I was raised Mennonite by parents who grew up Amish, which naturally gave me a great interest in all things Amish and Mennonite. Last month I posted about the origins of the Amish in America
and the Northkill Amish Series Bob Hostetler and I are writing. Northkill
and The Return,
which releases this November, are fictional accounts closely based on the inspiring true story of our Hochstetler ancestors who emigrated from Europe and settled on the Pennsylvania frontier with other members of their church.
|Northkill Creek near the former Hochstetler farm|
This month, we’re going to take a look at the Northkill Amish Church, named for the creek that wound through the settlement,. It was the earliest known Amish church organized in this country. Like other Anabaptist groups, the Amish suffered severe persecution in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries because of their insistence on believers’ baptism and refusal to do military service. So William Penn’s assurances of religious freedom and economic opportunity in his colony attracted many Amish believers as well as Mennonites, the group they broke away from.
|18th Century Amish Man|
The Northkill Creek watershed, 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia, was opened for settlement in 1736. That year two Amish men, Melchior Detweiler and Hans Seiber, settled along the creek in the northwestern part of Berks County. Other members of their church followed the next year. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather Jacob Hochstetler, his wife, and two small children, joined them at the end of 1738 with more church members. The church formally organized in 1740, and when still more Amish arrived in 1742, it grew large enough to petition the Pennsylvania General Assembly for naturalization rights, which allowed them to purchase their land. Bishop Jacob Hertzler arrived in 1749 to provide leadership for the growing congregation.
The land they settled occupied a lovely part of the Great Valley. Small, rounded hills shoulder one another, and brooks meander through the little valleys between the hills. Unfortunately, the Amish chose an extremely vulnerable position. The settlement lies at the foot of the Blue Mountain, which runs along the very edge of the legal boundary of English settlements, according to treaties with the Native Americans. However, white settlers continued to pour over the mountains into territory claimed by the French and their native allies, which caused tensions between France and England to rise to the breaking point.
|18th Century Amish Woman|
Although the Blue Mountain hemmed the Northkill settlement in on the north, gaps in the ridge weakened this natural defense. Hostilities broke out in 1754, with the French enlisting the Indians to attack the border settlements in a conflict that became known in this country as the French and Indian War. Soon bands of Indian warriors descended through the mountain gaps, raiding the farms, burning houses and barns, driving away cattle, and killing settlers or taking them captive. The Amish, like the Quakers and the Moravians, found that their belief in nonresistance did not save them from the raids since the Indians did not take account of their enemies’ religious beliefs. Over 200 settlers were killed in Berks County alone. The attack against my ancestors’ farm early on the morning of September 20, 1757, was one of those horrific incidents.
The Northkill settlement included nearly 200 families at its height. It remained the largest Amish settlement in America into the 1780s, when it slowly declined as families moved westward in search of better farmland. Although it existed for only a brief period, this settlement was fundamental in establishing the Amish in North America. Settlers included the progenitors of many widespread Amish families, such as Yoders, Burkeys, Troyers, Hochstetlers (or Hostetlers), and Hershbergers.
My ancestor Jacob Hochstetler is the subject of Harvey Hostetler’s groundbreaking book The Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler.
In addition to listing the genealogy of thousands of Jacob’s descendents, this book includes a detailed history of the religious persecution the Amish suffered in Europe, their immigration to America in the 1700s, the attack on the Hochstetler farm, and the kidnapping and subsequent escape of Jacob and his sons.
J. M. Hochstetler is a descendant of Jacob Hochstetler’s oldest son John. An author, editor, and publisher, she is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. Northkill,
Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series, won ForeWord Magazine’s
2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night,
a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year. Check out her website at http://www.jmhochstetler.com/
What a great read! Can't wait to read "The Return"!ReplyDelete
Thanks for stopping by! The Return is set to publish November 12, so be on the lookout for further announcements. :-)Delete
It's amazing that you know what happened to your ancestors over 200 years ago! Also amazing that they were part of the famous French and Indian War. My grandparents were Evangelical Mennonite, which meant they were in the branch that believed in salvation through Christ alone (the Bible way!). They were not part of the old-order Mennonites. As far as I know, we didn't have any Amish ancestors either.ReplyDelete
Donna, I'm so glad you stopped by! Your background is really interesting. I'm not very familiar with the Evangelical Mennonites. There are many different Anabaptist groups, but of course the Amish are the most well-known.Delete
My family truly is blessed that so much information about the attack on our ancestors' farm and the captives was preserved all these years. Much was handed down in oral accounts, and also many records were preserved in the PA Archives and other resources. So my coauthor and I have a lot of factual details to work with, which made writing their story a whole lot easier, as you can imagine.
J. M., It is wonderful you have so much information about your family. I have done a bit of research in my family's genealogy but have not gone back as you have gone with yours.ReplyDelete
I love your book Northkill, it is one of my all time favorites and I can't wait to read the Return.
Tina, I'm so glad you stopped by, and thank you for your kind words about Northkill! The Hochstetler family has been tremendously blessed to have members who value history and took care to pass down the accounts of our ancestor's experiences. That isn't the case in every family, unfortunately, and precious details get lost as older generations die off. Other branches of my family have that problem too, and I know how hard it is to dig out the facts once you get past your parents' generation. I totally admire genealogists who keep after it and trace their roots back for hundreds of years!Delete
I am a descendant of Melchior Detweiler, and many other Mennonite, Amish ancestors. I appreciate your knowledge of the history of the families from Northkill, and other areas of PA regarding these early settlers. I am amazed at the fortitude that these families had to brave the wilderness and unforeseen tragedies that would beset their lives. I am grateful for their courage, for it is because of them, that we have the privileges and freedoms today.
Brenda, I'm so glad you found us! Our ancestors indeed showed amazing fortitude in facing the dangers and trials they did. And you are absolutely right--it's because of them that we're so blessed today. I'm so grateful for the legacy of faith they handed down to us! Blessings to you!Delete
Hello, my name is Scott Lehman and I am a descendant of Benedict Lehman of the Northkill settlement. You mentioned Bishop Hertzler and I have read that he was recruited by Benedict. I believe that this stems from the second passage to Philadelphia by Benedict in 1749 within weeks of Bishop Hertzler. I have no idea if this is true. Any knowledge of this? I loved Northkill.....thanksReplyDelete
Scott, unfortunately I don't have any information about who recruited Bishop Hertzler. If you find out any more about it, I'd love to know more. I'm glad you enjoyed Northkill, and thanks for stopping by!Delete
Just purchased the two Northkill books on Kindle and can't wait to read them! I am a descendant of Melchoir Detweiler whose property bordered the Jacob Hochstetler farm, of whom I am also a descendant. After my husband and I visited the stone cabin built by Melchoir and saw the Jacob Hertzler farm last fall, I have been doing quite a bit of genealogy research. It's so exciting to see connections like this and "meet" people who share the same roots! Thank you for taking the time to research and write.ReplyDelete
Trying to find out information on Hans SieberReplyDelete
I'm a direct decendant of Hans Sieber. Other than his children and where he came from , Bern Switzerland, I don't know much about him either. I'd really like to find out when my family left the Amish faith. I think when they relocated to Juniata county or the generation after thatReplyDelete
I'm a direct descendant of Melchoir Detweiler and also a descendant of Jacob Hochstetler. I have recorded our ancestry at familysearch.org, a free ancestry site, maintained by the Morman Church.ReplyDelete
In 2014 my brother, sister and I visited Northkill. We found the stone house that Melchoir built, just down the road from the Hochstetler farm. We were introduced to the folks that currently live next to the farm and were allowed to drive out into the pasture above the farm, since the lane to the farm is marked as private. We also found and visited the cemetery where some believe Melchoir was buried. You have to walk back through a pasture to get to it.
In 2018, my brother, sister and I traveled to Switzerland, landed in Zurich and spent a day or two there. We had hired a genealogist to help us find additional information about Melchoir and his family. We visited Datwil, a small town west of Zurich, where our family name came from. We drove to Staffelbach, where Melchoir and many other Detweiler families came from. The name is spelled Daetwyler there. We found and introduced ourselves to Martin Daetwyler, who operates Daetwyler Agro, there.
Our genealogist helped us find that Melchoir's first wife, who up till then had not been identified, as Barbara Seiber. Allegedly she died in 1735, after bearing 5 sons and did not travel to America in 1736 with Melchoir and his 5 boys. We suspect than Hans Seiber, who also traveled to America with Melchoir, was related to Barbara, but have not identified the relationship nor her parents.
I'm interested in any additional information anyone has about any of these people, and am willing to share what we know. Please contact me at TDetwiler3@gmail.com