The Hochstetler Massacre

The Hochstetler Massacre


This sketch contains excerpts from “Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler, 1912” compiled and published by the late Rev. Harvey Hochstetler, D.D., of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Rev. Hochstetler was a personal friend of the writer and we were in correspondence for more than a quarter century.

The emigrant ancestor, Jacob Hochstetler, arrived at Philadelphia, September 1, 1736, on the ship Harle. Ralph Harle, Master, from Rotterdam, last from Cowes, England, The captain reported that he brought one hundred and fifty-six men, sixty-five women, one hundred and sixty-seven boys and girls, in all three hundred and eighty-eight. Only one hundred and fifty-one of the men made their declaration of allegiance, the other four being reported sick and unable to leave the vessel.

Making a Home

This ancestor made a good selection of land, which, lay east of the Northkill, a rapidly flowing creek which heads in the mountain and flows south into Tulpehocken creek at Bernville, which in turn empties into the Schuylkill opposite Reading. Before the introduction of steam it furnished valuable water power. Shomo’s Mill and an iron forge were near Hochstetler’s home on the creek, probably built after the American Revolution. The buildings on both places are located some distance south of the state road leading from Harrisburg to Allentown, but the land extends across the road a considerable distance. The road probably at that time was not laid out. There seems to be no waste land to it, some being best adapted for pasture or permanent meadow, but the greater part is rolling and is a productive tillable soil. It is about a mile west of the present village of Shartlesville, in Upper Bern Township, Berks Co., Pa.

Perhaps not a tree nor a brush had previously been removed. He selected a place for his buildings near a never-failing spring, which furnished fresh water for man and beast. In time the heavy timber was removed, the land cleared, substantial buildings erected, all of which required hard labor and perseverance. Several acres of fruit trees were planted and the usual hardships of frontier life experienced. But they enjoyed liberty to worship God as their conscience dictated.

The Massacre

The Attack

On the evening of September 29, 1757, that part of the country not having been disturbed since the Meyers murder in June, the young people of the neighborhood gathered at the home of Jacob Hochstetler to assist in paring and slicing apples for drying. At such gatherings it was the custom of the young folks after the work was done to have a social or frolic, sometimes continuing until late in the night. After the young folks departed the family retired and just about as they were sound asleep the dog made an unusual noise, which awakened Jacob, the son, who opened the door to see what was wrong, when he received a gunshot wound in the leg. He realized in a moment that they were being attacked by Indians and managed to close and lock the door before the Indians could enter. In an instant all the family were on their feet. The Indians, eight or ten in number, were seen standing near the bake oven in consultation, evidently near daybreak.

There were several guns and plenty of ammunition at hand. Joseph and Christian picked up their guns to defend the family. Two or three attackers could be shot and the guns reloaded before the Indians could gain an entrance, but the father, firmly believing in the doctrine of non-resistance, remaining faithful in the hour of sorest trial, could not give his consent. In vain they begged him. He told them it was not right to take the life of another even to save one’s own. Joseph even afterward claimed the family could have been saved had he given his consent, as they were both good, steady marksmen, (their father also) and the Indians never stood fire unless under cover.

The House Set Afire

The Indians stood in consultation for a few minutes and then set the house on fire. The family consisted of seven persons – the Parents, Jacob Jr., Joseph, Christian and a daughter, name not known, also Barbara Stutzman, probably a visitor. As the fire progressed, they sought refuge in the cellar, while the Indians stood guard around the house. When the fire had advanced so far as to burst through the floor, its advance was checked by sprinkling cider on the burning spots.

As daylight was now nearing it was thought the enemy would not remain much longer and the family hoped to hold out until they departed. Meanwhile the disturbance attracted the attention of John (who was three years of age at time of emigration to America) living on the adjoining farm. A few steps from his door he could see over to the old home, which being on fire, surrounded by the redmen and all the family within, presented a shocking sight. The safety of his wife and child appealed to him. Hastening into his house he took and concealed them in a thicket of brush in a flat place about eighty rods south of his house, and returned to see what could be done for those at the old home. There was no telling where the enemy might strike next, hence he prudently concealed his tracks, and on reaching a place where he could observe the old home, the Indians were just finishing their bloody work.

Family Driven from the House

The family had kept quiet in their retreat, beating the fire back as best they could and beheld the Indians leaving one after another. The stay in their retreat could scarcely be endured longer and believing the enemy had all left, they proceeded to get out through a small window in the basement wall. As they emerged, a young warrior, Tom Lions, about 18 years old, who had lingered behind gathering ripe peaches, observed them and gave an alarm.

The Murders

The mother, being a fleshy woman, was with difficulty extricated; besides the wounded Jacob had to be assisted, and by the time the family were all out they were surrounded, were all easily captured except Joseph, who being swift-footed like a deer, circled around, eluded them and ran up the hill, followed by two Indians who had thrown their guns away, determined to take him alive. He easily outran them and seeing them give up the chase he returned to the burning building and dropped down behind a log. It happened that one of the Indians observed him, but they hastened to the scene of carnage. The son Jacob and the daughter were tomahawked and scalped, but the mother, against whom they seemed to have a particular spite, was stabbed through the heart with a butcher knife and was scalped. Writer’s note-Fifty-two years ago while Rev. Hochstetler was visiting at the writers home he had related of this incident somewhat more in details. Just as the Indian came with his knife, Mother Hostetler in that frightful moment glanced her eyes heavenward and screamed in her native tongue, “Oh, Herr Yesus !” or “Oh, Lord Jesus.”

The Prisoners

It is a tradition that when an Indian had raised his tomahawk over the head of Christian, he looked up, and as the Indian beheld his beautiful blue eyes, took a liking to him and spared him. The disturbance had also attracted the family of Jacob Kreutzer, residing to the west. They came running through the woods to the edge of the meadow, but on beholding what was going on they stopped, not being prepared to enter into a conflict with the savage foe.

The bloody work being finished, the Indians took Jacob Hochstetler and son Christian prisoners, left again in the direction they had started before, surrounding the place where Joseph was concealed and easily escaped him. Had he known ‘he could easily have made his escape, but he feared he might encounter Indians on ahead and so thought best to remain in his hiding-place. The barn and all out-buildings were destroyed by fire before the Indians left. The father picked up some ripe peaches and advised his sons to do likewise. He also advised them to submit gracefully to their fate as far as possible.

A Father’s Parting Advice

Before the father and sons were separated he gave them this parting advice in his Swiss dialect. “If you are taken so far away and be kept so long that you forget your German language, do not forget the Lord’s Prayer.” A timely and good advice.

While in captivity our ancestor was never permitted to know where he was, except once when in Erie, Pa., and once in Detroit, Mich. They moved frequently from one village or place to another. In some places but few Indians were together, while in other places large numbers gathered.

Jacob’s Flight

The first day he never stopped for rest. He went on in the direction of his home as ascertained before he started and stopped for rest only when completely exhausted. He often concealed ‘himself in the daytime and traveled at night. He crossed streams and mountains until he reached what he thought was one of the ‘head branches of the Susquehanna, which he followed. Though he never knew whether he was ever pursued, he always used due precaution to prevent being followed in case an attempt was made. He waded through water at times to prevent being tracked by dogs, and in daytime generally avoided paths. As he followed the stream it grew larger and prospects seemed to brighten, so he decided to float down stream on a raft, which had to be built.

The Raft

Having selected a place where fire could not be seen from a distance he selected a dry fallen tree of proper thickness upon which he built some five or six nigger fires.” These were stirred and kept burning all night and by morning the trees were burnt through in as many places. The logs were dragged to the water, tied together with hickory withes, or wild grapevines, and on this frail raft the journey was continued. After some distance the course of the stream turned to the right and Jacob Hochstetler now believed he was on some other stream than the Susquehanna, probably the Ohio, which would take him away from home. He must have passed the present location of Pittston, Pa. about fifty miles to the north and a little to the east of his home. The river from this point follows a general southwestern direction till it reaches Duncannon, in Perry Co., a few miles above Harrisburg, where it turns to the southeast. Fatigued now and nearly starved, he tied his raft, and went on shore, about giving up in despair.

His Dream

There is a tradition that he found a dead oppossum full of maggots. He was so hungry that it tasted good and he ate till his hunger was appeased and then fell asleep, when his murdered wife appeared to him in a dream telling him to go on, that he was on the right way. When he awoke he took to his raft, determined never to leave it until he reached the white settlements. Thus, he reached Fort Harris on the site of the present city of Harrisburg. He was too weak to stand, made efforts to be noticed, but failed to be observed until past the place. A little below the fort there was a place where the river was forded when low. Here a man was watering a horse, who observed a strange object floating down stream. He went and reported. The commander at the fort with his spyglass discovered that there was a white on a small raft and signaled to him, but all Jacob was able to do was to hold up his arm. He was accordingly rescued with a skiff. A woman, probably Mrs. Harris, prepared his first meal for him. He soon regained his strength and from here had no trouble in reaching his home. Before arriving at Fort Harris he must have passed two other forts, Fort Hunter about five miles above and Fort Augusta at the Forks of the Susquehanna. From the latter stream the fort could not well be seen and he may have passed Fort Hunter in the nighttime. Taking it all in all, his adventures were hazardous, the escape marvelous, and his whole life replete with incidents worthy of being passed on to posterity.

Experiences of Christian

Among the descendants of Christian there are several written accounts of his life, prepared at different times and by different persons and which vary more in or less in details. Those accounts make his age at captivity about ten years, which corresponds quite closely to the statement of his age made by his father in his petition to the Governor. Some of these accounts make his stay among the Indians seven years, while others make it as high as eleven years, which is quite unlikely, as two of these accounts speak of his stay with the Indians “Till the end of the war,” and “peace was now restored,” and “prisoners exchanged.” These statements might refer either to the year 1762 but most appropriately to the year 1764. These accounts speak of his marriage shortly after his return, and his marriage is referred to as one of the elements that finally secured his consent to remain with the whites.

Experience of Joseph

After the parting, Joseph was adopted into one of the families in full fellowship, or in other words, was made after their manner a full Indian. He was a skilled hunter and backwoodsman, also noted for athletic sports, as Hertzler says in his “Hertzler Genealogy,” 1885, page 152, he was respected, and after his adoption treated with the same kindness that any original Indian received. With solemn and impressive ceremony a white person was adopted into an Indian tribe.

The Release of Joseph and Christian

After the return of Jacob the ancestor learned of the events that had occurred during his absence. The Indians had continued their depredations during the summer of 1758. As early as March 15 of that year his old neighbors had sent a petition to Gov. Denny asking protection against the Indians. They stated in their petition that the blockhouse or fort at Northkill was destroyed and no garrison kept there. During this summer, a man named Lebenguth, of Tulpehocken Twp. and his wife were killed and scalped. Near the Northkill Nicholas Geiger’s wife and two of his children were killed and scalped, also the wife of Michael Ditzelar. Several victories during the summer of 1758
practically brought the war to a close.

The Return of Christian
One account of his return states that he walked to his father’s house, and as he stepped into the kitchen, he found the family at dinner. He bade the time of day and returned to the yard and seated himself on a stump. After his father had finished his meal, he went to the man in the yard whom he supposed was an Indian and began a conversation with him. In broken German which he could scarcely recall, he said, “My name is Christian Hochstetler.” We can easily imagine the joy and surprise of the father, who nevertheless found it not easy to get his son into the house for dinner. For some time he would not decide to forsake his Indian friends and make his home with the whites. The childhood home that he had cherished in his memory during the years of his captivity was no longer to be found.

Historical Marker

A substantial iron marker was erected at the roadside in 1959 by the Hochstetler descendants at a cost of several hundred dollars. It bears the following inscriptions:

Northkill Amish

The first organized Amish Mennonite Congregation in America. Established by 1740. Disbanded following Indian attack. September 29, 1757, in which a Provincial soldier and three members of the Jacob Hochstetler family were killed near this point at Roadside America.