American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Sullivan, General John, and the Haudenosaunee Holocaust of 1779

Title: John Sullivan
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The term "holocaust" is wedded in the public mind to the experience of the Jews of Europe from 1933 to 1945. However, the Iroquois experienced a holocaust during the eighteenth century in upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, and Ohio during the American Revolution (Parker, 1926, 126). Ever since the 1779 scorched-earth attacks by General John Sullivan, General James Clinton, Colonel Goose Van Schaick, and Colonel Daniel Brodhead, the immigrants have been known to eastern Natives as the Town Destroyers (ASP, 1998, 1: 140).

Typically, American histories slim the coordinated assaults by these military operatives down to the Sullivan campaign, ignoring the full intent and extent of the orders of George Washington, their commander in chief. Washington ordered his lead general, Sullivan, to destroy the Iroquois utterly, not because of their alliance with the British, but very specifically because he considered "the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents" the enemy. He consequently announced his "immediate objects" to be "the total destruction and devastation of their settlements" (Sparks, 1855, 6: 264). The Revolutionary Army was "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" (Sparks, 1855, 6: 265). Washington even specified that terrorism was part of his order, for the Army was to make it a point "to rush on with the war-whoop and fixed bayonet" because "[n]othing w[ould] disconcert and terrify the Indians more than this" (Sparks, 1855, 6: 265).

Washington thus ordered total war, for the people being rushed upon with fixed bayonet were women, children, and old folks. The American battle cry of danger to settlers on the "frontiers"—i.e., Native lands as yet unseized—was a pretext and a rationale for whipping up armies to commit genocide, the preferred method for "clearing" the land of its original people in favor of European settlers (Mann, 2005, 51–54). Furthermore, Washington had what today would be viewed as a serious conflict of interest in ordering the attacks, for the ultimate prize was Ohio, and the Washington family basically owned the Ohio Company, which speculated heavily in real estate that was then in the fiercely protected possession of Native nations (Kutler, 2003, 6: 175). He had personally surveyed Ohio Company land for speculation during the French and Indian War (Clark, 1995, 22, 27–28; Fitzpatrick, 1925, 1: 43–46, 77, 416, 449).

Moreover, the Continental Congress paid its army recruits in land warrants, issued on property to be seized in Ohio. The only way to pay its debts was actually to break the Haudenosaune (Iroquois) League and appropriate Ohio, a move that would enrich Washington. Should the new United States fail to take Ohio, to pay its debts, and to establish its financial and political credit, European nations would reclaim the states as their colonies. These complex interactions explain the absolute and driving need of Washington to break the League and seize Ohio, a feat that he finally managed in 1795 (Mann, 2004, 135–201).

Washington's plan called for a two-pronged attack by the major forces under Sullivan at Easton, New Jersey, and under Clinton at Canajoharie, New York, converging on upstate and western New York. Van Schaick was specifically to target the Onondagas (as the perceived seat of Iroquoian government). Meantime, Brodhead was to rush north from Fort Pitt to meet up with the combined forces of Sullivan, Clinton, and Van Schaick in western New York, thus cutting the New York Iroquois off from Pennsylvania and Ohio aid. If possible, the combined armies were, after devastating the Iroquois, to march on Niagara, the British headquarters, but that was always more of a desire than an actual goal.

In fact, due to Sullivan's petulant dawdling, Van Schaick's attack occurred in April 1779, well before the main force left (Egly, 1992, 60–65). Also ready in April, Brodhead was told to stand down, given the laggardly pace of the main army, but he went ahead with his original orders, setting up forts along the Allegheny Mountains in the spring and summer and setting off on August 6, 1779, to meet Sullivan's main force (Cook, 1972, 307–308; Hammond, 1939, 3: 88; Sparks, 6: 206, 224–225). Finally, on August 9, 1779, Sullivan and Clinton simultaneously lumbered out of their separate headquarters, meeting up at Tioga (Cook, 1972, 84, 93, 201). Whereas Van Schaick marched with the main body, Brodhead never quite hooked up with it, attaining only Olean Point, forty miles distant from the main force (Edson, 1879, 663; Mann, 2005, 46; Stone, 1924, 95).

It is important to understand that the Iroquois did not want the war, avoided participating in it as long as they could, and, once coerced into it, chose removing women, children, and elders from harm's way over standing to fight the Revolutionary Army. At the outset of British–American hostilities, League speakers explicitly told both sides that they were neutral. This did not stop the Americans from attacking any and all "Indians," including those allied with them, or the British from deliberately engineering an attack by the Americans on the neutral Senecas at the Battle of Oriskany to drag the League into the war on the crown's side. The resultant disagreement among League nations as to their stances led to the incident in which the fire at Onondaga was put out in 1777, but this simply meant that the issue was tabled, with each of the League's constituent nations free to form its own policy. The League itself was not dissolved, as many Western historians still erroneously assert (Mann, 2005, 10–15).

To ensure that the Iroquois would be wiped off the face of the earth, Congress authorized Washington to raise a total army of 5,163, to be shared among Van Schaick (558), Clinton (1,500), and Sullivan (2,500), with Brodhead to join the fray, bringing his 605 men from Fort Pitt (Egly, 1992, 61; Hammond, 1939, 3: 147; NYSHA 1933, 4: 202). By contrast, the Iroquois League, at its peak in 1777, had but a thousand soldiers (Cruikshank, 1893, 35). By 1779, those numbers had dwindled. By the time of the one "battle" of the Sullivan campaign, fought at Newtown (Elmira, New York) on August 29, 1779, the Confederate forces under Thayendenegea (Joseph Brant), the Mohawk war chief, and Colonel John Butler, the British commander, had seriously thinned.

According to Butler, the combined strength of the British and Native Confederates amounted to fewer than six hundred men the day of the Newtown battle (Flick, 1929, 282). In his formal report, Sullivan greatly exaggerated this number to 1,500, but even his own commanders falsified that count at the time, and historians since then have pegged the Native numbers at those reported by Thayendanegea and Butler (Cook, Journals: 298, officers. Graymont, 1972, 208; Mann, 2005, 80, 82–84). Furthermore, whereas Sullivan's men had been feasting their way across Iroquois on crops they were destroying, the British and Native troops were literally starving, living on rations of seven ears of green corn per day each, with many suffering greatly from the "Ague" (Cruikshank, 1893, 71; Flick, 1929, 284, 293). The Battle of Newtown was therefore a complete rout of the Confederacy, but the Native purpose had never been to defeat the Sullivan army. The Iroquois were buying time to evacuate their people.

The American attacks of 1779 had the intended genocidal effect, destroying a total of at least sixty towns, a number that would, even today, knock out any state of the Union. Van Schaick racked up three towns (Cook, 1972, 17, 193; Egly, 1992, 62; Mann, 2005, 28–36); Brodhead, sixteen (Edson, 1879, 663; Flick, 1929, 285, 291; Mann, 2005, 39–48; Stone, 1924, 94, 95, 96); and Sullivan-Clinton, forty-one (Cook, 1972, 380–82). The destruction was complete, with all housing within the sweep of the combined armies completely burned, all crops looted (to support the Americans) and/or burned, all household and farm implements destroyed or looted, and all of the once magnificent peach and apple orchards of the League cut down. In addition, all animals of the fields and forests were consumed by the Americans, along with the fishes of the waters. The American soldiers took numerous scalps for the lucrative bounties that the states and Congress offered on Native dead, with one soldier, Timothy Murphy, racking up thirty-three scalps by himself (Cook, 1972, 162). American soldiers also skinned Natives, making shoes and other items from their tanned "hides" (for skinning, see Cook, 1972, 8, 240, 244, 279; for a detailed description of the destruction, see Mann, 2005, 58–106).

Because the American attacks of 1778 had already induced famine in Iroquoia (Mann, 2005, 20–22), there was no buffer for the effects of the Sullivan campaign. In addition, the winter of 1779–1780 was the severest on record, with New York harbor freezing solid and snows drifting several feet high from New York through Ohio, precluding hunting (Edson, 1879, 667; Seaver, 1990, 60). As the Seneca adoptee Mary Jemison so wrenchingly documented the effect on Natives at the time, "but what were our feelings when we found that there was not a mouthful of any kind of sustenance left, not even enough to keep a child one day from perishing with hunger" (Seaver, 1990, 59). Thousands of Natives died as an immediate result of the dire starvation caused by the attacks. Many more died as refugees, 5,036 at Niagara (Graymont, 1972, 220; Mann, 2005, 106–108), and another 5,000 at British Detroit (Haldiman Papers, 10: 444–445, Mann, 2005, 111).

The Americans lost no time in seizing the land that had recently hosted Iroquoian farms; the settlers ploughed up corn charred in the Sullivan despoliation (Wright, 1943, 4: 3). In 1879, a massive centennial was mounted in New York to celebrate the Sullivan campaign as a great moment in U.S. history (Cook, 1972, 331–579), and it is still celebrated to this day by Euro-Americans who, hopefully, do not realize that they are exalting an act of genocide.

Barbara Alice Mann


Further Reading
"Haldiman Papers, The." 1908. Collections and Researches Made by the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan, 2nd ed. Vol. 10, 210–672. Lansing: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company, State Printers.; American State Papers (ASP). [1832] 1998. Class II. 2 volumes. Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Co.; Clark, Harrison. 1995. All Cloudless Glory: The Life of George Washington, from Youth to Yorktown. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1995.; Cook, Frederick. 1972. Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan Against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779. 1887. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press.; Cruikshank, Ernest. 1893. The Story of Butler's Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara. Welland, ON: Tribune Printing House.; Edson, Obed. 1879. "Brodhead's Expedition Against the Indians of the Upper Allegheny, 1779." Magazine of American History 3, no. 11 (November): 649–675.; Egly, T. W., Jr. 1992. Goose Van Schaick of Albany, 1736–1789, The Continental Army's Senior Colonel. Hampton, NH: T. W. Egly, Jr.; Fitzpatrick, John C. ed. 1925. The Diaries of George Washington, 1748–1799. 4 volumes. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.; Flick, Alexander C. 1929. "New Sources on the Sullivan–Clinton Campaign in 1779." Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Society 10, no. 3 (July): 185–224.; Flick, Alexander C. 1929. "New Sources on the Sullivan—Clinton Campaign in 1779." Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Society 10, no. 4 (October): 265–317.; Graymont, Barbara. 1972. The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.; Hammond, Otis G. 1939. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. Vol. 3: 1779–1795. Concord, NH: New Hampshire Historical Society.; Kutler, Stanley I., ed.-in-chief. 2003. Dictionary of American History. 10 volumes. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 2004. "The Greenville Treaty of 1795: Pen-and-Ink Witchcraft in the Struggle for the Old Northwest." In Enduring Legacies: Native American Treaties and Contemporary Controversies. Edited by Bruce E. Johansen, 135–201. Westport, CT: Praeger.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 2005. George Washington's War on Native America, 1779–1782. Westport, CT: Praeger.; New York State Historical Association (NYSHA). 1933. History of the State of New York. 6 volumes. New York: Columbia University Press.; Parker, Arthur Caswell (Gawaso Waneh). [1926] 1970. An Analytical History of the Seneca Indians, Researches and Transactions of the New York State Archaeological Association, Lewis H. Morgan Chapter. Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint.; Seaver, James E. [1823] 1990. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.; Sparks, Jared, ed. 1855. The Writings of George Washington; Being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and Published from the Original Manuscripts. 12 volumes. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.; Stone, Rufus B. 1924. "Brodhead's Raid on the Senecas." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 7, no. 2 (April): 88–101.; Stone, William L. [1838] 1969. Life of Joseph Brant—Thayendanegea: Including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, and Sketches of the Indian Campaign of Generals Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne, and Other Matters Connected with the Indian Relations of the United States and Great Britain, from the Peace of 1783 to the Indian Peace of 1795. 2 volumes. Milwood, NY: Kraus Reprint.; Wright, Albert Hazen. 1943. The Sullivan Expedition of 1779: Contemporary Newspaper Comment. Studies in History, nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8. 4 parts. Ithaca, NY: A. H. Wright.
 

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