Governor James and General John Sullivan, two brothers who forged remarkable and versatile careers during the American Revolution and early republic, were honored in their own time and remained remembered and respected through the 19th century. How should we remember them today? Join Murray Forbes as he discusses his work on the fascinating lives of these two men.
Today we remember James Sullivan as first Massachusetts Governor of Irish descent and as founder and first president of The Massachusetts Historical Society. Yet his achievements defending Irish immigrants, elucidating injustices in Irish history and his landmark legal defense of the Catholic Church against being taxed to support the Commonwealth's official Protestant religion, remain almost unknown. He was also a significant diplomat, a brilliant legal scholar, and historian who influenced the creation of the United States Constitution. He continued throughout his political career to be the principal voice in Massachusetts supporting popular rights.
His brother John Sullivan initiated hostilities of the American Revolution in New Hampshire, played a major role in the Siege of Boston, performed heroically at Long Island, Brandywine, and Germantown, brilliantly at Trenton and Princeton, and incomparably at Butte's Hill. While serving in Canada he kept the American Army intact during the failed invasion of 1776, and in 1779, Sullivan led a massive campaign against the Iroquois who had sided with the British in the Revolution. As member of the Continental Congress he strengthened the French and Spanish alliances and allayed anti-Catholic prejudice. After the war, he served three terms as Governor of New Hampshire and, confronting hundreds of angry farmers, personally averted another Shays's rebellion. Yet Sullivan's military career has sometimes been downplayed, while his other accomplishments have been undervalued.
Their immigrant father, an indentured servant and dispossessed Chief of Clan O'Sullivan Beara, had extraordinary Irish forbears who rose to prominence in conditions partly presaging the American Revolution. He passed something extraordinary on to these sons.