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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Sociologist explores impact of Sullivan-Clinton Campaign on Native American, New York history

Robert Spiegelman explores modern-day consequences of 18th-century offensive against the Haudenosaunee

April 25, 2011, by Rob Enslin

Robert Spiegelman
Robert Spiegelman
The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, the largest military offensive ever against the Haudenosaunee (“People of the Longhouse”), is the subject of a multimedia presentation by Robert Spiegelman in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Spiegelman will discuss “New York’s Missing Link: The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, Then and Now” on Friday, April 29, at 4 p.m. in Bird Library’s Peter Graham Scholarly Commons. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Philip Arnold, associate professor of religion, at 315-443-3861.

Spiegelman’s visit is sponsored by Speakers in the Humanities, a program of the New York Council for the Humanities. Speakers in the Humanities lectures are made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Legislature and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

“Although the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign marks one of the darkest hours in Native American history, it is largely forgotten,” says Arnold, an expert in indigenous religions who collaborates with the Onondaga Nation. “Robert Spiegelman’s tour de force combines fresh research, dramatic visuals and unique animated maps to determine why this period is often overlooked.”

In 1779, George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, ordered generals John Sullivan and James Clinton to methodically destroy more than 40 Iroquois villages throughout the Finger Lakes region of Western New York. The offensive was carried out by 6,200 soldiers (roughly 25 percent of the Continental Army), leading to the deaths of both “neutral” Haudenosaunee and American loyalists. Also, hundreds of Haudenosaunee starved or froze to death that winter, while many survivors fled to British-occupied parts of Upstate New York and Southern Canada. The campaign, says Arnold, irrevocably changed American history, paving the way for the Erie Canal and Westward Expansion.

“Famine and displacement demoralized the Haudenosaunee people, and shattered their infrastructure,” he says. “In the 1780s, European Americans began resettling the Finger Lakes, relegating the few remaining Haudenosaunee to isolated towns and villages.”

Arnold goes on to say that despite the devastation, the Haudenosaunee people—often mistakenly referred to as the Iroquois—were surprisingly resilient: “They played a pivotal role in the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794, signed by President Washington and the leadership of the Six Nations Confederacy [Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora].”

A sociologist, multimedia artist and writer, Spiegelman is an expert on New York, Iroquois, Irish and environmental themes. He is perhaps best known for, part of an ambitious web trilogy that uses history to foster indigenous values of peace, democracy and nature-in-balance. A former college instructor, Spiegelman earned a doctoral degree in sociology from the CUNY Graduate Center.

“Robert Spiegelman examines the campaign’s dark origins, key players, main events, tragic and victorious aftermaths and lasting results. Beyond the military operation, he shows its lasting impact on New York state land, culture and environment, and demonstrates how it continues to affect us today,” says Arnold.

The New York Council for the Humanities is a not-for-profit, independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through statewide collaborations, programs and services that encourage imaginative thinking and critical inquiry, the council works to ensure that the humanities are present in the intellectual and cultural life of every New Yorker.