The Battle of Minisink

The NJ militia fights Indians in New York

 New Jersey sent its militia out of state several times to help its neighbors- it sent troops to defend New York City in 1775, over the Delaware with Washington, and to help protect Philadelphia in 1777.  This case is different, because it was against the Native American Indians.  It also was precipitated by the bravado of Major Samuel Meeker of the Sussex County Militia.
 In 1779 George Washington ordered General Sullivan to mount an expedition to punish the Iroquios Indians who had been mounting raids against the frontier settlements in Pennsylvania and New York.  Pulaski's Legion had been stationed at the village of Minisink, NY, on the Delaware River north of Port Jervis.  Pulaski was ordered to join Sullivan in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, leaving the area protected only by the local militia, too few to guard all posts.
   On July 20th, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, lead a strong party of Indians to raid Minisink and the surrounding valley settlements.  They by-passed the blockhouses set up for defense and burned  over 20 buildings, killing and capturing civilians.  The militia of Goshen, NY, lead by Col. Tusten marched to Minisink to help the inhabitants, where he was joined by the neighboring Sussex county, NJ, militia company lead by Major Samuel Meeker, both groups gathering together on July 21st.  Together they had about 149 men.
  They held a council of war to consider pursuit (The Indians were driving cattle and horses, and could be caught.), but Tusten believed the Indians outnumbered the militia by odds of two to one, so advised against attacking the retreating enemy.   Many others were insistant for immediate pursuit and attack.  Finally, Maj. Meeker mounted up and waved his sword, saying "Let the brave men follow me: the cowards may stay behind!"  The council stopped debating the issue and decided to go on the march through the night.
  They followed the old Cochecton Indian trail near the river ridge to Skinners Mill, where they stopped for breakfast after 17 miles at the house of a Mr. Finch, at today's Finchville.  They then continued over the mountain another 17 miles.  Colonel Hawthorn of Warwick joined them with a small company of militia from Warwick on July 22, and took command as senior colonel.  At Halfway Brook they discovered the last nights camp of the Indians.  It showed they were outnumbered, and again a council was called- to the same result.  Those favoring an attack won.
  Scouts were sent out, who reported that the Indians were crossing at Lackawaxen ford.  Hawthorne decided to attack them while they were split in crossing the river.  He divided the party into two sections, one attacking along the river and the other from on the ridge.  They had strick orders to hold fire until all was ready, but someone fired a shot too early.  The battle began about 9 in the morning July 22, 1779.
  Immediately, Brant, who was with the rear guard, ordered most of his Indians to return over the river, and sent a force around the flank of the militia.  They got behind the militia.   Soon those on the ridge found themselves cut off from the others.  They moved to a defensive position on one of the hills along the ridge over the river, and a fierce firefight continued.  The remaining militia along the river retreated, and those on the hill were surrounded- mostly those from Goshen.  Without support from the other militia group, they put up a stiff resistance throughout the day until they ran low on powder and slowed their firing down.  Toward evening the Indians took advantage of the loss of men and reduced rate of fire to rush in.  The militia tried to escape, every man for himself.   About 30 escaped, but 45 were killed, a few captured.
  Killed were both Colonel Hawthorne and Tusten, militia surgeon Dr. Tusten and several other officers were killed.  Major Meeker of the NJ militia was wounded, and one NJ militia man was killed.  What exactly Meeker did during the battle is unknown, nor is there any known source to tell us what happened with the part of the militia not trapped on the hill.  The bodies on the battle hill were not recovered until over 40 years later.  Goshen has a memorial to its dead from the battle, and the battle site is now a NY state memorial park.

Below are two accounts of the battle by participants- one on each side.  Note the reference to Col. Seward and his NJ reg't who refused to attack the following night after the battle.


Colonel John Hathorn's account of the battle:

Sir/                                                    Warwick 27th: July 1779

        In conformity to the Militia Law, I Embrace this first opportunity to Communicate to your Excellency my proceedings on a late Tour of duty with my Regiment. on the Evening of the 21st~ of this Instant I received an Order from His Excellency General Washington, together with a requisition of the Com­missary of Prisoners to furnish one hundred Men of my Regi­ment for to guard the British Prisoners on their way towards Easton. at the same time received an Express from Minisink that the Indians were ravaging and burning that place. I ordered Three Companies of my Regiment—Including the Exempt Com­pany, to parade for the purpose of the Guard the other three Companies to March immediately to Minisink on the 22. I arrived with a part of my people at Minisink, where I found Col. Thurston & Major Meeker of New Jersey with parts of their Regiments who had marched with about Eighty Men up the River a few Miles I joined this party with about Forty men, the whole amounting to one hundred and Twenty Men Officers included, a Spy came m and Informed me the Enemy lay about four hours before at Mungaup Six Miles distant from us. Our people appeared m high Spirits, we marched in pursuit with an Intention Either to fall on them by surprise or to gain in front and Ambush them. we was soon informed they were on their March up the River. I found it Im­practicable to surprise them on the Grounds they now were and took my Route along the Old Keshethton path. the Indians En­camped at the Mouth of the half way brook. we encamped at 12 o'clock at Night at Skinners Saw Mill three Miles and a half from the Enemy, where we lay the Remainder of the Night. the Moun­tains were so Exceeding rugged & high we could not possibly get at them, as they had passed the grounds the most favorable for us to attack them on before we could overtake them. Skinners is about Eighteen Miles from Minisink. at day light on the morning of the 23 after Leaving our Horses and disengaging of everything heavy we Marched on with Intention to make the Attack the Moment an opportunity offered. The Indians probable from some discovery they had made of us marched with more Alacrity than Usual, with an Intention to get their Prisoners, Cattle & plunder taken at Minisink over the River. they had almost Effected get­ting their Cattle & baggage across when discovered them at Lackawack 27 Miles from Minisink some Indians in the River and some had got over, it was determined in Council to make an attack at this place I therefore disposed of the Men into three Di­visions, ordered Col. Thurston to Command the one on the Right and to take post about three hundred yards distance on an Erninence to Secure our Right Lt. Col. Wesner, with another Division to file of to the Left and dispose of himself in the like manner. In order to prevent the Enemy from gaining any Advantage on our flanks. the other Division under my Command to attack them with that vigor necessary to Strike Terror in such a foe. Capt. Tyler with the advance Guard, unhappily discharged his piece before the Divisions could be properly posted, which put me under the necessity of bringing on the Action. I ordered My Division to fix their Bayonets and push forcibly on them, which order being resolutely Executed put the Indians in the utmost Confusion. great Numbers took into the River who fell from the well directed fire of our Rifle Men, and Incessant Blaze from our Musketry, without returning any fire. the Divisions in the Rear not Subject to order broke. some advanced down the hill towards me, others fled, into the Woods. I soon perceived the Enemy Rallying on our Right and Recrossing the River to gain the heights. I found myself under the Necessity to Rally all my force which by this time was much less than I Expected. the Enemy by this time had Collected in farce & from the best Accounts can be collected received a Reinforcement from Keshethon began to fire on our Left. we returned the fire and kept up a Constant Bush firing up the hill from the River, in which the brave Capt. Tyler fell. Several were wounded. the People being exceedingly fatigued obliged me to take post on a height which proved to be a piece of Strong and Advantageous ground the Enemy Repeatedly approached us from 40 to 100 yds distance and were as repeatedly repulsed. I had now but about 45 Men (Officers Included) who had lost their Command naturally drew towards me. the spirits of these few, notwithstanding their fatigue situation & unallayed thirst adding to that the Cruel Yellings of those bloody monsters, the seed of Anak in Size Ex­ceed thought or description, we defended this ground near three hours and half, during the whole time one blaze without Intermis­sion was kept up on both Sides. here we had three men killed and Nine Wounded. among the Wounded were Lieut. Col Thurston in the hand Major Meeker in the shoulder, Adjutant Finch in the Leg Capt. Jones in the foot and Ensign ‘Wood in the Wrist, the Chief of our people was wounded by Angle Shots from the Indians, from behind Rocks and Trees, our Rifles here were very Usefull. I found myself under the necessity of Ceasing the fire our Ammunition from the Continued fire of more than five hours, naturally Suggested that it must be Exhausted, ordered no person to Shoot, without having his Object Sure that no Shot might be lost. this gave Spirit to the Enemy who formed their whole Strength and forced the North East part of our Lines, here we gave them a Severe Gaul. our people, not being able to support the lines retreated down the hill precipitately towards the River the Enemy kept up a Constant fire on our Right which was re­turned, the people this time was so Scattered I found myself unequal to Rally them again consequently every Man made Choice of his own way. thus Ended the Action—

The following are missing in the whole from the Last Accounts

            Col. Ellisons Regiment                      one private                          Adjutant Finch
            Lient. CoL Thurston                                     of                                  Ensign Wood &
            Capt. Jones                                        New Jersey                           one private of
            Capt. Wood                                                                                      my Regiment
            Capt. Little
            Capt. Duncan
             and Twelve privates

In the whole Twenty-one Men
  Several Wounded Men are come in I hope numbers of Others will yet be found. I received a Wound in my head, one in my Leg and one in my thigh Slightly the one in my thigh from Inat­tention is a little Troublesome Several Spies that lay near the Enemy the night following the Action inform us that they moved off their Wounded in Canoes on the day following that on the Ground where they Lay there was great Quantities of Blood their whole Encampment was marked with wounded Men, great Numbers of Plaisters & bloody Rags was found. although we Suffered by the Loss of so many brave men, the best, for the number with­out Sensible Error in the Precinct, its beyond doubt, the Enemy Suffered much more, from the Various parts of the action can be collected a greater number of Indians Dead than we lost besides their Wounded, the Number of Indians & Tories is not ascertained, some accounts says 90 others 120 others 160—Col. Seward of New Jersey with 93 men was within five Six Miles of the Action on Pennsylvania side did not hear the firing, ap­proached and Lay near the Indians all night following, and from their Conduct and Groanings of the Wounded gave rise to a be­lief that they had been in some action where they had suffered, and would have attacked them round their fires but a Mutiny arose among some of his People which prevented: a very unfavorable and to be Lamented Circumstance if in their situation he had attacked them with the common Smiles of Providence he must have Succeeded and put them to a Total rout.

        Dear Governor its not in my Power to point out to you the disagreeable Situation I was in Surrounded by a foe with a handful of Such Valuable Men not only as Soldiers but as fellow Citizens and members of Society and nothing to be Expected but the Hatchet Spear, and Scalping Knife. The Tremendous Yells and Whoops all the fiends in the Confines of the Infernal Regions with one United Cry could not Exceed it. add to this the Cries the Entreaties and feeling Petitions of the Wounded around me not to leave them was—is beyond parallel or Idea. my heart Bleeds for the unfortunate who fell wounded into their hands. however one Circumstance gives me a little Consolation. Mr. Roger Townsend of Goshen received a Wound in his Thigh being Exceeding Thirsty making an attempt to go to find some Water, was met by an Indian who very friendly took him by the hand, said he was his Prisoner, and would not hurt him. a well directed Ball from one of our Men put the Indian in a dose and Mr. Townsend ran back into the Lines. I hope some Little humanity may be Yet found in the breast of those Savages.

I should be at the Greatest Loss was I to attempt to point out one Officer or Soldier that Exceeded another in bravery dureing the time of the General Action. too Much praise cant be given to them for their attention in Receiving orders and alacrity in Executing them.

I have acquiesced with Col Woodhull in ordering 1/8th of our Regiments to Minisink as a Temporary Guard—until your Excellency’s pleasure is known on the Subject—

 The Indians were under the Command of Brant who was Either Killed or Wounded in the Action they Burnt Major Deckers House and Barn Samuel Davis’s House Barn & Mill Jacobus Van Vlecks House & Barn, Daniel Vanokers Barn, here was Two Indians Killed from a Little Fort round the house—which was Saved. Esquire Cuykindalls house & barn Simon Westfalls house and barn, the Church Peter Cuykindalls house and Barn Mertintus Deckers

Fort, house, Barn and Saw Mills and Nehemiah Pattersons Saw Mill, Killed & Scalped Jeremiah Vanoker Daniel Cole Ephraim Ferguson & one Travirse. took with them Several Prisoners, most

Children with a great Number of Horses Cattle & Valuable Plunder. some of the Cattle we resqued and returned to the owners. I hope your Excell’y will make allowance for the Imperfect Stile, Razures & Blots of this Line whilst I have the honour to Subscribe myself with the most perfect Esteem in hast

Your Excellencies

Most Obt


John Hathorn Col


Joseph Brant's account of the battle:

Oghwage July 29th 1779


I beg leave to acquaint you, that I arrived here last night from Minisink, and was a good deal disappointed that I cou’d not get into that place at the time I wished to do, a little before day; instead of which I did not arrive ‘till noon, when all the Cattle was in the Woods so we cou’d get but a few of them. We have burnt all the Settlement called Minisink, one Fort excepted, round which we lay before, about an hour, & had one man Killed & one wounded. We destroyed several small stockaded Forts, and took four Scalps & three Prisoners; but did not in the least injure Women or Children. The reason that we cou’d not take more of them, was owing to the many Forts about the Place, into which they were always ready to run hike ground Hogs. I left this Place about 8 o'clock next day, and marched 15 miles, there are two roads, one thro’ the woods, the other alongside the River; we were coming up this road next morning, and I sent two men to examine the other road, the only way the Rebels cou’d come to attack us; 4 these men found the Enemy’s path not far from our Camp, & dis­covered they had got before to lay in ambush—The two Rascals were afraid when they saw the Path, and did not return ‘to in— form us, so that the Rebels had fair play at us. They fired on the Front of our People when crossing the River, I was then about 400 yards in the Rear, as soon as the Firing began I immediately marched up a Hill in their Rear with 40 men, & came round on their backs, the rest of my men were all scattered on the other side; however, the Rebels soon retreated and I pursued them, until1 they stopt upon a Rocky Hill, round which we were employed & very busy, near four hours before we cou’d drive them out. We have taken 40 odd scalps, and one Prisoner, a Captain. I suppose the Enemy have lost near half of their men & most of their Officers: they all belonged to the Militia & were about 150 in number.

 I am informed by the Prisoners, that the King’s Troops had taken a Post below the Highlands on the north River, called King’s Ferry, in which were 50 men, and had built a Fort on each side of the River: That after this Genl Clinton sent a part of his army into New England, took several Towns, and destroyed a great deal of stores &c.—that Genl. Washington in the mean time sent part of his Army in the night & surprized one of his Forts, m which 500 men were taken Prisoners—this affair happened some time ago

The night after we left Minisink, I received another piece of Intelligence that Genl. Clinton at the head of a great army was coming up the North River, and drove Genl. Washington and his Army before him, and obliged him to retreat up the River in a hurry; this news I received from the Rebels, who also said the Country were extremely alarmed. I find the Enemy certainly intends an expedition into the Indian Country, & have built strong Forts—by the last accounts they were at Wyoming. perhaps by this time they may be at Shimong, where I have sent my Party to remain ‘till I join them; I am now seting off with 8 men to the Mohawk River, in order to discover the Enemy’s motions.

In the last skirmish we had 3 men killed & 10 wounded.

John the Mohawk dangerously wounded, and 3 more almost in a bad a situation—I am afraid they will not recover—

                                                                                             I am, Sir,

                                                                                            Your obedient Servant,

                                                                                             Joseph Brant


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