
Materials & techniques
Leather, brass
Niagara Historical Society and Museum 971.169
This red leather dispatch case was owned by William Claus and carried by him throughout the War of 1812. Using this portable briefcase, Claus conducted official business for the British Crown as the Deputy Superintendent General of the Indian Department leading up to and following the war.
Born in 1765 to a prominent Loyalist family, William Claus served in the military and eventually settled in Niagara. Along with his position as Deputy Superintendent General of the Indian Department, he also served as Trustee of the Six Nations, Lieutenant in the Incorporated Militia of Oxford County, Justice of the Peace in Niagara, Trustee of the Niagara Public School, and Commissioner of Customs for the Niagara District.
It fell to William Claus to secure the allegiance of First Nations warriors in the War of 1812. Claus dealt directly with the First Nations, organizing and attending meetings and councils where urgent military and political matters were discussed and resolved, and where British goods and money were distributed to loyal Native groups.
The briefcase was put to the test during several tense years of conflict between Claus and Joseph Brant. Brant was in charge of the Grand River settlement and was turning it into a strong and independent community. Fearing the loss of British control, Claus stepped up his efforts to ensure that the interests of the Crown were not being overshadowed. After Brant’s death, resistance to Claus continued under John Norton, who attempted to reduce the influence of the Indian Department by forging a direct relationship with the British Army. Both Brant and Norton believed Claus to be an enemy of their people. Following the war Claus was appointed to the prestigious Executive Council of Upper Canada and was responsible for negotiating the division of customs with Lower Canada. His legacy as an agent in the Indian Department continues to prompt discussion about the difficult relationship between the British Crown and the First Nations in the early 19th century.
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