Map of Gen. Sullivan’s march from Easton to the Senaca & Cayuga countries [1779]. via:
The Haudenosaunee democratic system of government allowed for a great diversity of opinion within and between each nation.  During the American Revolutionary War many Haudenosaunee people individually decided to side with either the British or the revolutionaries.  Many of these people had converted to Christianity.  The official decision of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy at Grand Council at the Onondaga Nation was to retain neutrality, “in this disagreement between brothers.”  But the war had tragic consequences.

Joseph Brant was a Mohawk who had converted to Christianity and was educated in Anglican school in England.  He was very close to the English colonial government at the time of the Revolutionary war and decided to fight for the British.  Brant refused to abide by the Grand Council’s decision to remain neutral and sided against his neighbors in the Mohawk Valley.  He and his British allies launched several very successful raids against American settlements in 1778, destroying hundreds of homesteads and killing a number of civilians.  Americans, English and French soldiers saw these Haudenosaunee men fighting on one side or another and used the opportunity to blame the Haudenosaunee for taking sides.

In 1779, President George Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan to lead the Continental Army on a mission to destroy the power of the Iroquois, whether they were allies, enemies or neutral to the American Revolution. Congress approved Washington’s plan on February 25, 1779 “directing him to take all measures necessary to protect the settlers and to punish the Indians.” Washington wrote to Sullivan on May 31, 1779 “…The immediate objects are total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every sex and age as possible.  It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent their planting more.”

When the campaign ended in September of 1779 Sullivan reported that 160,000 bushels of corn as well as other fruits and vegetables were destroyed, forty Indian settlements had been burned to the ground, and thousands of Haudenosaunee sought refuge under the British at Fort Niagara. People recall that the winter of 1779-80 was severe and most of the Haudenosaunee territory was covered in five feet of snow.  It was presumed that many Haudenosaunee died from cold and starvation.

In 1780 many refugees settled at the newly created community called Buffalo Creek. Others returned and rebuilt their home communities, but the Indian Expedition left the Haudenosaunee a fractured people. It is amazing that their nations survived that terrible ordeal.  Among the survivors who wrote about this tragedy was Mary Jemison, a white woman who had become a Clanmother in Seneca territory.

To this day, as a consequence of the Sullivan Clinton Campaign the Haudenosaunee refer to the office of the President of the United States as Hanadagá:yas, which translates “He Who Destroys Villages.” This encapsulates that historical relationship with United States.