LEAVING PORT JERVIS, NY and heading north on Route 97, the scenery shifts from aging industrial to mountain-river-sky panoramas. The road is also known as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. As it closely follows the river, you will begin to feel as if you are in an automobile commercial. That’s because many advertisers including BMW, Saab and Cadillac have filmed their high-perfomance products hugging the twists and turns of this stretch of highway known as Hawk’s Nest. It is small wonder–the road literally seems to hang dramatically on the mountain edge, shored up by sculpted stone walls. Guard rails are nonexistent here, but there are motorist pull-offs to enjoy the view without your hands on the wheel.
And just as you’re tooling along in your luxurious ride, the cameras still trained on your best side, the wind whipping your hair in dramatic waves, you discover that something a bit more somber has disrupted the Hollywood fantasy along the stretch of river north of Hawk’s Nest. At Minisink Ford, in July of 1779, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, 51 men lost their lives in a campaign far from the suburban battlefields of New York and Philadelphia. The Battle of Minisink began as a raid on Peenpack (current Port Jervis) led by Joseph Brant, a Captain in the British Army and a chief of the Mohawk Nation. This was the action that left the village and Fort Decker in smoldering ruins. Brant, educated at Moor’s Indian Charity School in Connecticut, began his career as a soldier at the age of fifteen, fighting for the British in the French and Indian War. Well educated, articulate and highly intelligent, he caught the attention of British officers and worked his way through the ranks, becoming acquainted with but never really warming to members of English aristocracy. He was even taken to London and received by George III from whom he solicited support for Mohawk participation in the upcoming conflict.
After the Peenpack raid, a patriot militia force was raised under the command of Lt. Colonel Benjamin Tusten, a physician from the village of Goshen. They encountered Brant at Minisink Ford and on a hill overlooking the Delaware were soundly defeated in an afternoon of brutal fighting. Those that did not run away were killed, including Dr. Tusten. The Colonial force was comprised of not much more than farmers, clerks and merchants; no match for the seasoned Indian veterans and Tories led by Brant. They are respectfully remembered today at Minisink Battlefield Park, which maintains not only hallowed ground, but some excellent hiking trails. I’m not sure how they manage it, but many of the trails are paved with moss. It’s like hiking on carpet. A beautiful park.
Dr. Tusten also has a mountain named in his honor below Narrowsburg, NY. A moderately strenuous climb to the top will afford a stunning view of the river down below.