The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2000

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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 VI - Conclusion

Day Five

Although it was 10 AM before we left the motel, I wasn't concerned. The distance I hoped we'd cover on Day Five of our trip was less than any preceding day.

From Towanda we took US-220 north and soon reached the village of Ulster. There we turned right and crossed the Susquehanna. Even at low speeds, our tires roared like airplane engines over the metal grating of the bridge's roadbed. Once across, we turned left onto PA-1043, a level country road flanked by corn fields and cow pastures. A short drive brought us to the historical marker I sought. Attached to the granite monolith was a metal plaque that read in full:

15 miles from Standing Stone
Seventh and last Encampment
of Sullivan's Army on march from Wyoming to Teaoga
August 10 1779
Lay on these lowlands by the river

Although Sullivan and his men had arrived here on the 9th, not until the morning of the 10th—after the delayed arrival of their supply boats—were they able to reprovision. As a result, they spent a second night at the same site. Then on the morning of the 11th, about an hour after breaking camp, the army crossed the Susquehanna. That maneuver was dramatic enough to have been recorded by most of the men who kept journals, and their entries—when viewed collectively—present a vivid picture of Sullivan's army.

One of the army's chief characteristics was its wariness of surprise attack. With the southern boundary of Iroquois territory such a short distance to the north, Sullivan was taking no chances. On the 10th, after the morning rain had stopped, he went with his three brigade commanders and one regiment from each brigade to scout the terrain ahead. "Some fresh tracts were observed," Dr. Ebenezer Elmer reported in his journal, "but no Indians to be seen."28

Familiarity with Indian warfare also shaped the army's arrangements for crossing the river. Two regiments were sent ahead of the main body to secure the western bank. "Our regiment [the Second New York] and the 2d New Jersey regiment," wrote Lieutenant John L. Hardenbergh, "was ordered to cross the River at our encampment and proceed up the River on the opposite side, to take possession of the ground…to cover the fording place…"29

After the main body reached the eastern bank and rendezvoused with the fleet (which consisted of more than 200 bateaux), further precautions were taken. "…Col. Forest drew up his boat at the fording place," wrote Lieutenant Colonel Adam Hubley, "and fixed several six pounders on the opposite shore in order to scour the woods and thickets, and prevent any ambuscade…" 30

The references to "regiments" and "six pounders" suggest a second important characteristic of Sullivan's army. Although thoroughly versed in the methods of Indian warfare, it remained basically European in its appearance and mode of operation. This second characteristic was further revealed when the army crossed the river. As shown by the remarks of Sergeant Major George Grant, the soldiers were European in their accoutrements: "we crossed the Susquehanna, hanging our cartouch boxes on our bayonets, and wading…up to our armpits."31 And as shown by the remarks of Thomas Grant (a member of the surveying party), the soldiers were also European in their marching formation: "The whole Army forded the River Susquahanna…by forming Plotoons, and Each Man Grasping his fellow supported Each Oather." 32

Generally speaking, the officers traveled on horseback. But Rev. William Rogers noted an exception at the time of the crossing: "General Hand in order to animate his brigade, dismounted and marched through on foot at the head of his soldiers." 33 Fortunately, not all the officers followed Hand's example. "Several men wold Bin Drounded," noted Sergeant Thomas Roberts, "if the horsmen had not helped them[.] Colln. Barber had Like to Bin Drounded and his hors By Riding after A man Down the Falls." 34

Despite their concern over a possible ambush, Sullivan and his men crossed the river wholly unopposed. Only later—at the Battle of Newtown—would the army demonstrate its character under fire. But the river crossing did reveal that the expedition had coalesced into a logistical tour de force. Although estimates vary, it probably included several thousand men, 1200 horses, and 800 head of cattle. Yet within the span of about an hour everybody and everything—except a knapsack or two—made it safely across.

Even the soldiers were impressed. "The Sight," wrote Thomas Grant, "was Beautiful and pleasing, but must have been very Tarifying to the Enemy who, its very probible saw us from the Neighburing hills which overlook the water." 35 Similarly—though in more polished English—Rev. Rogers wrote: "Such an army crossing a river with so much regularity at a place so rapid and in width three hundred and thirty yards, affords the spectator a pleasing sight, and must have struck our enemies with awe." 36

A short march up the western side of the river brought them to the ruins of Queen Esther's Town, destroyed the previous year during Col. Thomas Harley's reprisal raid after the Wyoming Massacre. By now the men had resumed their usual "Order of March"—as Hubley noted in his journal.37 They were in high spirits and fine form. "Drums were beating," Rev. Rogers noted in his journal, "fifes playing, colors flying."38

The army soon reached the Tioga Branch of the Susquehanna (today called the Chemung River). After crossing it, they camped on the wedge of land between the two rivers. During the next several days they built a fort on the site. Named "Fort Sullivan," in honor of their commander, it would serve as their base camp for their campaign through the heart of Iroquois territory. Meanwhile, a raiding party was sent up the Tioga Branch to destroy the Indian town of Chemung (which Col. Hartley had not reached the year before), and a welcoming party was sent up the Susquehanna to meet a second army, led by General James Clinton, coming downstream (from the Mohawk Valley).

Like Sullivan's men, Terry and I made our way from the campsite at Sheshecunnunck to the site of Fort Sullivan. Unlike them, we traveled by car and met with no dramatic experiences en route. Yet our trip wasn't without note. Just before recrossing the river, we stopped so that Terry could photograph the brilliant colors of sumac trees getting a headstart on the fall season. Back on US-220 we stopped at the marker for Queen Esther's Town so that I could take my usual round of pictures—despite the tractor-trailer trucks blasting by.

Soon afterward, we crossed the Chemung and quickly found ourselves at the site of the fort, in a residential section of Athens, Pennsylvania. Although the four corners of the diamond-shaped palisade had at one time been marked, we couldn't trace the fort's outline without walking across the tree-shaded lawns of private homes—so I contented myself with photographing the main DAR marker, as well as a smaller marker designating the burial site "within the confines of Fort Sullivan" for the soldiers killed in the Chemung raid.

But the real highlight of our day wasn't reaching the site of the fort. Instead, it was exploring nearby Tioga Point Museum. Despite the emphasis I had been putting on land research, museums were also an important part of our trip. The main problem was finding them open. Given the combined limitations of our time and their hours, museum visits were hit-or-miss propositions. We hit the museums in Williamsport, Stroudsburg, and (later) Elmira and Canandaigua. But we missed the ones in Sunbury, Easton, and Wilkes-Barre.

Not only did Tioga Point Museum join the list of "hits," it went straight to the top. Located on the west side of Main Street, the building was a brick mansion of late-19th-century vintage. The museum upstairs was so full of objects in glass-covered cabinets and cases that the young curator told us she had been overwhelmed at first. "I found myself in a pit of quicksand when I came here," was how she put it.

In museums designed along professional lines, the labels, the display cases, and even the building often form a single, integrated system. Of course, there are good reasons for taking such an approach. Well-laid-out exhibits offer greater scope for public education, as well as greater protection for the artifacts. Yet in making the individual artifacts subordinant parts of an overall system, something valuable can be lost.

At Tioga Point Museum, by contrast, the individual artifacts have retained their immediacy. Although they are protected and although attempts have been made to use them as vehicles for public education, the overall system is eclipsed by the sheer profusion of individual artifacts—making them accessible in a way they might not have been otherwise.

That accessibility appealed to us both, and Terry was especially drawn to the Indian artifacts—not so much the ancient gravesite remains as the pottery, textiles, and wooden objects of more recent origin. When the time came to take pictures, she was even more specific: she wanted me to photograph a variety of beaded items—a knife sheath, a pillow, a bonnet, and a pair of moccasins.

I knew where her request came from. Ever since childhood, she had loved “making things.” In Rochester this took the form of attending craft classes at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. A bead class the previous summer had been especially successful, and our Athens museum visit returned her to her new area of interest.

The museum also included material of interest to me. In a looseleaf notebook atop one of the cabinets were old photographs of the stone markers—most of which we had already seen, but a few we had missed. Taken at the time of the 150th anniversary of the Sullivan Expedition, the photos had a starkness that came, in part, from the black-and-white film. But another source of their starkness lay in the images themselves. In 1929 the markers were not yet surrounded by grass or bushes or trees. Instead, they were just stone slabs, newly-planted in raw earth:

Nor were the photographs the only museum objects associated with the Sullivan Expedition. In the upper corner of the main exhibit room was an aging banner that proclaimed the centennial. The 100th anniversary of the American Revolution had also been the occasion when the journals I was reading were compiled into one volume (copyright, 1887). But the actual book in my possession was a facsimile reprint, dated 1967, so it didn't feel old. By contrast, the banner—with its brown discolorations and tattered sections—was a true artifact of the late 19th-century.

Putting all these sources together with my own experiences, I came to appreciate that the way the Sullivan Expedition has been celebrated is itself an historical phenomenon. The journals—whether written during the war or prepared as memoirs in later years—constituted the first act. Their collection into a single book at the time of the centennial was also a distinct act, arising from the same patriotic milieu that led to the formation of the DAR (in 1890). The markers erected fifty years later constituted yet another act, testifying to the revolution in transportation wrought by the automobile. By the late 20th century, however, the Interstate System had relegated most roadside markers to "blue highways"—which is where Terry and I usually found them.

In short, as I pursued my project I had to consider whether I was seeing evidence of the original event or merely its later celebrations. Yet there remained at least one dependable touchstone for returning to 1779—namely, the land itself—and with that in mind, I was eager to get back outside. From the curator we learned that the museum building lay astride the old Indian carrying path between the Chemung and the Susquehanna. Sure enough, after leaving the museum and walking around back, we found that the property ran right to the Chemung. We then walked to the far edge of the parking lot across the street, where we reached not the Susquehanna but a twenty-foot drop to the heavily wooded floodplain.

By now we were well past our lunchtime, so we followed the directions the curator had given us to Round Top Park, on the hill west of town. The view from our picnic spot looked basically north—which showed us Sayre rather than Athens. Still further in the hazy distance, Pennsylvania ended and New York began. Moving onto that terrain, Sullivan and his army had embarked on the "business end" of their expedition. At Newtown, not far up the Chemung, they had defeated a British and Iroquois force. They had then proceeded to destroy virtually every remaining Seneca and Cayuga town.

Over the next two and a half days, Terry and I would continue retracing their route: from Athens to Waverly and Elmira, then to Montour Falls, Geneva, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Cuylerville. But the view from Round Top Park is as far as I'll take this series of essays. How to treat the violence and destruction is one problem. But more fundamentally, I'm not yet sure how to offer a two-sided account. Until the expedition's arrival at Tioga, its direct interaction with the Iroquois was minimal—making my focus on Sullivan and his men fully appropriate. Starting with the raid on Chemung, however, the Iroquois became direct participants, and it's their side of the story I'm still not comfortable writing about.

© 2000, Thomas D. Cornell
Essay I, Essay II, Essay III, Essay IV, Essay V, Essay VI

Notes to Essay VI

28 Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan, p. 85.

29 Ibid., pp. 124 - 125.

30 Ibid., p. 150.

31 Ibid., p. 109.

32 Ibid., p.139.

33 Ibid., p. 260.

34 Ibid., p. 242.

35 Ibid., p. 139.

36 Ibid., p. 260.

37 John W. Jordan, ed., "Adm Hubley, Jr.…His Journal, Commencing at Wyoming, July 30th, 1779," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 33 (1909), p. 142.

38 Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan, p. 260.

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