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About Us 

Where We Came From & Who We Are​

There is proof the name Hochstetter is found as early as 1290 A.D. in Germany and Austria. At that time they were of the higher class of merchants and businessmen. According to Count Ferdinand Von Hochstetter (1829-1884) whose family has been traced back ten generations, all of the Hostetlers living in Europe trace their origin from one family living in Augsburg, Bavaria in the 14th Century. The name itself comes from the word Hostet or Hochstatt meaning "high place". Thus Hostetler is someone living in a high place or on high ground.


The Swiss recognize the Schwartzenburg region of Canton Bern Switzerland as the "Heimat" or original home of the Hostettlers. The family name is still one of the most common in that region today. Schwarzenburg is about twenty miles south of Bern, nestled among hill, farms and hamlets. It is divided into four communes: Ruschegg, Guggisberg, Albligen and Wahlern. Guggisberg and Wahlern each have a "hof" or farm that is called 'Hostet' and is recognized as the traditional home of the Hostettler family. About five miles southwest of Guggisberg, high on a steep elevation is Hostet, a farm that has long associations with the Hostettler family. Hostett is also the name of a small hamlet of farms in the commune of Wahlhern, about two miles east of Schwarzenburg. Family names were adopted around 1400 and 1550 so those coming from Hostett came to be called Hostettler or settlers from Hostett. These parishes were parishes of the State Church, first Catholic and then Reformed.


The Hostettler (Swiss spelling today) family originated, perhaps in

the 1300s or 1400s, in the Schwarzenburg, Switzerland area about

30 kilometers southwest of the capital of Bern. Some of them

became a part of the Anabaptist reform movement in the 1600s.

These Anabaptists, or Swiss Brethren, tried to follow the Bible and

restore the biblical church, which they understood to be a believers'

church made up of members baptized as adults upon their

confession of faith in Jesus and who lived out the ethic of love

and non-violence taught by Jesus. Due to brutal religious

persecution by the state churches, both Catholic and Reformed,

our ancestors along with many others left Switzerland. The man

we now believe was the father of the immigrant Jacob left his

native Schwarzenburg area in the late 1600s and settled in Echery

near St. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace (now in France), where Jacob

was born in 1712.


The immigrants that we are descended from lived in Alsace for

many decades and were constantly on the move. They didn't live

in settled communities, and always were working for someone else.

So they adapted their dialect to the place they lived, which in the

last case was "Pfälzisch" which was the nearest speech to "Pennsylvania Dutch" to be found in Europe. And that is what Jacob's descendants spoke until they switched to English.




At the Castle of Heidelberg in Germany the tour guide tells of Amish and Mennonite people being invited into the Palatinate, Germany. This was after the Thirty Years War which depleted the population (1650). They were welcomed there because of their industrious ways. Later, after the Church and State were combined, they moved, either freely or by persecution back to Switzerland where they could practice their own religion.

However, Switzerland was not the land of tolerance that we see today; as we find the State Church persecuting the Anabaptist (Amish-Mennonites) causing them to move on to Neuchatel in French Switzerland. In Neuchatel the old castle houses archives which contain letters concerning sectarians who had taken land from local farmers and did not attend the State Church. Among those mentioned were two families named Hostetler, identified as Anabaptist from the district of Schwarzenburg, commune of Wahlern and the hamlet of Nydegg.


Nydegg, thus, had some families of Mennonite Hostettlers at the beginning of the eighteenth century. This is significant because most of the other branches of the family belonged to the Reformed Church. Nydegg is a small hamlet of three or four farms about five miles east of the highway from Lanzenhausern between Schwarzenburg and Bern. It still has some Hostettler traditions. According to an old farmer, Otto Gilgin, in 1971 stated that his family had owned his house for about a hundred years but that the immediate preceding family had been named Hostettler. There is a wooden door there carved with the initials HH, CH, PH, which his family traditions state to be Hans, Christian and Peter Hostettler. There is an old oven built into the house that bears the date 1719: However if the Hostettlers lived there in the years preceding 1870 they would not have been Mennonites because all had left the region by that time. However, they could have been members of the family who stayed with the State Church.


Today Hostetlers are found in all of Europe with the spelling either Hoch or Hos. Most of the Hostetlers in Canton Bern, Switzerland today are of the Swiss Reform faith.


It is known that Jacob had a nephew Isaac (1740 - Mar.29 1817). He corresponded with his uncle in America and one of his sons, Peter, preserved a letter received from America telling of the massacre by the Indians. There are currently descendents of Issac known to exist in Cologne and Bavaria, Germany, and in America.


One European branch of the family traces their family in the following manner:


(1) Jakob Hochstetler (Sr.); born Switzerland, died Ste Marie-aux Mines, Alsace.

(2) Johannes Hochstetler; b. ca. 1710 Alsace, m. Anna Wagler (3) Isaak Hochstatler(DJH9000); 1740 -1817, Alsace & Germany, m. Maria Siegel (1st wife of 4). Nephew of our Jacob.

(4) Jakob Hochstattler; 1765 - 1857, Munsterhof, Germany, m. Barbara Holly (5) Jakob Hochstattler; 1796 - 1885, Munsterhof, Germany, m. Barbara Spring (6) Jakob Hochstattler; b. 1822, Munsterhof, Germany, m. Barbara Maurer (7) Frederich Wm. Hochstattler; b. 1851, Munsterhof, Germany, m. Maria Magdalena Neu (8) Jakob Hochstattler b. 1898 in Munsterhof, d. in Cologne Germany, m. Anna Ems (9) Erwin Hochstattler; b. 1926, lives in Cologne, Germany, m. Helena Lehnen



(Comments by Daniel E. Hochstetler, Editor of the H/H/H Newletter in the March 1992 edition)


On July 1st, 1989 Dr. Rudolf Ramsmeyer from the University of Bern and an expert in the origin of Swiss family names met the Hochstetler Heritage Tour group at Moosegg near Langnau. After dinner he gave an explanation of Swiss communities and family origins. He presented a map copied and marked by Mr. John Hostettler from Schwarzenburg, Assistant Archivist of the State Archives of Canton Bern, showing "Hostetten" southwest of Guggisberg. Professor Ramseyer agrees with John Hostettler that this farm hamlet Hostetten is the special origin of the Hostettler families. He says the prefixes hof- and hos- mean the same, meaning "farm" or more specifically "orchard". 


Werner Gilgen was the local historian assigned by the Schwarzenburg, Switzerland tourist bureau to be the personal guide for the Hochstetler Heritage Tour group which visited in that area in July 1989. In a Sept. 20, 1989 letter to tour director Dr. Delbert Gratz, Bluffton, Ohio, Gilgen includes this paragraph, translated by Virgil Miller, describing the origin of the first Hostettler couple:


"Now I want to tell you something else about the origin of the name Hostettler. My mother's maiden name was Hostettler. She came from Nydegg, about four kilometers from my home. She told me, and this is still claimed today, that in 1349 the Plague was raging and the population was greatly decimated. So in Aekenmatt (a hamlet near Nydegg near the Schwarzwasser Bridge), there was only one person left, and as a result, in the evening only one candle was burning, only one light shone. Similarly, two kilometers northwest of there, in the hamlet of Hostettlen in Canton Freibourg (separated from Aekenmatt across the deep chasm of the Schwarzwasser stream), there was also only one person. Thereupon the two persons found each other, got married and founded a family. Because the man came from the hamlet of Hostettlen, the family was called Hostettler. `Hostettler' is the original form of the name, and the names Hofstettler and Hochstettler are variations. Is this a legend, or is there some truth in it? I don't know, but the tradition seems believable. The Plague has caused much harm here; that is traceable."

-Werner Gilgen, Schwarzenburg, Switzerland




In 1697, 1699, 1701, 1703-4, 1708-14, and 1719-21 Jacob Hostettler is recorded as living in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace, France. A document in the Bern state archives says that when Amish Mennonite leader Jacob Hostettler (Sr.) returned from Alsace to Schwarzenburg in 1720 he was arrested. At that time he said he was born in Winterkraut, Switzerland. In 1699, 1703, 1708, 1712 and 1713 the names of Hans, Christian and Peter Hochstettler are mentioned as being Anabaptist / Mennonites living in the valley of St. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace, documented in the Archives of Colmar. They were among a group of Amish-Mennonite refugees who had been forced to escape from Canton Bern. There is no proof that these three are our ancestors and it may be coincidence, since they are among the most common Swiss personal names. Later a Hans and Christ Hochstetler moved from St. Marie to Clairegoutte, near Montbekiard in 1715, then a duchy belonging to Wurttemberg, but now part of France.


We are concluding that our Jacob was the son of Jacob who lived at St. Marie-aux-Mines between 1697 and 1721. Custom dictated naming the eldest son after the grandfather, which would make Jacob Sr.'s father either a Peter or a John.




In the BOOK OF DECENDENTS OF JACOB HOCHSTETLER By HARVEY HOSTETLER, 1912, we find that there was evidence that Jacob the Immigrant came to America on the ship Harle out of Rotterdam in 1736 with his wife (name unknown) and one or two children. Now we find that Paul Hostetler, grandson of the William Hostetler, who wrote the introduction to that book, has researched further and found the 1736 Jacob followed the Moravian Church and records there record him living in Lancaster County and having ten children. However, there is another Jacob who arrived on The Charming Nancy in 1738 out of Rotterdam and arrived in Philadelphia Nov. 9, 1738, wife again unknown, with a son and perhaps another child.

This second Jacob Hochstetler was registered as being age 26 on List A of Strassburger-Hinke's published ship lists. He had signed with an "X" just as our relative Jacob had signed so by their sign-ins, they would be indistinguishable. There were three lists containing his name: A) the Captain's list, B) the Immigration officer's list, and C) the allegiance to the Colony list. The name was spelled differently on each list: on list "A" it was Jacob Hostedler; on list "B", Howstetter; and on "C", Hochstadler. The names were written in English as the recorder seemed to have spelled them as he had heard them pronounced in German.


There are still some questions unanswered. Since there were two Jacob Hochstetlers who immigrated only two years apart, were they related? At this time there is no indication that they were. They likely did not know each other either. The first Jacob evidently was a part of the Moravian community. Paul V. Hosteller reports that he belonged to the Reformed Church in Lambsborn, Zweibrucken, and later at Muddy Creek in Brecknock Twp. in Pennsylvania. We also know very little about his descendants, even though he had nine children. Perhaps they did not all immigrate with the parents. There are thousands of Hostetlers in America and it is also possible that the first Jacob has many descendants. Some future research may reveal their lineage as well as ours. [Virgil Miller and others in past issues of the H/H/H Family Newsletter have reported that some of the Harle Jacob's descendants may spell their name Hufstedler, and some are believed to live in North Carolina.] The next question is, was Jacob illiterate? Couldn't he read nor write? He signed his name on the register with an "X." He also signed his land warrant with an "X." This might indicate that he was illiterate. However, let us review the story. First, Jacob was a German speaking Amishman and did not know the English language. Upon landing in a strange and foreign land among people speaking a language he did not know he was likely rather shy and inhibited.


The register clerks spoke English, and being rushed to list all the new ship load of immigrants, they spoke hurriedly, abruptly and authoritatively. The German immigrants could not understand them. Neither were the clerks concerned with accuracy and details. When Jacob arrived in line to the clerk he was likely carrying his three year old son John in his arms. Suddenly he was accosted, "What is your name?" Jacob did not know English and did not know what he was asked. The clerk repeated and insisted on a ready response. Jacob realized the question and answered his name in German. The clerk wrote in English, spelling the name as he thought it sounded. Then he said, "Put an X here." Jacob likely didn't understand, so the clerk demonstrated and Jacob put an "X" at the place indicated. Many other immigrants had similar experiences, since there are many "X's" in the list. Similar confrontations occurred in the purchase of land.


Does all this mean that our ancestor was illiterate? As a devout Amishman he likely had a German Bible he could read and an Ausbund song book from which he sang. A few years ago a European printed copy of an Ausbund hymn book was found with a paragraph of German script written on the fly leaf. It was either copied or composed, and is followed by the signature of Christian Hochstedler as the owner. He no doubt received it from his father Jacob who would have brought it from Europe. [See "Jacob Hostedler's European Ausbund," by David Luthy, in Family Life, January 1988.] No doubt Jacob taught his children to read and write in German or, at least, in the dialect that he knew. His son John wrote a fair readable hand as he signed his name to a legal paper as a witness on February 1, 1755.


The ship captain on his list of passengers noted that Jacob was a yeoman. This is a term of distinction. I believe that Jacob was an astute business person. He was a farmer and horticulturist, having planted fruit trees on his homestead. After his sons moved to Somerset County in western Pennsylvania, they apparently discussed the possibility of returning to Europe in an attempt to retrieve the property and holdings of their father which he had left behind. Several other descendants have made references to their family stories concerning the tradition that some estate resources were left behind, probably due to flight under severe persecution. Thus it seems that Jacob might have inherited and held a major estate in Switzerland prior to his immigration.


In America we believe Jacob was recognized as a manager and astute community person. He purchased land, improved it, planted fruit trees, built a rather substantial two story cabin with basement, built other farm buildings, and managed his affairs. It seems that Jacob was well versed in the teaching of the Bible. At the time of the captivity by Indians he stood for peace in the face of death. He commanded his sons when taken captive to not forget their names and the Lord's Prayer. He later composed, or directed someone, to write petitions for the release of his sons from the Indians. Our conclusion is that Jacob, our ancestor, was not illiterate. He was only dealing with the language problem from the German to the English as a recent immigrant.


The first group of organized Amish-Mennonites had arrived one year earlier in October of 1737 and this ship carried many of this faith. (Pennsylvania German Pioneers - 1934).


After his arrival we find records that Jacob had obtained warrants for well over 500 acres of land but apparently had disposed of most of it by the time he had moved to the Amish settlement in the Northkill, in Bern township. The land he finally chose for his home covered many acres. It is located about one mile west of the present village of Shartlesville in Upper Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, on Old Route 22. The original farm once included the land on which the tourist attraction "Roadside America" is located. At the present time the property includes the house and 27 1/2 acres.


In 1757 we find Jacob with a fine log house, spring house, bake oven, several other

out buildings and a large orchard. With him, at this time, was his wife and three

sons, Jacob, Joseph and Christian and daughter, whose name is unknown. His older

son John was married and living on land within sight of the Homestead. His other

Daughter, Barbara, was also married and no longer lived at home.


The French and Indian War (1754-1765) was moving ever southward over the Blue

Mountains toward the Northkill. There had been several killings and people captured

by the Indians even though there had been a fort built in the area.


There had been no trouble since June. Therefore the young people planned to have

an apple peeling party at the Hostetler home on September 19, 1757. It was the

custom for the young people to have a social or frolic after the work was done and

sometimes it continued well into the night. After the young people had gone home

and the family had retired the dog made an unusual noise waking Joseph, who

opened the door and was shot in the leg. He slammed the door and immediately

everyone was awake. The family saw 8 or 10 Indians standing near the bake oven.


There was no moon that night so it must have been near daybreak. There were several guns and plenty of ammunition and all the boys were good shots as was their father. As they got ready to defend the family, Jacob reminded them that their faith pledged them to Non-Resistance against their fellow men and he could not give his permission for the use of the guns. Soon the Indians set fire to the house and the family fled to the cellar throwing cider on the burning spots.


Finally, the Indians left one by one and the family felt that they could no longer remain in the smoke filled cellar. They quietly proceeded to climb out through a small window but one warrior, Tom Lions, who had stayed behind eating some peaches, saw the mother, who was a fleshy woman, having difficulty getting out and he sounded the alarm. The others quickly returned. The Indians killed and scalped the mother, Jacob Jr., the daughter, and captured Joseph, Christian and Jacob Sr.


John, the eldest son, saw the burning house and hid his wife and child and crept close. But, fearing for the lives of his own, could not interfere. A neighbor, Jacob Kreuter and family, also saw the burning but arrived too late to help as the Indians were already leaving with their prisoners. The remains of the victims were buried near the foundation wall.


The massacre was reported in newspapers of the day and on the military records which included a soldier who was killed by the Indians on the same day. There is also a letter reported sent to the European Hochstetlers and preserved by a great nephew of Jacob.

In 1959 the Pennsylvania Historical Society placed a large marker near "Roadside America" telling of the Northkill Amish and the massacre of the Hochstetler family.


It seems that the children were separated from Jacob and he told them to remember their German language and to continue to say the Lord's Prayer.

Apparently Jacob was considered a "safe" prisoner and they gave him the job of bringing in the meat for the camp when the warriors were gone. He was given a gun and had to account for each bit of powder and shot that he used. He found a place in the woods and each day he stored a bullet or powder there. He finally fled alone not knowing the direction of his home. He found a river, built a raft and drifted down stream. Near present day Harrisburg he was spotted by someone and they took a skiff out to get him. By this time he was too feeble to stand.

He was given food and clothing and regained his health. He had been a captive for three years. It is believed that he escaped from northeastern Ohio or northwest Pennsylvania which was all Indian territory at that time. He believed that he was on some other river besides the Susquehanna, probably the Ohio.


Although Jacob had returned home, he was concerned with his captive children and with a friend's help, as Jacob himself did not write well, a petition was made to Governor Hamilton for help in recovering his sons, Joseph and Christian. It is dated August 13, 1762 and can be found in the Pennsylvania Archives.


Christian had been adopted into full fellowship with the Indians. He was with them approximately seven years. It is stated that one day he returned home and the family, who was eating dinner, offered him food. He accepted but took it back outside and sat on a stump. Jacob, after finishing his meal went out to talk with him believing he was an Indian. In broken German he said "My name is Christian Hochstetler". He was gladly received but some time elapsed before he could again take up the white man's ways. He later married an orphan girl, Barbara Rupp, joined the Tunkard Church (Church of the Brethern) and became a preacher in that church.


In October, 1764, a Colonel Bouquet called a council with the Indians, who had been severely defeated during the past year by the army, and demanded that the Indians return the white prisoners. In November the Delaware chiefs brought in all but 12, but Colonel Bouquet would not shake hands with them until they returned all of them and on May 8, 1765 a treaty of peace was signed. It is not known if Joseph was returned in the fall or early spring but we do know that the Indians wanted him to remain with them and even though he returned he visited with them often and continued to hunt and fish with them. Later he married and became a landowner.


After Jacob's return and the return of his children we find a record of him buying 43 acres of land on June 23, 1765 in Heidelburg Township. (John was living on the land where the massacre took place.) This is about 10 miles from his Northkill farm and there is some indication that he resided there with his son Joseph.


Christian moved to the Lancaster, Pa. area early in 1772. On April 7, 1772 he bought 150 acres. On March 2, 1775 he deeded this land to Jacob his father. Therefore we can assume that Jacob was living with his son Christian at this time. Jacob died intestate and the court records in Lancaster, Pa. dated February 17, 1776 record the sale of land located in Lebanon Township, now Lebanon County, Pa. This document also lists the widow Anna (second wife) and the children of the late Jacob Hostetler. It is believed this was Jacob's last farm. This farm is believed to be about a mile west of Annville, Pa.


Located nearby is a Kauffman Church of the Brethren dating back to Jacob's time. Christian was a member of this denomination and this church shared its cemetery with the people of the Amish/Mennonite faith. It is possible that Jacob is buried here.

Harvey Hostetler comments

The author of our namesake historical index book, Harvey Hostetler, made these comments about Jacob & the larger Amish community in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Nov. 9, 1911.


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