Hungry Hill on the Sullivan Road


The Hungry Hill memorial on Sullivan Trail in Tobyhanna Township.

During the Revolutionary War, fighting continued between the Americans and the British, allied with the Six Nations of the Iroquois. Almost 1,000 Iroquois joined with a small contingent of British regulars from Fort Niagara. That force attacked and overran Continental troops, militia, and settlers in the Wyoming Massacre (Wilkes-Barre) on July 3, 1778, and the Cherry Valley Massacre (Upstate New York) on November 11, 1778.

Gen. George Washington ordered a campaign against the Iroquois, sending almost one-third of the Continental Army to march north from Easton, Pa., to upstate New York. He appointed Maj. Gen. John Sullivan to lead it. Their expedition was to achieve “the total destruction and devastation of [Iroquois] 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.” The Iroquois were to be forced west into the Ohio Valley.

The army gathered in Easton to march north to the Wyoming Valley, then to upstate New York. No roads existed over the Pocono Mountains to transport an army north into Iroquois territory. Sullivan ordered the building of a road from Tannersville to the Wyoming Valley for his army to pass through swamps and heavily forested areas over the mountain. The road builders were 500 men strong, of the 2nd New York Regiment and the 5th New Jersey Regiment. The two regiments congregated at Learns Tavern (at today’s Tannersville) and set off on May 15-16 to transform a footpath into a crude road.

A rise in elevation from 883 feet to over 1,900 feet, densely forested areas, swamps, and the rocky terminal moraine of the Wisconsin Glacier made road building difficult. Upon completion of the first nine miles of road on May 23, 1779, the road builders created an encampment in today’s Tobyhanna Township. They named it Hungry Hill due to their lack of provisions. It was at this encampment where they buried a soldier, and where the current memorial stands today.

Alfred Mathew’s 1886 “History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania” states:

“Soon after crossing Mud Run, they came to a knoll, or small round hill, and encamped, and sent back to Fort Penn (Stroudsburg) for provisions, and lay there several days making a road through a swamp at the northwestern base of the hill while waiting for provisions from Fort Penn. Sullivan named the two places respectively “Hungry Hill” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” While at Hungry Hill one of Sullivan’s soldiers died, and was buried by the side of the road, on the crest of the hill, and the grave is plainly to be seen by all passers, being indicated by the mound and a large stone at the head of the grave.”

Garrick M. Harding’s 1899 account in “The Sullivan Road” stated:

“A camp for the road builders was established here, some working Westerly still further on, and some finishing the parts intervening Easterly. While it was difficult to get sufficient supplies forward as fast as the needs of the men required, and hence a name — “Hungry Hill” — was given to the location. The name still lasts and will last always. It was here, too, that a fatal accident befell one of the soldiers- a falling tree killed him. His comrades buried him by the roadside at this top of the hill, and the grave today can be seen by the passer-by as plainly as when it was first made.”

The road to the Wyoming Valley (Wilkes-Barre) was completed on June 15. On Friday, June 18, 1779. Sullivan’s forces of more than 3,500 soldiers, 800 cattle, scores of horses, baggage and supply wagons, pack horses, cannon and gun carriages, broke camp in Easton. Using the newly constructed road, the army reached the Wyoming Valley on June 23.

Sullivan’s three-month campaign eliminated the Iroquois threat, forcing them west, and north into Canada. Simultaneously, upstate New York was opened for future American expansion and the first road over the Poconos opened that area to settlement.

Read more from Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township:
— Hungry Hill Memorial
— Sullivan’s Expedition in Tobyhanna Township