Monday, August 20, 2012

One Story, Many Voices: The Battle of Newtown

By Kerry Lippincott, Education Coordinator

Good, bad or ugly, it’s my responsibility to tell the stories of Chemung County.  It’s not just about telling a story, but as much as possible presenting a full and complete story.  In many cases this means having multiple voices tell a single story.  Take for example the Battle of Newtown.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, the Iroquois were split in their loyalties.   As the war progressed with attacks on their villages by the Continental Army and the persuasion of British loyalists, most Iroquois nations sided with the British.   In 1778 British and loyalists troops with their Iroquois allies attacked frontier settlements in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania and Cherry Valley, New York.  When settlers demanded protection, General George Washington formulated a plan to break the British and Iroquois alliance in New York State.  The plan called for the immediate destruction of Iroquois villages which would cut of supply lines to the British Army and their Iroquois allies.    Once cut off from their resources the aim was to push the Iroquois back to British-held Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario in hopes that they would become a burden to the British army thus ending the alliance. 

General John Sullivan was chosen to lead the campaign through northern Pennsylvania and New York.  Joined by General James Clinton, the campaign included over 4,000 Continental soldiers.  Starting from Tioga, (present day Athens) Pennsylvania in August 1779, Sullivan and his men moved toward New York seizing what food they could use from Iroquois villages and destroying the rest.  For the Iroquois and British the arrival of Sullivan was not a surprise.  In fact, they expected there would be retaliation for attacks in the Wyoming Valley and Cherry Valley.  However, they did not expect the magnitude of Sullivan’s army (over 4,000 Continental soldiers compared to their 600).  To divert the campaign, small parties periodically attacked the Continental soldiers with little or any success.  The British and Iroquois then chose a site near the Iroquois village of Newtown to ambush Sullivan’s men as it was right on the trail the Continental soldiers were using.  On August 29, 1779 the Battle of Newtown occurred and the Continental soldiers forced the British and Iroquois to retreat.  Ensuring that the British and Iroquois would not return to the area, Sullivan ordered his soldiers to destroy Iroquois villages and crops.  

Two days after the battle Sullivan and his men continued their march north to Geneseo and came back through the area in September. The Battle of Newtown was the only significant engagement with the British and Iroquois during the campaign, which became known as the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.

When the peace treaty between England and the United States was signed in 1783, the British ceded Iroquois lands (including portions of New York State) to the United States.  Believing that they were an independent nation the Iroquois were shocked to see their own land being given away.    The parcels of land in New York were given to Continental soldiers which opened up the Southern Tier to white settlement.

Though the British, American and Iroquois viewpoints of the battle and its aftermath are all extremely different they are still part of the Battle of Newtown’s story.  This weekend you can experience these stories at the Revolutionary War Event at the Newtown Battlefield State Park.  The event is sponsored by the Chemung Valley Living History Center and for more information visit

No comments:

Post a Comment