On July 20, 1779, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief fighting for the British, led a raiding party of Native Americans and Tories against the settlement at Pienpack, near present-day Port …
On July 20, 1779, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief fighting for the British, led a raiding party of Native Americans and Tories against the settlement at Pienpack, near present-day Port Jervis.
Brant’s objective was to gather livestock, produce and whatever other provisions he could find and stockpile them in order to help the Iroquois and their Tory friends camped out in upstate New York survive the following winter. If he could devastate and demoralize the settlers and distract the Colonials from their fight with the regular British Army, that was even better.
Having completed the raid, plundering and burning homes, killing the men and dispersing the women and children, Brant and his men took their bounty and returned northward, along the Delaware, on their way back to their camp.
Word of the raiding party soon reached Goshen, where the call went out for the militia to gather under the leadership of a local physician, Lt. Col. Benjamin Tusten.
After hotly debating the merits of engaging the marauders in combat, Tusten and his men – merchants, farmers and clerks, and what James Eldridge Quinlan later described as “some of the principal gentlemen of the county” – set out the next day in pursuit of their quarry.
“Colonel Tusten was opposed to risking an encounter with the subtile Mohawk chief with so feeble a command,” Quinlan wrote, “especially as the enemy was known to be greatly superior to them in numbers. The Americans were not well provided with arms and ammunition, and it was wise to wait for reinforcements.
“Others, however, were for immediate pursuit. They held the Indians in contempt, insisted that they would not fight, and declared that a recapture of the plunder was an easy achievement.
“The excited militia men took up their line of march, and followed the old Kathegton (Cochecton) trail 17 miles, when they encamped at Skinner’s mill, near Haggie’s Pond, about three miles from the mouth of Halfway Brook.”
The following morning, July 22, 1779, Tusten and his men, bolstered by a contingent from Warwick under the command of Col. John Hathorn, finally confronted Brant on the banks of the Delaware just above present-day Barryville.
Almost immediately, Brant deftly cut the militia’s force in two and an epic battle ensued on a hilltop overlooking the river.
Ammunition was soon depleted, and the combat was reduced to hand-to-hand, with Brant’s men getting much the better of it. The militia was routed, and nearly all of those who stayed and fought were killed, including Tusten.
Following the bloody daylong battle, Brant’s force forded the river and continued on their journey. But the remains of those slain on that desolate hilltop in what has become known as the Battle of Minisink were not afforded a proper burial. Quinlan wrote that “for 43 years the bones of those who had been slain on the banks of the Delaware were permitted to molder on the battle ground. But one attempt had been made to gather them, and that was by the widows of the slaughtered men, of whom there were 33 in the Presbyterian congregation of Goshen. They set out for the place of battle on horseback, but finding the journey too hazardous, they hired a man to perform the pious duty, who proved unfaithful and never returned.”
Finally, in 1822, “a committee was appointed to collect the remains and to ascertain the names of the fallen. The committee proceeded to the battle ground, a distance of 46 miles from Goshen, and viewed some of the frightful elevations and descents over which the militia had passed when pursuing the red marauders. The place where the conflict occurred, and the region for several miles around were carefully examined and the relics of the honored dead gathered with pious care. The remains were taken to Goshen, where they were buried in the presence of 15,000 persons.”
A monument was erected to mark the mass grave, upon which was inscribed the names of the men killed in the battle.
Unfortunately, as meticulous as the search for remains had been, only 300 bones were recovered, far fewer than had been expected. Nature and the denizens of the forest had no doubt disposed of the rest.
This year’s commemoration of the Battle of Minisink will take place on Saturday, July 24 at 4 p.m. at the Battleground. The public is invited.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.