The Hochstetler Incident
of the most popular and well-worn stories in Amish family history
is that of the Native American attack on the family of Jacob
Hoschstetler (1704-1775). The Hochstetlers lived in the Northkill
Amish settlement in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Frontier settlements
like Northkill suffered a number of such incidents from 1755-58.
"Folk tradition holds that during the
night of September 19, 1757, Jacob Hochtetler, Jr., opened the
famly's cabin door to see why the farm dog was barking so intently.
Thereupon, he was shot in the leg by a group of Indians stalking
the house. The wounded boy and his two brothers, Christian and
Joseph, all reached for their hunting guns in order to defend
the family against the Natives. But heir father Jacob would not
allow them to shoot, and made the boys put the weapons away.
As a devout Amishman, his commitment to nonretaliation and Jesus'
teaching to "turn the other cheek" would not permit
him [to] see his sons resort to violence.
"The Hochstetlers instead hid in the
cellar below the house, but the attackers then set fire to the
cabin itself. Trying to escape through a cellar window opening,
the family was caught. The Indians killed Jacob Jr., his mother
and sister. Jacob Sr., Joseph (c. 1744-1812, and Christian (c.
1746-1814) were taken captive. Separated from his sons, Jacob
was taken into French-controlled western Pennsylvania. The Native
American group which had taken the Hochstetlers was apparently
working closely with the French. The attack was more likely provoked
by regional politics and war than by anything the Hochstetlers
themselves had done, despite a family legend that Mrs. Hochstetler
had earlier angered natives by turning away a number of their
"The following spring, Jacob Hochtstetler's
captors gave him the privilege of hunting in the woods by himself.
Hochstetler fled. After fifteen days he made his way by canoe
and raft to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, and eventially back to an
Amish community. Four years later, his two sons were still captives
and he had issued an appeal to the province's lieutenant governor
asking for help in finding them. Several years later, both sons
were freed and re-united with their father.
"Family tradition carried the Hochstetler
story throught the generations in a rather embellished form.
But the general outline of the events, deaths, captivity and
escape match what surviving documents from the time report"
(Steve Nolt, A History of the Amish,
Photo of mural by
John L. Hostetler. Used by permission of Daniel E. Hochstetler
Here is another
telling of this story with editorial comments by Daniel E.
For more on the Hochstetler family see the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association web site.