Monday, October 28, 2013

Mapping the Captives' Journey

Finishing the last few chapters of this project has been interesting—and a whole lot more complex and time-consuming than I expected. I decided we have to have a map in the book, and putting the information together for my illustrator is slowing progress too. Although little is known about the exact route the captives took when they were carried away by the Indians, it’s possible to take some educated guesses with the help of several resources available both in print and on the Internet.

A particular goldmine is a deposition of a “German peasant” by Colonel Henry Bouquet on May 30, 1758 at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. According to Beth Hostetler Mark, in her book Our Flesh and Blood (2003) the deposition is preserved on microfiche (I’m assuming in the PA Archives) as well as in print among Colonel Bouquet’s papers. The details given by this man, called variously “John Hochtattler” or “Hochstattler,” fit the oral family tradition and the known facts of our ancestors’ story so perfectly that it’s almost certain Jacob was, in fact, the man Bouquet questioned.

A letter by British Colonel James Burd, the commander at Fort Augusta at the forks of the Susquehanna River, to Pennsylvania’s deputy governor William Denney, dated May 24, 1758, accompanies the deposition. It provides additional information confirming the tradition that after Jacob’s escape from the Indians he floated down the Susquehanna River on a raft, or “float.” According to the letter, on May 24 Burd saw a white man floating down the river on a raft just as he was preparing to leave Fort Augusta for the British camp at Carlisle. He had the man pulled out of the river and discovered that he was “a Dutchman That was taken Prisoner last Fall nigh to Reading & had made his Escape from an Indian Town above Venango.” Because this man had been behind enemy lines, Burd took him along to Carlisle and turned him over to Colonel Bouquet for questioning.

After questioning “Hochtattler,” Bouquet, a French-speaking Swiss mercenary serving as the British second in command, sent the deposition to General John Forbes. In his cover letter, which reflects the typical attitude of the British and French toward Germans at the time, he states: “I had a German peasant brought here who was taken prisoner last year, and taken to Venango, etc. I am enclosing his deposition. The man is very stupid, and speaks only rude German. I did not think it necessary to send him to you. He is almost dead of hunger, having lived on grass for several days.”

Well, I think if I’d gone through what Jacob did and almost starved during a 15-day escape, I’d come across as pretty stupid too! It’s particularly nice that, by all indications, the British simply cut Jacob loose after they questioned him and let him find his way back home all the way from Carlisle without providing any transportation or provisions! Somehow he made it.

The introduction to the deposition includes details that are unreliable and can be discounted for the most part, although the general time frame given matches traditions about Jacob’s experience. In the deposition itself, however, “John” gives invaluable information about the journey into captivity, the French forts where he and his sons were taken along with other military intelligence, where he was held captive, and his eventual escape.

In my next post, I’m going to give the text of the deposition, which is fascinating. In later posts, I want to go into more detail about the extensive, historic Indian pathways of Pennsylvania. The information I’ve found is allowing me to reconstruct the captives’ journey with as much accuracy as possible, considering the passage of so many years.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Ordeal of Peter Williamson

A wealth of information has been preserved in the Pennsylvania Archives about the attack on the Jacob Hochstetler family, as well as in accounts handed down through the family. Another very helpful resource I found for fleshing out details is a first-hand account written by Peter Williamson, whose capture by the Delaware Indians in 1754 in the same general area echoes 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 amazing fortitude and faith as pioneers and as Christians. I hope Northkill will also inspire all those who read it to live faithful lives whatever their circumstances.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Captives' Ordeal

In writing the story of our ancestors, I’m now at the point in where Jakob and his sons are being carried away from their home by the Indians who killed their family members and burned their farm. According to the account Jacob gave the British after he escaped from the village where he was held captive for seven months, quoted in Our Flesh and Blood by Beth Hostetler Mark, they were taken on a 21-day journey from his home near present-day Shartlesville, Pennsylvania, to the French stronghold Fort Presque Isle on the shore of Lake Erie.

The following vivid account of the ordeals Indian captives suffered is taken from The Descendents of Jacob Hochstetler.

A Captive's Ordeal
Prisoners were always subject to many abuses on arriving at Indian Villages: every old squaw or young Indian would hit them with switches and sometimes clubs and tomahawks. This was known to Hochstetler, who had saved some of the peaches from his home. He now with his sons approached the chief and those near him and presented them some peaches. This so pleased the chief that he immediately ordered the abuses stopped. It also saved them from what is called running the gauntlet, which was as follows: All Indians in the village or camp, both sexes, young and old, would stand in two rows facing each other, armed with switches, sticks and sometimes tomahawks or other implements and the unfortunate captive was made to pass through between the two columns, every one striking and some endeavoring to impede their progress by throwing sand or dust into their eyes, and woe unto one that was slow in running; such a one was beaten unmercifully. At the end of the row stood the guardhouse, where the prisoner for the time was free; but some indeed never reached it.

The details gleaned from recent research all indicate that our ancestor Jacob must have been a strong, intelligent, resourceful, and persistent man to have endured what he did, found a way to escape and return home, and then pursue efforts to locate until finally his sons were returned to him. More important is the faith he demonstrated throughout his ordeal that serves as an example to us all.