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Speaking appearance at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NY) -- NATIVE RESPONSE TO HISTORY | The Sullivan - Clinton Campaign: Then and Now. Historian Robert Spiegelman and G. Peter Jemison (Seneca), Director of Ganondagan, NYS Historic Site, re-examine the Sullivan- Clinton Campaign. (Click image for more...)
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SULLIVAN/CLINTON is an essential journey. It's not for the faint of heart, nor the stubborn of mind. It's a major event in our history that's been way off the radar screen for far too long. More road signs than any NY event, yet not in our school books. But just as America undergoes historic changes, the lessons of Sullivan/ Clinton are more relevant than ever. So, read on below. Browse our 14 great photo GALLERIES. Enjoy the A/V Images & VIDEO. Search through the eye-popping info in our TEXTS. Jump into our MAP. And enter your own COMMENTS! Come learn - at your own pace. Do your Research here. Then come back again for more, as we continually update this living website...
The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign was the largest expedition ever before mounted against native North Americans. It targeted the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy: specifically, the Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga nations. Indeed, the Fall of Iroquoia is forever entwined with the Birth of the American Republic.
The year was 1779. In the middle of the American Revolution, George Washington ordered two Generals, John Sullivan and James Clinton, and more than 6,200 men – roughly 25% of the entire rebel army – to clear-cut and burn these resisting or then neutral Iroquois nations from one of Earth’s most fertile regions. They should “not merely be overrun," Washington insisted, “but destroyed.” And England, for its part, couldn't and/or wouldn't send forces enough to defend its Indian allies' homelands against the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.
After five days in April and four weeks in September, almost all of Iroquoia was reduced to shattered hearths and fields of fire. According to Sullivan’s Official Report, the army burned 40 towns and their surrounding fields; consuming at least 160,000 bushels of corn, “with a vast quantity of vegetables of every kind.” A study (1969) by Anthony Wallace concluded that the Campaign destroyed 500 dwellings and nearly 1 million bushels of corn. Drawing on extensive records, a history (1978) by Allan Eckert estimated at least 50 towns and nearly 1,200 houses were burned. All this before the worst winter in recorded memory.
While these figures vary, all show an earth-shaking defeat for America’s native peoples that cannot truly be expressed in numbers; one that still lingers today - often hidden in plain sight or deep in people's souls. Against this background, a hard-won foothold in NY and Rebirth of Iroquoia have been well underway...
So, keep scrolling! You'll quickly get the whole picture, from Then to Now!
For a "Who's Who" of the Sullivan/Clinton saga:
SULLIVAN/CLINTON AT-A-GLANCE: THE KEY PLAYERS
Brant, Joseph (Mohawk) The most prominent Iroquois military leader. Allied through blood ties with the English, Brant led many raids against Yankee frontier settlements and was widely called “The Monster Brant” by his American foes.
Bolton, Mason (English) Principal commander of Ft. Niagara, the main English outpost which served as a staging and supply area for Iroquois/Tory raids on American frontier settlements, and refugee center in the aftermath of Sullivan-Clinton.
Boyd, Thomas (American) Lt. Boyd and Sgt. Michael Parker’s controversial capture and death at the hands of the Seneca is arguably the most visible reminder of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. There are memorial sites in Groveland, Cuylerville and Rochester's Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Brodhead, Daniel (American) Commander ordered by Washington to destroy a series of towns of the Allegheny Seneca and their allies, on his way to link up with Sullivan and Clinton. That link didn't occur, but a series of towns like Jenuchshadago (Burnt House) was destroyed by Col. Brodhead's 605 men in August, 1779.
Butler, John (English) England's main field operative in Iroquois country. Defeated at Newtown by Sullivan/Clinton, he organized a Loyalist force called Butler's Rangers. With them, he and his son, Walter Butler, and different groups of Indian allies, attacked Yankee frontier settlements. Dispossessed of thousands of acres in the Mohawk Valley, Butler led the successful English and Indian attack and burning of the American settlement at Wyoming Valley, and its aftermath in the Wyoming Massacre. (See the Main Events page).
Butler, Walter (English) Joined with Brant and other English forces to successfully attack and burn the American settlement at Cherry Valley. Son of John Butler. He was known for extreme cruelty in his treatment of defeated American settlers.
Butler, Zebulon (American) The military leader of Wyoming Valley (Pennsylvania) and a survivor of the Yankee defeat and subsequent killings.
Butler, William(American) During Sullivan/Clinton, Col. Wm. Butler led the revenge burning of the Cayuga villages and capital, Goi-O-Guen. Ever since, the Cayugas continue to press land claims in the courts, but are still landless in New York State today.
Cayuga Known as "Guyohkohnyoh," or The People of the Great Swamp. Sided with the English during the American Revolutionary War.
Clinton, James (American) Born in New Windsor, New York, the General was co-leader of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. He was the brother of Gov. George Clinton and father of future governor DeWitt Clinton, the champion of the near-future Erie Canal (1823).
Cornplanter (Seneca) As a key Seneca war chief, Ganiodieu first fought against the Yankees in the Revolutionary War, then pragmatically adapted to their rule and fought with America against England in the War of 1812.
Gai-ya-sot-ha (Seneca) Great orator and sage voice at the Council fire of the tribes of the Ohio region. Uncle and mentor to Handsome Lake and Cornplanter. Perhaps the key Iroquois diplomat in councils with English and American officials.
Haldimand, Frederick (English) The overall commander of English forces in North America during the time of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign . The General failed to supply the men and materials required to equalize the large Yankee force.
Haudenosaunee The Indians’ name for the Iroquois Six Nations: it means “People of the Longhouse,” the Iroquois’ signature domicile.
Jemison, Mary (Scotch-Irish/Seneca) The famed "white woman of the Genesee." She was captured by Indians, then became wife to a Delaware, then Seneca chief and bore six children. Her accounts of her life and Sullivan-Clinton experiences are covered in James Seaver's A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (1824).
Johnson's (English) Sir William Johnson, Guy Johnson and John Johnson - had an unrivaled legacy of close ties with the Iroquois. Sir William intermarried with the family of Joseph Brant, and, for years, as Superintendant of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department, was England's most potent influence on Iroquois politics, until his death in 1774.
Kirkland, Samuel (American) The Rev. Samuel Kirkland was a Presbyterian missionary among the Iroquois Indians (1764-1808). He helped persuade many Oneidas and Tuscaroras to assist the Americans during the Revolutionary War. He was a guide and chaplain on Sullivan's Expedition. After the war, he attended several treaty negotiations in which the Iroquois relinquished substantial amounts of their land. (Bio by Christine S. Patrick.)
Mohawk Known as "Kanienkahagen," or People of the Flint. They were/remain the designated Keepers of the Iroquois Eastern Door. Sided with the English during the American Revolutionary War.
Onondaga Known as "Onundagaono," or People of the Hills. They were/remain the designated Keepers of the Iroquois Central Council Fire. Sided with the English during the American Revolutionary War.
Oneida Known as "Onayotekaono," meaning The People of the Upright Stone. Largely sided with the Americans during the American Revolutionary War.
Red Jacket A principal Seneca sachem (chief) and political rival to Mohawk war leader Joseph Brant. Though Canoga, his home village, was burned by Col. Henry Dearborn's troops, Red Jacket was fast to accommodate to Yankee postwar rule.
Schuyler, Philip (American) Son of a noted New York landed and political family, he was an early proponent of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, a member of the War Board of the Continental Congress, a US Senator, and a prime mover of postwar Oneida land dispossessions. Also, he was father-in-law to Alexander Hamilton.
Seneca Known as "Onondowahgah,"or People of the Great Hill. They were/remain the designated Keepers of the Iroquois Western Door. Sided with the English during the American Revolution.
Six Nations A common name for the members of the Iroqouis League (or Iroquois Confederacy), which Indians call The Haudenosaunee, or People of the Longhouse.
Sullivan, John (American) Born in Somerville, New Hampshire, the General carried out Washington's orders to invade and destroy the Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga homelands. He returned to New Hampshire and became its first president, then served in the new Congress.
Tuscarora Known as "Ska-Ruh-Reh," or Shirt Wearing People. Driven out of the Carolinas by losing a war with settlers (1711-1713), they were the last to join the Iroqouis Confederacy. Largely sided with the Americans during the American Revolution.
Van Schaick, Goose (American) Under Clinton's command, Col. Van Schaick laid waste to Onondaga villages in April, 1779. It permanently removed the military threat from the east to Sullivan-Clinton's subsequent operations in September, 1779.
Washington, George (American) The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and America’s first president. In 1778, the General first asked Congress for almost $1 million in financing for Sullivan Clinton; then he planned and ordered the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign in 1779.
WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD? TELL US BELOW...
For the Main Events & Sites of the Sullivan/Clinton saga:
A Mini-Timeline The context is complex, involving: (1) the political dividing of the formerly neutral Iroquois Confederacy into pro-English (Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida and Tuscarora) and pro-Yankee nations (Oneida, Tuscarora) (1776-1779); (2) a sequence of reciprocal raids (1778) against Yankee settlements and Indian settlements in NY and Pennsylvania; (3) the financing (1778) and authorizaton (1778 & 1779) by the rebel Congress of a grand anti-Indian expedition; (4) George Washington's abandoning, for that moment, of a 2nd grand invasion of British Canada, settling instead for "Plan B" -- the full-scale campaign (1779) against the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas and their Mingo and Delaware allies.
Cherry Valley Frontier site of a Yankee defeat on November 8, 1778, termed “The Cherry Valley Massacre.” Its destruction became a pretext for launching Sullivan/Clinton. Settler homes were burned, 30 were killed, and 71 made prisoners. An assault on the Yankee fort killed 16 soldiers, but the British and Mohawk withdrew the next day when reinforcements arrived.
Fort Niagara (English) British controlled fort that staged raids against the Americans. Ft. Niagara then gave some shelter to thousands of refugees during the winter of hunger in the aftermath of Sullivan/Clinton.
Fort Schuyler (American) Set in the heart of Oneida territory, Ft. Schuyler was the site of many important events, and home base for Col. Goose Van Schaick’s expedition against the Onondagas in April of 1778.
Goi-O-Guen (Cayuga Castle) The Cayuga capital which was burnt by Sullivan-Clinton’s forces on Sept. 22-23, 1779. It surrounds Rt. 90, near Aurora, New York.
Jenuchshadago (Allegheny Seneca) Also known as Burnt House, the principal town and hub of the Allegheny Seneca and their allied tribes, which was burnt by Col. Daniel Brodhead’s force on August 17, 1779, as it marched north through Pennsylvania toward the New York border.
Little Beard’s Town. (Seneca). Also known as Chennusio or Genesee Castle, the Seneca capital was burnt by Sullivan-Clinton’s forces on Sept. 14-15, 1779. It surrounds Rt. 39, between Geneseo and Cuylerville, NewYork.
Newtown The early and decisive military battle of Sullivan/Clinton. The American victory opened the way to burning out the Seneca, Cayuga and Onandaga and the effective fall of Iroquoia. Its on site memorial reads the battle was fought "To Avenge the Massacres of Wyoming and Cherry Valley." In 2004, it is the principal site of the 225th S/c Anniversary events across New York State.
Onondaga Castle The Onondaga capital was burnt by a Continental Army force under Col. Goose van Shaick on April 21, 1779. It surrounds Rt. 11, near Onondaga, New York. That same week, Cherokee/Chickamauga towns were burned by southern militias under Wm. Christian.
Oneida Castle The Oneida capital, burnt by Indians in retaliation for Yankee-Oneida assaults on pro-English Iroquois towns like Oquaga.
Oriskany A key English-American battle in 1777 which shattered the chances for Iroquois neutrality in America’s Revolutionary War. When all casualties are compared to the total number of fighters, it is arguably the bloodiest battle of the Revolution, if not of all America’s conflicts.
Oquaga A substantial riverside "melting pot" that was home to Joseph Brant and other Indians from diverse backgrounds, and divided whether to back the Revolution. It was burnt under Washington’s orders by Col. Philip Van Cortlandt and Lt. Col. William Butler in October, 1778 in retaliation for the destruction of Wyoming Valley by the John Butler-run Anglo-Tory-Indian raid. It led, in turn, to the Cherry Valley Massacre. This is not included in explaining the run-up to Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.
Wyoming Valley Site of a severe Tory-Indian assault and Yankee defeat on July 3, 1778. Termed and publicized as a massacre, it served as a major pretext and rallying cry for launching the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.
WHAT PLACES/EVENTS WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD? TELL US BELOW...
The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.
I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.
Orders of George Washington
to General John Sullivan
May 31, 1779
They make solitude, which they call peace - Tacitus
We moved, on the next day, to Chinesee, crossing in our path a deep creek and the Little Seneca river, and after marching six miles we reached the castle, which consisted of 128 houses, mostly very large and elegant. The town was beautifully situated, almost encircled with a clear flat which extends for a number of miles, where the most extensive fields of corn were, and every kind of vegetable that can be conceived. The whole army was immediately engaged in destroying the crops. The corn was collected and burned in houses and kilns, that the enemy might not reap the least advantage from it, which method we have pursued in every other place... Every creek and river has been traced, and the whole country explored in search of Indian settlements; and I am well persuaded, that, except one... there is not a single town left in the country of the five nations.
General John Sullivan
Report to Congress
Tioga, New York, September 30, 1779
When your army entered the country of the Six Nations, we called you Town Destroyer: and to this day when that name is heard our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers. Our counsellors and warriors are men, and cannot be afraid; but their hearts are grieved with the fears of our women and children, and desire that it may be buried so deep as to be heard no more.
Seneca Chief Cornplanter
To George Washington
The immediate purpose was to give protection to the defenseless frontier settlements. This was to be accomplished by destroying the Indian villages and sources of food supply, and by driving the Indians westward and northward.
A second objective was to cut off the food supply of corn and dried vegetables and fruits, which had been going from the Indians to the Loyalists and British for waging the war.
A third part of the plan was to capture the strong forts at Oswego and Niagara which were storehouses of the enemy and bases for military operations.
The most important objective has been entirely overlooked by most historians... Washington and other leaders saw that independence with a mere fringe of land along the seacoast would scarcely be worth the cost of the struggle if the rest of the continent to the westward and northward remained in the hands of the motherland. Washington knew by actual experience the potential wealth of the fertile regions of the interior of the continent. He realized that when the time came to discuss terms of peace that rich area could be secured for the young nation only if it was in possession of the Americans.
Hence in The Sullivan Clinton Expedition an inland empire was the stake for which Washington was playing and not merely the punishment of dusky foes on our border.
Alexander C. Flick
Historian of the State of New York
[I write of] the great Loneliness which is creeping into my Soul
with every hour and every mile which separates me from you.
I really feel guilty as I applied the torch to huts that were
Homes of Content until we ravagers came spreading desolation
everywhere... Our mission here is to destroy but may it not
transpire that we pillagers are carelessly sowing the seeds of Empire?
Letter to His Fiancé Before His Death in Battle
After this transaction, the voice of the birds from every quarter cried out:
"You have lost your country. You have lost you country. You've lost your
country! You have acted unwisely and done wrong." And what increased the
alarm was that the birds who made this cry were white birds.
Good Peter, Oneida Leader
Denounces NY Gov. George Clinton
to US Commissioner Pickering
All of these things are a gift provided by the Creator for our needs. That everything we need has been provided here, but we have to treat it in a manner that is respectful, so we don't use it all up in our lifetime. Because there are faces that are young, or just born -- those who are coming. And they’re going to need what we have enjoyed here. So our job is to take care of it while we’re here. Not to destroy it, but to hand it on to the next generations. We’re only stewards of it while we’re all alive. Whereas the other view is "I’m going to get everything that I need now for my family and my needs. So I’ll become better than I was, have more than I’ve ever had. I’ll become rich basically." Money is driving this thinking. And then it asks: "What is the obstacle to my efforts to become this way?" The answer: "It’s these people [the Haudenosaunee/Seneca] that are living here."
G. Peter Jemison
Seneca Artist & Spokesman
I would like to explain to you why we have the right and the desire to return to our native land here in New York…
Each tribe here represented today has a similar story to tell regarding what happened during the Revolutionary War years and immediately thereafter. Scattered to the winds, literally struggling to survive and find food on a daily and weekly basis… The history surrounding what they had to go through… makes me shocked and dismayed that now, when we’re litigating, and we have successfully litigated at least a portion of our land claim, the state’s saying the Cayugas voluntarily left the state of New York. I wonder what the state’s definition of voluntarily means. Imagine yourself, if anyone here has small children – I have 5-year old and a 2-year old – if your children were starving, what would you do to save them?
Would you walk 100 miles? Would you walk 300 miles? And I think clearly the answer is yes, and that’s what many of our people did.
Business Committee Member/
Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma
Symposium at Syracuse University
November 20, 2003
A large group went to live with the Senecas immediately after the Sullivan-Clinton campaign due to starvation. Some stayed in the claim area near Cayuga Lake, where most of the children died that next winter, which was a very harsh one. Another group joined Senecas and Cayugas that had moved farther west earlier and were never present, never advised, never notified of the subsequent treaties that were made which purportedly gave away their land.
...Since that time we began efforts to reacquire some land, to put it in title and bein our quest to return home. ... I see no reason why we cannot come here and prosper in unity... The red white and blue stand for the proposition that you can't take people's lands by trickery, without just and due compensation, which clearly, obviously has been the case with all of the removal of the New York Indians...
Business Committee Member/
Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma
Symposium at Syracuse University
November 20, 2003
What makes it especially frightening is that whole communities have been annihilated. We've known for years now that the emotional devastation that survivors feel and experience is often greater than the physical devastation.
Dr. John Clizbe
Fmr. VP, Disaster Services
American Red Cross
Whole Indian nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man's advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers... Finally the whole country, which the Cherokees and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of Ani-Yunwiya, THE REAL PEOPLE, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Cherokees, the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands. A-WANINSKI, I have spoken.
Dragging Canoe (Cherokee)
On Concluding the Transylvania Treaty
Cherokee Country, 1775
“General Washington and the Army;”
“General Sullivan & Western Expedition;”
“ King and Queen of France;”
“A Successful and Decisive Campaign;”
“May the new World be the last Asylum for Freedom and the Arts;”
“Civilization or death to all American Savages;”
“May the husbandman’s Cottage be blest with peace and his fields with plenty.”
After-Dinner Toasts by Sullivan's Officers
Journal of Major James Norris
Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania
July 4th, 1779
Clearly, NY's taking of millions of acres of Haudenosaunee land in 1788 was based upon the devastation of the Van Schaick April 1779 raid on Onondaga and the September Sullivan/Clinton scorched earth raids on the Cayuga and Seneca villages. New York exploited the fact that many Haudenosaunee people and some Chiefs had fled their homelands to live near the British "protection" near Ft. Niagara. The state went between the two groups and played one off against each other and they further exploited the hunger that the raid had caused.
Counsel to the Onondaga Nation
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