The 1779 Sullivan-Clinton campaign against the Iroquois has been described as implementing a “scorched earth” policy for no useful purpose other than eradicating Indigenous People, a failed attempt to capture Fort Niagara, or a wild success that denied the enemies of American Revolution free access to Western New York.
Few campaigns of the American War for Independence have been more controversial than the Continental Army’s invasion of the Iroquois Confederacy in 1779.
“The expedition you are appointed to command is directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents,” George Washington wrote to Sullivan. “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 preventing their planting more… [The Indian country] is not merely to be overrun, but destroyed.”
The Fort Plain Museum and America’s History LLC have announced “Sullivan’s Campaign Against the Iroquois in 1779: Retribution OR Genocide?,” a three day bus tour set for September 7th through 10th.
This tour is designed to follow the main effort of that offensive as conducted by troops commanded by Major General John Sullivan. Sullivan’s troops took the war to the very heart of the territory controlled by the Six Nations of Haudenosaunee who had allied themselves with the British Crown. At the tour’s end, attendees will decide if the campaign was a success or a well-executed failure; justifiable retribution for the raids and Cherry Valley massacre in 1778 or unvarnished genocide.
On the first day, attendees will travel to Verona Beach State Park where Wood Creek empties into Lake Oneida to discuss Colonel Goose Van Schaick’s expedition and attack on the Onondaga in April 1779. The tour will visit the Fort Brewerton site in Cicero, a former French and Indian War fort where patriot troops land before marching cross-country to Lake Onondaga and then the site of an Onondaga Town that existed prior to the 18th century at Pompey.
After lunch, the tour will visit the Gonandagan State Historic Site with its museum and reconstructed Iroquois longhouse. Here, the tour will focus on the political and military structure of the Six Nations, the decision of four of tribes to side with the British and two to become allies of the United States, with a resulting internal civil war.
On the second day, attendees will travel to Tioga Point – near present Athens, Pennsylvania – the site of Queen Catherine’s Town, where the provincial rangers of Major John Butler and their Indian allies launched the attack on the Wyoming Valley. It is also the site of where the New York Brigade of Brigadier General James Clinton joined the three brigades that comprised the rest of Sullivan’s force for its campaign of reprisal.
As the tour makes its way deeper into Iroquoia, it will stop at the sites of the skirmish at Old Chemung, the Battle of Newtown – near present-day Elmira – Queen Catherine’s Town – near present Watkins Glen – and end at the site of Canadesega, or Lower Seneca Castle – present Geneva.
On the third day, the tour will follow the course of Sullivan’s advance, stopping at Lake Canandaigua, then Lake Honeoye, where Sullivan left the army’s heavy baggage and Lake Conesus, where the troops constructed a bridge to permit the passage of the packhorse train and artillery. The tour will also visit the site of the ambush of Lieutenant Tomas Boyd’s patrol – the site of Little Beard’s Town – present Cuylerville – where Lieutenant Boyd and Sergeant Michael Parker were tortured and executed. The tour will end with a stop at the site of Chenusio, or the Upper Seneca Castle – present Geneseo – the objective of the campaign.
Registration is $550 (Cash) or $573 (Credit Card), and includes motor coach transportation, three lunches, beverage and snack breaks, a map and materials package, all admissions and gratuities, and the services of an experienced tour leader. The hotel will provide a complimentary breakfast buffet each day. Tour participants are responsible for transportation to the headquarters hotel, and securing a room reservation, if necessary. Dinner is on your own. Tour goes out rain or shine. This is a walking and field tour so wear comfortable shoes.
Organizers have arranged with the headquarters hotel for a group rate of $99 per night plus applicable taxes (double or single occupancy.) Call the Holiday Inn Express, 7502 Main Street, in Victor at (585) 672-2100 and ask for the America’s History group rate. This rate will be guaranteed until August 17th.
Tour leader Glenn Williams is a former army officer and retired from the U.S. Army Center of Military History. He is the author of Year of the Hangman: George Washington’s Campaign against the Iroquois (2006) which details the story of the tour.
He also wrote USS CONSTELLATION: a Short History of the Last All-Sail Warship Built by the U.S. Navy. His latest book, Dunmore’s War: Last Conflict of the Colonial Era was published in 2017 by Westholme Publishing. He is currently working on a biography of “Light Horse” Harry Lee with Ed Lengel.
Registration can be completed online, by calling Bruce Venter at (703) 785-4373, by emailing email@example.com, or via USPS at America’s History LLC, PO Box 1076, Goochland, VA 23063.
Illustration of Sullivan’s Campaign.