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.

 

By attacking slavery more fiercely than ever before, Revolutionary Americans freed tens of thousands of slaves. But the Revolution’s libertarian and egalitarian message had perverse consequences. It forced those Southerners who chose to retain slavery to fall back on the alleged racial deficiencies of blacks as a justification for an institution that hitherto they had taken for granted and had never before needed to justify. The anti-slavery movement that arose out of the Revolution inadvertently produced racism in America.

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