Brave Men Follow Me, The Life of Patriot Samuel Meeker (Part 4 of 10)

IV. Samuel Meeker in The Revolutionary War

In the early 1770s both Samuel Meeker and his brother Nathaniel Meeker were living relatively quiet lives as a yeoman farmers. While Nathaniel’s life would remain fairly quiet1, Samuel’s involvement the Revolutionary War brought to him many changes and challenges. Samuel would soon be embroiled in that Patriot cause as a Major of the Sussex County Militia and as a commissioner of forfeited estates.

A. Militia.

Samuel Meeker was a member of the Sussex County militia throughout the Revolutionary War. A soldier who fought under his command later noted Meeker being promoted to Major in December 1776.2Samuel was part of the Second Regiment of Sussex3, a regiment which was present at the Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777) near Philadelphia.4 There is evidence that Meeker himself was present in the battle, though it is unknown if he saw actual combat.5

One of Meeker’s earliest assignments in the militia was to suppress Loyalist opposition in Sussex County. He helped to provide a list of persons there who were “disaffected or dangerous to the present Govt.”6 He was also called to secure the county jail in Newton7 and to acquire provisions necessary for the support of the prisoners there8for which he was later reimbursed.9

Though details are scarce, Samuel Meeker with the rest of the Sussex County militia was involved in defending their territory from raids of Indians who had sided with the British. The historian James P. Snell wrote of this:

These acts made it necessary to call out the Sussex militia and to man again the block-houses in the ‘three river townships,’ stretching from the Water Gap to Carpenter’s Point. This region was for two years the scene of active military operations, and was so well defended by the Sussex militia as to confine the atrocities of the savages almost exclusively to the adjacent territory of New York and Pennsylvania. Among the officers who commanded in this region were Cols. Hankinson and Seward, Majs Meeker and Westbrook, and Capts Cortright, Harker, Shafer, Beckwith, Rosenkrans, Bockover, Hover, and Winter. These men not only had charge of the garrisons, but commanded scouting parties, which were kept constantly active along the frontier, sometimes penetrating into New York and Pennsylvania.”10

Perhaps to better command militia activities, in 1779 we find Samuel Meeker living in or near Newtown rather than on his Wantage farm. In two letters (including one to George Washington) reference is made to Major Meeker living near the Sussex Court house (in Newton). His original farm south of Branchville could be this residence as it is not far from Newton. Alanson Haines in Hardyston Memorial seems to have been the first to state an error later repeated in saying Samuel Meeker was from “near Ogdensburg.”11

B. Commissioner of Forfeited Estates

Meeker’s residence near the courthouse also benefitted him in his work as one of the county’s commissioners of estates. Here he worked alongside Isaac Martin, a justice of the peace for Sussex County. Together they were responsible for selling of the lands of Loyalists who were declared traitors. A significant number of Loyalists were at risk of losing their property in Sussex County.12 For many the risk became a reality; over £37,000 (multiple millions in todays dollars) were raised in the sale of their lands.13In a number of land deeds “Martin and Meeker” are listed together selling lands for the benefit of the state.14

Their efforts got the attention and ire of the Loyalists who published a reward notice in the Loyalist newspaper Royal Gazette for their murder:

Four Hundred Dollars Reward Will be given to any person that will kill two Common robbers, now residing in the County of Sussex; a certain Samuel Meeker, noted in said county, for endeavoring several times to murder his father: the other a certain Issac Martin, a remarkable lusty Indian Molatto, formerly a residence of Morris County. Or two Hundred Dollars will be given for either of them, by applying to the printer, he will inform them where they will get their money immediately and not in Square Dollars, but in Silver.” – Royal Gazette, Jun 10, 1778.

Vernon Leslie writes of this, “Probably we should judge Meeker’s patriotism in inverse ration to the Tory opinion of him.15

For Isaac Martin, but not Samuel Meeker, the threat of capture turned into a reality. A Loyalist named James Moody captured Martin and set off for British-controlled Staten Island. Fortunately for Isaac Martin, the plot was found out and the militia freed him.16

C. The Battle of Minisink

Samuel Meeker’s most significant contribution and his greatest notoriety comes from his involvement in the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Minisink.

After British and Indian forces led by Joseph Brant attacked and burned Port Jervis, NY, militias were gathered from Goshen and Warwick, NY along with a small force from Sussex County, NJ. A history of Indian raids in the area helped ensure the inhabitants were ready to take up arms for their defense. A Wantage Township man named Thomas Talmage, who apparently was in Port Jervis at the time of Brant’s attack, mounted his horse and rode back home to alert the Sussex militia of Brant’s attack.17

Historian Charles Stickney wrote about the path the Sussex militia took to the battle:

The route which I have here outline is the probable one pursued by Meeker and his men Starting from the barracks at Hamburg, which was then called Sharpsboro, they went to Deckertown, where they were joined by Abraham Shepherd, a blacksmith, and his brother, who were both killed in the battle that followed, and by Owens and Williams. … Then they marched up the Clove road where they were joined by Moses DeWitt whose descendants still reside in that neighborhood. Near Mt. Salem, which was then a village of importance, they were joined by Stephe Mead who descendants live near there. At Pakadasink, as it was then called, they were joined by[John] Reed and [Dan] Myers, the latter famous for his tales of contests with Indians. Pakadasink was the Indian name for the entrance to the gap through the mountains at what is now known as Greenville, N.Y. … The sole reasons for assuming that this was the route pursued by Meeker’s men, is because of the names of parties who must have joined them on the march, not being members of the regiment and who took part in the battle.”18

Leading the group from New Jersey was Samuel Meeker. Meeker, however, was of lesser rank than Warwick’s Colonel John Hathorn who took command of the combined force when the militias joined together. The Patriots pursued Brant and his men from Port Jervis to a place some twenty-seven miles up the Delaware river where a battle ensued.

Things went disastrously for the Patriots. A shot fired too early gave away their position. Then a movement by Brant separated the Patriot forces, some of them dispersing from the battle and the rest eventually finding themselves on a hill surrounded by the enemy.19 The battle there continued for some three or four hours. Either on the hill or when the Patriots fled from that position Samuel Meeker was wounded with a musket shot in (or through) the shoulder.20 One later source actually calls it a wound from a spear21, but the contemporary accounts says that Meeker was hit with a was a musket ball in the shoulder.22 Col. Hathorn even specifies that Major Samuel Meeker received “a Wound with a Ball through his Left shoulder.”23

In the end the Battle of Minisink was a great loss for the Patriots with their number of dead totaling forty-six or more men while Brant’s casualties were reported at only three dead and ten injured.

D. “Brave Men Follow Me” and Misplaced Blame

Blame for the Patriot failure at the Battle of Minisink has frequently been put on Samuel Meeker. A tradition was developed, written as early as 1822 that Major Meeker’s bravado was responsible for the failure of the Patriots in that battle. On June 26, 1822 the remaining bones of soldiers who had fallen at the Battle of Minisink were reinterred in Goshen at which time the minister Rev. James R. Wilson gave a eulogy in which he stated about the lead up to the battle:

In the midst of these deliberations. Major Meeker mounted his horse, flourished his sword, and said, “let the brave men follow me, the cowards may stay behind.” As may be readily thought, this decided the question; they all took up the line of march, proceeded that evening seventeen miles, and encamped for the night.”24

This phrase, “let the brave men follow me, the cowards may stay behind” became accepted history and has been repeated in various places through the years.25 Much blame then has fallen on Meeker for the Patriot loss in the Battle of Minisink. Stickney even wrote, “Major Meeker’s brave challenge has been regarded since as very inconsiderate.”26

This most well-known phrase of Samuel Meeker, however, is not found in the contemporary record but is only first recorded in that eulogy forty-two years after the battle. Even if Meeker did utter the words, he was not in charge; Tusten was. And in Hathorn’s report of the battle only five days after it occurred he wrote that “it was determined in council to make an attack at this place.”27 It was not a rash decision led by Meeker but a decision made “in council” which must have ultimately been approved by Tusten.

New York Governor George Clinton seems to have placed some blame on Hathorn and Tusten for the battle, and not on Meeker. Hendrickson explains,

The two men (Hathorn and Clinton) were friends, but Clinton did not let that stand in the way of his criticism of Hathorn and Tusten after the battle. In a letter to the Reverend Nathan Kerr, the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Goshen, dated July 30, 1779, Clinton said that it was very unfortunate that he had not been advised of the calling out of the militia to appose Brant. Tusten and Hathorn had not informed the Governor, as required by Militia Law, that they were taking the field with their regiments after the raid at Minisink.”28

It is possible that Meeker did say “let the brave men follow me, the cowards may stay behind” or something similar.Hathorn was present to hear Rev. Wilson’s eulogy and he never corrected the statement. And an 1831 account of John Knap, who fought in the Battle of Minisink supports the idea that Samuel Meeker was the one pressing for the battle. Knap says, “a Major Meeker came onto the ground from Jersey he had with him a few men and was strongly inclined to follow the Indians. The York state officers were opposed to it for that their troops were not prepared for it. An altercation took place in which Meeker charged the others with cowardice said our Col. ‘I will go as far as you will, but I shall not compel one of our men to go.’”29

Meeker may have had bravado and even said the famed line, but even so, the blame shouldn’t fall so heavily on him to the exclusion of others involved. Neither should he be blamed—as has happened—for the New Jersey troops supposedly fleeing the battle. Leslie references a letter of 1879 of George H. Rowland saying that “[Meeker] and his men ran back to Minisink without firing a gun.”30 But Leslie questions that assertion about the Jerseymen fleeing. Hendrickson agrees with Leslie and gives good reasoning.31 Meeker was injured and, according to Solomon Middaugh seven men from New Jersey were killed, which hardly is possible if they quickly fled the battle.32 The group that ran away from the battle, it seems, was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Wisner’s division. Hendrickson says “Wisner and his men – accounting for at least a third of the militia force – retired from the field, never to be heard from again.”33

The idea of blaming Meeker may have been started been zealous New Yorkers who found the New Jersey militia an easy target for shifting the blame for the failure. The two states had been in a dispute over the location of their shared border just a decade previously. But putting the blame on the New Jersey militia doesn’t hold water as they were the much smaller force (compared to Hathorn and Tusten’s regiments) in the battle. The failure is better attributed to other causes like the Patriot’s haste to get to the battle leading to them having insufficient ammunition for a prolonged engagement.34

Meeker’s great-grandson actually seems to turn the myth in a positive direction, referring to the cautious in the Patriot militia as “faint-hearted” and by contrast applauding Meeker as brave rather than reckless. He wrote,

As they marched out of Goshen some faint-hearted called a hault [sic] and thought best to wait + not cross the Mt, Major Meeker + Col Hathorn both addressed them, the Major closing his speech with this words, ‘let the brave men come, cowards should remain at home.’35

As for Meeker surviving the battle and getting back safety, Kilpatrick relays an interesting tale:

Major Meeker although wounded ran on and escaped by crawling into a hollow log – over which the Indians passed + towards morning repassed – where Meeker crawled out + came on down to Germantown [the later name for an area in Port Jervis] + found refuge in a stone fort – a house used as a fort + still standing.”36

1 It may be that Nathaniel Meeker fought in the war as well. There is record of a Nathaniel Meeker fighting for the 3rd New York Regiment from 1777 to 1780. If this is our Nathaniel Meeker, this would make his life less quiet, but more patriotic. And the idea that he fought for New York, rather than New Jersey is interesting. Most of his farm was in New Jersey with just a small corner crossing over the state line into New York.

2 “That in December 1776 the said Samuel Meeker was promoted to the office of Major in the Regiment commanded by Col. Hankinson and this declarant was then elected by the said company as first Lieutenant in said company.” – Solomon Middaugh in his pension application, June 7, 1832. Found in: Mark Hendrickson, et. al., So Many Brave Men, p. 712.

3 May 23, 1777, “The Council and Assembly met at the House of Thomas Smith in Haddonfield … The following Gentlemen were elected Field Officers of the Militia, viz. John Rosencratz, Esq, to be Colonel of the third Battalion of Militia in the County of Sussex, in the Room of John-Cleves Symmes, Esq. … Francis Headly, Esq, First Major, and Samuel Meeker, Esq. Second Major of the second Regiment in Sussex, whereof Aaron Hankinson, Esq. is Colonel.” – Minutes and Proceedings of the Council and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey in Joint-Meeting, From August 30, 1776, to May 1780, Trenton: Printed by Isaac Collins, MDCCLXXX, p. 20

4 “[Aaron Hankinson] was regularly commissioned Colonel of 2d Regiment Sussex, N.J., Militia Feb. 28, 1777, and continued as such during the Revolutionary War. He was present with his regiment as a part of General David Forman’s Brigrade, N.J., Detached Militia, at the battle of Germantown, Pa., Oct. 4, 1777.” – Casper Schaeffer, Memoirs and reminiscences: together with sketches of the early history of Sussex County, New Jersey, 1907, p. 126.

5 “In the pension application of Jonathan Catterlin (S.12,444) and Elias Clark (S.12,479), Meeker is mentioned as having been present at the Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777). – Hendrickson, et. al., So Many Brave Men, p. 77.

6 Jul 7, 1777, “Present His Excellency the Governor, Mr Scudder, Mr Paterson, Mr. Elmer, Mr. Camp, Mr. Condit, Mr Symmes. Agreed that letters be written to Major Saml Meeker, and Saml Kirkendall, Isaac Martin, Jacob McCollom & George Allen Esq to appear before the Board, and give a list of persons in this County, who are disaffected or dangerous to the present Govt.” – Minutes of the Council of Safety of the state of New Jersey, 1872, p. 76. And July 9, 1777 “Mr. Meeker, Mr. Kirkendall, Mr. Martin, Mr. McCollom, Mr. Allen, and others appeared before the Board & gave in the names of the following persons as disaffect & dangerous to the present Govt, Gabriel Wils Senr Simeon Boiles, Samuel Lundry, Nathaniel Hart, Thomas Lundy, John Green, Jacob Lundy, Charles Pettit, John Collins, Adam Green, Edmund Thatcher, Simpson Howell, James Hannah, Ralph Hunt & Capt John Shaw in the township of Hardwick, Frederick Limbock, Fred Bloom, John Mushpan, Charles Crissman, Henry Weighman, James Clandening, Mw Dilts & Alexander Adams of the township of Knowlton; Solomon Cartwright in Wantage; Henry Slack, Job Slack, & Abijah Chambers in New Town, Jacob De Cond in oxford.” – Minutes of the Council of Safety of the state of New Jersey, 1872, p. 79.

7 1777, Oct 12, “Agreed that his Excellency the Governor be advised to write Meeker of Sussex, directing him to raise a party of 20 men, & 2 Sergeants & 2 Corporals, to do Guard duty over the prisoners, disaffected persons &, at New Town, in Sussex.”– Minutes of the Council of Safety of the state of New Jersey, 1872, p. 145.

8 1777, Nov 12, “The Council met at Princeton. Present His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Camp, Mr. Manning, Mr. Talman, Mr. Drake, Col Fleming. His Excellency was pleased to lay before the Board, a letter from Major Meeker, respecting the Prisoners in Sussex Gaol and the provisions necessary for their support. The Board being of the opinion that there is no necessity of keeping a Guard for securing the prisoners above mentioned. Agreed that Col Symmes be desired to direct Major Meeker, to discharge the Guard now kept for that purpose, and to settle with Major Meeker as to the Cattle & Flour he has purchased for their support; — That as to the British prisoners confined in the said Gaol, Col Symmes will acquaint the Commissary of Prisoners with their confinement & procure his directions concerning them; As to the Deserters from the Continental Army, he will inform the Magistrates & endeavor to have them carried to their respective Corps.” –– Minutes of the Council of Safety of the state of New Jersey, 1872, p. 163

9 1778, Jan 7, “The council met, at Springfield. Present His Excellency the Governor, Col Fleming, Mr. Smith, Mr. Crane, Col Drake, Mr. Condit. Agreed that there be paid to Samuel Meeker, for sundry Expenses attending his furnishing provisions and other necessaries for the support of a Guard, Kept over the prisoners in Sussex Gaol, the sum of £104.1.10.” – Minutes of the Council of Safety of the state of New Jersey, 1872, p. 184.

10 James P. Snell, History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey, 1881, 55.

11 Alanson A. Haines, Hardyston Memorial, 1888, p. 71.

12 1779, Feb. 9, “WHEREAS a court of inquiry was holden at Sussex on the 9th day of February, 1779, to make inquisition whether Oliver De Lancey, late of New York, Cavilear Jouet, late of Elizabeth Town, Thomas Millage, and Nicholas Hoffman, late of Morris county, Joseph Barton, Joseph Crowell, John Butcott, James Shaw, Arthur Shaw, Solomon Cotrack, Daniel Cole, John Abel, Elijah Finten, Patrick Hagerthy, Levi Ellis, Ebenezer Ellis, William Grisly, Benjamin Tuttel, John Rattan, Jonathan Chosel, Samuel Rattan, Thomas Woolverton, Ezekiel Younglove, Samuel Curtis, Thomas Ellis, George Chever, Joseph Waller, Alien Wager, late of the county of Sussex, and Peter Wintermute, and Philip Wintermute, late of Wyoming, have offended against the form of their allegiance to this state; when. the said inquisitions were found true, and being properly certified, were returned to the inferior court of common pleas holden in the county aforesaid, on Tuesday the 16th of February, and proclamation made therefrom, in open court, as the law in that case provided directs, that they, or any person on their behalf, might appear and traverse the inquisitions: Now notice is hereby given, that unless the persons against whom the inquisitions were found, or some person on their behalf, shall appear at the next court of quarter sessions for the said county, and offer to traverse the inquisitions, they will be taken to be true, and final judgment entered thereupon in favour of the state. ISAAC MARTIN, SAMUEL MEEKER, Commissioners – Newspaper Extracts, Sussex County, State of New Jersey, March 19, 1779, in Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, Volume III, 1779, ed. William Nelson, 1906, p. 165.

13 1780, Nov 29. “Received of Samuel Meeker, Ditto in the Count of Sussex, by the Hands of Anthony Broderick, Esq. 37598 lbs, 6 shillings” – General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, October 23, 1782.

14 See: May 1779, Two deeds of Martin and [Samuel] Meeker selling property of Loyalist Joseph Barton (A 71, C 339). And December 7, 1779, Samuel Meeker and Isaac Martin to Strattin, N 496.

15 The Battle of Minisink, Vernon Leslie, 2nd Edition, 1976, p. 74 footnote.

16 Susan Burgess Shenstone, So Obstinantly Loyal, James Moody, 1744-1809, 2001, 56-57.

17 “This account of Thomas Talmage’s ride, and their place of residence, which must have been close to or upon the farm now owned by J. H. Smith in Wantage, is derived from the memoranda of Goyne Talmage. He was a lineal descendant of that family.” – Charles E. Stickney, Woodburn, a description and historical poem of the part taken in the Battle of Minisink by Jerseymen, 1897, p. 5.

18 Charles E. Stickney, Woodburn, a description and historical poem of the part taken in the Battle of Minisink by Jerseymen, 1897, p. 7.

19 Mark Hendrickson, et. al., So Many Brave Men, p. 19-24.; See also: “The tradition of Brant’s plan, as reported by survivors, was that, which he was in the deep defile (dry brook) he aught sight of his pursuers, and marched his men to the right among the hidden recesses of the swamp, letting Hathorn go on past him in ignorance of the movement. In order to keep Hathorn moving on, a single Indian horseman was detailed to sweep ahead of the settlers and by showing himself occasionally, lure the on to where Brant chose to make the attack. Hathorn says there were several Indians crossing the river when the battle begun. – Charles E. Stickney, Woodburn, a description and historical poem of the part taken in the Battle of Minisink by Jerseymen, 1897, p. 9.

20 “among the Wounded were Lieut. Col Thursten [Tusten], in hand Major Makeer in the Sholder…” – John Hathorn’s report to George Clinton, 27th July 1779, reproduced in So Many Brave Men, p. 32.

21Major Meeker had his arm broken + shoulder pierced with a spear.” – Hugh Judson Kilpatrick Draper Manuscripts F8, 76(3).

22 Hendrickson, et. al., So Many Brave Men, pp. 32, 106, 639.

23 “This may certify that Major Samuel Meeker of the State of New Jersey Served with me in an Alarm on the Delawre with part of the Militia of Sussex County in said state and in an action with the Indians on the Twenty Second day of July One Thousand Seven hundred and Seventy nine he received a Wound with a Ball through his left shoulder. John Hathorn Col. Commanding the Detachment and a Regt of New York Militia.” – New Jersey Bureau of Archives and History, Revolutionary War Manuscripts, Col Hathorn Certificate.

24 The Evangelical Witness, Vol. I., No. IV, November 1822, p. 160

25 The phrase can be found repeated in the following works: Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea, Including the Border Wars of the American Revolution, William L. Stone, Vol 1., 1838., p. 416.; An Outline History of Orange County, Samuel W. Eager, 1846-7, p. 496.; A History of The Minisink Region, Charles E. Stickney, 1867, p. 100-101.; Hardyston Memorial, Alanson A. Haines, 1881, p. 75-76.; History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey by James P. Snell, 1881, 63-64.; The Mohawk Valley: its legends and its history, by W. Max Reid, 1901, p. 271-272.

26 Woodburn, a description and historical poem of the part taken in the Battle of Minisink by Jerseymen. Charles E. Stickney, 1897, p. 8.

27 So Many Brave Men, p. 31.

28 So Many Brave Men, p. 29-30.

29 John Knap, manuscript of Nov. 1831 cited in Vernon Leslie, The Battle of Minisink, p. 109.

30 Vernon Leslie, The Battle of Minisink, p. 141.

31 So Many Brave Men, p. 76.

32 “I was engaged in several engagements with scouting parties among the British & Indians on and along the banks of the Delaware, that in that service I was engaged in the Battle at Lackawax at which seven men were killed from said Capt Coles company” – Solomon Middaugh, August 19, 1833 pension application in So Many Brave Men, p. 66, 718-719. Hendrickson identifies Stephen Mead, Nathan Wade, and Daniel Talmadge as among the dead from Sussex.

33 Hendrickson, So Many Brave Men, p. 20.

34 “I found myself under the necessity of Ceasing the fire, our Ammunition from the Continued fire of more than five hours” – Battle of Minisink Report by John Hathorn, Warwick, 27 July 1779, printed in in the Weekly Register, Newburgh NY, July 23, 1879. See also: “Col. Hathorn, as his men were ill supplied with ammunition, issued an order like that of Gen. Putnam at Bunker’s Hill, not to fire a single shot till the enemy was near enough to make it take effect.” – Rev. James R. Wilson, The Evangelical Witness, Vol. I., No. IV, November 1822, p. 161. See also: “In the pension application of Jason Horton, Jeremiah Horton states that the defeat of militia was caused by the lack of ammunition.” (Hendrickson, So Many Brave Men, p. 72)

35 Letter from Hugh Judson Kilpatrick to Lyman Draper, May 9, 1878, Draper Manuscripts F8, 76(1).

36 Letter from Hugh Judson Kilpatrick to Lyman Draper, Draper Manuscripts, F8, 75(5).

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