The 1780 Account of the Battle of Conashaugh

While searching NJ, NY, & PA historical newspapers for the term Minisink using the long s form, literally Minifink, the following brief gem turned up.  In our local history the so called Battle of Conashaugh looms large but for a nation-a-birthing it appeared as barely a footnote, a 104 word paragraph woven into the dramatic events of the time. 

The New Jersey Gazette, May 3, 1780, Vol III, Issue 123, Page 3, Trenton, New Jersey: 

(c) NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004.

Trenton, May 3
We are obliged to the gentleman who sent us the following:
About the 17th ult.* a party of Indians were discovered at Minisink, in Pennsylvania, and on Thursday following some of the Jersey militia passed the Delaware and engaged them; a severe conflict ensued, which ended in a total defeat of the Indians.  They left their commanding officer dead on the field, and by the orderly book and papers found on him, he appears to be one Daily, (a whiteman) formerly of Somerset county.  We had Captain Westbrook, a Lieutenant, and one private killed, in the engagement; - the Indians left behind them fix blankets, two watch-coats, several packs, and a quantity of provisions.

*Ultimo (often abbreviated ult.): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from last month. 

The Pennsylvania Evening Post of May 5 and The Pennsylvania Packet of May 6 both carried the same paragraph, datelined Trenton, May 3.  Neither the Lt. nor the Pvt. were graced with a surname but a letter published by the Pennsylvania Archives supplies the details of the engagement, places the action within the landscape and names the dead. The author of the letter, John VanCampen, was then Northampton County Councillor elect to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.  He addressed President Reed of that council:

Lower Smithfield, April the 24th, 1780.

Hon'd Sir,

I hope my last by Mr. Mixer is Come to hand informing you of the Incursion of the Indians at the house of Manuel Gunsaleyes
[Gonsalez]. herewith inform your honour of their later attempts. James McCarte [McCarty] with his family was Removed to the Jersey, on the 20th Instant his Sons went to their home to feed the Cattle, Discovered signs of Indians, Returned to the Jersey Immediately & acquainted Major [Samuel] Westbrook and Captain [Peter] Westbrook the signs they had Discovered, they Sent Immediately for some of their best men & Croos'd the River that night, about sun rise the morning following Discovered the Indians Nigh the Barn and began the attack ; the number of the Enemy is supposed to be about fourteen ; the Major Received no Damage with his party  the Indians retreated to the woods ; the major was Reinforced by Capt. [Johannes] Vannatten [Van Etten], with three of his sons & son in Law, Pursued the Indians by the Blood, & about two miles Came up with them. As it is without Doubt three of them was wounded, Renewed the attack, Drove the Indians in a few minutes, they Ran to the edge of a thick wood ; Captain Vannatten maintained his Ground with his few men, the Major with his men also, Captain Westbrook's men left him at the first fire from the Enemy in the woods, which was the ruin of the whole; but the ground maintained for some time & the retreat secured by the Major & Vannatten ; Kill'd & missing on the part of the Major & Vannatten: Captain Westbrook missing, not yet found, Benjamin Ennis [Ennes] kill'd, son in law to Capt. Vannatten, Richard Rosekrans kill'd and two more wounded. Of the Enemy Kill'd, two found, one an officer, appearing by his Dress, found in his pocket a Regular Journal from the first of March until the 16th Inst., as appears by his Journal there is three hundred & Ninety marched from Niagagari [Niagara] , divided into Different parties, the Officer was a White man.

Respective Sir,
I'm now under Difficulties of mind, what the Event will be God only knows, the people are Determined to Evacuate the Country, as there appears no prospect of Relief by the millitia.

I am Sir, with Due Respect,
Your Most Huble servt.,
John VanCampen

P. S. The said McCartee, where the attack began, is about two miles Below Wells' ferry
[Milford], on the Banks of Delaware.

Capt. Vannatten lives in Delaware Township, one mile Below McCartee's.
Directed. To his Excellency, Joseph Reed, President of the Executive Council, Philadelphia.

The map pushpin indicates the historic McCarty House, c 1740, just south of the Raymondskill Creek gorge and north of the Conashaugh Creek gorge.

View Minisink Valley Genealogy in a larger map

 19th Century Accounts

The Rev. Joseph F. Tuttle, in an address before the gathering at the 1853 celebration of the Sussex Centennial held in Newton would quote, without embellishment, from the original newspaper account of the action.

The First Sussex Centennary, 1853.

In 1879 a melodramatic account, "Conneshaugh Battle:  A Sad Incident of Early History in the Lower Delaware" by W. [William] H.[Harrison] Layton, appeared in The Evening Gazette, mistakenly setting the action in the year 1776, inflating the number of dead to "18 or 19 having been killed at the scene of the struggle," and elevating the description of the action from a skirmish into a battle.

"Conneshaugh Battle..."

In 1886, seven years after The Evening Gazette article appeared, and one hundred and six years after the events of 1780, Alfred Mathews would interview a handful of informants and publish their version of the alleged thirteen militiamen killed in action in his volume, History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania.  Within a few paragraphs he also transcribes the full text of the VanCampen letter:  It will be noticed, he writes, that it disagrees in details with the account already given, but in the main supports it.

The difference between three and thirteen men killed is considerable.  Three men were noted in the contemporary press, named in full by VanCampen, and in the 19th century Revolutionary War Pension Files affidavits, while no trace is found of Mathews' informants' additional and nameless ten militia men.   

Mathews further claims "the dead were taken up and buried in the old Minisink burying ground," though Pvt Barnardus Swartwood in his pension Affidavit of 1832 stated: The said Benjamin Ennis was the brother in law of this deponent and the deponent saith he helped to carry the said Benjamin Ennis after he was killed to the Fort above mentioned [Lt. Ennes' father-in-law, Johannes Van Etten's fortified home on the Conashaugh].

Mathew's History, p 94.

So what actually occurred during the action of 1780 along the narrow creek gorges and steep hillsides in Pike County Pennsylvania to account for the fluctuating number of dead, the claimed evidence of a mass burial of militiamen at the old Minisink Village burying ground?  Time - only time passing - for the late 19th century folklore, contradicted by the primary source evidence detailing the deaths of only three men in the spring of 1780, is not history but legend.

May they, Capt. Peter Westbrook, Lt. Benjamin Ennes and Pvt. Richard Rosencrance, rest in Peace.