Summer 1999

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Retracing the Route of the

Sullivan Expedition

through Pennsylvania


Thomas D. Cornell

Essay I, Essay II, Essay III, Essay IV, Essay V, Essay VI

Essay I

A Day Trip to Geneva

We accelerated onto the Thruway, eastbound out of Rochester, one July morning in 1993. Terry had agreed to join me for a day trip to Geneva to visit a site on the route taken by General John Sullivan and his army in 1779. After exiting, we took NY-14 and then North Street to the State Agricultural Experiment Station. Then—at the intersection with Pre-Emption Road—we found the historical marker I sought. "KANADESAGA," announced the metal plaque attached to the pink granite slab. "Site of the chief village of the Senecas from about 1750. Destroyed September 7, 1779, with its fields, gardens, orchards and 50-80 houses. "

From my reading I knew that Kanadesaga had been a successor settlement to Ganondagan. After the destruction of Ganondagan in 1687, a new town had been built several miles south of the historical marker. But following a deadly outbreak of smallpox in 1732, the town had been moved yet again—to the high ground above the lake, near Castle Creek.1

From my reading I also knew that Kanadesaga had met its demise at the time of the Sullivan Expedition. Marching up the eastern side of Seneca Lake, Sullivan's army approached cautiously, expecting to be ambushed. Instead, the Senecas abandoned their town at the last moment—so that the only person the soldiers found when they arrived was a white male child (probably a captive from a raid on a frontier settlement). The next day Sullivan's army continued waging the total warfare they had been ordered to bring to the Iroquois. Thus Lieutenant-Colonel Adam Hubley (who commanded the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment) wrote in his journal:

This town is called Kanadasaga, and [it] appears to be one of their capital settlements; about it is a fine apple orchard and a council-house. There was in the neighbourhood a great quantity of corn, beans, &c, which, after taking great quantities for the use of the army, we totally destroyed; [we] burned the houses, which were in number about fifty, and [we] girdled the apple trees.2

Had I been seeking irony, I would have found it in abundance—for not more than a stone's throw from the historical marker were the buildings of the experiment station, an organization with an international reputation for the study of fruit trees (among other things). But it wasn't irony I sought. Swirling around us were the different kinds of stories that make the region so fascinating to me. A gas station and small store on the two adjacent corners bespoke the present; a farmhouse and barns further out North Street bespoke the recent past; catercorner, a small cemetery—with headstones dating back to the early 19th century—bespoke the earliest years of European-American settlement; and the historical marker in front of us bespoke the deeper past of the Iroquois.

It didn't take me long to realize that I wanted to walk around. But I didn't know just how I'd spend my time—so Terry and I basically went separate ways. Several minutes later she approached and asked if we had a cup in the car. Knowing we didn't, I wondered aloud if something else would do—and only then did she explain that she had located some raspberry bushes.

Raspberries: now there was something special I hadn't counted on finding. They—along with blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and others—had long been part of the traditional Iroquois diet. "Berries when in season," Arthur Parker once noted, "were eagerly gathered by the Iroquois and even today berries have not lost favor with them. "3

Strawberries were the most important. "The first fruit of the year," Parker explained, "is the wild strawberry and this the Iroquois takes as a symbol of the Creator's renewed promise of beneficence."4 As a result, strawberries played a significant role in traditional Iroquois culture. Not only did the Senecas hold a Strawberry Festival each spring, but they also believed that the road to the afterlife was lined with strawberries—so that the phrase "I almost ate strawberries" meant a near brush with death.5

Although raspberries didn't enjoy the same status, their presence near the burial mound on the other side of Pre-Emption Road served as a living reminder that the land around us had once been home to the Iroquois.

Our next stop was the state park along the northern end of Seneca Lake. It was a pleasant day for a picnic lunch. The sky was filled with lots of small, fluffy, fast-moving clouds, and ground-level breezes kept us from feeling hot. Before us was a panoramic view: from the lake's outlet on our left, to the town of Geneva on our right; from swimmers in the foreground, to boats of various sorts on the lake as far south as we could see.

We had come to Geneva as yet another step in my quest to understand the complex tangle of stories strewn across the land. Even now, the Sullivan Expedition wasn't far away—for as we entered the park, I had spotted another stone marker. But I yearned for more. I didn't want just to explore the stories that were already there; I also wanted to make my own contribution to the storied landscape.

Terry then remarked that if we still expected to visit the museum, we had about an hour before it closed. At the Prouty-Chew House we concentrated on the exhibit prepared by my RIT colleague, Paul Grebinger, and his wife Ellen.6 Then we drove south on NY-14 to Kashong Point. A year or so before, I had noticed a marker there in the same style as the one we had seen earlier in the day—this one memorializing a smaller village that Sullivan's men had destroyed.

The village was located on the outwash delta of Kashong Creek, and it was the creek I actually wanted to explore—because I had heard it was a good place to find fossils. We hiked a ways up the dry streambed but found none. Next we drove about a mile up the hill and tried again. This time we found a few fossils, as well as flowing water.

All the while, Terry and I discussed our respective styles of exploring. My preference was for quickly sizing up unfamiliar territory by moving rapidly across it. But Terry preferred to focus on one spot and then drift from one spot to the next. Our challenge was to figure out how to coordinate our different approaches, and that afternoon we began practicing. Sometimes it was simply a matter of agreeing that I'd take a short side trip and then return with my report. At other times, I'd wait while she stopped to examine things that interested her. Thus we laid the groundwork for the longer trip I had in mind.

© 1999, Thomas D. Cornell
Essay I, Essay II, Essay III, Essay IV, Essay V, Essay VI

Notes to Essay I

1 G. David Brumberg, The Making of an Upstate Community: Geneva, New York, 1750 - 1920 (Geneva, NY: Geneva Bicentennial Commission, 1976) pp. 6-7.

2 Frederick Cook, ed., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan, 1779 (1887; rpt. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1967), pp. 159 - 160.

3 Arthur C. Parker, Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants (1910); reprinted in William N. Fenton, ed. , Parker on the Iroquois (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1968), p. 96.

4 Ibid., p. 98.

5 Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (New York: Knopf, 1970), p. 13.

6 For a description, see Paul F. Grebinger and Ellen M. Grebinger, To Dress and Keep the Earth: The Nurseries and Nurserymen of Geneva, New York (Geneva, NY: Geneva Historical Society, 1993).

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