Journal of the operations of the American War


Date: 1778-1779 | Size: 1 volume(s), 422 p.


An Irish-born non-commissioned officer in the 49th Regiment of Foot, Thomas Sullivan served with the British Army in North America from the siege of Boston in 1775 through the last days of the Philadelphia Campaign in 1778. He deserted in June, 1778, and became steward to Continental Army Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene.

Background note

Born in Ireland, Thomas Sullivan served as a Sergeant in the British 49th Regiment of Foot under the command of Alexander Maitland. He arrived in North America during the fall of 1775, in time to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill and take part in the evacuation of British forces from Boston. From there, he proceeded with his regiment into the Long Island and Philadelphia campaigns, participating in a number of engagements.

By 1778, Sullivan's disaffection with service in the British Army seems to have reached a high tide. "Seeing American under arms," he wrote, and seeing that the Americans "were striving to throw off the Yoke, under which my native country sunk for many years," he deserted the British army in June, and made his way to Philadelphia. There, on July 4th, he agreed to become a steward to General Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster General for the Continental Army.

Scope and content

An excellent first hand narrative of the early years of the American Revolution written by Thomas Sullivan, an Irish-born sergeant serving with the British 49th Regiment of Foot. In polished prose, Sullivan describes the events from his arrival in North America just prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill through his participation in the Long Island, Philadelphia, and New Jersey Campaigns.

Sullivan's journal is written in a meticulous hand and may originally have been intended for publication. It does not appear to have seen print, however, until extracts appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in 1910. In 1997, the complete journal, edited by Joseph Lee Boyle, was published by Heritage Books.

Among the engagements described are Bunker Hill, Long Island, White Plains, Brandywine, Germantown, and Red Bank, but he reports as well on events that he did not personally witness, drawing liberally upon published sources to fill out his narrative.

The "diary" ends abruptly with the entry for July 28, 1778.

Collection Information

Physical description

1 vol. (422p.)

1 vol. (422p.)


Gift of Charles Smith, 1804.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Thomas Sullivan, Journal of the Operations of the American War, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Catalogued by rsc, 2001.

Alternate formats available

The journal has been microfilmed (Film 1344).

Related material

A typescript of the Sullivan Journal is available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Collection 1098).


Extracts of the journal, relating to Philadelphia in 1777, were printed in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 31 (1907): 406, and subsequent volumes to 34 (1910): 241.

Joseph Lee Boyle, ed., From Redcoat to Rebel: The Thomas Sullivan Journal (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1997).


Film 1344

Early American History Note

In beautiful script, these two volumes track the history of Thomas Sullivan, a non-commissioned British soldier, during his time fighting in the American Revolution. Sullivan's journal records the evacuation of Boston, the New Jersey campaign, and the occupation of Philadelphia. Sullivan often gives detailed accounts of various towns he visits, such as Halifax, Boston, Princeton, and Brunswick. The journal ends in 1778, when Sullivan deserted the British Army and joined the Continental Army, serving under Nathanael Greene.

Indexing Terms


  • Autobiographies.
  • Autobiography
  • Diaries
  • Military Records
  • Travel Narratives and Journals

Geographic Name(s)

  • Boston (Mass.) -- Description and travel -- 18th century
  • Boston (Mass.) -- History -- Siege, 1775-1776
  • Elizabethtown (N.J.) -- Description and travel -- 18th century
  • Halifax (N.S.) -- Description and travel
  • Mud Island (Pa.)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Description and travel -- 18th century

Personal Name(s)

  • Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786
  • Sullivan, Thomas, 1755-


  • American Revolution
  • Brandywine, Battle of, 1777
  • Bunker Hill, Battle of, 1775
  • Germantown, Battle of, 1778
  • Great Britain. Army -- Regiment of Foot, 49th (1743- )
  • Irish -- United States
  • Long Island, Battle of, 1776
  • Military History
  • Monmouth, Battle of, 1778
  • New Jersey Campaign, 1776-1777
  • Philadelphia Campaign, 1777-1778
  • Red Bank, Battle of, 1777
  • United States -- History -- Revolution, 1776-1783
  • White Plains, Battle of, 1776