|3rd Governor of New Hampshire|
1786 – 1788
|Preceded by||John Langdon (1786 & 1789)|
|Succeeded by||John Langdon (1788)
Josiah Bartlett (1790)
|Born||February 17, 1740
Somersworth, New Hampshire
|Died||January 23, 1795
Durham, New Hampshire
Sullivan, the third son of Irish settlers, served as a major general in the Continental Army and as Governor (or "President") of New Hampshire. He commanded the Sullivan Expedition in 1779, a scorched earth campaign against the Iroquois towns that had taken up arms against the American revolutionaries. As a member of Congress, Sullivan worked closely with the French Ambassador the Chevalier de la Luzerne.
Early career 
Born in Somersworth, New Hampshire, Sullivan was the third son of Irish settlers, his father being a schoolmaster. He read law with Samuel Livermore of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and began its practice in 1764 when he moved to Durham. He annoyed many neighbors in his early career, when he was the only lawyer in town, with numerous suits over foreclosures. But by 1772, he was firmly established and began work to improve his relations with the community. In 1773 Alexander Scammell joined John Sullivan's law practice.
He was sent by Durham to the colony's general assembly, and built a friendship with the royal governor John Wentworth. As the American Revolution grew nearer, he began to side more with the radicals. In 1774 the first Provincial (or rebel) Congress sent him as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. After Paul Revere alerted the Portsmouth militia of a rumored British movement toward Fort William and Mary in December 1774, Sullivan was one of the leaders of the militia force who raided the fort for its military provisions on December 14.
Revolutionary War 
After the British evacuated Boston in the spring of 1776, Washington sent General Sullivan north to replace the fallen John Thomas as commander in Quebec. He took command of the sick and faltering invasion force, sent some of those forces on an unsuccessful counterattack against the British at Trois-Rivières, and withdrew the survivors to Crown Point. This led to the first of several controversies between Congress and General Sullivan, as they sought a scapegoat for the failed invasion of Canada. He was exonerated and promoted to major general on August 9, 1776.
Long Island 
Sullivan rejoined Washington and was placed in command of the troops on Long Island to defend against British General Howe's forces about to envelop New York City. But then, on August 23, Washington split the command between Sullivan and General Israel Putnam. Confusion about the distribution of command contributed to the American defeat at the Battle of Long Island four days later. Sullivan's personal bravery was unquestioned, as he engaged the Hessian attackers with a pistol in each hand; however, he was captured.
General Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, managed to convince Sullivan that a conference with members of the Continental Congress might lead to peace, and released him on parole to deliver a message to the Congress in Philadelphia, proposing an informal meeting to discuss ending the armed conflict between Britain and its rebellious colonies. After Sullivan's speech to Congress, John Adams cynically commented on this diplomatic attempt, calling Sullivan a "decoy-duck" and accusing the British of sending Sullivan "to seduce us into a renunciation of our independence"; others noted that it appeared to be an attempt to blame Congress for prolonging the war. Congress did agree to a conference, which accomplished nothing.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania 
General Sullivan was released in a prisoner exchange in time to rejoin Washington before the Battle of Trenton. There his division secured the important bridge over the Assunpink Creek to the north of the town. This prevented escape and ensured the high number of Hessian prisoners captured. This route is now the main road in Ewing Township, New Jersey and is called "Sullivans Way". In January 1777, Sullivan also performed well in the Battle of Princeton.
In August, he led a raid on Staten Island. Again Congress found fault, but he was exonerated by the court of inquiry. This was followed by American losses at Brandywine and Germantown. During the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, he and his troops were bivouacked at Brinton's Ford adjacent to Brinton's Mill. Congress was frustrated by the continued British occupation of Philadelphia, but since Washington was the only man holding the army together, they made Sullivan the scapegoat.
Rhode Island 
In early 1778 he was transferred to the post of Rhode Island where he led Continental troops and militia. It was intended he work together with a French Navy fleet to assault or besiege British-held Newport which was regarded as extremely vulnerable since France's entry into the war. The attempt was called off when the French fleet of Admiral d'Estaing was scattered and damaged by a storm. Owing to the damage to his ships, and discouraged by the arrival of a British fleet under Lord Howe, D'Estaing withdrew to Boston. The British garrison of Newport then sortied, forcing Sullivan into retreat after fighting the inconclusive Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778.
The failure to defeat what appeared to be a very vulnerable garrison, and the manner in which the campaign collapsed provoked a major rift in Franco-American relations. Sullivan wrote a letter to D'estaing protesting what he saw as treachery and cowardice and describing it as "derogatory to the honor of France". The failed campaign sparked an international incident between the two allies, and was followed a year later by another unsuccessful attack on a British garrison at the Siege of Savannah. Sullivan's career wasn't badly affected by the debacle, and he was considered as a potential commander for a speculative invasion of Canada.
Expedition against Iroquoia 
In the summer of 1779, Sullivan led the Sullivan Expedition, a massive campaign against the Iroquois in western New York. During this campaign, troops destroyed a very large Cayuga settlement, called Coreorgonel, on what is now the southwest side of Ithaca, New York. To reach the enemy homeland, Sullivan's army took a southerly route to western New York through northeast Pennsylvania, which required creating a new road through lightly inhabited areas of the Pocono Mountains, which still exists and is known as Sullivan's Trail.
He pushed his troops so hard that their horses became unusable, and killed them on this campaign, creating the namesake for Horseheads, New York. The lukewarm response of the Congress was more than he could accept. Broken, tired and again opposed by Congress, he retired from the army in 1779 and returned to New Hampshire. Around this time, Sullivan was approached by British agents who tried to persuade him to switch sides. This was part of a concerted effort of approaches to other Generals such as Moses Hazen, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold who it was believed were unhappy with their treatment by Congress and had lost their faith in the goal of American independence. It was a strategy with mixed results - but which produced the notable defection of Arnold.
At home Sullivan was a hero. New Hampshire returned him as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780. But he still had opponents there. In 1781 when he borrowed money from the French minister to Congress, they accused him of being a foreign agent. He resigned from the Congress in August 1781.
Later life 
Returning home to New Hampshire, he was named the state's attorney general in 1782 and served until 1786. During this same time he was elected to the state assembly, and served as speaker of the house. He led the drive in New Hampshire that led to ratification of the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788. He was elected President of New Hampshire (now Governor) in 1786, 1787 and 1789.
When the new federal government was created, President George Washington nominated him on September 24, 1789, to be the first federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, created by 1 Stat. 73. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789, and received his commission the same day. Although his health prevented his sitting on the bench after 1792, he held the post until he died on January 23, 1795, aged 54, at his home in Durham. He was interred in the family cemetery there.
Counties in New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Missouri were all named for him, as was Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The General Sullivan Bridge spanning Little Bay near his home town of Durham, New Hampshire, as is Sullivan's Trail, a road through northeast Pennsylvania that in many areas follows the road made by Sullivan's army in 1779. Towns in Illinois, New Hampshire, and New York are named after him.
- Fischer, p. 99
- Gruber, p. 117
- Trevelyan, p. 258
- "National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania" (Searchable database). CRGIS: Cultural Resources Geographic Information System. Note: This includes Eleanor M. Webster (June 1970). "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Brinton's Mill" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-23.
- Golway p.189
- Everest p.81
- George Washington's Generals & Freemasonry, Paul Bessel
- Everest, Allan S. Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution. Syracuse University Press, 1976.
- Fischer, David Hackett (2004). Washington's Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press US. ISBN 978-0-19-518159-3. OCLC 186017328.
- Golway, Terry. Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. Owl Books, 2006.
- Gruber, Ira (1972). The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution. New York: Atheneum Press. OCLC 1464455.
- Trevelyan, Sir George Otto (1903). The American Revolution: 1766-1776. London & New York: Longmans, Green. OCLC 8978164.
- John Sullivan at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- John Sullivan at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- State Builders: An Illustrated Historical and Biographical Record of the State of New Hampshire. State Builders Publishing Manchester, N.H., 1903
|Governor of New Hampshire
|Governor of New Hampshire