Minisink, New York
Minisink, New York
MINISINK, NEW YORK. 19-22 July 1779. While the Patriots were slowly preparing for Sullivan's expedition against the Iroquois, the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant led a force of Indians and Loyalists down the Delaware from Oquaga. Leaving his main body at Grassy Brook on the east bank of the Delaware, he moved on with sixty Indians and twenty-seven Loyalists to surprise the village of Minisink on the night of 19-20 July.
This village was about twenty-five miles east of Grassy Brook and ten miles northwest of Goshen. Brant entered the sleeping village and had several fires started before the inhabitants awoke to their danger. Making no effort to man their "paltry stockade-fort," they took to the hills. The raiders were bent on booty and destruction, and therefore let most of the settlers escape. Brant reported that four scalps and three prisoners were taken. After looting and burning the fort, mill, and twelve houses and doing their best to damage the crops and drive off the livestock, the raiders retraced their route toward Grassy Brook.
Word of the raid reached Lieutenant Colonel (also Dr.) Benjamin Tusten in Goshen the next day. In answer to his call, 149 militia reported for duty at Minisink. Tusten argued against pursuing the renowned Brant, but the inexperienced militia was swayed by Major Samuel Meeker, who mounted his horse, drew forth his sword, and shouted: "Let the brave men follow me; the cowards may stay behind!" Their manhood challenged, most of the men moved forward, giving Tusten little choice but to join in. The small force followed Brant's trail for seventeen miles before camping for the night.
The next morning, 22 July, Colonel John Hathorn joined them with a few men of his Warwick regiment and, being senior to Tusten, he assumed command. They covered only a few miles before coming upon the recently occupied camp of the enemy. The number of still-smoking fires in the campsite indicated a larger force than the Patriot militia might prudently challenge. Again Tusten counseled caution but was ignored. Captain Bezaleel Tyler led the advance party but was almost immediately shot by an unseen Indian, a clear indication that Brant knew he was being pursued. But Hathorn pressed forward, catching sight of Brant crossing the Delaware near the mouth of the Lackawaxen. Hathorn planned to ambush Brant, but the latter doubled back behind the Americans, ambushing them in turn.
After a few shots had been exchanged, Brant claimed, he walked forward to tell his enemy it was cut off and to offer quarter. His answer was a shot that hit his belt and that, but for this good luck, might well have been fatal. Early in the hard-fought contest, Brant executed a skillful maneuver that cut off one-third of the militia force. The rest were surrounded, with Brant holding the high ground, patiently firing the occasional shot at the militiamen as they wasted their ammunition in ineffective fire. Around dusk, when the defenders were low on ammunition, Brant noticed that a rebel who held one corner of the position had been taken out of action. His attack penetrated this weak spot, organized resistance collapsed, and a massacre started. Tusten was killed with 17 wounded that he had been tending. Several men were shot as they tried to swim the Delaware. Of the 170 militia, only 30 returned home, while Brant's smaller force suffered only a few casualties. The monument to this battle erected in Goshen lists the names of 45 of those killed in the battle. Hathorn was on hand to lay the monument's cornerstone in 1822.
Brant's raid may have been intended as a strategic diversion to draw rebel forces away from Clinton and Sullivan in order to delay preparations for Sullivan's expedition. Alternatively, Brant may have been seeking provisions in striking at Minisink. He had no intention of doing battle with the militia, which foolishly insisted on pursuing one of the best frontier fighters of the Revolution.
Kelsay, Isabel T. Joseph Brant, 1743–1807: Man of Two Worlds. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1984.
revised by Michael Bellesiles