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Sullivan, John

SULLIVAN, JOHN (1740-1795), American soldier and political leader, was born in Somersworth, New Hampshire, on the 18th of February 1740. He studied law in Portsmouth, N.H., and practised at Berwick, Maine, and at Durham, N.H. He was a member of the New Hampshire Provincial Assembly in 1774> and in 1774-1775 was a delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1772 he had been commissioned a major of New Hampshire militia, and on the 15th of December 1774 he and John Langdon led an expedition which captured Fort William and Mary at New Castle. Sullivan was appointed a brigadier-general in the Continental army in June 1775 and. a major-general in August 1776. He commanded a brigade in the siege of Boston. In June 1776 he took command of the American army in Canada and after an unsuccessful skirmish with the British at Three Rivers (June 8) retreated to Crown Point. Rejoining Washington's army, he served under General Israel Putnam in the battle of Long Island (August 27) and was taken prisoner. Released on parole, he bore a verbal message from Lord Howe to the Continental Congress, which led to the fruitless conference on Staten Island. In December he was exchanged, succeeded General Charles Lee in command of the right wing of Washington's army, in the battle of Trenton led an attack on the Hessians, and led a night attack against British and Loyalists on Staten Island, on the 22nd of August 1777. In the battle of Brandywine (Sept. n, 1777) he again commanded the American right; he took part in the battle of Germantown (Oct. 4, 1777); in March 1778 he was placed in command in Rhode Island, and in the following summer plans were made for his co-operation with the French fleet under Count d'Estaing in an attack on Newport, which came to nothing. Sullivan after a brief engagement (Aug. 29) at Quaker Hill, at the N. end of the island of Rhode Island, was obliged to retreat. In 1 7 79 Sullivan, with about 4000 men, defeated the Iroquois and their Loyalist allies at Newtown (now Elmira), New York, on the 29th of August, burned their villages, and destroyed their orchards and crops. Although severely criticised for his conduct of the expedition, he received, in October 1779, the thanks of Congress. In November he resigned from the army. Sullivan was again a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780-1781 and, having accepted a loan from the French minister, Chevalier de la Luzerne, he was charged with being influenced by the French in voting not to make the right to the north-east fisheries a condition of peace. From 1782 to 1785 he was attorney-general of New Hampshire. He was president of the state in 1786-1787 and in 1789, and in 1786 suppressed an insurrection at Exeter immediately preceding the Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts. He presided over the New Hampshire convention which ratified the Federal constitution in June 1788. From 1789 until his death at Durham, on the 23rd of January 1795, he was United States District Judge for New Hampshire.

See O. W. B. Peabody, " Life of John Sullivan "in Jared Sparks's Library of American Biography, vol. iii. (Boston, 1844); T. C. Amory, General John Sullivan, A Vindication of his Character as a Soldier and a Patriot (Morrisania, N.Y., 1867); John Scales, " Master John Sullivan of Somersworth and Berwick and his Family," in the Proceedings of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vol. iv. (Concord, 1906); and Journals of the Military Expedition of Major-General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians (Auburn, N. Y., 1887).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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