If you are like me, you have driven by one or more of the stone monuments for the 1779 Sullivan Expedition without paying clear attention to the shape of the monument’s top or the wording of the plaque.
In Seneca County, from the towns of Waterloo and Seneca Falls south, you can observe at least 10 of these stone monuments denoting events and routes of the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition of 1779. Each of these stone monuments is a vertical stone about 4 feet tall with a metal plaque. Now that I have been carefully studying these stone monuments, I have found some interesting information worth sharing.
First, however, I need to discuss the special monument standing near the center of Lafayette Park in Waterloo. The idea of some kind of monument for this Sullivan-Clinton Expedition (as it also is known) can be traced back to the Waterloo Historical Society in 1879 — the Expedition’s 100th anniversary. As stated in its book “Seneca County Centennial of Sullivan’s Expedition,” the Society felt that “an event so intimately and closely connected with the settlement of the County by the white race, seemed to call for some observance of its one hundredth anniversary …” especially in that “… this County was, in part, the theatre of this campaign.” The Society erected in the village park (present Lafayette Park) a stone monument created from limestone pieces found on the south side of the village. The monument has a foundation 4 feet deep and 7 feet square; a first base that is 5 feet square; a second base 4 feet square; and a limestone shaft 3 feet wide at the bottom tapering to 2 feet at the top. The whole monument rises a little more than 15 feet above the ground.
Significantly, this monument emphasizes the destruction of the Indian village of Skoi-Yase rather than celebrating the Sullivan Expedition. On the south side of the monument there is an inscription: Skoi-Yase (which was the name of the Indian settlement in present Waterloo village) and “He-O-Weh-Gno-Gek” (which translates as “Once a Home, now a Memory”). On the north side is the inscription: “Erected September 1879, To Commemorate the Destruction of the Indian Village, Skoi-Yase, By Col. John Harper, under Orders of Maj. Gen. John Sullivan, September 8, 1779.”
Quoting again from the Society’s publication, “The structure is not so imposing as some may have desired, but is deemed by those who devised it, an appropriate memorial to designate the site of a humble Indian town of eighteen houses ...” that were destroyed. This monument still stands in Lafayette Park.
As for the other stone monuments, five were erected by the New York state in 1929 and five by local groups or organizations (the Interlaken History Club, the Twentieth Century Club, the citizens of Canoga, a local D.A.R. chapter and the Rotary Club of Seneca Falls). Those stone monuments erected by the state (which for this article I shall refer to as “solely NYS monuments”) are typically a more pinkish-tan stone with an oval-shaped top. The monuments erected by New York state and a local group (which for this article I shall refer to as “NYS and local group” monuments) tend to be a white-colored stone with a flat top.
An even more significant difference is the contents and nature of the plaques on these monuments. The plaques on the “solely NYS” stone monuments have an oval-shaped top with images of Maj. Gen. John Sullivan and Brig. Gen. James Clinton just below. Below that comes a map showing the routes taken by these colonial forces. Below the map is this text statement:
ROUTES OF THE ARMIES OF
GENERAL JOHN SULLIVAN
GENERAL JAMES CLINTON
AN EXPEDITION AGAINST THE HOSTILE INDIAN
NATIONS WHICH CHECKED THE AGGRESSIONS OF
THE ENGLISH AND INDIANS ON THE FRONTIERS
OF NEW YORK AND PENNSYLVANIA EXTENDING
WESTWARD THE DOMINION OF THE UNITED STATES
ERECTED BY THE
STATE OF NEW YORK
(The capitalization, type size, punctuation and line placement reflect the format used on these plaques.) In contrast, those “NYS and local group” stone monuments have a rectangular-shaped plaque without an oval-shaped top. These plaques have a map of Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake and the lands between these 2 lakes, showing the routes taken by the Expedition forces and the location of various “INDIAN TOWNS AND CAMP SITES.” The commonly-worded text statement on these plaques is:
ROUTE BETWEEN LAKES
AGGRESSION ON OUR
That last line is followed on a new line with the name of the local organization and then the wording “And the State of New York,” with the month and year on still another line. This is an example of the monument on County Road 131 near the intersection with Combs Road:
TWENTIETH CENTURY CLUB
OVID, NEW YORK
AND THE STATE OF NEW YORK
JUNE 14, 1929
Now, I want you to play the role of a historian who always wants to ask “Why?” or “What is the significance of all this?”
If you look carefully at these two different types of wording, you will realize that the “solely NYS” monuments use wording that labels the Indian Nations as “hostile” while the “state and local group” monuments do not contain that word. Similarly, the “solely NYS” monuments refer to the Expedition as having “checked the aggression of the English and Indians on the frontier.” In contrast, the “state and local group” monuments say the Sullivan Expedition “severed the English-Indian alliance and checked English aggression on our western frontier.” I still need to do further research to explain why these two types of markers have such significantly different wording, especially since New York state was involved in both versions of the plaque wording.
These stone monuments help us to remember a 1779 event that had a momentous impact — both positively and negatively — upon present Seneca County. The positive result of this Sullivan Expedition clearly is that just a few years afterwards white settlement began in this region — a beautiful area with great agricultural potential, as reported by soldiers of the Expedition. Negatively, it basically forced the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) off their lands. In more recent years, the overall interpretation of the Sullivan Expedition has evolved to the extreme point that it is seen by some as an act of genocide.
Nevertheless, these stone monuments refer to a major historical event and major historical events typically have both positive and negative developments.