High atop a hill in the southern part of the State of New York, very near the Pennsylvania border, lies the 330-acre Newtown Battlefield Reservation State Park. It is a quiet and peaceful place today, full of natural, pristine beauty. The hill is quite heavily wooded, and the casual passerby on the highway below might not know the park is there, if he or she did not look upward to the top to see the narrow column of white granite that reaches to touch the sky.
Prior to 1779, the Chemung River Valley and hills surrounding the park had been inhabited by Indians for thousands of years, most recently by the Iroquois. The Iroquois were living a settled agricultural existence supplemented by hunting and trade. Their six tribes had developed a sophisticated system of political, military and social alliance cemented by mandatory inter-clan marriage. Descent passed through women rather than men. The strength and stability of this system has been such that the Six Nations Confederacy of the Iroquois exists to this day.
In August of 1779, the peace and tranquility of this forested hill was broken by the boom of cannons, the crack of musket fire, and the blood-curdling yells of Iroquois warriors. The Continental Army was engaged in battle with the British regulars, Loyalist rangers and 1000 Iroquois Indian warriors. The battle of Newtown was the decisive clash in one of the largest offensive campaigns of the American Revolution.
George Washington had dispatched General John Sullivan with an army from Easton, Pennsylvania and General James Clinton with an army gathered at Canajoharie in the Mohawk Valley, in what was to become known as the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. This expedition has been commonly regarded as punishment to some tribes among the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy who had sided with the British in the war and had attacked frontier settlements. It has also been interpreted as a means of cutting off supplies of corn, dried vegetables and fruits going to the Indians and the British.
On August 22, 1779, the two armies joined Forces at Tioga Point (Athens, PA) and 3,200 troops marched northwest along the Chemung River. On August 29, scouts discovered hidden breastworks near the Iroquois village of New Town, at the base of the hill. There were 15 British regulars, 250 Loyalist Rangers and the much larger force of Indians. General Sullivan met with his generals and planned their attack. They bombarded the fortified line of their enemy with artillery supported by a troop assault. Soldiers led by Generals Clinton and Poor attacked the British position from the north east. The forces under the Loyalist Colonel John Butler and the Iroquois war chief Joseph Brant retreated towards New Town and a ford in the river. The Continental Army pursued them without result.
From here the Sullivan – Clinton campaign completed a long sweep through the Finger Lakes region, destroying about 40 Indian villages, 160,000 bushels of corn, and a vast quantity of vegetables and fruit raised by the Indians for their winter food supply. The Iroquois nations who had sided with the British were driven west to Niagara and north to Canada. There they spent a very hard winter without their food stores under the protection of British forts, and many of them perished from starvation, disease, and the cold.
A stone monument was dedicated at the top of the hill on August 29, 1879, the centennial of the Battle of Newtown. The present granite monument was erected in 1912. During the 1930s, Civilian Conservation Corps crews built and developed many of the present facilities of the park, including a beautiful, rustic lodge. In 1973, Newtown Battlefield Reservation was designated as a historic landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1991, the park was faced with closure, due to state budget cuts. The County of Chemung assumed operation shortly after, operating and caring for the park until the end of 2004. Faced with budget cuts of their own, the reins were handed back to the state on January 1, 2005. The New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has determined that Newtown Battlefield Reservation State Park will remain open.