May 31, 1779 – George Washington Outlines a Genocidal Plan for Dealing with the Iroquois Confederation

On this day in history, George Washington sent a letter to Major General John Sullivan. Sullivan was in Wyoming, a town on the Pennsylvania frontier, and was in charge of the campaign of terror against the Iroquois.

Washington advised Sullivan:

The expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the six nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.”

Sullivan was authorized to agree on terms of a treaty of peace, “But you will not by any means listen to [any] overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected. . .”

General George Washington

General George Washington

The region had been the scene of violent conflict between settlers and the Iroquois for two decades. While there were casualties on both sides, the settlers exaggerated the number of their dead and “embellished lurid stories of atrocity.” (Holger Hoock, Scars of Independence, 2017) But as Hoock observed, “The veracity of specific allegations counted less than their emotional power. To the Continental soldiers… the fearsome stories of Indian massacres .. helped justify their own mission.”

You can read Washington’s entire letter here.

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