Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Hochstetler Massacre

September 19, 1757, was a terrible, terrible day for the Jacob Hochstetler family in Northkill, Pennsylvania. A new trilogy of historical novels brilliantly tells the story of the massacre that occurred then and the long-lasting repercussions of that tragedy.
The Facts
As the roadside marker indicates, the first Amish-Mennonite congregation in the U.S. was established by 1740 near Northkill Creek in Berks County, Pennsylvania, about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. (For some inexplicable reason the date seems to be off by ten days.)
The home of Jacob Hochstetler and his family in Northkill was attacked by a band of Delaware and Shawnee Indians on the night of Sept. 19, 1757. It was an unspeakable tragedy for the family. Jacob's wife, whose name is not known, and two of the children were killed; Jacob and two sons, Joseph and Christian, were taken as captives.
Several months later, Jacob was able to escape from the Indian settlement and to return home. Joseph was 15 when captured and while completely resistant to his captors at first, he gradually assimilated into the Indian community and was reluctant to return to his Amish home when he had the chance to do that several years later.
Christian was captured when he was 11. He had the hardest time going back home when freed and becoming a member of the Amish community again.  
Plaque at the original Hochstetler homestead.
The Trilogy
Ervin Stutzman is the author the “Return to Northkill” trilogy, consisting of Jacob’s Choice (2014), Joseph’s Dilemma (2015), and Christian’s Hope (2016). They are engaging historical novels by an author who comes from the Amish tradition.
On the first Sunday I attended Rainbow Mennonite Church in 2011, I met Clif Hostetler and he has been a good friend (and soon became a Thinking Friend) ever since. Jacob Hochstetler was Clif’s 5th great-grandfather. (The original German name was shortened by many of Jacob’s descendants.)
(Clif loaned me Stutzman’s books, and I enjoyed reading all three of them between April 2016 and January of this year.)
Author Stutzman (b. 1953) was born into an Amish home in Iowa and was baptized in an Amish community in Kansas. He later joined a Mennonite church. Stutzman, who earned a Ph.D. at Temple University, has been the executive director of Mennonite Church USA since 2010—and he is also a descendant of Jacob Hochstetler.
The Lessons
There is room to mention briefly only two of several “lessons” that can be learned from the Hochstetler massacre and its repercussions.
(1) The choice referred to in the first book of the trilogy is primarily about whether Jacob and his sons would use firearms to shoot the attacking Indians. The sons thought they should. Jacob’s choice was to remain true to the Anabaptist teaching of nonviolence. 
In Stutzman’s novel, Jacob tells God in prayer before the attack, 
This farm belongs to you. My family belongs to you. And if people come to take them from me, I will not take up arms against them. I will be faithful to you as my Savior and Lord. You alone are my defense (p. 72). 
Clearly, that choice resulted in the tragic slaughter of Jacob’s wife and two of his children. Many would say it was a foolish choice. But if he had killed some of the Indians then, it is quite likely that a later raid would have resulted in him and all his children being killed.
(2) The Indian way of life is attractively narrated. Far from picturing the Native Americans as “savages,” Stutzman portrays Indian culture in an appealing way that fosters harmony rather than animosity. These books promote deeper understanding of, and harmony with, others (“the other”) as well as nonviolence.


  1. A time for peace, a time for war... The Indians had been driven off their land, and the Amish, among others, had settled. This is also what Lincoln ordered Gen Custer to do. Before that, due to the cost of his other war, he had broken treaties with several tribes, forcing them into starvation. The settler massacre eventually led to Lincoln ordering the largest mass execution in US history, and most of those not executed were allowed to starve and freeze to death in a prisoner of war camp - men, women, children. There was a reason why the Indians joined the Confederacy. Like the ones out east, they retaliated. Typically wars have at least two sides to the story.

    I have also faced guns and threats with guns 5 times in my life. After one, the ACLU accused me of being a racist for calling the man a criminal - he was never arrested or convicted, so he was innocent (not my only encounter with that evil organization which goes looking for trouble - may it find them and prevail). Two other times I have been threatened at my home, I pulled out a shotgun - they left peaceably before the cops arrived. The cops had the license numbers, but nothing ever happened. The same happened with my brother, but he pulled the trigger into the night sky and they fled.

    There is a time for peace, there is a time for war... One is not obligated to fight, or surrender, but that is a personal decision. My family, and most Hugenots, were forced out of France by the Jesuit soldiers - so it is also good to be leary of the political Church - left or right. I'm thankful to have a shotgun to protect my family. Sometimes harmony requires "walking softly, but carrying a big stick". It would be nice if God would send in His angels to protect us, but he usually doesn't.

    1. As a rule, I do not respond to comments posted by "Anonymous," even when I know who posted them. That is because I think that, maybe with a very few exceptions, people ought to take responsibility for what they post on a public forum by including their name.

      I was rather appalled that in the comments above "Anonymous" used the sad story of the Hochstetler massacre as a springboard for criticizing President Lincoln, the ACLU, and the Jesuits.

      For the record let me make brief comments about these three groups.
      The Hochstetler massacre was in 1757, more than a century before Lincoln became President and the plight of the American Indians was much different in the 1750s than it was in the 1860s. The context of the former was the French and Indian War (1754-63). The Indians fought primarily with the French against the British colonists. The attacks on the Amish settlements have to be seen as part of that larger conflict.

      Concerning a ACLU. As a "member" of the ACLU I take umbrage at it being called an "evil organization." As they say on their website, "For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States." They have particularly worked to defend the rights, and the dignity, of individuals in minority groups in U.S. society. That doesn't mean that there are not some "bad eggs" in the organization who have said and done hurtful things. But no organization should be judged by its poorest members or representatives.

      Just a word about the Huguenots and the Jesuits: The expulsion of the Huguenots from France was primarily because of the Edict of Fontainebleau, issued by King Louis XIV in 1685. He was not a Jesuit, and I could find no indication that the Jesuits had anything to do with it--and even if they had, questionable actions of Jesuits (or anyone else) at the end of the 17th century is no basis for making a judgment about them at the present time.

    2. Touche'. The dating is poorly arranged. The Hochstetler family were certainly innocents to the conflict - I believe I have seen a film about that event, and read a book about similar atrocities. There are rationales for conflict - rationales continues to this day, and legitimately reared their head during President Lincoln's time, and at the 1973 Siege at Wounded Knee, and at the 2016 Dakota Access protest as well (one of my cousins was an Indian protester).

      I regret using the term "evil organization" for the ACLU, even if that is my experience. Certainly there are good apples within every organization - I know of one with them. But the negative experiences are related directly to the organization and were initiated by them from different jurisdictions.

      I have seen the documentation on the Jesuits warriors in France related to the Huguenots, but it may take a while to find it. I have met one good Jesuit as well. One of the daily EWTN commentators has acknowledged the Jesuit active warrior status well into the 20th Century. Obviously they have done their share of good as well.

      I know several pacifists who "walk softly" and have done their share of good. The CCP owners who "carry a big stick" have done their share of good in protecting others. Those who "walk softly but carry a big stick" do good as well. I have friends in each category - most are in the latter group. Except for pockets, one sees very little gun violence, given the "sticks" out there. Sadly, the cousin of a client was in one of those pockets two weeks ago, a homicide.


  2. Local Thinking Friend Greg Brown sent the following comments by email:

    "Although I was not familiar with this story it is consistent from other, similar stories I have read. It was rare for any colonial European who was captured and lived with Indians for an extended period to want to return to their former life. Although a novel it rings true.

    "From what I know, most assimilated and grew to prefer the Indian culture."

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting on this morning's article, Greg.

      What you wrote is largely affirmed by Sebastian Junger in his new (2016) book "Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging."

  3. Thinking Friend Virginia Belk in New Mexico sent the following comments for posting:

    "My mother was a Hufstedler, which is a derivative of Hochstetler; if one traces far enough back, the Amish-Mennonite branch and our Lutheran became Baptist branch have a common ancestor. Only about two years ago did become aware of this connection.

    "I've copied/printed your article to put with my genealogy papers to research on line in the future. I'll also look for the three novels on line so I can read and add them to the collection of family related books.

    "Thanks for the blog!"

  4. Thank you Leroy for highlighting the story of my ancestor. Those who wish to pursue the subject may find THIS LINK to the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association (JHFA) website of interest. The 7th Nationwide JHFA gathering is planned for July 26-28, 2018 in Ohio.

    1. Thanks, Clif, for commenting--and for sharing the link to the JHFA website. I had previously accessed it and probably should have linked to it in the article but didn't mainly because of my self-imposed limit of 600 words.

      One of the struggles I had in writing the article was about the date--and perhaps I erred in emphasizing that it was on Sept. 29. I had seen that the date of Sept. 19/20 was given on the FHFA website--and I originally planned to post the article on Sept. 20. But since I wanted to use the roadside marker that had the date of Sept. 29, I decided to go with that. I assume there was some basis for using that date on the marker.

      Are you going to the nationwide JHFA gathering next year? Have you ever been to one?

    2. As far as I know all historical records indicate that the attack occurred on Sept. 19/20, 1757. I know of no explanation for the road sign other than an error when ordering or manufacturing the road sign.

      I've not attended any previous JHFA gathering, but I tentatively plan to attend next year.

      Anyone interested in seeing a video on the subject will be interested to know that there is a 42 minute video of the TV show, "Who Do You Think You Are?, Season 7, Episode 3 Katey Sagal," is available for purchase and download from Apple's iTune Store. The single episode, SD version, is available for $1.99 (HD is $2.99). The video shows Katey Sagal visiting with various genealogical sources to learn about her ancestors. In the second half of the show her search has reached the 18th century and learns, to her surprise, that some of her ancestors were Amish and includes the Hochstetler family. The final 15 minutes of the video tells the story of the 1757 attack in dramatic fashion.

    3. Thanks so much, Clif, for your additional comments. I wondered about changing the date at the beginning of the article, but I guess since I have the picture of the roadside marker I will let it stand since I give what you say is the correct date later in the article.

      Thanks, too, for telling about the "Who Do You Think You Are?" program about Katey Sagal. I didn't have any idea who she was, so I looked her up on Wikipedia--and was disappointed to see they didn't include the reference to the "Who Do . . . ?" program in it. (Maybe you could add it.)

      I was able to stream the episode about her Amish ancestors through Spectrum, our cable provider--and I assume that anyone with cable TV could get it (free) also. (I plan to watch it with June as we eat lunch today.)

    4. Clif, thanks again for writing about the TV program, which June and I really enjoyed. It had far more about Katey's search for information about her Amish ancestors, culminating with the story of Jacob Hochstetler and his family, than I expected.

      After seeing the program, I decided to make changes in this blog article, mostly changing the date of the massacre from Sept. 29 to Sept. 19. Of course you told me in person on Sunday that you thought the roadside marker was mistaken, and I was convinced of that after seeing the program.

  5. Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas shares these much-appreciated comments:

    "Thank you, Leroy. Much could be said but what stands out from this terrible tragedy (for me) is that Jacob’s decision not to take up arms only seems mistaken in hindsight. If only moral decisions could be made with a rearview mirror. And yet, I hesitate to even say that for reasons you already mention -- all could have been killed, and more than likely would have.

    "Perhaps best to make moral decisions with the best reasoning possible with a clean windshield before us. Facing overwhelming odds, not taking up arms could just as easily have resulted in all being saved. A very reasoned and courageous decision with unforeseeable partially tragic results."

    1. Thanks, Tom, for your comments.

      Just this morning (on I saw these words from Gandhi, which are pertinent to Jacob Hochstetler's situation, I think:

      "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

      Since we never know how things will turn out, being committed to and practicing nonviolence is, I think, the right thing to do in all cases. Thus, I am supportive of Jacob's choice although there were some tragic results, as you mentioned. But how can we know that taking up arms would not have resulted in even more tragic results, not only for the Indians but for the Amish community as well?

  6. Here are comments received a few minutes ago from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona.

    "Thanks for the blog--very thought provoking. The scenario about Hochstetler's decision is one I have asked myself so many times since I am against killing in most situations. I still don't have a clear picture of what I would do if I or my family were faced with a live or die situation.

    "I simply cannot imagine not protecting my family Carolyn is the love of my life and I would gladly lay down my life for her. We have four beautiful and talented daughters and five perfect grandchildren. I can't imagine not defending them or not protecting them from harm. I feel almost the same about my country."