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True to his oath

John Conway
Posted 5/17/24

He was born in Southold, Long Island on December 11, 1743, and moved with his family to the banks of the Otterkill near Goshen just three years later. His father, a Colonel in the New York State …

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True to his oath


He was born in Southold, Long Island on December 11, 1743, and moved with his family to the banks of the Otterkill near Goshen just three years later. His father, a Colonel in the New York State Militia and a judge, wanted him to be farmer, but as he grew older it became apparent he was destined for other things, and he was sent off to study Latin and Greek and mathematics, eventually deciding on a career in medicine.

He was Dr. Benjamin Tusten, Jr., and he was killed while attending to the wounded at the Battle of Minisink on July 22, 1779, after having forsaken a chance to save himself.

As the American War of Independence approached, Tusten was a young doctor in the largely agrarian community of Goshen, struggling to compete with three older, more established practitioners in the town. He was known as “mild, modest and unassuming in his manners, pleasant to his patients, and affable with all,” and used his superior knowledge and skill in surgery to provide himself an advantage over his fellow physicians.

He also became an active and vocal supporter of the quest for liberty, and while once deemed too physically weak and fragile of health to become a farmer, became vigorous enough to join the militia.

In 1822, one of Tusten’s biographers, Doctor David Arnell, wrote that by “riding and exercise he had become more healthy; active and enterprising, he had gained the confidence of his countrymen. In 1777, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the Goshen Regiment of Militia, under General Allison, and in 1778, he was appointed a Surrogate of Orange County, which office he held at the time of his death.”

The day after a devastating raid on the settlement at Pienpack (near present day Port Jervis) by Joseph Brant and his band of Tories and Native Americans in October of 1778, Tusten wrote to George Washington asking for the Continental Army’s protection for the settlements along the frontier.

“The few Militia in these parts have turned out with tolerable Spirit, but give me leave to assure Your Excellency that we are very weak, as every Regiment in this County except one have Marched into the Jersey,” Tusten wrote.

But Washington’s army was spread too thin to lend much support to the untrained militia, and Brant and his men continued to terrorize the settlements. After one such raid on the settlement at Minisink on July 20, 1779, Tusten and his men pursued the marauders northward as they fled with their bounty. Against Tusten’s better judgement—he had advised his men that engaging Brant in battle was not prudent— the militia met the enemy on a desolate hilltop just north of present day Barryville in a daylong battle that ended very badly for the Americans.

Not only did 46 militia lose their lives that day, but their remains were left on the battleground for 43 years before an attempt was made to retrieve them. Despite the best intentions of the people of Goshen, who turned out in great numbers for a ceremonial interment of the few hundred bones that were recovered, Dr. Tusten and his fellow soldiers were never accorded a proper burial.

In addition to the militia men from Goshen and Warwick and Sussex, New Jersey, there were residents from the Cushetunk settlement-- just to the north of the battleground—who lost their lives at Minisink, making them among our first fallen local veterans. In fact, Bezaleel Tyler, from one of the founding families of Cushetunk, was the first man to fall in the battle.

So it is fitting that when Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg—whose docents depict life in the Cushetunk settlement during the colonial era—opens its doors to the public for the 2024 season on Saturday, May 25, that they include a Memorial Day weekend tribute to Dr. Tusten and the other heroes who lost their lives at Minisink.

The Bold Gold Media Speaker Series at the Fort presents the season’s first program at 3 p.m. on Saturday, when this columnist, your Sullivan County Historian, will present “True to His Oath: The Battlefield Death of Dr. Benjamin Tusten.” And at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day itself, there will be a special Masonic memorial service at the Fort conducted by Delaware Lodge #561 of the Free and Accepted Masons. Both programs are included in the price of admission to the Fort.

There are other special activities planned for the weekend, as well, including a silent auction to benefit the Cushetunk Kids summer program.

Fort Delaware is located on the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway at 6615 Route 97 in Narrowsburg. It will be open from 10 to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, and then Thursday thru Sunday until Labor Day, and weekends again in September and October.

Fort Delaware is owned by Sullivan County and operated by The Delaware Company. For more information about the special programming this season, visit the Delaware Company’s website, thedelawarecompany.org.

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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