General Sullivan’s Campaign in Western New York


General John Sullivan was a Lieutenant General in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. In 1779, he was tasked with removing the Iroquois Federation as a strategic threat and a force in New York State. The six nations of Iroquois were divided in their allegiances during the Revolutionary War. Four tribes, the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondoaga, and Cayuga, sided with the British since they had long standing ties with England. Two tribes, the Tuscaroro and Oneida, sided with the Americans. The campaign Sullivan fought against the Iroquois was one of the first examples of total war waged against an entire people instead of an opposing army. The purpose of his campaign was to drive the Iroquois population out of their homes in the Finger Lakes and create a refugee crisis for the British troops stationed in Fort Niagara, Ontario. This would serve the dual purpose of eliminating the Iroquois as a fighting force and limit the British garrison’s ability to wage war in the colonies during the 1779/1780 campaign season. Sullivan was provided with an army of almost 4,000 soldiers, artillery, and a large supply caravan. The army that Sullivan fielded was primarily composed of Continental regulars as opposed to militia.

The difference in the composition of Sullivan’s force was both practical and psychological. Continentals were the professional force in the Revolution, while militia were conscripts or short term volunteers. The British generally disdained forces composed of militia, thinking of them as rabble that would flee at the first contact with a professional force. Continental soldiers, on the other hand, were considered far superior opponents. Daniel Morgan used this perception to great effect at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. He placed the militia at the front of his army with instructions to only fire a single volley before retreating from the redcoats. As the militia retreated over a low hill, the British followed eagerly, expecting a rout. Instead, Morgan had positioned a force of regulars on the down slope of the hill. As the militia passed through their ranks with the British close behind, the Continentals opened fire. The British were hit with a full fusillade, and the battle became a rout in favor of the Continental army. Sullivan’s army was something that the Iroquois and British had to take seriously.

The combined British and Iroquois force attempted to neutralize Sullivan’s army at the beginning of his campaign. The largest battle of the campaign occurred near the modern city of Elmira, NY just three weeks after Sullivan began marching into New York State. At the time, the town was called Newtown. One of Sullivan’s most trusted scouts, Lieutenant Boyd (Boid) found the British and Iroquois force, and turned the planned ambush against the ambushers. Sullivan reported to Congress that his army was able to firmly rout the opposing force and drive them in disarray back into the frontier. From this point forward, organized resistance crumbled, and Sullivan was able to march through the lands of the Six Nations almost unopposed. While moving his army from southern New York into the Finger Lakes region, Sullivan reported that his army marched at the astonishing rate of almost 16 miles per day. This rate is a logistical miracle considering the terrain that he was traversing. Western New York was considered an unexplored frontier to both the British and Patriots. Most of the pathways had been established by the Iroquois and were not truly suitable for the movements of a modern force with artillery and provisions. Sullivan reported that he had to continuously widen the paths in order to move the heavier elements of his column. The effect of Sullivan’s rapid advance was to throw the entire region into a panicked retreat. Most of the villages that the army entered were hastily abandoned a day or two before the troops’ arrival. There are contemporary accounts of food left on cooking fires and even a few people left behind in haste.

The Finger Lakes region of New York was formed during the last Ice Age. As the ice sheets moved south, they carved long thin valleys running North to South through the country. These valleys filled with water as the ice sheets retreated, forming distinctive fresh water lakes. In between most of the lakes there are steep hills that also run North to South. In general, the Iroquois founded settlements near the marshy areas at the ends of the finger lakes. This land allowed them to grow Corn, beans, and squash in well irrigated fields, while still giving them access to fruit trees that they grew nearby. The long, thin lakes also acted as highways, allowing the Iroquois to move easily by water or land.

The geology of the region made the campaign that Sullivan was attempting all the more difficult. His intention was to move from East to West, driving the population before him. Instead, he was forced to move up the Chemung Valley until he reached the northern ends of the finger lakes, then he turned West. He moved along the northern ends of the finger lakes, stopping in several towns along the way to establish camps and fortifications. He sent out details from his main force that ranged in size from 100 to 500 men. These forces traveled down the North/South paths along the shores of each lake and destroyed crops. It is fortunate for Sullivan that he was able to subdue the opposing force so early in his campaign. A guerrilla war fought in this environment could have been much more devastating to his army. As it was, he reported that he only lost 42 soldiers before September 30, 1779. This date marks the end of his campaign in western New York.

Lt. Boyd

Lieutenant Boyd was Sullivan’s most trusted scout. He was the driving force behind Sullivan’s victory at Newtown and was often chosen to scout in front of the army. As Sullivan approached the largest settlement in western New York, modern Geneseo (Chinesee), he sent Boyd and a small detachment ahead to scout the town. Boyd and his group were ambushed near Geneseo. Although they fought bravely, most of the group was killed. Boyd and one of his men were captured and brought to the town. When Sullivan came to Geneseo, the town was abandoned, but he found his Lieutenant dead next to a tree in the center of the settlement. From Sullivan’s letter to congress, September 30, 1779: It appeared that they had whipped them in the most cruel manner, pulled out Mr. Boid’s nails, cut off his nose, plucked out one of his eyes, cut out his tongue, stabbed him with spears in sundry places, and inflicted other tortures which decency will not permit me to mention; lastly cut off his head, and left his body on the ground with that of his unfortunate companion. Source General Sullivan turned back at this point. His original intention was to push his force all the way to Fort Niagara and engage the British force stationed there. I do not believe that he turned back solely because of the death of Boyd, but I do think that it was a factor in his decision to return to the East. All of the major Iroquois settlements in western New York had been razed, and the population was retreating in disarray. Sullivan had effectively reduced the fighting capacity of the Iroquois, and burdened the British with many refugees from the villages he had burned. He was still very concerned with the threat of ambushes and attacks, though. He detailed several times that he took great precautions to avoid being trapped by a force in the frontier. Now that Boyd was dead, he was missing his best scout. He reported several times that his supply of flour and beef was diminished through accidents. He lost supplies while fording streams and when some cattle left the supply caravan. Together, the loss of his favorite scout and his uncertain supply condition forced him to deem his mission completed and turn back to the East.

Buried Treasure

Persistent of the sparsely settled hills is the belief in buried treasure, hidden it is alleged, by General Sullivan’s officers, while crossing the narrow ridge northwest of the lake as a precautionary measure against being captured by the Indians. Sporadic fits of digging extended over a period of a century and a half have yielded nothing, however, in the way of silver and gold.Source Page
Looking at the different parts of the passage, I’ve confirmed several things from other sources.- Sullivan was constantly aware of ambushes. His British and Iroquois counterparts had attacked him before. An ambush discovered by Boyd led to the Battle of Newtown, his greatest success. An ambush had also led to his greatest loss, the barbaric death of Boyd. After he turned back, I think he would have wanted to travel as light as possible. Sullivan was very concerned about how quickly his army could move. Every time he stopped for more than a day, he left behind wounded soldiers and canon. He knew that he would be meeting up with 40 wounded and several canon, including 1 Howitzer, when he reached the town of Honeoye. As he moved Eastward across the North end of Canadice Lake, he would have wanted to lighten himself as much as possible before entering Honeoye. To that end, it’s reasonable to assume that he would hide any valuables plundered from the Iroquois settlements instead of carrying them. There is no indication that Sullvan ever returned to western New York after the campaign, so any treasure buried during his march should still be there. This area is now the major water supply for the city of Rochester. The city bought the lakes and surrounding areas in 1873. Since that time, the area has remained in a state of arrested decay, with no major development or activity to disturb caches that may be buried there.

The real treasure may not have been buried by Sullivan after all. As Sullivan pushed the wave of natives and British before him, they may have buried the important things that they couldn’t lose, but couldn’t carry. These things may be near the old native villages. The speed with which the Continentals over ran the area is remarkable. There are contemporary reports that the natives knew Sullivan’s position and progress. They posted scouts on high points between the lakes. A controlled panic might be descriptive of the mood in the Hemlock/Canadice villages during September, 1779. They knew that they had to leave to the West. After having 1 or 2 days to prepare for flight, several native caches may exist in the hills overlooking village sites.



A hand drawn map made by one of Sullivan’s troops detailing the path that the army took through the Honeoye and Canadice area.  The dates on the map are in conflict with Sullivan’s report to Congress.  I think the soldier marked dates for both the western and eastern travels on this map.

August 29: Battle of Newtown
September 5: Took village of Kendaia along the west shore of Seneca Lake. At this point in the campaign, Sullivan is moving at about 11 miles per day
September 10: Sullivan reaches Canandaigua
September 11: Sullivan reaches Honeoye
September 13: Boyd’s scouting force is nearly wiped out by an ambush, Boyd is missing
September 14: Army enters Geneseo: Genesee was a huge town and required nearly two days to raze. Crops were gathered into the huts before they were set on fire. Stores that could not be burned were hurriedly dumped into the river. Sullivan turned back at this point
September 17: Sullivan reaches Honeoye.

In the area of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes, they were moving East-West 9/11-9/14, spent 9/15 and 9/16 at Cuylerville (Geneseo), then moved West-East on 9/17. There are reports from members of the army that the West-East trip took 2 days instead of 1. Sullivan would then have arrived at Honeoye on 9/18.

The campaign in western New York can be seen in some ways as a prototype for Sherman’s March to the sea 80 years later. At the time, warfare was considered to be a conflict between standing armies not a war waged against an entire population. In modern warfare, it’s common for an army to target civilians and cities, but that strategy was almost unheard of at the time of the Revolutionary War. In many ways, Sullivan’s campaign in western New York was a new strategic tactic. It was devised through necessity and the need to secure the western frontier against attack. British and Iroquois forces had been raiding settlements in New York State for several years before Sullivan arrived. His campaign reduced the fighting capacity of both the Iroquois and British at the expense of the civilian populations in his path. The Iroquois nation never recovered its full strength after this campaign. As European settlers moved into the frontier and displaced the native populations, the decline that had begun during the Revolutionary War continued until the reservation system was adopted in the 19th century. Today, the Iroquois Nation is composed mostly of small, separated enclaves surrounding the Eastern Great Lakes.

The battle of Newtown (Wikipedia)

Sullivan’s letter to Congress, September 30, 1779

Sullivan’s Campaign (Wikipedia)

Forests of Exceptional Character


Oak Openings used to spread across the eastern half of North America.  They were formed by the glaciers.  As the ice moved south, it stripped off most of the topsoil. In some places, it exposed the bare bedrock.  These islands of rock were surrounded by deeper topsoil.  As the ice retreated, new topsoil started to form on top of the bedrock.  This left a structure where there was a large area with very little topsoil surrounded by areas with deeper topsoil.  Oak trees migrated to the surrounding areas, but couldn’t root in the shallow soils of the openings themselves, which became grasslands.  This created a symbiotic relationship between the Oak trees and fire.

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Nothing larger than a bush can root in the shallow, variable soils of the opening.  This makes the whole opening vulnerable to fire.  Any fire that starts there will involve the whole savannah and surrounding areas.  Oak trees are covered by a thick layer of bark that protects them from fire.  The Pines and Poplars that compete for space in the forest rely on fast growth.  When a fire sweeps through the forest, these thin skinned trees succumb much sooner than the tougher Oaks.  The closer the Oaks grow to the fire prone prairie, the safer they are.  This has created a monoculture of sorts, where the Oaks out compete most other species in the area.  The abundance of food from the Oaks, and the proximity of savannah and forest habitats, attracts a wide variety of animals.

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The openings also attracted humans.  Native Americans used the openings as sites for their villages and farmlands.  The open grassland made defense easier, and the fires renewed the soil each year.  The openings weren’t suited for large scale farming or occupation, so they were mostly destroyed as the European settlers moved West.  Quinn Oak Openings is the last opening in New York state, perhaps the only one left East of the Mississippi.  The habitat has the highest rating for rarity in the state, and is among the rarest habitats in the country.  It really is a little piece of the great plains tucked away in an upstate forest.  Pictures can’t really show the stark contrast at the edge of the forest or the regular shapes that the grasslands create.  There are circles, rectangles, and the largest opening covering several dozen acres.  Some of the right angles are created by the prescribed burns that the Department of Environmental Conservation still does to maintain the habitat.

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In our modern world, we don’t need the Oak Savannahs for food or defense.  It’s an area worth preserving, though.  It’s now the last example of a unique series of geologic and biologic circumstances.  The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the NYSDEC to purchase land surrounding the opening and preserve the area.  Currently, the oak opening is in a state of suspended development. There aren’t any plans to support education or outreach for the park, there are minimal trails and facilities for visitors.  It’s a really interesting place to hike through.  After following a deer trail for a quarter mile, the close forest opens up into an enormous opening.  It feels like it’s a man made structure, the circles are too perfect, the lines are too straight.  It takes a moment to realize that this was all created by nature.


A Dynastic Disparity

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Whenever I mention that I  only made it as far as the front courtyard of the Louvre, most people berate me for not going inside.  They’re right, I would love to have seen the Mona Lisa or the Egyptian collection.  What I wanted from Paris wasn’t in the Louvre, though.  I love architecture.  I wanted to climb the Arc De Triomphe, the Eiffel tower, and I wanted to see IM Pei’s pyramids at the Louvre.  Most of the people I’ve asked think that the glass pyramids poking up out of the front courtyard of the Louvre are a blight on that ancient structure.

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I think I understand what IM Pei was trying to do in the courtyard.  I’ve spent a lot of time in one of his buildings.  The Wilson Commons at the University of Rochester was designed by IM Pei.  The story goes that the University chose the site for the new student building, but the benefactor stipulated that the library be visible from the Freshman Dorms.  IM Pei took this restriction and created a “Hollow” building.  After hanging out in the building for 4 years, I can see how this modern building didn’t diminish the older structures, but it didn’t complement them in a way that was immediately obvious.

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The Louvre pyramids line up precisely with the existing buildings, in 3 dimensions.  IM Pei takes the viewer on a visual tour of the Louvre.  Taking sight lines from each of the smaller pyramids focuses on a different entrance.  Light acts on both structures, but it’s the interaction between them that makes the pyramids so interesting.  I was only able to stay there for an hour, but I saw how the pyramids change the lighting on the museum.  Sometimes they reflect the building, sometimes, they obscure it.  I think he bridged classic and modern architecture quite successfully without diminishing either.

My Louvre Set on flickr

The Pantheon

The streets of Rome have hummed with the footsteps of people for more than two thousand years.  The Pantheon has been there all that time to record them in its worn floor stones.  Originally built to pay homage to Roman gods, it has survived into the modern era as a Mausoleum and church.

Outside on the street, the dome of the Pantheon doesn’t look very impressive.  The bulk of the square base seems to diminish the apparent size of the dome.  From some angles, the base of the building completely obscures the dome.  Once you walk through the massive doors, the effect completely reverses itself.  The dome dominates every inch of the interior space and the bulky base that supports it disappears.

The interior of the dome is covered with indentations that lighten the dome and help channel the weight into the base.  At its center, the Oculus paints a spotlight that roams around the interior of the dome as long as daylight lasts.  Instead of crushing a keystone with all the force of the dome, the weight is directed outward and down to the base.  Function directed the signature elements of the Pantheon’s dome, but the form they create pleases the eye and the mind.,_Rome

Flickr Set

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The next stop on our cruise was Rome, the eternal city. We docked in Civitavecchia and took a tour bus to the Capital.   I’ve always wanted to see the Pantheon.  Rome is a remarkable city.   It did feel like we were power walking the city instead of visiting, though.  I signed up for a 9 hour tour without realizing how many places we were going to see.  The first thing that happened when I stepped off the buss was a guy came up and tried to give me three roses!  How nice!  After telling him no several times, he tucked them in my camera bag strap.  He followed me over to the ledge and asked for 3 Euro.  I told him that I only had 2, so he took a rose back.  Since I believe in recycling, I left the roses on the ledge when we went down the Spanish steps.

At the bottom of the Spanish steps is the Fountain of the Virgin.It’s still used to provide fresh water to the citizens of Rome.  the fellow on the right was standing in the same place an ancient roman might have.  Of course, Plebius probably didn’t have Evian bottles to fill up.  The guide came over right after I took this picture to collect me.  the group was already a block away, power walking to their next destination.

The Pantheon.  In Roman times, it was a shrine to pagan gods.  To me, it is the oldest example of a dome placed onto a square building.  It’s an astounding feat of architecture, especially considering that it was constructed more than two thousand years ago.  The Hagia Sophia is also a square building and round dome, but more than a thousand years later.  The irony of this pagan building is that it was saved by the christian church.  All of the pagan symbols were removed, and replaced by crosses, and eventually mausoleums of Prominent Italians.  Mass is still held every week in this odd church.

Flickr Set

Google Map

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I still have the cold that I think I picked up here in Florence.  Figuring that a cold takes a few days to become symptomatic, I probably got it from this lovely city.  I took another whirlwind tour excursion of the city.  We docked in Livorno and took a bus to Florence.  Then we walked around the old city.

In the center of the old city is this square full of small shops and venders.  A legend says that anyone who touches the nose of this boar will someday return to Florence.  I thought about the flu as I swiped his snout.  I should have just settled for a picture, it would have lasted longer (barely)

Florence was the home of the Medici family, who ruled here for over 300 years.  As a family, they were popes, barristers, bankers, rulers, merchants and patrons of the arts.  They left an indelible mark on every part of the city.  As you might expect, they were cruel, enlightened, ruthless, and kind… suppressing opposing views while commissioning the finest works of art at the same time.

We came to this bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David first thing in the morning, so I was forced to take a picture right into the sun.  It’s the nature of quick city visits that we can’t pick the light.  We didn’t get to see the orginal, either.  Lines at the museum are too long for a 4 hour walking tour.  Michelangelo was a remarkably astute observer of the human form.  Anatamists studying the statue have commented that David stands in a moment of relaxed anticipation, perfectly mimicing someone in the instant before combat.  From the slightly flared nostrils to the tension in his legs, David is forever ready to cast his sling at Goliath.  I wish I could have come to this place in the late afternoon, and lingered longer than a few minutes.

Google Map


Genova was the first stop on the cruise.  I took an excursion to Genova, Portofino, Rapallo and Santa Margherita… the last being the birthplace of pizza as we know it today.  A chef wanted to impress the first queen of a unified Italy, so he made a pie with white Mozzarella cheese, red tomato sauce, and Green basil.  Stew the recipe for 150 years, and a Pizza Hut will sprout on every corner.

As the tour boat was pulling up to the dock at Portofino, photo alarm bells were going off in my head.  As of writing this, I still haven’t googled for it, but I know there is a famous picture taken from about this angle in Portofino.  the little green, white, and red boat center frame was what set the clanging off in my head.  I’m sure the professional had much time to ponder lighting and angles before he took his pictures.  Alas, I had a tourist’s moment on the dock before the guide hustled us off to our first destination… and empty square in a construction zone “too bad you have all come so late in the tourist season.”  hehe

At the top of the hill above Portofino, there is a small chapel with a graveyard behind it.  There are beautiful sculptures and a panoramic view of the harbor.  I lingered a bit too long up there so that when I finally made it back to the pier, everyone was aboard except me.  So ended my hour in Portofino.

Google Map

Cruise 11-09

I just got back from a cruise yesterday.  I went with my parents and brother on a Mediterranean trip from Barcelona to Cannes, Genoa, Rome, and Florence.  These are a couple shots from the boat.

I’ll post some more pics later

Flickr Set

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Searching for Spring

It’s been a long winter.  Feels like a year since I got out.  So, I went down to Canadice Lake to look for signs of life.  This lake is part of rochester’s water supply, so there are no residences on the shores.  It’s like stepping back in time, and the only hint that you’re still in the 21st century is when a car goes by on the nearby road.

I’m scheming to get a small aluminum boat to go fishing on Hemlock and Canadice.  Boats are restricted to 16 feet and 10 HP, but that’s big enough to bring the dog and troll for lake trout.  The finances don’t quite add up yet, but I’m still saving for it.

City of Rochester Park site


Wikipedia Entry

Happy April Fool’s Day.  The ironic thing is that I really am writing about a catastrophic disaster that may happen, just not today.  In the Canary Islands, there is a volcano called Cumbre Vieja.  During it’s last eruption, the Western flank of the mountain moved about 2 meters towards the sea.  If that side of the mountain had actually slid into the Atlantic, a tsunami would have obliterated the East coast of the US a couple hours later.

There is some debate about the danger that Cumbre Vieja’s shifting flank represents.  The island moved 2 meters at the surface, but if it’s just a shallow crack, it doesn’t pose much of a threat.  If the crack goes deep into the mountain, any eruption could make that part of the island collapse.  We just don’t know how deep the crack goes right now.

The volcano is formed in a way that makes it highly unstable.  Walls of clay run through the island.  Between the inpermeable clays are permeable soils that collect rain that falls on the mountain.  As the water builds up in the permeable towers, the pressure increases.  A break in the clay walls could lead to an explosive release of steam laterally against the crack that may or may not go all the way through the island.