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The Battle of Minisink Remembered

John Conway
Posted 7/22/22

On July 20, 1779, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk fighting with the British, led a raiding party of Indians and Tories against a settlement near present-day Port Jervis. It was their second raid upon the area …

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The Battle of Minisink Remembered


On July 20, 1779, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk fighting with the British, led a raiding party of Indians and Tories against a settlement near present-day Port Jervis. It was their second raid upon the area in less than a year.

Brant had learned that a Continental Army detachment under Count Pulaski, which had been assigned to defend the sparse settlements in the Mamakating, Neversink and Delaware valleys, had been re-deployed elsewhere, leaving the area largely unprotected. Brant’s objective was to gather livestock, produce and whatever other provisions he could find and stockpile them in order to help the British and their Indian allies camped out in the Susquehanna Valley 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 the Susquehanna.

Word of the raid 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 deliberating the merits of engaging the marauders in combat, Tusten and his men – merchants, farmers and clerks, and what James Eldridge Quinlan later described in his 1873 “History of Sullivan County” as “some of the principal gentlemen of the county” – set out 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 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 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.”

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 sad occurrence moved the poet Alfred B. Street to write in the final stanza of his 10-stanza commemorative of the battle:

“Years have pass’d by, the merry bee

Hums round the laurel flowers,

The mock-bird pours its melody

Amid the forest bowers;

A skull is at my feet, though now

The wild rose wreathes its bony brow,

Relic of other hours,

It bids the wandering pilgrim think

Of those who died at Minisink.”

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.


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