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Death and Destruction on the Frontier 

John Conway
Posted 7/23/21

On October 14, 1778, Dr. Benjamin Tusten, a Goshen physician who served as a Lt. Colonel in the Orange County militia’s 3rd Regiment, wrote letters to George Washington and Governor George …

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Death and Destruction on the Frontier 

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On October 14, 1778, Dr. Benjamin Tusten, a Goshen physician who served as a Lt. Colonel in the Orange County militia’s 3rd Regiment, wrote letters to George Washington and Governor George Clinton, seeking additional protection for the region.

Tusten’s letters came the day after an attack by Joseph Brant and a band of Tories and Iroquois on the small settlement of Pienpack, a few miles northeast of present day Port Jervis.

In the letter to Washington, Tusten wrote that “the Indians, joined by a number of Tories who have gone from these parts made a descent on our western frontiers yesterday and have reduced Pienpack, a pleasant and wealthy Village to Ashes, Murdered numbers of the Inhabitants and Captivated the rest…By the best accounts from Persons who have had an opportunity of viewing the Enemy from an Advantageous height they cannot be less than five Hundred and when the last Express came away were on their March toward Minisink, another Village about six Miles distant.”

In conclusion, Tusten pleaded “if it might be consistent with Your Excellencies Grand Designs to spare us a Number of Your Troops in this Critical moment and save our Country from impending destruction it will be Joyous to thousands as well as Your Excellency’s most Obedient Servant…”

Unfortunately, neither Washington nor Clinton were able to fulfill Tusten’s request for additional protection, and while Brant and his men did not actually attack the Minisink settlement until the following July, they devastated the tiny community when they did.

“We have burnt all the settlement called Minisink, one fort excepted, round which we lay before about an hour, and had one man killed and one wounded,” Brant wrote later. “We destroyed several small stockaded forts, and took four scalps and three prisoners, but did not in the least injure women or children.”

When word of Brant’s attack on Minisink reached Goshen, Tusten and the militia sprung into action, and bolstered by a contingent under Colonel John Hathorn, who assumed overall command, they began their pursuit of the marauders.

“The excited militia men took up their line of march, and followed the old Cochecton trail seventeen miles, when they encamped at Skinner’s mill, near Haggie’s Pond [present day Loch Ada], about three miles from the mouth of Halfway Brook,” James Eldridge Quinlan recounted in his “History of Sullivan County,” written in 1873. “This day’s march must have nearly exhausted the little army. How many men of Orange and Sullivan, in these effeminate days, can endure such a tramp, encumbered with guns and knapsacks?”

Despite the rigors of the pursuit, the militia was in high spirits, according to historian Isabel Thompson Kelsay, in her book, “Joseph Brant: Man of Two Worlds.” They were full of contempt for the Native Americans they were chasing, and were confident Brant’s men would abandon their loot and run when confronted.

“On July 22, two days after the raid, the two parties were close enough together to be aware of each other’s presence,” Kelsay writes. “They had come about twenty-seven tangled, rock-strewn miles. On the right a mountain rose darkly and on the left was the rippling Delaware. In the distance loomed the far-ranging Catskills. There was not a wilder, lonelier place on the whole frontier, a place where the wolves gathered by night, but men are seldom seen.”

That was the backdrop for what was to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War, fought between the rocks and trees on a hilltop outside present day Barryville. Hours of fighting, first with muskets, and then hand to hand, left the Colonials routed and Brant and his force, smaller by just three men, resumed their journey to the Susquehanna Valley. Six more of his men, wounded in the battle, would die on the way.

Forty-six colonials, including Dr. Tusten, were killed that day. Their remains were left on the desolate battlefield for more than four decades before they were recovered for burial, merely serving to punctuate the devastation of the Battle of Minisink.

Each year scores of people make the long trek up the hill to the scene of that battle for commemorative services, this year to be held at 4 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, July 24.

The keynote address will be delivered by Vince Benedetto, the president of the Bold Gold Media Group, a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a former Air Force officer, whose speech is entitled “To Try Men’s Souls: The Delaware, The Battle of Minisink, and the Sacred Fire of Liberty.”

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. He can be contacted by e-mail at jconway52@hotmail.com.

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