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Retrospect

Tories at Fort Delaware

John Conway
Posted 7/2/21

It used to be a well-kept secret that Cushetunk, the first European settlement in the Upper Delaware River Valley, was populated mostly by Tories in the years immediately preceding and during the …

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Retrospect

Tories at Fort Delaware

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It used to be a well-kept secret that Cushetunk, the first European settlement in the Upper Delaware River Valley, was populated mostly by Tories in the years immediately preceding and during the Revolutionary War.

But that was inarguably the case.

In fact, because of the dangers inherent in living on the frontier, where Native Americans, mostly loyal to the British, often passed through, a number of the Cushetunk families who favored independence took whatever possessions they could easily transport and moved south to Minisink in Orange County, where like-minded residents were more numerous. That left Cushetunk to the Tories, including such notorious men as Robert Land.

Land was born in England in 1739 and came to America as a young man, eventually making his way to the Delaware River, where he settled near its confluence with Calkins Creek. He married an older woman, Phoebe Scott, and they had seven children. He fought for the British Army in the French and Indian War and became a local magistrate, one of the most respected of the Cushetunk citizenry. Because of his role as a government official, it was perhaps natural that as the Revolution approached he would remain loyal to his King.

Because of his knowledge of the frontier region, Land was chosen to act as a spy, running dispatches for the British General Sir Henry Clinton, traveling extensively between Cushetunk and Long Island and the Niagara frontier. On two separate occasions, he was captured by the Patriots and hauled before local Committees of Safety for trial.

One of the trials took place at Minisink, and Land’s former Cushetunk neighbor, Bezaleel Tyler was among the chief witnesses against him.

Arrested at Ten Mile River and charged with being a spy and with carrying intelligence to the enemy, Land pleaded not guilty. Family genealogy papers record the incident:

“On 14 March 1779, [Land] was captured by rebel militia, brought before a military court at Minisink, New York, and charged with being a British spy. On 18 March, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. His conviction was subsequently overturned by George Washington on the grounds that as a citizen of Pennsylvania, he was not subject to the jurisdiction of a military court. Washington ordered him to be turned over to the civil Authorities in Easton, PA., for a new trial. Released on bail to await the new trial, Robert joined with a party of Tories bound for Niagara, one of whom was Ralph Morden, a Quaker.

“On 12 May 1780, the party was discovered by American militia; Robert was shot and wounded, but made his escape back to New York City. The unfortunate Morden was tried and convicted of treason and hanged.”

Robert Land eventually ended up in Canada, where he is recorded as one of the earliest settlers of Hamilton, Ontario. He presumed his wife and children had been killed when their Cushetunk home was burned to the ground, and lived in seclusion for eleven years. At that point, totally by chance, his family, minus his eldest son John, who had remained in Cushetunk, happened to travel through the region not far from his home.

Alerted by some locals to the fact that there was a reclusive resident with the same name as theirs living at the mouth of the lake, they investigated and found that Robert, long presumed by them to have died during the war, was alive and well. The family reunited and lived happily ever after.

Robert Land died in Canada in 1818, but there is a good chance he will return to Cushetunk—at least in spirit— on Saturday, July 10, when The Delaware Company, the non-profit history education group named for the company that settled Cushetunk in the first place, hosts the program “Patriots and Loyalists” at Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg.

The event will run from 12 noon to 3 p.m., and will feature a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a Tory response that Robert Land would have been proud to deliver himself. There will be other demonstrations of colonial era life, and music by Linda Russell, former balladeer at Federal Hall in Manhattan.

The event is free and open to the public, but tax deductible financial contributions are being solicited, with all proceeds going toward the operation of Fort Delaware.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com. He is also president of The Delaware Company, and will coordinate activities for the July 10 event at Fort Delaware.

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