The Yates County History Center will host lecturers Amie Alden, Livingston County Historian, and Gary Emerson, Schuyler County Historian, at 1 p.m Sept. 21 at the United Methodist Church fellowship hall, off Chapel Street in Penn Yan, as they discuss the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. 

This Revolutionary War event began in 1779, largely against the indigenous peoples of Finger Lakes area, the Haudenosaunee, and the British fortresses located in Oswego and Niagara.

Who were Sullivan and Clinton?

James Clinton was born in Ulster County, now Orange County, New York in 1733. He was a militia captain in the French and Indian War of 1754, and was colonel in command of the 3rd New York Regiment in 1775. By 1776, he was a brigadier in the Continental Army, and in 1778, he joined Major General John Sullivan to carry out the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign “that opened interior New York to the U.S.”

John Sullivan, born in 1740 in New Hampshire, became a lawyer, and in 1772, was appointed major of the New Hampshire Militia. Sullivan was a brigadier general while serving in the Continental Army, and later was in command of the expedition with Clinton against Native Americans helping the British in the Upstate New York region.

What happened in the campaign?

During the Revolutionary War, many indigenous peoples of the Six Nations (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora) formed an alliance with the English and the loyalists in order to preserve as much of their livelihood as they could manage. This ultimately resulted in an attack on the Six Nations by the Continental Army under the executive command of President George Washington. 

The purpose of this assault was for the patriots to gain an advantage by decreasing or stopping Native American efforts for the British in the war.

Washington ordered the Continental Army to completely demolish the Seneca and Cayuga Nations’ local villages and their supplies. A secondary goal of this raid was to take some Native Americans captive to ensure that they would show loyalty to patriots in the future – which, needless to say, turned out to be an ineffective approach to gaining allegiance. Additionally, Washington was aware that a flourishing America would only occur if substantial plots of land were taken from the Haudenosaunee and other indigenous groups across North America.

Why should we be educated about it?

The Sullivan-Clinton campaign extended all over New York and especially throughout the Finger Lakes, where most Native Americans lived. The Sullivan-Clinton campaign is not widely remembered or taught, but it has profound significance because it caused a domino effect that lead to other events that are familiar to us today.

Cherry Valley, which is northwest of Albany near Otsego Lake, was the first white settlement in Otsego County in 1738. The Cherry Valley massacre occurred Nov. 11, 1778, organized by Captain Walter Butler. 

The aggressors included “600 Seneca peoples, 150 Tories, 50 British troops and four British officers,” and the victims of this local massacre were mostly women and children. 

Other local villages along the shore of Seneca Lake were burned and ravaged as well, including Ovid, Kanadasaga (modern-day Geneva), and Kashong (Gothseunqean area on the map). Kashong was specifically targeted for its agricultural prosperity – the Campaign found an abundance of corn, beans, squash, peas, potatoes, and melons, as well as evidence for different types of domesticated animals.

The lecture fee is $8 for Yates County History Center members and $12 for non-members. www.yatespast.org or call 315-536-7318.