LACKAWAXEN – In the 1770’s Wayne and Pike Counties, Pennsylvania, or nearby counties- Sullivan and Orange Counties, NY in the east as well as what is now Lackawanna and Luzerne to the west, were still largely untamed virgin wilderness and more the province of Native Americans, than for anyone else. It would seem far removed from our limited realization of the War of Independence, otherwise known as the American Revolution.

LACKAWAXEN – In the 1770’s Wayne and Pike Counties, Pennsylvania, or nearby counties- Sullivan and Orange Counties, NY in the east as well as what is now Lackawanna and Luzerne to the west, were still largely untamed virgin wilderness and more the province of Native Americans, than for anyone else. It would seem far removed from our limited realization of the War of Independence, otherwise known as the American Revolution.
Yet it was here, on the Upper Delaware in 1779 that a battle transpired, and the Native American warriors with their Torey allies prevailed at the place called Minisink Ford, that summer day of July 22. The colonial militia, who were defeated, left behind many dead. One of them, a soldier whose name is known only to his Maker, was eventually laid to honored rest a short distance across the Delaware River in the burying ground at Lackawaxen, a village in Lackawaxen Township, Pike County, Pennsylvania. That was in 1847, 68 years after the muskets and tomahawks ceased at the short-lived Battle of Minisink.
It is this mysterious man we honor each year, at a ceremony on the Saturday closest to July 22nd, and hosted by a group of comrades who know all so well the price of war, members of Ecker-Haupt VFW Post 5635 in Lackawaxen. The commemoration in Lackawaxen has been held since 1975, with much thanks to Pike County Historian George J. Fluhr.
 
BATTLE OF MINISINK
 
It was the spring of 1779. General George Washington responded to reports that frontier settlements in Mohawk, Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers were being subject to surprise attacks by Native American warriors allied with the Crown. Washington dispatched a strong force under Generals James Clinton and John Sullivan to punish the Indians in western New York.
At that time, the Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, sent a force numbering about 60 Indians and 27 Loyalists down the Delaware River to take cattle and other supplies for his people in the western settlements. Following a rampage on Port Jervis on July 20, Brant and his men headed back up the Upper Delaware. News reached the settlers east of the Shawangunk Mountains (a ridge in Ulster and Orange Counties, NY).  Approximately 120 militia men from Orange and Sussex Counties were summoned and sent to stop Brant and his force.
Reaching the Delaware, they learned that Brant and his men were already fording the River into Pennsylvania with their prisoners, plunder and cattle. The militia planned a surprise attack, but the discharge of one of their guns alerted Brant with enough time to counter the attack.
After a brief skirmish, the militia, greatly outnumbered, took position on a wooded hill above Minisink Ford.
Since some of his men were still on the New York side, Brant led them to the top of the hill, while the rest of his band came back over the river to join him. This hill was across from the present site of Lackawaxen and just downriver from the confluence with the tributary by that name.
Employing bush warfare, Brant was able to surround the colonial militia. The fight lasted about four hours. The militia eventually ran out of ammunition and Brant’s force was able to penetrate the colonial lines, killing or wounding everyone that was unable to flee.
The militia’s dead numbered approximately 47.
Because of the region’s extreme isolation, the bodies lay where they fell among the ledges, rocks and trees for 43 years. In 1822, an expedition gathered what skeletal remains could be found, and brought them back to Goshen, Orange County, to be buried. They were laid to rest on July 22, 1822, the 43rd anniversary of the battle, with a ceremony attended by an estimated 12,000 people.
It may be, like the patriot honored at the grave of the Unknown Soldier in Lackawaxen, no one could identify the militiamen interred at Goshen. This was before the age of dog tags and DNA testing.
Given the passage of time not all the dead could be found, until one day, 25 years later, one more of those “missing in action” came back to light.
About 1847, Isaac Mills was searching for some cows belonging to his employer, N. B. Johnston in the hills in New York opposite the village of Lackawaxen. He came upon what must have been a startling and unnerving sight, an almost complete human skeleton under a rock ledge.
Sufficient evidence of the deceased’s equipment as well uniform buttons was found with the bones, leaving no doubt this was one of the colonial militiamen killed at the Battle of Minisink.
Mills reported what he had found to his employer, and acted as a guide to a party of canal employees who brought the remains to Lackawaxen. Here, they made a coffin and placed them in the old burying ground near the river bank, in front of the Odd Fellows Lodge.
By this time Lackawaxen was a thriving village. The area would have little resembled what the militia would have seen in 1779. Logging on the Upper Delaware had started upriver in 1760. Much of the land had gradually become stripped of trees and where possible, farmers were breaking the rocky earth to try and raise crops and make pasture.  Both the Delaware and the Lackawaxen Rivers had become busy thoroughfares for log rafts being taken to market.
Since 1827, Delaware & Hudson Canal boats were moving anthracite and other goods through here. Also in 1847, the Roebling Aqueduct was constructed at Lackawaxen to carry the canal over the river and allow free passage of rafts underneath.
One can look at the Roebling Bridge today, and ponder those canal men who may have crossed on the towpath bearing the remains of this “unknown soldier.”
While it is not clear who began regular tending of the grave, it was remembered to have started at least as far back as the turn of the 20th century. Eventually, a bronze tablet was provided by the U.S. Government to be placed on the site. It reads simply:

UNKNOWN SOLDIER
REVOLUTIONARY WAR
KILLED IN THE BATTLE OOF MINISINK
JULY 22, 1779.

A monument was erected at the site of the Battle of Minisink on July 22, 1879.
…..
ISAAC MILLS

Isaac Mills was about 47 at the time he found the bones, in 1847. He was a long-time blacksmith living at Lackawaxen, and the first deacon of the Baptist Church in Lackawaxen which had organized about 1827. By 1850, he and his wife Mary, who was about 21 years younger, had a baby son, Charles. By 1860 he would be joined by brothers Christen and Nathaniel.
Mills died June 26, 1883, at the age of 86, a very advanced age for his time. He was laid to rest at Union Cemetery in Lackawaxen, the very same grave yard the remains of the “Unknown Soldier” were placed.
Unlike Mills, we know almost nothing about this unknown soldier.  He very likely had loved ones at home, possibly in Orange or Sussex Counties, whose hearts were broken. Like the millions of servicemen and women who have died in wars before and since, tears were surely shed, and hearts were grieving as they waited against all odds, in case their soldier had made it out alive. Time passed, and those who may have mourned for him had to press on. Millions more families could and can relate. They are reminded of the Ultimate Sacrifice their soldier, sailor or other service member has made, the price paid in blood, the price families have paid in tears, for a what they believed was a Higher Cause.
In the end, we can say that this militia man was an American Patriot, who died for his new nation that would be based on unalienable rights and freedoms future generations could have. Those who came after him can choose to pause and say thanks, and reflect on the ideals we may imagine this militia man may have held dear.

Main Sources:
Lackawaxen Township Bicentennial Book, 200 Years of Growth (1998)
Pike in Pennsylvania: History of a County (1993) by George J. Fluor
History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pa. (1886) by Alfred Mathews
Vintage newspapers at Fultonhistory.com
Census data, etc., at Ancestry.com (Hawley Public Library)