Was General Sullivan ever in Chenango County?

By Donald A. Windsor

Deputy Historian, Chenango County

Answering that question reminds me of a more famous question. Did William Shakespeare write all those plays and poems? The wisecrack response is, “No. Someone else with the same name did.”

The short answer to the title question is no. I can find no evidence that Major General John Sullivan ever personally set foot in what is now Chenango County. However, ample evidence shows that his soldiers did. A follow up question asks whether the Revolutionary War was ever fought here. The answer is elusive, because it hinges on the meaning of “fought.” The Revolutionary War was fought against the Iroquois because they were allies of the British. Although Revolutionary soldiers burned Indian villages here, no records indicate that they engaged in actual battles here, defining a battle as one side fighting the other. There is no evidence that any Indians or soldiers were killed or wounded here. However, when one side burns buildings and destroys provisions of the other side, it seems like an act of war. This was a declared war, so it was not terrorism. I conclude that the Revolutionary War was indeed fought here, albeit in a relatively minor way.



On March 6, 1779, Major General John Sullivan (1740-1795) was assigned by General George Washington (1732-1799) to defeat the Indians so that they could not assist the British in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). On May 24, 1779, Washington assigned Brigadier General James Clinton (1733-1812) to join Sullivan. A Major General outranks a Brigadier General, so Clinton’s troops were Sullivan’s. A General (one word, no modifiers) outranks them both and General Washington, on May 31, 1779, ordered Sullivan to cooperate with Clinton’s forces. James Clinton’s younger brother, George (1739-1812), was a seven term Governor of New York. James’s son, DeWitt (1769-1828), was a two term Governor.


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