The ringing words of "the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America" had a special meaning for the battle scene people of the upper Delaware River valley in the late 1770's and early 1780's for this was the frontier during the American Revolutionary War. And it was subject, on numerous occasions, to the depredations of Indians allied to the British - though the raiding parties often contained as many white Loyalists, or Tories, as Indians. The most significant of these raids was the second Minisink raid in July of 1779 led by Joseph Brant, a Dartmouth-educated Mohawk warrior commissioned a colonel in the British Army.The actual attack on the settlements at Minisink (present-day Port Jervis and the Town of Deerpark, New York) was destructive enough, but it was the ensuing Battle of Minisink, in which nearly fifty New York and New Jersey militiamen lost their lives, that really sent shockwaves of loss and grief though the frontier population along the Delaware. The Minisink battle has become part of the heritage of the region encompassed by Sullivan and Orange counties, New York, Sussex County, New Jersey, and Pike County, Pennsylvania.
Although British forces were largely concentrated in Manhattan, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief and a Captain in the British army, was tasked with conducting a campaign of harassment in the outlying regions. In July of 1779, he received word that Kazimierz Pulaski's forces had moved into Pennsylvania, leaving much of the Delaware Valley undefended. Brant led his force of loyalists and Iroquois raiders through the valley, with the goal of seizing supplies and demoralizing the colonists. The settlers were forced to flee to more populated areas, and Brant pursued them. On 20 July, he reached Peenpack, which he attacked immediately. Brant ordered that "they should not kill any women or children" or Loyalists and to take prisoner any who surrendered. His raid was a crushing success and, leaving the settlement in ruins, Brant and his force continued north along the Delaware River.
On July 20, 1779 Brant and about ninety Tories and Iroquois Indians swept through the Neversink Valley settlements of Peenpack and Mahackamack destroying farms, a school, a church, and other buildings, leaving a path of misery and bringing great fear to the frontier. On the next day, after an alarm had gone out, two groups of militia led by Lt. Col. Benjamin Tusten of Goshen, New York and Maj. Samuel Meeker of Sussex County in New Jersey met in Mahackamack (Port Jervis). They began to follow Brant up the Delaware River with the intent to ambush him and to recover some of the horses, cattle and personal items his group had taken.
Later that day, riders from Peenpack reached the village of Goshen, telling of Brant's raid and the destruction of the town. A militia formed immediately, under the reluctant command of Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Tusten. Tusten was strongly opposed to pursuing the raiders, as he knew they would be no match for the British and Iroquois soldiers, and he suggested waiting for reinforcements from the Continental Army. However, the majority of the public and the militia underestimated the fighting ability of the Iroquois and demanded immediate retribution. Outvoted, Tusten agreed to set out the following morning. Col. John Hathorn's Fourth Orange County Regiment militia unit from Warwick, New York met up with Meeker and Tusten's units somewhere near Sparrowbush, New York and joined forces. Colonel Hathorn assumed command and marched for the Delaware with a force of about 120 minutemen. The militia numbered about 120 and began the pursuit.
On the morning of July 22, the militia moved into position in the hills above the Delaware River, intending to ambush Brant's forces who were crossing at Minisink Ford. Hathorn split them into a group of skirmishers and two units comprising the main force. Before the ambush was set, however, a shot was fired in haste by Bazaliel Tyler, one of the skirmishers. This mistake alerted Brant to the trap, and he quickly outflanked the two groups of colonials, many of whom fled. Separated from the main unit and with his forces scattered, Hathorn was unable to regroup his men for a counterattack. The patriots began a rushed retreat up to the top of the hill overlooking the river in an effort to regain the strategic advantage. Only about forty-five or fifty of the original group were left. After several hours of continuous volleys, insufficient ammunition and close quarters caused the battle to devolve into hand-to-hand combat, at which the Iroquois excelled. Brant and his forces finally broke through their small defensive square and the battle ended with remaining militia men and officers killed or scattered. At least 45 militiamen were slaughtered, including Tusten himself. 1 rebel was captured. Brant's force, on the other hand, is believed to have lost only about seven men. Although badly wounded, Hathorn survived, returning to Warwick to write his report of the loss to his superiors.
After the battle, Brant and his men forded the Delaware and continued on to their encampment at the Susquehanna River. Three weeks later, the Continental Army sent 3,000 troops to avenge Minisink and Goshen, destroying every Iroquois village in their path. Brant finally met his defeat in late August, at the Battle of Newtown.
The town of Goshen was unable to bury its dead for 43 years, as the battlefield was too distant and the way too dangerous. Some of the soldiers' widows attempted the trip, but were forced to turn back. In 1822, a committee was formed to travel to the battlefield and comb the area for remains. The few bones recovered were buried in a mass grave, first in Barryville and later moved to the village of Goshen. A stone obelisk was erected for the centennial of the battle, engraved with the names of the dead.