About our Namesake
General John Sullivan
John Sullivan (February 17, 1740
– January 23, 1795) was the third son of Irish immigrants, a United States general in the
a delegate in the Continental Congress
and a United States federal
served as a major general in the Continental Army and as
Governor (or "President") of New Hampshire. He commanded
the Sullivan Expedition in
1779, a scorched earth campaign
against the Iroquois towns that had taken up
arms against the American revolutionaries.
Born in Somersworth, New Hampshire,
Sullivan was the third son of a schoolmaster. He read law with Samuel Livermore of Portsmouth, New Hampshire,
and began its practice in 1764 when he moved to Durham. He annoyed
many neighbors in his early career, when he was the only lawyer in
town, with numerous suits over foreclosures. But by 1772, he was firmly
established and began work to improve his relations with the community.
In 1773 Alexander
Scammel joined John Sullivan's law practice.
He was sent by
Durham to the colony's general assembly, and built a friendship with
the royal governor John
Wentworth. As the American Revolution grew nearer, he began
to side more with the radicals. In 1774 the first Provincial (or rebel)
Congress sent him as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.
After Paul Revere alerted the
Portsmouth militia of a rumored British movement toward Fort William and Mary
in December 1774, Sullivan was one of the leaders of the militia force
who raided the fort for its military provisions on December 14.
In 1775 he was
returned to the Second Continental
Congress, but when they appointed him a brigadier general in
June, he left to join the army at the siege of Boston.
British evacuated Boston in the spring of 1776, Washington sent General
Sullivan north to replace the fallen John Thomas as
commander in Quebec.
He took command of the sick and faltering invasion force, sent some of
those forces on an unsuccessful counterattack against the British at Trois-Rivières,
and withdrew the survivors to Crown Point. This
led to the first of several controversies between Congress and General
Sullivan, as they sought a scapegoat for the failed invasion of Canada.
He was exonerated and promoted to major general on August 9, 1776.
rejoined Washington and was placed in command of the troops on Long Island to defend against
British General Howe's
forces about to envelop New York City. But then, on
August 23, Washington split the command between Sullivan and General Israel Putnam. Confusion
about the distribution of command contributed to the American defeat at
the Battle of Long Island
four days later. Sullivan's personal bravery was unquestioned, as he
engaged the Hessian attackers with
a pistol in each hand; however, he was captured.
and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe,
managed to convince Sullivan that a conference with members of the
Continental Congress might lead to peace, and released him on parole to
deliver a message to the Congress in Philadelphia,
proposing an informal meeting to discuss ending the armed conflict
between Britain and its rebellious colonies. After Sullivan's speech to
Congress, John Adams cynically commented
on this diplomatic attempt, calling Sullivan a "decoy-duck" and
accusing the British of sending Sullivan "to seduce us into a
renunciation of our independence"; others noted that it appeared to be
an attempt to blame Congress for prolonging the war.
Congress did agree to a conference, which accomplished
New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Sullivan was released in a prisoner exchange in time to rejoin
Washington before the Battle of Trenton. There
his division secured the important bridge over the Assunpink Creek to the
north of the town. This prevented escape and ensured the high number of
Hessian prisoners captured. This route is now the main road in Ewing Township, New Jersey
and is called "Sullivans Way". In January 1777, Sullivan also performed
well in the Battle of Princeton.[citation
In August, he
led a raid on Staten Island. Again
Congress found fault, but he was exonerated by the court of inquiry.
This was followed by American losses at Brandywine and Germantown. Congress
was frustrated by the continued British occupation of Philadelphia,
but since Washington was the only man holding the army together, they
made Sullivan the scapegoat.
In early 1778
he was transferred to the post of Rhode Island where he led
troops intended to work together with a French Navy fleet to assault
or besiege British-occupied Newport. The attempt
was called off when the French fleet was scattered and damaged by a
storm, and the British then sortied, forcing the inconclusive Battle of Rhode Island
in August 1778.
Expedition against Iroquoia
James Clinton and John Sullivan
In the summer
of 1779, Sullivan led the Sullivan Expedition, a
massive campaign against the Iroquois in western New
York. During this campaign, troops destroyed a very large Cayuga
settlement, called Coreorgonel, on what is now the southwest side of Ithaca, New York. To
reach the enemy homeland, Sullivan's army took a southerly route to
western New York through northeast Pennsylvania, which required
creating a new road through lightly inhabited areas of the Pocono
Mountains, which still exists and is known as Sullivan's
He pushed his
troops so hard that their horses became unusable, and killed them on
this campaign, creating the namesake for Horseheads, New York.
The lukewarm response of the Congress was more than he could accept.
Broken, tired and again opposed by Congress, he retired from the army
in 1779 and returned to New Hampshire.
After the war
Sullivan was a hero. New Hampshire returned him as a delegate to the
Continental Congress in 1780. But he still had opponents there. In 1781
when he borrowed money from the French minister to Congress, they
accused him of being a foreign agent.[citation
needed] He resigned from
the Congress in August 1781.
again, he was named the state's attorney general in 1782 and served
until 1786. During this same time he was elected to the state assembly,
and served as speaker of the house. He led the drive in New Hampshire
that led to ratification of the United States Constitution
on June 21, 1788. He was elected President of New Hampshire (now
Governor) in 1786, 1787 and 1789.
When the new
federal government was created, President George Washington
nominated him on September 24, 1789, to be the first federal judge for
States District Court for the District of New Hampshire,
created by 1 Stat. 73. He was confirmed by the United States Senate
on September 26, 1789, and received his commission the same day.
Although his health prevented his sitting on the bench after 1792,[citation
needed] he held the post
until he died on January 23, 1795, aged 54, at his home in Durham. He
was interred in the family cemetery there.
He was first Grand Master of the
Lodge of New Hampshire and had been a member of St.
John's Lodge, Portsmouth, New Hampshire since 1767.
Counties in New York, Pennsylvania,
Tennessee, and Missouri were
all named for him, as was Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.[citation
needed] The General
Sullivan Bridge spanning Little Bay near
his home town of Durham, New Hampshire,
as is Sullivan's Trail, a road through northeast Pennsylvania that in
many areas follows the road made by Sullivan's army in 1779. Towns in Illinois, New Hampshire, and
New York are named