John Sullivan's Expedition

John Sullivan's Expedition

John Sullivan let a famous expedition against the Native Americans in Upstate New York in an effort secure the northern States for the Continental Army.

The Sullivan Expedition, as it came to be known, perminately changed relations between the Iroquois and Americans.

This article covers this Expedition. For more on Sullivan’s early participation in the Revolutionary War, check out yesterday’s article here.

Sullivan Expedition

In the Summer of 1779, John Sullivan was given a special assignment.

The Iroquois Nations, who were fighting alongside the British in the Revolutionary War, had launched several attacks on civilian frontier towns in Upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania.

General Washington placed Sullivan in charge of the expedition which today bears his name.

Cloths and Roads

Before setting off on the Sullivan Expedition, John wrote several times to the Continental Congress in an effort to get better clothing for his men. Unfortunately, these efforts were fruitless, and the men set off on a dangerous, three-and-a-half-month journey into the woods.

As they began the adventure traversing the Pocono Region of Pennsylvania, the men were forced to cut their own trail through the uncharted territory. This path still exists today and, while your GPS may call it State Route 115, the road signs still refer to it as Sullivan’s Trail.

Defeating the Iroquois

After crossing into New York, the soldiers spent the summer burning Iroquois villages and crop fields. For the most part, the Natives fled before the Continentals arrived and therefore limited the bloodshed.

However, there was one major engagement that summer: The Battle of Newtown. This brief fight was essentially a draw, though the American’s did leave with the upper hand.

The effects of the Sullivan Expedition were great.

Firstly, it all but ended the war with northern Native Americans (though those from the south and west were still going strong). Frontier settlements were no longer concerned with raids and after the war Upstate New York would be settled extremely quickly.

Secondly, it left the Iroquois Nations in shambles. They were left without the ability to feed or house themselves and were forced to rely on the kindness of their British allies to survive.

Continental Congress

For most of the Expedition Sullivan was sick with a ‘bilious disease’ and, upon his return, felt forced to resign his commission.

John returned to New Hampshire where, despite the doctor’s orders to recuperate, he was selected as a Delegate to the Continental Congress.

He spent a year in Congress, notably participating in the discussions surrounding Vermont Statehood. Although he initially wanted that land to continue as part of New Hampshire, he came to realize an independent Vermont was the best way to reduce tensions between his home and New York.


After his term in Congress, Sullivan returned to New Hampshire where he quickly began participating in local politics.

John was appointed State Attorney General and simultaneously served as Speaker of the House. He followed this up by being thrice elected as Governor of New Hampshire.

Sullivan was appointed by President Washington as the first Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, a position he held for six years until his death.

Do you want to learn about other Founders who led dangerous Expeditions?

Great! Try one of these stories:

Daniel Brodhead and the Coshockton Expedition

Goose Van Schaick Leads the Onondaga Expedition

John Armstrong, Sr and the Pennsylvania Militia

Peleg Wadsworth and the Disaster at Penobscot Bay

Want to read a biography of John Sullivan?

As it is the only bio I’ve read about him, I’m recommending ‘Niether the Charm Nor the Luck’ for the second day in a row.

Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same) .

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How the Constitution Controls the US Army - Federalist #26

How the Constitution Controls the US Army - Federalist #26

John Sullivan - Accidental Diplomat

John Sullivan - Accidental Diplomat