Posted by Marcus Yoder on 28th Mar 2018

The Hochstetler family who was attacked by Indians while living on the frontier in Berks County, Pennsylvania.This happened early on the morning of September 20 or 21, 1757. The Indians killed Mrs. Hochstetler, one son, and a daughter, and took the husband and father, Jacob, and two sons, Joseph and Christian, captive.In addition, the Hochstetlers had a son and daughter, John and Barbara, who had already married and no longer lived at home.

When attacked, Jacob forbade his sons to fire their rifles back at the Indians. As an Anabaptist, he would have heard and taught his family about their history where people had suffered and died for their faith. It is not only the stories of persecution in Europe, but also the stories from the frontier of America where we can see love and non-resistance in action. Our shared history as Anabaptists forces us to ask ourselves the same questions that Jacob faced early that September morning.

After burning the cabin, the small band of Indians, who were led by a French military officer, took Jacob and his two sons and fled westward into the Blue Mountains. Joseph, the oldest son, was 13 years old, and Christian was 10 or 11. The Indians most likely limited the movement of their captives for the next approximately 24 days as they moved nearly 430 miles westward to the south shore of Lake Erie near present-day Presque Isle, Pennsylvania.One wonders what thoughts these three experienced as they watched, walked with, and were fed by the very men who had killed their family. How traumatic to lose family in this way, and then be forced to see them victoriously wave the scalps of your spouse, children, mother, and siblings as trophies!

The three were separated and taken to other villages where they were carefully watched and monitored. The father, Jacob, escaped the following spring (May, 1758). Jacob found a river and made a raft that he used to float down river until, nearly dead, he was rescued by a group of soldiers. He was taken to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he was interviewed and then allowed to return to his home. One wonders what Jacob felt as he returned to the farm, as he met his living children and grandchildren. What was it like to see the blackened ruins where so much pain lay in the ashes of a previous life?

Meanwhile, the two sons were more fully integrated into Indian life. Both were in their formative years as early teenagers and as was often the case, were able to adapt to this difference better than adults. Yet Jacob did not forget his sons. In 1762 he wrote a letter of petition to the then governor of the Colony, Governor Hamilton. In it he asks for the Colonial agents who were negotiating prisoner releases and exchanges with the Indians, to inquire about his sons. It would go until the spring of 1765 before Christian and Joseph were released in an exchange of prisoners.

One wonders what they felt as they approached their familial homestead? Both likely looked and acted more Indian than Amish, or even white. Both had been trained to hunt and live the Indian life. Particularly for Christian, who had spent all his teen years with his Indian family, this transition back to his birth family and church was difficult. Both eventually married, with Joseph marrying and remaining Amish, while Christian joined the Dunkard church. But the stories of history inform us that both struggled to fit into this world. Both loved to hunt and struggled with land ownership and traditional farming methods.

When we look back at these stories of history, we must never glorify or vilify them with our perspective. This was a hard time. Losing one’s family, whether blood or adopted, in death or separation is traumatic and life-shaping. We must consider that in not being willing to fight back, these people were martyrs and allow their story to speak to us today. A recent set of books on these events by author Ervin Stutzman give life to this piece of our history.While fictionalized, they give strength to the ideas that shaped their world and especially the difficulty in the losses and the trauma of separation. They also, like the stories of the martyrs from our history, help shape our beliefs today. Could we, or would we, do what Jacob did in the face of suffering and pain?

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Article by C.Z. Mast