The Iroquois Threat

Iroquois Leader Brant
The Seneca Indians of western New York and northern Pennsylvania had forcibly prevented the infiltration of settlers into their domain. So thorough were they that only a few traders and missionaries had ever been into this section of the country.

Within their homelands, these keepers of the Western Gate of the Longhouse of the Iroquois lived in comfortable, well-built log cabins equal to those of the colonial settlers of the time. Their villages were surrounded by large gardens in which corn, melons, squash, beans and other vegetables grew in abundance. The shores of the beautiful lakes throughout their domain were covered with great fruit orchards. The many rivers and lakes provided easy travel routes for their bark canoes and most of our highways are built over trails used by their moccasin feet many years ago.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, the Indians were neutral. The colonies urged them to remain so, but the British tried to obtain their services through lavish gifts and promises. At a great council held near Syracuse, the question was discussed. The Oneida Indians voted not to enter the conflict on the side of the British. This veto prevented the Iroquois from entering the was as an organized group, but many of them , giving into expensive gifts and persuasive words of the Crown, did fight with the British.


In July,1778, the country was shocked by the massacre at Wyoming in Pennsylvania, and again in November, when Cherry Valley in New York suffered a similar fate. Because of these, and other raids, the frontiersman were reluctant to join the Colonial Army and leave their families and homes unprotected. Many men, already in the army, were deserting and hurrying home to protect their loved ones. These men were urgently needed by Gen. George Washington's Colonial Army.

In addition, the Indian farms and orchards of the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley were producing the bulk of the food supply of the British armed forces in America, and while the Iroquois women tended the crops, their warrior husbands were participating with their Tory allies in raids along the frontier. It was also evident that the British were planning a new offensive drive from the Indian country which , if successful, would split the Colonies in two.

For theses reasons, the area of Northern Pennsylvania and the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley region of New York was of strategic importance.


In December 1778 Gen. George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Colonial Army wrote, "Our affairs are in a more distressed, ruinous and deplorable condition than they have been since the commencement of the war." It was at this time that he planned the campaign of 1779- to continue defensive action along the Atlantic and to send one third of the entire army to strike a blow at the Iroquois Indians and to destroy their country. In his words to Congress, he said, "The council are fully sensible of the importance of the success in the present expedition, and the fatal mischief's which would attend a defeat. We should perhaps lose an army and our frontier would be deluged in blood." On Feb. 27, 1779 Congress authorized him to organize the expedition.


The command of this expedition was first offered to General Gates, who refused with the comment, "The man who undertakes the Indian Service should enjoy youth and strength, requisites I do not possess." Gen. Washington then named Maj. Gen. John Sullivan to the command.

In his instructions to General Sullivan, Washington said, "Lay waste all the settlements around, so that the country may not only be overrun, but destroyed."

The plan of action called for General Sullivan, with the main army of about 3500 men, to march from Easton, PA. across the Pocono Plateau to Wyoming and then follow the Susquehanna River Valley northward to Tioga Point.

General Clinton with about 1600 men from the Mohawk Valley was to proceed to Otsego Lake and then descend the north branch of the Susquehanna to Tioga Point where he would join the main army. He was to be met along the way by Lt. Colonel Pawling with 200 men from the Hudson Valley.

The combined force was then to proceed to the Genesee Valley region of New York where they would be joined by Col. Daniel Brodhead with 650 men from Fort Pitt, Pa. The entire force was then to proceed westward to attack and capture the British Fort Niagara

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