Preserving a Piece of Revolutionary War History in New York

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During the summer of 1779, a military expedition ravaged the landscape of upstate New York. Today, on the 235th anniversary of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, the Public Archeology Facility (PAF) at Binghamton University has received a grant to help preserve a part of this often overlooked aspect of the American Revolution.

The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign

Battle of Chemung Marker

Battle of Chemung Marker

In May of 1779, General George Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton to lead a military expedition into the western frontier of New York and Pennsylvania. The expedition was the Continental response to a series of deadly raids conducted from the region by Loyalists  and their Iroquois allies – most notably at Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania and Cherry Valley in New York.

The battles of Chemung and Newtown were the only major military engagements of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. The Battle of Chemung occurred on August 13th 1779. Sixteen days later on August 29th, American forces routed British Loyalists and their Iroquois allies in the larger Battle of Newtown, near present day Elmira, NY.

By the time the campaign ended in October of 1779, over forty Indian villages had been destroyed, countless acres of crops had been burned, and thousands of Native Americans had been displaced.

The Public Archeology Facility

The Public Archeology Facility (PAF) of Binghamton University has been studying the Battles of Newtown and Chemung since 2008.

“At that time, we meet with members of the National Parks Service…and they were very interested in the Newtown Battlefield,” explains Dr. Michael Jacobson, Project Director and Battlefield Research Coordinator. “It’s one of the best preserved battlefields in the county and they wanted to make sure that it stayed preserved as best as possible.”

The PAF worked with the National Parks Service to conduct historical research on the Battle of Newtown, followed by an archeology survey of the battlefield itself.


You can learn more about the campaign in this interactive timeline:


“The local landowners and residents of Lowman, the area around Newtown, were encouraging of our research,” states Dr. Jacobson. “And they brought it to our attention that the Battle of Chemung has been this long forgotten battlefield of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, and they asked us to look into that battlefield.”

Between 2008 and 2012, the PAF received four grants to conduct historical research and archeological field studies at both sites. One goal of the research was to determine the actual location of the Chemung battlefield.

“There were a lot of questions because some of the descriptions aren’t very clear about where [the battlefield] was on the landscape,” states Dr. Jacobson. “So doing the archeology gave us a better idea where it was in the valley.”

Based on their archeological fieldwork, the PAF team was able to determine the location of the Chemung battlefield and better define the boundaries of the Newtown battlefield.

Toward Preservation

Today, on the 235th anniversary of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, the PAF has received a new grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to help preserve parts of the Chemung and Newtown battlefields.

“A lot of people think the Revolutionary War happened elsewhere, but we have some very critical aspects of the revolutionary war right here in our backyards,” states Dr. Nina Versaggi, Director of the PAF. “And a lot of it is in pristine condition worthy of preservation for the future.”

Remains of British Breastworks.

Remains of British Breastworks.

While many sections of the battlefields remain undeveloped, some portions had been heavily disturbed by previous gravel mining operations. Today, large sections of both battlefields reside on private property and certain areas still face a number of potential threats.

“The goal of these battlefield protection grants is to put a particular battlefield on the path towards preservation,” explains Dr. Versaggi.

The new grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program will help the PAF work with other organizations, local historical societies, and property owners to draft a plan for the future preservation of the Chemung and Newtown sites.

“We’re pulling together all those years of research and documentation, and archeological investigations, as well as talking with Native Americans, land owners and descendent groups,” states Dr. Versaggi. “And we’re trying to find a common path now toward preservation.”

The PAF hopes that these efforts will help protect the ridges, fields, and other geographic features of the Newtown and Chemung battlefields for generations to come.

“With these battlefields we can find artifacts, and that really helps us figure out where a battle took place,” explains Dr. Jacobson. “But the most important thing that tells the story of the battle is the landscape itself.”


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For more information about the Public Archaeology Facility and their other projects  you can visit: http://www.binghamton.edu/paf/


LISTEN:

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to excerpts from interviews about the campaign and the PAF’s preservation efforts:


Main Image Credit: From “A Popular History of the United States” by William Cullen Bryant (1892) Courtesy of the Gannett-Tripp Library at Elmira College.

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