Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Researching the Stories of Our Ancestors

I’m currently taking a brief break from my American Revolutionary War series to finish the fictional treatment of the story of my Hochstetler ancestors that I’m writing with my cousin, multi-published author Bob Hostetler. This story, set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, is very well known among the Amish and Mennonites, and you can read more about it here as well as on the Northkill blog.

I’m now writing the section where Jakob and his sons are being carried away from their home by the Indians who killed their family members and burned their farm. A wealth of information has been preserved in the Pennsylvania Archives about this incident, as well as in accounts that have been handed down through the family. Another very helpful resource I found is a first-hand account written by Peter Williamson, whose capture by the Delaware Indians during the 1750s echos that of my ancestors to a remarkable degree.

You’ll find a pdf download of this book on my American Patriot Series website. It includes truly harrowing descriptions of massacres and torture, which I’ve only skimmed, if not skipped altogether. I recommend that anyone who wants to delve into this compelling story do the same. Following is an excerpt that begins with Peter’s treatment when he was brought to the village where he was kept, and then details the inhabitants’ practices, daily life, and moral values.

“Dancing, singing, and shouting were their general amusements; and in all their festivals and dances they relate what successes they have hand, and what damages they have sustained in their expeditions; in which I became part of their theme. The severity of the cold increasing, they stripped me of my clothes for their own use, and gave me such as they usually wore themselves, being a piece of blanket, a pair of mogganes, or shoes, with a yard of coarse cloth to put round me instead of breeches. . . .

“That they in general wear a white blanket, which, in war time, they paint with various figures, but particularly the leaves of trees, in order to deceive their enemies when in the woods. Their mogganes are made of deer-skins, and the best sort have them bound round the edges with little beads and ribbands. On their legs they wear pieces of blue cloth for stockings, some like our soldiers spatter-dashes; they reach higher than their knees, but no lower than their ankles. They esteem them easy to run in. Breeches they never wear, but instead thereof, two pieces of linen, one before and one behind. The better sort have shirts of the finest linen they can get, and to these some wear ruffles; but these they never put on till they have painted them of various colours which they get from Pecone root, and bark of trees, and never pull them off to wash, but wear them till they fall to pieces.

“They are very proud, and take great delight in wearing trinkets; such as silver plates round their wrists and necks, with several strings of wampum (which is made of cotton, interwoven with pebbles, cockle-shells, &c.) down to their breasts; and from their ears and noses they have rings or beads which hang dangling an inch or two. The men have no beards, to prevent which they use certain instruments and tricks as soon as it begins to grow. The hair of their heads is managed differently, some pluck out and destroy all, except a lock hanging from the crown of the head, which they interweave with wampum and feathers of various colours. The women wear it very long twisted down their backs, with beads, feathers and wampum; and on their heads most of them wear little coronets of brass or copper; round their middle they wear a blanket instead of a petticoat. The females are very chaste and constant to their husbands; and if any young maiden should happen to have a child before marriage, she is never esteemed afterwards.

“As for their food they get it chiefly by hunting and shooting, and boil, or roast all the meat they eat. Their standing dish consists of Indian corn soaked, then bruised and boiled over a gentle fire for ten or twelve hours. Their bread is likewise made of wild oats or sun-flower seeds. Set meals they never regard, but eat when they are hungry. Their gun, tomahawk, scalping knife, powder and shot, are all they have to carry with them in time of war, bows and arrows being seldom used by them. They generally in war decline open engagements; bush fighting or skulking is their discipline; and they are brave when engaged, having great fortitude in enduring tortures and death.

“No people have a greater love of liberty, or affection to their neighbours; but are the most implacably vindictive people upon the earth; for they revenge the death of any relation, or any great affront, whenever occasion presents, let the distance of time or place be ever so remote. To all which I may add, and which the reader has already observed, that they are inhumanely cruel. But some other nations might be more happy, if in some instances they copied them, and made wise conduct, courage, and personal strength, the chief recommendations for war captains, or werowances, as they call them.”

Researching my ancestors’ story has not only provided fascinating information about their lives, but has also inspired me with their fortitude and faith as pioneers and as Christians. I hope Northkill will also inspire all those who read it.

Does your family have an intriguing, thrilling, and/or inspiring story, whether from the distant past or more recent times, that you’d like to learn more about and perhaps even write about? If so, please share a short description in the comments.

14 comments:

  1. This man's words of praise for his captors, even in the midst of suffering, speaks volumes of his character and of the impression he has of this native people. Fascinating stuff, Joan. What a journey this project must have been for you, who already love this time period in history.

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    1. Kathleen, there's so much more in his account--a real understanding of the evils the British and the French perpetrated that caused the Native Americans to react in these ways. It is definitely amazing, considering all that he suffered at their hands. He came to admire greatly the native culture and morals, especially their value of independence, which ironically are much in line with the American colonists' revolt against England. In his later life he returned to England, and the story of his life there is equally fascinating.

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  2. What a treasure to have this man's written impressions and insights into his experiences and descriptions of day-to-day life. I admit that I can get lost in acounts like these, and spend hours reading. Thank you for sharing, Joan.

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    1. I'm totally with you, Susan. Running across resources like this makes it hard to write. lol! They sure provide insights and descriptions that make your stories vivid and enthralling, though.

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  3. So this is the boy that survived the attack on his family who were camped for the night? Guess he showed some bravery also for them to let him live.
    Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. No, actually Peter Williamson was kidnapped as a boy in England and shipped to this country, where he was sold to a kindly man as an indentured servant. When he grew up, he inherited the business and not long after he married, while his wife was away, the Indians attacked his home and carried him off. He lost everything and his wife died while he was a captive. Then he escaped and joined the militia to fight the French and their allied Indians. It's a harrowing story and absolutely riveting. Hard to believe people actually survived what he did, but there were others with similar experiences, including my ancestors.

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  4. Very intriguing. I'll have to read his account, as you know I'm interested in such accounts. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your story in print one day too, Joan. So glad to hear you are working on it again.

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    1. Lori, you really do need to get this account. It has so much detail that will be helpful for your projects. Download the pdf from my website--it's hard to locate a good copy on the web. Yes, I'm very glad Bob and I are finally working on it again too. We started it back in 2005 and got sidetracked, so it's about time! This story needs to not only get into the hands of our family members, who are eagerly waiting for it, but also to the general public. It's incredibly inspiring and has a message of peace and forgiveness that we don't see enough of today.

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  5. This is amazing to have the account of his captivity. I am always so fascinated by these true stories. How wonderful that you are writing this with your cousin.I have some great tales from my own early New England ancestors including some captivity stories and ancestors killed during Indian attacks. One of my super great grandfathers was head of the Maine militia and a notorious "Indian hunter." When I first learned about it I wasn't so proud, but then I learned about the times in which he lived and how his mother and sister were taken captive and killed. He has a long tale of animosity with the natives and they finally ambushed him after nearly 50 years of contempt between he and his enemy.

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    1. Carla, there are an amazing number of 1st-hand reports from this period in existence, but digging them out takes a lot of searching. This find was really serendipitous. Wow--it sounds like you need to get to work and write the amazing stories from your own family history! We really need to be cautious about judging the actions of people from the past until we know what they suffered, don't we? What a terrific story you have in the makings!

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  6. Amazing! I guess I need to find the whole of Peter Williamson's writing and also to catch up with what you and your cousin are doing. There MIGHT be something in my family ancestry like this - but I don't know it and that's the best part - the discovery.

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    1. Debra, the easiest way to find Peter's story is to go to my American Patriot Series website and download the pdf. The link is in the article above. I guarantee you'll find some very interesting stories about your own ancestors, and the discovery is truly the best part. Do some digging while there are still older members of your family available who might be able to recount some of them and set you in the right direction. Once our elders are gone, it becomes much harder to track down tantalizing details. My parents and most members of their generation in my family are gone now, and there are so many times when I wish I could talk to them and ask questions along these lines.

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  7. Wow, that account is crazy to read, knowing it's what he saw and experienced. I don't know of anything of that sort in my history. Maybe I should dig around and find out!

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    1. Susan, I encourage you to do some digging! You might be surprised at what you find out. In any case, the search is a good part of the fun, and you might discover relatives you never knew you had. :-)

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