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The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

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first movements of the war.

Presuming that the English would maintain their present
posts and carry on the war as heretofore, Washington decided to
remain entirely on the defensive. He made only one exception
to this rule, and that was an innovation on his part to which he
had hitherto refrained from resorting.

The ravages and massacres perpetrated by the Indians and
their British and Tory allies at Wyoming, Cherry Valley, and
elsewhere called for signal vengeance to prevent their repetition
and Washington was forced against his will to adopt the tactics
of the enemy — to penetrate the Indian country and make war
upon them in their own style.




The command of this expedition was at first tendered to
General Gates, but that officer, thinking more of his personal com-
forts than the interests of his country, declined the honor. General
John Sullivan, always readv to comply with the wishes of Wash-
ington, was then placed in cnarge of the movement, with the hearty
concurrence of Congress.

An incident occurred during the preliminary stages of the
campaign which gave Washington great pain, but which clearly
proved, as Irving says, how well he understood the genius and
circumstances of the people over whom he was placed and how
truly he was their protector even more than their commander.

General Maxwell's New Jersey brigade of militia was ordered
to march as one of the component parts of the expedition, when
the officers of its first regiment hesitated to obey. By the depre-
ciation of the paper money their pay was incompetent to their
support; it was in fact merely nominal. The consequence was,
as they alleged, that they were loaded with debt and their families
at home were starving; yet the State turned a deaf ear to their
complaint. Thus aggrieved, they addressed a remonstrance to the
legislature on the subject of their pay, intimating that, should it
not receive the hnmediate attention of that body, they might, at
the expiration of three days, be considered as having resigned
and other officers might be appointed in their places.

Here was one of the many dilemmas which called for the
judgment, moderation, and great personal weight and influence
of Washington. He was eminently the soldier's friend, but he
was no less thoroughly the patriot general. He knew and felt the
privations and distress of the army and the truth of the grievances
complained of, but he saw also the evil consequences that might
result from such a course as that which the officers had adopted.
Acting, therefore, as a mediator, he corroborated the statements
of the complainants on the one hand, and urged on the State Gov-
ernment the necessity of a more adequate provision for the offi-
cers and the danger of subjecting them to continued privations.

On the other hand, through General Maxwell, who did all
he could settle matters satisfactorily, Washington represented
to the officers the difficulties with which the Government itself
had to contend from a deranged currency and exhausted resources.
He called upon them, therefore, for a further exertion of that pa-
tience and perseverance which had hitherto done them the highest
honor at home and abroad, had inspired him with unlimited con-
fidence in their virtue, and consoled him amid every perplexity
and reverse of fortune to which the national affairs had been ex-


In this way Washington rose superior to the perplexing sit-
uation, all difficulties were overcome, and the officers marched
with their regiment.

General Sullivan assembled his forces at Easton, Pa., in May,
1779. With over three thousand men he crossed the wilderness
to the Susquehanna and ascended that river, through the desolated
region of Wyoming and on to the territory of the Six Nations in
Western New York. At Tioga he was joined by an army under
General James Clinton, who had come down from the Mohawk
Valley, through Lake Otsego and the East Branch of the Sus-

Their united forces numbered five thousand men, and to-

? ether they swept the Indian country like a fiery blast, driving the
ndians and English before them like a pack of frightened beasts
and destroying everything in their path. They marched past the
site of the present city of Elmira, through the lake country in
the central portion of the State, and did not come to a halt until
they reached Livingstone County, almost within hailing distance
of where Rochester now stands.

The white and red savages harassed them somewhat in their
march, but generally fled before them. They made only one de-
termined stand — at Newton, in Chemung County, within five miles
of Elmira, where they were defeated with great loss. In this bat-
tle, which was fought on Sunday, August 29, the enemy's force
consisted of British regulars, two battalions of Royal Greens,
Tories, and Indians, in all numbering about 1,500 men. They
were commanded by Colonel John Butler and his son Wal-
ter, while Brant led on the Indians. They designed to catch the
Americans in an ambuscade by concealing their works and posting
their forces so as to attack simultaneously both flanks, front and

Their secret fortification was discovered just in time, and
General Hand advanced to within four hundred yards of their
breastworks, where, while waiting for the main army to come up,
he was several times attacked by parties of Indians, who rushed
out with war-whoops and then retreated into the fort. A hill upon
the right swarmed with savages and Sullivan ordered Poor to
sweep it with his brigade. They retreated before him, darting
from tree to tree and rock to rock, but kept up a scattering fire
until Proctor's artillery was brought into play and decided the for-
tunes of the day. Brant, perceiving that all was lost, raised the
loud, retreating cry of "Oonah, Oonah," when savages and Tories
abandoned their works and fled across the river in great confu-
sion, closely pursued by the victors. Only three Americans were


killed and about fifty wounded, but the loss to the enemy was far

One of the most tragic incidents of the expedition was that
of Lieutenant Thomas Boyd and his little detachment of twenty-
eight men who were sent to reconnoiter the position of the enemy
in the vicinity of Conesus Lake on September 12, 1779.

Boyd was completely surrounded by the loyalist Butler and
his Tories and Indians. Again and again he attempted to break
through their line, but without success. He then sought to re-
treat, but was encompassed on all sides. The odds were fearful
— eight hundred of the Indians and Tories to twenty-five Ameri-
cans — but the scouts determined to sell all their lives as dearly as
possible, and relief from the patriot army, which was only about a
mile distant, was expected every moment.

Covered by a clump of trees Boyd and his men poured a mur-
derous fire upon the enemy as they were closing around them,
numbers of whom were seen to fall. In all, fifteen of Boyd's party
were slain, eight escaped, Boyd and his sergeant, Michael Parker,
were captured, and four had been sent out early in the morning to
report to General Sullivan.

Among those who escaped was the noted Timothy Murphy^
the sharpshooter, an account of whose hairbreadth escapes and
deeds of daring would fill a volume. Boyd and Parker were put
to death with the most cruel tortures, an account of which we
quote from the oration delivered at Elmira by Erastus Brooks.

Among the slain were John Conroy, William Faughey, Will-
iam Harvey, James McElroy, John Miller, and Benjamm Curtm,
all distinctively Irish names, and samples of the men of Ireland
who bravely gave up their lives for American independence.

Lieutenant Thomas Boyd was from Derry, Pa., and be-
longed to Colonel William Butler's regiment. He was only
twenty-two years of age at the time of his awful death and was
of fine physique, engaging manners, brave almost to reckless-
ness and endowed with many noble qualities.

Sullivan's expedition is but little spoken of in present his-
tories and its great importance is lost sight of in the adverse
comments directed mainly against General Sullivan, although
he only carried out the peremptory orders of Washington and
Congress. In 1879 interest was aroused in the movement by a
seriS of centennial celebrations in the towns and cities along
the line of Sullivan's march. The very existence ^f these towns
and cities and the flourishing conditions which they cnjo>ed ^ere
in themselves ample evidence of the benefits conferred by Gen-
eral Sullivan on the Empire State.


He Opened up the whole western territory to white settle-
ment and by administering a severe lesson to the Indians and
their even more savage allies, the English, he secured to the hus-
bandman the peaceful pursuits which brought prosperity to the
country. Before 'his march it was impossible for a white man
to live in that section. After it the coalition of the English and
the red men was utterly broken and peace generally reigned where
all was desolation before. ,

"Our revolution," writes Headley, in his life of General
Sullivan, "called forth every variety of talent and tried it in
every mode of warfare. We had not only to organize a govern-
ment and army with which to meet a powerful antagonist, and
also quench the flames of civil war in our own land, but were
compelled to meet a cloud of savages on their own field of battle,
the impenetrable forest, and in their own way. The English
enlisted them against us by promises of plunder and appealing
to their revenge.

"The tragedies of Cherry Valley and Wyoming finally
aroused our government to a vigorous protest. Washington
being directed to adopt measures to punish these atrocities and
secure our frontiers, ordered Sullivan to take an army and in-
vade the Indian territories. The Six Nations, lying along the
Susquehanna and around our inland lakes, were to be the ob-
jects of this attack. His orders were to bum their villages, de-
stroy their grain, and lay waste their land.

"A partisan warfare had been long carried on between the
border inhabitants and the Indians, in which there had been an
exhibition of bravery, hardihood, and spirit of adventure never
surpassed. For female heroism, patient suffering, personal
prowess, and manly courage nothing can exceed it. Yet it had
hitherto been a sort of hand-to-hand fighting, a measuring of the
Indian's agility and cunning against the white man's strength
and boldness ; but now a large army with a skillful commander
at its head was to sweep down everything in its passage."

The Six Nations consisted of the tribes of the Mohawks,
Onondagas, Oneidas, Senecas, Cayugas, and Tuscaroras. The
first five were a long time allied and were known as the Five Na-
tions. They were joined by the Tuscororas of North Carolina
in 1 714 and from that time the confederation was known by the
title of the Six Nations. Their great council fire was in the spe-
cial keeping of the Onondagas, by whom it wa-s always kept

The shortcomings of historians with regard to the Sulhvan
Expedition against the Six Nations is more than made up by the
official action of the State of New York. In 1887, pursuant to an


act of the le^-^islature, Frederick Cook, Secretary of State, pre-
pared and published a large volume of nearly six hundred pages
containing all the journals of the expedition, the official reports
of General Sullivan and his officers, and the records of the various
centennial celebrations to which we have alluded.

A mere glance at this volume will show that the Irish element
largely predominated in the movement. On page 66 is printed
I a sketch of General Sullivan's order of march, with the names of
the generals and their positions in the line. Of the six leading
commandants we find that five are Irish or Irish-Americans.
Generals Sullivan and Clinton were bom of Irish fathers and
mothers, while General Hand, who 'led the advance; General
Maxwell, who commanded the left wing, and Colonel Thomas
Proctor, who had charge of the artillery, were born Irishmen.

General Poor was the only leading officer not of Irish orig^,
but he commanded the troops of New Hampshire, the great ma-
jority of whom were Irish, as were also the Pennsylvanians under
Hand and the New Yorkers under Clinton.

On Saturday, September 25, news reached the camp that the
King of Spain had joined the American alliance, and caused
great rejoicing among the officers and soldiers. In the evening
the whole army was drawn up and guns were fired in honor of
the occasion, the soldiers uniting in hearty cheers for Congress
and the King of Spain.

General Sullivan ordered that a fatted bullock, with five gal-
lons of spirits, should be served to the officers of each brigade to
enable them to hold banquets in celebration of the event. Gen-
eral Hand, with his officers and those of Proctor's artillery, re-
paired to a bowery erected for that purpose and held their ban-
quet in great state, one of their toasts being : May the Kingdom
of Ireland merit a stripe in the American standard.

This incident in itself serves to show the great prominence
of the Irish element in the army — Ireland being the only country
ever mentioned in such connection.

In the celebrations held in 1879 to mark the centennial an-
niversary of General Sullivan's expedition many interesting
things were said by the leading men of the time, and we will make
a few extracts from them to prove the gratitude of the American
people and the great importance which they attached to the event.
In them, as well as in the levolution, the names of Ireland and
America were gloriously intertwined.

From the official report of the centennial proceedings on the
battlefield of Newton, now Elmira, we quote : "The action of the
several committees having the matter in char^-e, culminated in
one of the grandest centennial demonstrations of tho pcriocj.


Many of the most eminent men of the land honored the occasion
by their presence. From the obscurity of a century, the Sullivan
Expedition was at once raised to the front rank ef the military
exploits of history, and took its place, and will hereafter be rec-
ognized, among the most important events of our revolutionary

The inscription upon the marble tablet inserted in the monu-
ment sufficiently testifies to the importance of the event :

Near this spot,

On Sunday, the 29th day of August, 1779,

the forces of the Six Nations under the leadership of


assisted by British Regulars and Tories,

were met and defeated by the Americans under the command

of Major General JOHN SULLIVAN, of New Hampshire,

whose soldiers, led by

Brig. Gen. James Clinton of N. Y., Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor of N. H.,

Brig. Gen. Edward Hand of Pa., and Brig. Gen. Wm. Maxwell of

N. J., completely routed the enemy and accelerated the

advent of the day, which assured to the United States

their existence as an


1779 1879

In his poem, written specially in honor of the same event,
the Hen. P. H. McMaster thus alludes to General Sullivan:

He bore him in the nation's fight
A gallant gentleman— true knighti
Content to serve, as fit to rule.
Of ancient lineage of Erse,
Its blood electric, took its course
With Gaelic fervor through the veins
But amid strands of steady nerve,
That kept from waste the vivid spark,
And held it in their coil — for work.

Erastus Brooks, in his address at Elmira, thus summarizes
the state of affairs in 1779 both in Europe and America:

"The year 1779 was also the year of armed neutrality of the
northern powers, and the year when a hundred thousand Irish
volunteers assembled to improve the opportunity of existing de-
pression in England, to secure, if they could, independence for
Ireland, just as we now hear the self-same and earnest cry for
home rule in Ireland. The naval victories off Cape Vincent and
the West Indies changed all these bright expectations and resulted
abroad in the final treaties of peace at Paris and Versailles. At
home the year 1779 commenced the fifth year of the revolution,
and everywhere, from Canada to Florida, unmixed gloom per-


vaded the land. St. Augustine was held by the British. Georgia
fell into the hands of the enemy, and a British colony was pro-
claimed there in the midst of the war. Moultrie was driven from
Black Swamp into Charleston, which was saved, but for the time
only, by the bravery of General Lincoln and Governor Rutledge.
Virginia was ravaged; Portsmouth and Gosport, Norfolk, and
Suffolk burned to ashes, just as later on in the same year the in-
famous Governor Tryon, sent by Sir Henry Clinton, laid waste
Connecticut, with orders to pillage and burn, as he did, Green-
wich, Norwalk, and Fairfield, and the shipping of New Haven.
Here it was not only fire, sword, and plunder, but the worst of all
crimes, even in war, the unbridled license of town and camp, so
that fleeing women were often frantic from the dread of personal
brutality. But the only effect of this destruction of seaport towns
and plantations was to cement the union of the people and to in-
spire them with fresh zeal for independence. The contest was
now chiefly at the South, but from thence Sir Henry Clinton
called back his dogs of war, intent upon the double purpose of
cutting off all communication between North and South and
building a line of posts from New York to Canada."

Further on in this address Mr. Brooks asserts that the Eng-
Hsh were more cruel than the Indians and cites the awful tortures
inflicted on Lieutenant Boyd as an illustration. "Cruel indeed,"
he says, "have been the excesses of Indian warfare, and far worse
in Massachusetts and Virginia than in Wyoming, but in this cam-
paign of 1779 the Indians spared the lives of Lieutenant Boyd
and his sergeant, while the Loyalist Butler, at a later hour, calm-
ly looked on and beheld them stripped and whipped, and in the
case of Boyd, his nose cut off, his tongue cut out, his toe nails
drawn from their sockets, one of his eyes plucked out, his breast
cut open and his heart taken out and placed in his right hand.
In all this world's history I hope there is no excess, if, indeed,
any parallel, to this piece of barbarity, but just as it is, with all its
monstrosity, an English officer is in part, if not wholly, respon-

Mr. Brooks could have found a parallel to this appalling
horror in the Irish Revolution in 1798, when, after the battle of
Arklow, the Ancient Briton regiment cut out the heart of the Rev.
Michael Murphy, the patriot general, roasted it, and ate it.

The Hon. Steuben Jenkins, of Wyoming, Pa., grandson of
Lieut John Jenkins, official guide to General Sullivan, also de-
livered a brilliant address at Elmira, which he concluded a«
follows :

"From what has been given, it will be seen there was no
battle fought during the Revolutionary conquest that was more


decisive in its results, that inspired greater hope or caused greater
joy, if we except Yorktown, than that fought here on this ground.
It fully equals in these respects, if it does not exceed those of
Trenton, of Saratoga, and Monmouth. In breaking down the
Indian confederacy, the right arm of British power in America
was palsied and the principal field of their operations was closed
to them forever. The haughty and chivalric spirit of this splendid
race of savages, whose skill and eloquence in council and whose
mighty conquests and long-continued domination over surround-
ing tribes attracted the attention and won the admiration of the
endightened world, seemed to have been worthy of a better fate,
but the degrading and demoralizing influence of association with
the British and Tories dragged them down to the lowest depths
of depravity and terminated their career amidst the execrations
of mankind, with none to mourn their unhappy end."

Lieutenant Governor William Dorsheimer was the orator of
the day at the centennial celebration at Waterloo, N. Y., and
paid a splendid tribute to the Irish immigrants who had helped
to build up the Empire State. "What have they not done for us ?"
he said. "Not only have they built up our canals, railroads, and
cities, not only have they tilled our farms, manned our ships,
tended our flocks, and borne our burdens, but they have fought
upon every battlefield and assisted in every triumph of our his-
tory. Montgomery died under the walls of Quebec; Fulton, of
Irish descent, launched the first successful steamboat upon our
waters ; Ireland sent here the legal learning of Emmet and the
soft eloquence of Thomas Francis Meagher. The son of one
Irish immigrant hJls long been the leader of the American bar,
the son of another represents you in the Senate of the United

We could quote many other tributes from this great book
published by the State of New York, but we have given enough
to show the importance of General Sullivan's Indian expedition
and the great benefits it conferred on the patriot cause.

We could, too, go more into detail as to the services rendered
by Irishmen in the campaign, for they abounded not only in the
rank and file, but among the commissioned officers — such men
as Colonel William Butler, of the Kilkenny Butlers, of Pennsyl-
vania; Major William Scott, of New Hampshire; Major Robert
Cochran, of New York, and Lieutenant Thomas Boyd, who was
tortured to death by the Indians, being examples of many others
who nobly distinguished themselves. General Sullivan and his
soldiers received the warmest thanks of Congress and Washing-
ton. The latter, in general orders, thus speaks of the expedition
and its results :


"The commander-in-chief has now the pleasure of con-
gratulating the army on the complete and full success of Major-
General Sullivan, and the troops under his command, against the
Seneca and other tribes of the Six Nations, as a just and neces-
sary punishment for their wanton depredations, their unparal-
leled and innumerable cruelties, their deafness to all remon-
strances and entreaty and their perseverance in the most horrid
acts of barbarity."

The success of the expedition was hailed with plaudits
throughout the United States and Congress voiced the general
appreciation by unanimously adopting the following resolution
on October 14, 1779:

"Resolved, that the thanks of Congress be given to His Ex-
cellency, General Washington, for directing, and to Major-Gen-
eral Sullivan, and the brave officers and soldiers under his com-
mand, for effectually conducting an important expedition against
such of the Indian nations as, encouraged by the councils and
conducted by the officers of His Britannic Majesty, had per-
fidiously waged an unprovoked and cruel war against the United
States, laid waste many of their defenseless towns, and with
savage barbarity slaughtered the inhabitants thereof."

While General Sullivan was carrying out Washington's
orders against the Indians and Tories in Western New York an-
other Irish-American, General Anthony Wayne, was accomplish-
ing the most brilliant work of the whole war in his gallant storm-
ing of Stony Point — the two great military achievements of 1779
being thus the work of sons of Irishmen.

Much stress is laid by certain writers on the fact that be-
cause General Wayne's grandfather was an Englishman he can-
not be credited to Ireland — a vain assumption which is easily set
aside by the bare remembrance that even the father of one of the
greatest Irishmen in history — Thomas Davis — was born and
brought up in Wales.

General Wayne's father was bom and brought up in Ireland,
and that he was himself thoroughly Irish is proved by his wann
interest in the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia ; an
organization in which he took the greatest pride and of which
he was a most devoted member.

His love for Ireland and Irishmen is still further proved by
his anxiety for the welfare of his two Irish colonels of the Penn-
sylvania Line when he was unjustly superseded in the command
of that noble organization by General St. Clair, the commander
who had given up Ticonderoga without a blow and an officer m
every way inferior to Wayne, who, as Spears says, had won the


Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 55 of 67)