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The Hochstetler Massacre


On the evening of September 19th, 1757 the young people of the neighborhood gathered at the home of Jacob Hochstetler to assist in paring and slicing apples for drying. It was the custom of the young people to have a "social" to frolic after the work was done and sometimes it continued well into the night. After the folks departed and the family had retired, their dog made an unusual noise which woke up the son Joseph, who opened the door and received a shot in the leg. He realized in a moment that they were being attacked by Indians and managed to lock the door before the Indians could enter. In an instant the family were on their feet. The Indians, 7 to 10 in number with 3 French scouts, were seen standing near the outdoor bake oven in consultation. There was no moon that night and since there was no light in the house, those inside could not be seen. There were several guns and plenty of ammunition at hand. The two sons, Joseph and Christian, picked up their guns to defend the family. Two or three could be shot and the guns reloaded before the Indians could enter; but their father, firmly believing in the doctrine of nonresistance and remaining faithful in his hour of sorest trial, could not give his consent for defense. In vain his family begged him but he continued to tell them it was not right to take the life of another even to save one's own life. What a night of horror this God fearing family must have spent the last hours; while the timber wolves were howling and the owls hooting their calls; with the dog barking and seeing their fate outside at the hands of the savage Indians. At daybreak the birds began singing their songs of peace but for the Jacob Hochstetler family there was no peace.

Even afterwards, Joseph claimed the family could have been saved had his father given consent, as he and his brother were both good marksmen (their father was also) and the Indians never stood fire unless under cover.

At daybreak the house was set afire 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 to find that he had stabbed her in the back with a butcher knife. Besides killing and scalping the mother, they killed her daughter and her son Jacob, Jr. and captured Joseph, Christian and Jacob Sr.

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 a bit of powder there in hope of his eventual escape. Slowly gathering up his courage over time, he finally fled, alone, not knowing where he was or the direction of his home. He found a river, built a raft and drifted downstream with his meager supplies. Near present day Harrisburg he was spotted by someone who 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 and although he had returned home, he was concerned for his children who remained captive. With a friend's help (as Jacob himself did not write) he sent a petition 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. One day he returned home on his own to find his family eating dinner. Thinking he was an Indian, they offered him some food. He accepted but took the food outside and ate it while sitting on a stump. Jacob Sr., after finishing his meal, went out to talk to him. At that point, in broken German, he said, "My name is Christian Hochstetler". He was joyously received but some time elapsed before he could again take up the white man ways. He later married and joined the Tunker Church (Church of the Brethern).

In October of 1764, a Colonel Bouquet called a council with the Indians, who had been badly defeated by the army, and demanded that the Indians return the white prisoners. In November, the Delaware chiefs returned in all but 12 of the prisoners but the Colonel would not shake hands with the chiefs until ALL the prisoners were returned. Finally, on May 8th, 1765 a treaty of peace was signed. We don't know if Joseph was returned in the fall or early spring but we do know that the Indians wanted him to remain with them. Even after his capture and return, he continued to hunt and fish often with the Indians. Later he became a landowner and married.

This information is a synthesis from a handout for tourists that was passed out at "Roadside America", an indoor miniature village and tourist attraction located west of Shartlesville, Pa. Along Interstate 78 which stands on what was a part of the original farm of Jacob Hochstetler. It was prepared in the early 1960's but is no longer available. There were a few mistakes in this handout which were corrected in the June 1996 H/H/H Newsletter (available by reprint). There is also material from Damon Hostetler's 1990 publication "Descendants of Amos L. Hochstetler".



This mural of the Hochstetler massacre, about 8 feet long by 4 feet high, is on the south wall of the Pennsylvania Dutch Campsite recreation room, Shartlesville, Pa. In the center is the scene where Indians are about to kill Christian, but they spare him because of his blue eyes. Mother Hochstetler can be seen "stuck in the window". Commissioned by Laurence Gieringer, circa 1960.

The "Reading Eagle", a local newspaper, published a story of the Indian attack on the 250th Anniversary of the event, September 19th, 2007 that is definitely worth reading!

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