John Sullivan

Engraving published by Thomas Hart, 1776

QUICK FACTS
BORN:
17 February 1740 in Somersworth, New Hampshire
  DIED:
23 January 1795 in Durham, New Hampshire

John Sullivan, American soldier and political leader, was born in 1740 at Somersworth, New Hampshire.

He studied law in Portsmouth and practiced at Berwick, Maine and at Durham, New Hampshire. In 1774 he was a member of the New Hampshire Provincial Assembly and a delegate to the First Continental Congress. He was also a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

Commissioned a major in the New Hampshire militia in 1772, he and John Langdon led an expedition which captured Fort William and Mary at New Castle on 15 December 1774.

Sullivan commanded a brigade during the Siege of Boston and was appointed brigadier general in the Continental Army in June 1775.

In June 1776 he took command of the American army in Canada and after an unsuccessful skirmish with the British at Three Rivers (8-Jun-1776) retreated to Crown Point, New York. Rejoining Washington's army in New York and promoted to major general, he served under General Israel Putnam in the Battle of Long Island and was taken prisoner (27-Aug-1776).

In December he was exchanged.

Succeeding General Charles Lee in command of the right wing of Washington’s army, Sullivan led an attack on the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton (26-Dec-1776) and led a night attack against British and Loyalists on Staten Island (22-Aug-1777). In the Battle of Brandywine (11-Sep-1777), he again commanded the American right. A few weeks later he took part in the Battle of Germantown (4-Oct-1777).

In March 1778 he was placed in command in Rhode Island, and in the following summer plans were made for his cooperation with the French fleet under Comte d'Estaing in an attack on Newport — which came to nothing. After a brief engagement (Aug. 29) at Quaker Hill, at the north end of the island of Rhode Island, Sullivan was obliged to retreat.

On 29 August 1779, Sullivan and about 4,000 troops, defeated the Iroquois and their Loyalist allies at Newtown (now Elmira), New York. The Americans burned their villages and destroyed their crops and orchards. Severely criticized for his conduct as leader of the expedition, he nonetheless received the thanks of Congress in October 1779.

In November Sullivan resigned from the army but continued to be politically active. He again became a delegate to the Continental Congress (1780—81), then attorney general (1782—85), and president of New Hampshire (1786—87 and 1789). In June 1788, he presided over the New Hampshire convention that ratified the United States Constitution.

In 1789 he became U.S. District Judge for New Hampshire — a position he held until his death in 1795.

ADAPTED FROM:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed.

 

America had a common language, unlike the European nations, none of which was linguistically homogeneous. in 1789 the majority of Frenchmen did not speak French but were divided by a variety of provincial patois. Englishmen from Yorkshire were incomprehensible to those from Cornwall and vice versa. By contrast, Americans could understand one another from Maine to Georgia. It was very obvious why this should be so, said John Witherspoon, president of Princeton. Since Americans were much more unsettled, and move frequently from place to place, they are not as liable to local peculiarities, either in accent or phraseology.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)