During the Revolutionary War, the region between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers was home to two of the most notorious Tories of the era, Claudius Smith of Orange County and Robert Land of Cushetunk. …
During the Revolutionary War, the region between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers was home to two of the most notorious Tories of the era, Claudius Smith of Orange County and Robert Land of Cushetunk. Smith was hanged as a traitor and Land was very nearly so on more than one occasion, his death sentence commuted by George Washington himself at one point, and he was able to escape captivity and eventually make his way to Canada.
Early on, the hostility between the two sides in the Upper Delaware reached the boiling point, as most of the settlers supporting independence fled the frontier for more populated areas in search of safety for their families while many of the Tories, who believed they would be safe because of the allegiance of the Native Americans in the region to the British, remained in their homes.
The region became a battleground due to frequent visits from a group of “scouts” from the Mamakating Valley under the command of a former Cushetunk resident, who hunted down Tories and executed them, often without providing so much as an opportunity to explain themselves.
“The patriots of Mamakating appointed a Committee of Safety, composed, according to tradition, of Gerardus Van Inwegen, Benjamin Depuy, Thomas Kyte, and one of the Swartouts—all good and true Whigs of Peenpack,” writes James Eldridge Quinlan in his 1873 “History of Sullivan County.”
“The committee organized a company of scouts, under the command of Captain Bezaleel Tyler, a refugee from Cochecton, and the scouts occasionally made a visit to this remote neighborhood to ‘regulate’ suspicious characters and make reprisals.”
Despite the enmity and the excursions of the scouts into the Delaware Valley, Quinlan notes there are just two documented incidents of them actually killing Tories, although that is probably an underestimation. One such incident involved a man named Handy, described by Quinlan as “a half-wit,” who had lived in Cushetunk prior to the war, but had left for Mamakating after an ill-fated love affair. There, he stole a horse and returned to the Upper Delaware, hiding among a group of Native Americans under a chief named Minotto.
Tyler and his men came upon Handy on one of their excursions, and executed him on the spot, burying him where he fell, with all in attendance agreeing this was a fair sentence for a horse thief, especially one disloyal to their cause.
The decision to execute a second Tory, a man calling himself Payne, but whom Quinlan notes was actually named Cooley, was not so unanimous, and led to dissension among Tyler’s scouts, some of whom felt the act was carried out too hastily. The swift and often arbitrary dispensation of the death sentence by Tyler and his men evoked fear in the hearts of Tories and Native Americans in the region, who took to calling Tyler “Captain Mush,” a derogatory nickname indicating he was of questionable intelligence.
The death toll the men exacted in the region would no doubt have been considerably higher had the Tories residing here not been so elusive, typically being away from home whenever the scouts were seen in the vicinity.
Bryant Kane was one such Tory, who, like his neighbor Robert Land, escaped the region to avoid being captured by the scouts. Kane left his family in Cushetunk, believing they would be safe, but they were all slaughtered one night, though to this day it is not clear why or by whom. Land’s family nearly met the same fate that very night, escaping only because one of his daughters was awakened and warned by a friendly Native American.
After the American victory, the Patriots who had forsaken Cushetunk years before were able to return to their erstwhile homes while nearly all of the Tories fled. Robert Land’s eldest son John, who had been imprisoned during the war for his Tory leanings, was an exception, refusing to abandon his farm despite nearly all of his neighbors leaving theirs. Land remained in the area, and his home still stands today, just across the Delaware in Milanville, PA.
Learn more about the Loyalist leanings of the Cushetunk residents tomorrow, July 10, from 12 to 3 p.m. at the Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg. The event, “Patriots and Loyalists: The Declaration of Independence in the Upper Delaware” is hosted by The Delaware Company, a non-profit history education group. It is free and open to the public.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. He is also a founder and the president of The Delaware Company and will be participating in tomorrow’ s program at Fort Delaware. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.