This town was chartered in 1787 from parts of Stoddard, Nelson, Keene and Gilsum. It was named in honor of a Revolutionary War general and state magistrate, John Sullivan of Durham.

Near the village center is an 1848 church in Greek and Gothic revival style. The first Civil War monument in the state was built there in 1867.

Although Sullivan has been principally an agricultural community through the years, a busy woodworking industry, tannery and grist mill once flourished in East Sullivan. That hamlet was once home of a celebrated brass band; the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music has its headquarters in this section of the town today.