Posted by Kelly Kautz on July 27, 2017 in Guest Bloggers

When talking about family history, my mom would sometimes tell me the story of an Indian massacre. A distant ancestor of ours had been murdered by a neighboring Indian tribe. She couldn’t remember many details, and I’d always assumed her story was a myth. But while tracing a branch of my family tree back to the 1700s, I learned that Mom was right. And the story contained enough drama to fill several Hollywood blockbusters.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Kautz.

The Early Days of an Amish Settler

The Hochstetler Massacre is named after my 7x great-grandfather. Few records exist of his early life. Ship logs show that Jacob Hochstetler immigrated with his family to Philadelphia in 1738. Like other Amish Mennonites, he was likely drawn by the promise of religious freedom.

Once in Philadelphia, the Hochstetler family settled near Northkill Creek. They lived there alongside other Amish pioneers for more than a decade. Then tensions erupted between the French and British colonists. The Indians, upset at their displacement by the British, sided with the French. The ensuing conflict would become known as the French and Indian War.

Tragedy Strikes the Northkill Settlement

One fall evening in 1757, the Hochstetlers found themselves in the heat of the fray. Reverend Harvey Hochstetler captures details of the night in his 1912 book, Descendants of Henry Hochstetler:

“The family retired and just about as they were sound asleep the dog made an unusual noise, which awakened the son, who opened the door to see what was wrong, when he received a gunshot wound in the leg.”(1)

Despite his injury, the son managed to shut and locked the door. The other family members heard the commotion and rushed to help. Through the window, they saw nine Delaware Indians gathered around a bake oven. They begged Jacob to take up arms against them. But Jacob, a devout pacifist, refused: “He told them it was not right to take the life of another even to save one’s own.”(2)

The Indians used embers from the oven to set the house ablaze. The family took refuge in the cellar, dousing the flames with cider. When they thought the Indians had left, they tried to escape through a window. But the portly mother and injured son slowed the family down.

A young Indian who’d stayed behind to gather fruit from the orchard saw them and raised an alarm. In moments the Indians had the Hochstetlers surrounded. They scalped Jacob’s wife and two of his children. Then they took Jacob and his sons Christian and Joseph captive.

A Daring Escape, and a Bittersweet Homecoming

The papers of Colonel Henry Bouquet detail Jacob’s eventual escape, a full three years after his capture:

“I got the liberty for hunting one morning,” Jacob told the colonel. “Traveling east for six days from there, I arrived at the source of the west branch. I marched for four days further till I was sure of it. There I took several blocks, tying them together until I got a float. I floated myself down the river for five days where I did arrive at Shamokin, living all the time upon grass, I passed in the whole for 15 days.”(3)

Once home, Jacob petitioned the Governor for help in finding his missing sons. But the boys wouldn’t return until fall of 1764, when the Indians signed a treaty agreeing to release their British captives.

According to Reverend Harvey Hochstetler’s account, Christian arrived home to find his family eating dinner. They didn’t recognize him, but offered him some food. Christian took the food outside and ate on a stump, talking with an Indian. Even after his family realized his true identity, Christian resisted coming inside the house. He’d become loyal to his captors, and had a hard time forsaking them to resume his old life. Similarly, Joseph continued to hunt and fish with the Indians long after his return.

The Hochstetler Homestead Today

Today, a small blue placard marks the spot of Jacob Hochstetler’s former homestead. Its inscription gives only a few details of its bloodied past:

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.

Despite the humble sign, Jacob’s unwavering faith continues to inspire new generations. Many Amish view his former homestead as a place of pilgrimage. And many more people find kinship in his family’s story.

Jacob’s present-day descendants include actress Katey Sagal, who starred in the TV shows Married … With Children and Sons of Anarchy. In the TLC show Who Do You Think You Are?, Sagal traveled across Pennsylvania to learn about her Amish ancestors. She joked about buying a buggy, but was genuinely touched by Jacob’s pacifism.

“What strikes me the most is the nonviolent part of their belief system,” she said. “He wouldn’t kill another person. I understand the overriding faith. But in the actual face of it, it’s easier said than done. Theoretically, do I believe in a nonviolent way of life? Absolutely. However, that being said, I don’t know that I wouldn’t defend my children to the death. I can’t say that a hundred percent.”(4)

Jacob’s story is unusual in both its drama and level of documentation. But fascinating as it is, it’s only one of countless stories in my family tree. Each branch contains volumes of tales about love and heartbreak, war and peace, savagery and compassion. Finding them takes research, and requires an open mind about strange family legends.

For more information about the Hochstetler massacre, read the Northkill Amish series written by Bob and J.M. Hochsetler or visit the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association.

Kelly Kautz

Kelly Kautz is writing "The Skeleton Club," a memoir about family secrets. She lives with her husband and two young sons in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Connect with her on Twitter @KellyKautz.

17 Comments

    • Net

      Ancestry was created by those pushing for a one world government. Whatever search you have done you are doing for them. They desperately need your private family information and Ancestry is how they are getting YOU to provide it for them since only you have access to your most private personal historical family information.

  1. Elaina Morey

    Jacob is my husband’s 6th great grandfather and I had uncovered this story a few years ago while researching his maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Thank you for giving us a more complete version than the one I have.

  2. Elaina Morey

    Jacob is my husband’s 6th great grandfather and I had uncovered this story a few years ago while researching his maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Thank you for giving us a more complete version than the one I have.

  3. Nancy Cole

    my husband’s grandmother was Sarah Harr/Herr …from Lancaster, Pa. -Hans Herr…where did this other family come from ????

  4. Sheryl Crocker

    Who do I contact about mis information I find in ancestry? There are 2 places where the husband’s name is listed for “wife”. I accepted the hint for one family that has messed my tree up. I now have the husband married to himself. I’ve tried correcting the info with no luck. Please email or send me a phone number I can call. Thanks

  5. Sheryl Crocker

    Who do I contact about mis information I find in ancestry? There are 2 places where the husband’s name is listed for “wife”. I accepted the hint for one family that has messed my tree up. I now have the husband married to himself. I’ve tried correcting the info with no luck. Please email or send me a phone number I can call. Thanks

  6. Sheryl Crocker

    Who do I call or email when I find mistakes in hints from ancestry? I have a husband married to himself that I can’t delete. Help!

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Susan: We’re sorry for the delay and to hear that you had issues with the billing of your subscription and we would of course like to assist you further with this so we advise you to please call us at 1-800-ANCESTRY (1-800-262-3787) between the hours of 9am to 11pm EST, seven days a week.

  7. Joyce Sevcik Cawley

    Several years ago I i became a member of Ancestry.com. I have forgotten my password. I think it may be Family. And am i still a member?

  8. Douglas Smith

    Until this evening, I had never heard this story. My Maternal Grandfather was Josheph Tidwell. His Maternal Grandfather was George Hauffstutler, Revolutionary War Soldier, and his Grandparents were Jacob Hochstattler, seen it spelled many ways. I did a DNA test to shed light on how much Cherokee i had. Turns out I had none, did not know I was mainly Scandinavian, with some Irish flavor. It was DNA and a simple family tree that led me here. I continued to see Northkills Amish. Surprised that I had Amish backgroune=d, I googled it. If anyone related to the family would like to shre DNA results, I am open for it

  9. Connie Tidwell Frady

    Your family’s story is so very similar to my ancestors’ story. I am a descendant of Henry & Mary Mitchell Clay. Their grandson, my 1st cousin 7x removed was Mitchell Clay, Sr. His family was attacked by Indians in the “Clay Family Massacre”. The father was away from the home at the time of the attack. They shot one son, Bartley and attempted to scalp him. The eldest daughter tried to protect her brother’s body and the Indian cut her all to pieces with a butcher knife and then scalped her. The Indians took one of the young boys, Ezekiel and burned him at the stake. There is a placard in the area where the family homestead was located and a monument in the town Princeton, Mercer Co., West Virginia of the grieving parents, Mitchell and Phoebe Clay. I was honestly horrified whenever I first read the story, which was several years before I realized while doing genealogy research that they were related to me. Whenever I realized this, I was brought to tears. I would like to visit there someday and pay my respects.

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