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Patriots and Loyalists

John Conway
Posted 7/1/22

The notion of the American War of Independence as a civil war is by no means a new one, but it has gained new traction of late because of the 2021 book “America’s First Civil War: …

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Patriots and Loyalists


The notion of the American War of Independence as a civil war is by no means a new one, but it has gained new traction of late because of the 2021 book “America’s First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution” by the best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist H.W. Brands.

Brands tells many stories in his book, including that of Joseph Brant and his raiders, comprising Iroquois who favored the British simply because they less feared a white man’s government that was located an ocean away than one that was nearby, as well as Tories who were willing to fight — and in many instances, kill — their neighbors. He writes, too, of General John Sullivan’s scorched earth campaign against Brant and his men, which destroyed dozens of Native American villages and destroyed tons of corn and beans still in the fields. Brands manages to bring it all back around to the notion of a civil war.

There is ample documentation of neighbor fighting against neighbor — and even brother against brother — during the Revolution, and that was nowhere any more evident than in the Upper Delaware River Valley, where residents of the Cushetunk settlement fought on both sides at the Battle of Minisink, and where the sons of Delaware Company founder Joseph Skinner were on opposite sides throughout the war.

As tensions grew and the Revolution approached, the Cushetunk settlement split apart. Those who were in favor of separation from England, the Patriots like Bezaleel Tyler, were heavily outnumbered and most of them left the Upper Delaware for safer locales, either back in Connecticut or in Orange County. Tyler, for his part, would often lead a party of Orange County “scouts” back into the Cushetunk region to “seek reprisals” against his former neighbors, sometimes killing suspected Tories on the spot.

At one point, the homes of Loyalists Bryant Kane and Robert Land were burned to the ground, and Kane’s family was killed, while Land’s escaped a similar fate only because they were warned by a friendly Native American. Although no one knows specifically who was responsible for the death and destruction, it seems likely it was Tyler and his “scouts.”

Once the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, 1776, it was printed on broadsheets and in newspapers in order to make the public aware of the separation. But it was also read aloud, beginning on July 8, when the Liberty Bell summoned the residents of Philadelphia to Independence Hall, where Colonel John Nixon read it aloud for the first time. The document was also read aloud that day in Trenton, NJ and Easton, PA, and there, as in Philadelphia, wild celebrations followed.

It is not recorded if the Declaration of Independence was ever read aloud in Cushetunk, nor if there was any celebrating if it was, but given the ties the settlement had to Philadelphia because of the timber rafting industry, it might have been. If so, chances are that there was a strong Tory response afterward in lieu of any revelry.

On Saturday, July 9, that hypothetical event will be reprised at the modern day incarnation of the Cushetunk settlement at Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg. A “visitor from Philadelphia” will read the entire Declaration aloud beginning at 12 noon that day, and when he is finished, the local Magistrate, the aforementioned Robert Land, will deliver a passionate Loyalist response. That will be followed by a panel discussion of the Declaration of Independence and its likely reception in the Upper Delaware, and a question-and-answer session.

Saturday’s activities will include other displays and demonstrations, and colonial music by Linda Russell, one time balladeer at Federal Hall in New York City, the scene of George Washington’s first inauguration.

It is all part of the Fort’s Patriots and Loyalists Weekend.

On Sunday, July 10, the activities include a program at one o’clock about African Americans in the Revolutionary War delivered by re-enactor Noah Lewis of Upper Darby, PA impersonating New Hector, a real-life Rev War soldier. Mr. Lewis appears as part of the Bold Gold Media Speaker Series.

Admission to the Fort is required to attend either program.

Fort Delaware is located on the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway at 6615 Route 97 in Narrowsburg, It is open Thursday thru Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. The Fort is owned by Sullivan County and operated by the Barryville based non-profit history education group, The Delaware Company.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com. He will deliver the Declaration of Independence at Fort Delaware on Saturday, July 9 and also lead the panel discussion that follows.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. E-mail him at jconway52@hotmail.com.


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