Size and Scale

The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign was one of the largest offensive movements in the entire War of Independence. In the Spring, Van Schaick's force numbered 558, and were set against the Onandaga. By August, Sullivan and Clinton's combined troops numbered 5,100 and were launched against the Seneca and Cayuga. And to the southwest, Brodhead's units numbered 605. The total of more than 6200 soldiers, comprised roughly 1/4 of the entire Continental Army. This was the greatest number of troops ever before assembled against the Indians of North America. It was the 2nd largest expedition, after the 8.000 men used by Gen. Thomas Jesup against the Seminoles in Florida in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).

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Advance Planning & Financing

In advance of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, on June 11, 1778, Congress already had allocated the huge sum of $932,743.1/3, to resolve the problem of Indian Raids and frontier defense. This occured before the two events - known as the Wyoming Valley Massacre (July 3, 1778) and the Cherry Valley Massacre (November 11, 1778) - that became the well-publicized pretexts for launching the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign (in August 1779). Then, on February 25, 1779, George Washington's plan for the decisive "Indian expedition" was presented to the rebel Congress, which authorized it. On March 13, New York Legislature ordered 1,000 troops to be recruited for service. The table was set...

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Public Opinion

The Sullivan Clinton Expedition against the Six Nations and their British Loyalist leaders captured the imagination of the Americans. It awakened tremendous interest and was the theme of conversation all along the Atlantic seaboard. The newspapers of the day discussed it at great length. The novelty and uniqueness of this campaign against the red men in the wilderness with the strange sights and new experiences produced one result which did not characterize any other movement in the Revolution to so great a degree.

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Mission Accomplished

The objectives of the Sullivan Clinton Campaign were all realized. The hostile Senecas and Cayugas were terribly punished. Their homes were burned, their vast cornfields and gardens were all destroyed, and their orchards were cut down or killed. The most important result was that now when peace was signed, Americans would have reason for demanding these western lands in which, within a few years, thousands of settlers were to find new homes. After Sullivan-Clinton, the western bonanza could begin.

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The Consequences

The nests are destroyed, but the birds are still on the wing...
Major Jeremiah Fogg
September 1779

It was true. The Indians themselves were not destroyed. Only a mere handful had been killed in the campaign, but other things were destroyed that were of immeasurable importance to them.

Their towns were destroyed; nearly fifty of them consisting of about twelve hundred houses, in each of which two or three or even more families had lived.

Their corn was destroyed; nearly two hundred thousand bushels of the grain they most needed to subsist.

Their vegetables were destroyed; nearly fifty thousand bushels of the crops they had to have to live – potatoes, peas, beans, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, cucumbers, cabbages, carrots, parsnips.

Their fruit was destroyed; upward of ten thousand trees girdled or felled – apples, plums, peaches.

Their burial places were destroyed; the graves of their fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, had been opened and ransacked and the bones scattered; the sepulchers of their chiefs had been vandalized, pushed over, broken apart and the spirits disturbed.

Their health was destroyed; without proper food and shelter they became susceptible to famine and disease; the ensuing winter was the coldest on record and many of the Indians froze and starved and died of disease.

Their League was destroyed; the powerful Iroquois League that had existed for over a quarter of a millennium, the League that had ruled by conquest the tribes of a quarter of the continent, the League that had struck fear into the hears of tribes of over half the continent, the League that was mightier than any other confederation of Indians in North America had ever been or would ever be.

Their will was destroyed; the will to carry on, to hold their land or perish in the effort to do so.

Allan W. Eckert, Historian
Author of The Wilderness War

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Holland Purchase

Years after the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, the Seneca sold their remaining Western lands to the land-speculating Robert Morris, former “financier of the American Revolution.” By 1797, Morris was badly in debt and facing debtor’s prison. He had already bought, then sold off the “preemption rights” to these lands to the Holland Land Company, a Dutch syndicate. To get paid by the Dutch, Morris had to first purchase the lands from the Seneca and thereby extinguish their titles. This was achieved via The Big Tree Treaty of 1797 on the Genesee River.

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Big Tree Treaty

By the time appointed for the Treaty at Big Tree on the Genesee River in the summer of 1797, Robert Morris was a prisoner in his own mansion, unable even to answer the door lest he be arrested and jailed for debt. His son Thomas therefore conducted the actual preparations for the treaty, laying in stores of food, clothing, hardware, powder and whiskey – the latter calculated at twenty-five gallons a day for thirty days. The whiskey, however, was not to be provided at once, but paraded before the thirsty Indians with the promise that it would be given them when the sale was made. Special presents of clothing were prepared for the women, and funds for bribery of the men were set aside at the outset… [Indeed,] a deliberate plot to subvert the decision for the chiefs had been in the making for months… Thus the embers of the old [Iroquois] confederacy guttered out in a welter of liquor, bribery, and high-powered salesmanship. The name of the Great League still remained; but its people were now separated, one from another, on tiny reservations boxed in by white men and white men’s fences.

Anthony F.C. Wallace
Author of The Decline of the Iroquois

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