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John Sullivan: Too Busy Fighting the Revolution

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When the New Hampshire Committee of Safety instructed Gen. John Sullivan to meet with a Capt. Hobb, Sullivan put him off for a week. He had a good excuse, He was too busy maneuvering his troops during the Siege of Boston.

John Sullivan by A. Tenney

John Sullivan by A. Tenney

Sullivan was the third son of Irish settlers, born Feb. 17, 1740 in Somersworth, N.H. His father was a schoolmaster. He read law in Portsmouth, N.H., and practiced in Berwick (now Maine) before moving to Durham, N.H. He became wealthy by investing in a mill.

For a while Sullivan was friendly with Sir John Wentworth, the royal governor of New Hampshire. Wentworth appointed him a major in the militia in November 1772, but Sullivan turned away from Wentworth as the Revolution approached. In January 1775, Sullivan was sent to represent New Hampshire at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Wentworth fired him from the militia. The Continental Congress named him a brigadier general and sent him north to fight with George Washington. Sullivan left Philadelphia on June 27, 1775.

On July 29, John Sullivan wrote a letter to the New Hampshire Committee of Safety, explaining why he took so long to meet with Capt. Hobb:

Camp on Winter Hill, July 29, 1775.

GENTLEMEN: It gives me pain to think that I have so long delayed the gentleman you sent to me; but I must refer you to him for an excuse on that head. I shall only hint that he came on Saturday morning, when I was preparing to take possession of Ploughed Hill, near the enemy’ s encampment at Charlestown. This was done on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning a heavy cannonading ensued, which lasted through the whole day. The floating batteries and an armed vessel attempting to come up and enfilade us as I expected, I opened a battery which I had prepared on purpose; cut away the sloop’ s foresail; made her shear off; wounded one floating battery, and sunk another yesterday. They sent round a man-of-war to Mistick River, drew their forces from Boston, formed a long column, and prepared to come out; but finding our readiness to receive them, declined the combat. Last evening they began to throw bombs, but have as yet done no damage. Their cannon has been more successful, having killed three or four. The command of our forces was assigned to me, which I hope will apologize for my delaying Captain Hobb. I have shown him those cannon which we last mounted, and given him the best advice in my power.

The powder you write for, gentlemen, it is impossible to obtain at present. We have had but six tons from the south ward, which is but half a pound per man for our army, and what we had before was a shocking store. We hope for some every day, and as soon as possible after its arrival, you shall be supplied by your very humble servant,

JOHN SULLIVAN.

To the Honourable Committee of Safety.

After the war John Sullivan became  a delegate in the Continental Congressgovernor of New Hampshire and a United States federal judge. His brother James became governor of Massachusetts. Sullivan died on Jan. 23, 1795.

Photo: General John Sullivan by A. Tenney, courtesy New Hampshire State House. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia. Commons. With thanks to the American Archives.  

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