April Tea Party Winners

APRIL TEA PARTY WINNERS!
DEBUT author PEGG THOMAS's signed copy of The Pony Express Romance Collection is Bree Herron, Angela Couch's book,Carla Gade's "Love's Compass to Betti Mace, Carrie Fancett Pagels' "Tea Shop Folly" goes to Faith, Denise Weimer's print winner of WITCH is Connie Saunders, Joan Hochstetler, Debra E. Marvin ebook,

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Amish in Colonial America

I was raised as a Mennonite by parents who grew up Amish, and I have a multitude of Amish relatives. With the continuing interest in this conservative denomination and the popularity of Amish romances, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the origins of the Amish church in America, especially their main settlement in the mid 1700s, the Northkill Amish Church, named for the creek that wound through it.

Northkill Marker
For the past few years I’ve spent considerable time researching the lives of my Hochstetler ancestors for the novel a cousin, author Bob Hostetler, and I have coauthored, releasing March 1. Titled Northkill, the story focuses on the family of Jacob Hochstetler, whose farm came under attack during the French and Indian War. The story of the Hochstetler massacre is well known in the Amish and Mennonite communities, and a plaque marks the site of the farm where it happened, near present-day Shartlesville, Pennsylvania. We were determined to make our fictional depiction of this story as accurate as possible 257 years later, which meant not only doing intensive research, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually living in their time. Writing Northkill has been a fascinating and emotional journey, all the more so because as direct descendents of the story’s main characters we owe our very existence to them.

The Amish came to America because of severe persecution in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries due to their insistence on believers’ baptism and opposition to military service. They were drawn to Pennsylvania by William Penn’s assurances of religious freedom and economic opportunity denied them in Europe. The Northkill Creek area in Berks County was opened for settlement in 1736, and that year a couple of Amish families settled there, with others following the next year. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather and grandmother, with two small children, were part of a group that landed at Philadelphia on November 9, 1738, aboard the ship Charming Nancy.

They soon joined other members of their church in the Northkill settlement 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Additional groups immigrated to the area in 1742, and again in 1749, when Bishop Jacob Hertzler arrived to provide leadership for the growing congregation. The earliest known organized Amish church in America, it included nearly 200 families at its height. It remained the largest Amish settlement in America into the 1780s, when it slowly declined as families moved westward in search of better farmland.

The Northkill settlement lay at the foot of the Blue Mountain, the legal boundary of English settlements according to treaties with the Native Americans. However, white settlers persisted in crossing the mountains into territory claimed by the French and their native allies. Hostilities finally broke out in 1754, with the French enlisting the Indians to attack the border settlements. During the French and Indian War over 200 settlers were killed in Berks County alone. The Indian attack against my ancestors’ farm early on the morning of September 20, 1757, was one of those horrific incidents.

On Monday, September 19, the Hochstetler family hosted an apfelschnitzen (apple cutting) frolic for the young people of the church. The youth traditionally stayed late into the evening to enjoy games and courting, but their guests finally left and the family went to bed. In the dark hours of Tuesday morning, the oldest son still living at home, Jacob Jr., roused when the family’s dog set up a clamor. When he opened the door, 17-year-old Jacob was shot in the leg by a member of a war party composed of Delaware and Shawnee warriors who surrounded the house.

The family managed to barricade themselves inside. Because the Amish hold fast to the commandment not to kill, Jacob made what must have been a truly wrenching decision that they wouldn’t shoot at their attackers despite the hunting rifles at hand and his sons’ desperate pleas. When the Indians set fire to the house, Jacob, his wife, three sons, and a young daughter were forced to take refuge in the cellar. During the terrifying hours that followed, they repeatedly beat out flaming embers while the house burned above their heads.

Artist's Depiction of Attack on Hochstetler Farm
At last dawn brightened the sky. Seeing through a narrow window in the foundation that the Indians had withdrawn and believing themselves safe, the family hurriedly forced their way out, barely escaping the flames. But one of the warriors, a young man called Tom Lyons, had lingered in the orchard to pick ripe peaches. When he saw them emerge from the blazing structure, he called the rest of the war party back, and they fell upon their defenseless victims.

The mother, the wounded son, and the young daughter were killed and scalped. Jacob and two sons, Joseph, 15 years old, and Christian, 11, were carried away into captivity. Their journey, described in a remarkable deposition preserved in the papers of British Colonel Henry Bouquet after Jacob’s dramatic escape, will be the subject of book 2 of the series, The Return. It will cover the captives’ lives among the Indian clans the French gave them to, Jacob’s harrowing escape and his efforts to find his boys, Joseph and Christian’s forced return home after the war, and their difficulty in assimilating into a culture they had largely forgotten, while reestablishing a relationship with the father whose decision had torn apart their lives.

The story of my ancestors is a deeply moving account of obedience, hope, and endurance, and of God’s unfailing faithfulness to His people even in the worst of trials. In the centuries since the attack, our family has been extraordinarily blessed. Jacob’s descendants have spread throughout the world and their accomplishments span a wide range of endeavors. My ancestors’ example daily inspires me to faithful discipleship, and my hope and prayer is that it will equally inspire readers in their walk with the Lord.

For more information, visit my Northkill blog.

14 comments:

  1. Joan, oh my gosh, what a fascinating and frightening tale. I can only imagine how interesting it must have been for you and your cousin to research all this. I wish you great success with the series!

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    1. It's definitely been interesting, Lisa--and inspiring as well. We're really blessed that so much information is available about it and that the family handed down this story through so many generations, and so accurately.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your good wishes!

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  2. Simply incredible to see this post today. I spent several hours researching this same time period/area just yesterday. The Gnadenhutten (Moravian) Massacre and the Hochstetler Massacre took up most of my research. Amazing to see the story come to life on here the next day. Can't wait to get started on your book (bought the Kindle version--couldn't wait till March). So awesome, bringing your ancestor's story out for the world to read!

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    1. Christy, now I need to do some research on the Gnadenhutten Massacre! lol! I've heard of it but haven't had a chance to delve into it. It's almost unimaginable what the people of the day suffered and how they endured. Are you doing research for a book?

      Thank you so much for buying the book! I hope you enjoy it. :-)

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    2. Joan, I am researching for a book (also involving my ancestors). Our backgrounds are very similar. My family came to PA in 1683 as the first Mennonites to come to the New World. They then moved to the north and west of Philadelphia. Gnadenhutten is an inciting event that occurs a few days before my book starts.

      I, too, cannot imagine what these people suffered--although I suppose some of it wasn't much different from what their ancestors suffered in Europe.

      Looking forward to the sequel of this book too!

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    3. Wow, Christy! You've got to write that story! Keep me updated on it--I'd love to read it when you're finished. :-)

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  3. Joan,

    Am looking forward to reading these books. Fascinating what one discovers when they climb the family tree. What inspiring stories we find.

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    1. Judith, it is fascinating and inspiring. Uunless someone takes the time and trouble to search them out and then record them for future generations, they're all too often lost. I'm so grateful that my family handed this story down for us today. I feel like they're part of my cloud of witnesses, and I know it keeps me on track in my life.

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  4. Very interesting piece! I had no idea about this situation and was fascinated, especially about the decision not to use weapons. What a wrenching decision that must have been for all concerned.

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    1. I'm sure it must have been horribly wrenching, Mary. It was truly a fiery trial, and although their faithfulness did have a terrible price at the time, my family can see the blessings that resulted from it in the steadfast faith that was handed down to us today. I'm really grateful for their example.

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  5. Captivating no pun intended. This was beautifully written. I too have a similar story but we weren't Amish. Life is truly amazing. God bless you.

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    1. Thank you, Marla! I wonder how many families have inspiring stories like this in their backgrounds. My advice is to write yours down if it isn't already, and make sure your descendents know about it. Once lost, these stories can never be recovered, and we're all the poorer for it.

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  6. I just read about this massacre on Saturday - so I truly enjoyed reading your article, Joan. I'm looking forward to reading your novel. I'm a Pennsylvania girl, too, with roots going back to 1723.

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  7. WOW! I wish I could find out as much about my ancestors as some of you do. Your people must have kept really good records. This was so interesting. I know the Bible says thou shall not kill, but I think it means like murder. I just don't think he means for us not to protect ourselves. Even HE sent some of His followers into cities and told them to kill everyone, even women and children that were keeping them from getting them to the way to the promised land. Enjoyed this bit of history.
    Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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