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Jacob's Choice

Return to Northkill, Book One
Jacob's Choice

By author: Ervin R. Stutzman
Product Code: 9681
ISBN: 9780836196818
Pages: 312
Binding Information: Paperback / softback
Size: 8.50 x 5.50 inches

Publication Date: 2/8/2014

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Jacob Hochstetler is a peace-loving Amish settler on the Pennsylvania frontier when Native American warriors, goaded on by the hostilities of the French and Indian War, attack his family one September night in 1757. Taken captive by the warriors and grieving for the family members just killed, Jacob finds his beliefs about love and nonresistance severely tested.

Jacob endures a hard winter as a prisoner in an Indian longhouse. Meanwhile, some members of his congregation—the first Amish settlement in America—move away for fear of further attacks.

Based on actual events, Jacob's Choice describes how one man's commitment to pacifism leads to a season of captivity, a complicated romance, an unrelenting search for missing family members, and an astounding act of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Free downloadable study guide available here.

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  • Author’s Note
  • Part I
  • Part II
  • Part III
  • Historical Background
  • Acknowledgments
  • The Author

From Chapter 11 
Synopsis: Jacob Hochstetler is a peace-loving Amish settler in Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountains whose family is attacked with their house put on fire during hostilities of the French and Indian War. Based on a true story.

Flames broke through the dry shingles of the roof into the upstairs rooms. Smoke fell down the stairs and flames soon licked their way through the ceiling.

What was there left to do? Without water to quench the fire, the floorboards would soon give way.

Jacob tried to cough out the smoke in his lungs. “We can’t hold on any longer. We’ll have to crawl out that window.” Better to be captured or killed than to be burned to death.

Lizzie’s brown eyes were wild with fear. “I can’t! I can’t fit through there.”

“You’ll have to try. I’ll help you.”

Jacob rolled the empty barrel to the window and turned it upside down. He hoisted himself up and put his head out the window. No Indians. Maybe the sunlight sent them scrambling for cover. Maybe the family could find a place to hide.

“Now it’s time to go,” he said. “Joseph, you go first. If the Indians are still nearby, maybe you can outrun them. Tell us what you see.”

It didn’t take long for Joseph to pull himself onto the barrel and out the window. He poked his head back inside. “I don’t see them. They must have gone into the woods.”

Jacob grabbed Christian’s arm. “You go next.” The boy scrambled onto the barrel and crawled out the window in a few moments.

“Jakey, you’re next.”

“My leg hurts. I can’t swing it up that high.”

“I’ll help you.” Jacob got a hold of the boy’s good leg and hoisted him up. Joseph reached through the window and grabbed Jakey’s hand. Before long, Jakey was outside.

“Come, Franey, you’re next.” “I’m scared.” Her face was streaked with tears.

“Come, I’ll swing you up. If you see Indians, run to your hiding place.” Jacob grabbed her and swung her up onto the barrel. Joseph reached in and helped her out.

Now it was Lizzie’s turn. “I can’t fit through that hole,” she whimpered.

What could he do to get Lizzie out of this fiery prison? He certainly wasn’t going to leave without her. Joseph grasped Lizzie’s arms and pulled. Jacob lifted up her legs from the back, his face drowning in the folds of her dress, and pushed. She wiggled and moaned, and soon lay panting on the ground outside the window. Then he hoisted himself onto the barrel and was out the window in a few moments.

Jacob helped Lizzie to her feet and tried to get his bearings. Just then, Christian pointed toward the peach orchard and whispered, “Look, Dat, there’s an Indian.”

A young warrior stood by the peach trees, picking the ripe fruit. Jacob put his finger to his lips and beckoned the family to follow him around the corner of the house. Just then the warrior spied them and let out a loud whoop. In a few moments, other warriors came running from the woods, yelling and brandishing their weapons.

“Everyone run and hide!” Jacob didn’t recognize his own voice. It came out strangled and muffled.

Franey headed for the woods beyond the spring house, on her way to her favorite hiding place in a hollow tree trunk. Oh God, Jacob prayed, let her get there before the Indians see her.

Joseph bolted off to the right and ran toward the woods with three braves in pursuit. God, Jacob prayed, let him outrun them.

Jakey started off to the left, hopping on one foot and dragging his injured leg. Christian started off toward the meadow on the right. Lizzie and Jacob headed for a thicket behind the house when four braves appeared in front of them. In a matter of moments, Jakey, Christian, Lizzie, and Jacob were all hemmed in. A couple of braves grabbed hold of each of them. Joseph was nowhere to be seen.

From Chapter 13
Synopsis: Jacob Hochstetler and his two surviving sons are captured and held as the result of a deadly attack on his family during hostilities of the French and Indian War in eastern Pennsylvania.

The war party walked single file, following the base of the Blue Mountain. They walked along in silence, except for the times when the captain barked an order to the group. Jacob and his sons said nothing as they followed.

The group had marched for several hours when Jacob first noticed the scalp that dangled from the waist of the warrior who walked just behind the captain. There was no mistaking Franey’s brown pigtails. Those evil men killed my little Franey. He had been holding onto hope that she had escaped. Jacob slowed down as the knowledge slammed into his chest. A moment later, a blow on the back of his legs with a rifle butt forced him to pick up speed.

What had his little girl ever done to deserve such treatment? Their action was evil beyond anything Jacob could imagine. Didn’t the Indians have little girls they loved? What kind of spirit made it possible to carry out such evil? How could God allow it?

If only he had been the one to answer the door when the dog barked in the early morning. If only he had moved farther south—even a few miles away—Lizzie might still be alive. Jakey and Franey too. Now Jacob was destined to see their scalps every day, to recall the terror of what had happened under his watch as a husband and father.

Joseph marched along in front of Jacob. Had he seen Franey’s scalp? Maybe I should have let him have his way when the Indians first showed up—a bullet over the tops of the Indians’ heads to let them know that they had firearms. Had Jacob yielded, perhaps the whole family would have been spared.

But no. Had they shot at the Indians, they would most likely have killed the whole family. This way, three of them were still alive, although only God knew what was still to happen. And if God ever allowed Jacob to return to the Northkill, he’d need to keep his bearings well enough to find his way back.

After the Indians had finished their supper, they pulled the four scalps from their belts and stretched them onto hoops. Jacob nearly retched as one of the men scraped bits of flesh off Franey’s scalp. My baby’s head. When he glanced at Jacob in triumph, Jacob looked down.

After the warriors cleaned the blood and loose flesh off the scalps, they dried them over the fire, carefully holding back the hair to keep it from being singed. When the skin was dried out and clean, they carefully combed the hair and painted the edges of the scalp red.

Jacob’s eyes narrowed to slits. What were they going to do with those scalps? Cash them in like fur pelts for a bounty?

When the warriors settled in for the night, they forced Joseph and Jacob to lie on their backs on the ground. With hemp ropes they tied their feet to saplings and their hands behind their backs.

Jacob couldn’t go to sleep. He tried to recite his nightly prayer, but his thoughts were jerked back to the attack on his family. Were the neighbor families safe?

In the morning the Indians led them back onto the trail. Jacob searched for trail markers as they went along, but already he was so confused that he wasn’t sure he could retrace his steps. The forest was so dense in places.

As his captors huddled around the fire that evening, the warrior who had cleaned Franey’s scalp the night before took a pair of brass tweezers and plucked hair out of his beard. He worked across his chin, grasping each fine hair by the root and yanking it quickly. Why not let that hair grow? The warriors appeared somewhat different from one another now, not all alike as they had the first day. Why should he have expected them to look any more like each other than his friends looked like him? If I he was going to survive the time with the Indians, Jacob thought, he had better learn to know them individually.

The warriors tied Jacob up for the night as they had before. He lay there straining at the ropes on his hands and legs, a foolish thing that only made them tighter. There was no slipping away to relieve himself or to talk to his sons, his own flesh and blood. After all of the years he had given to rearing his boys, he was now forced to watch someone else take charge of their destiny.

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Review by: Sherry Gore, editor of Cooking & Such: Adventures in Plain Living - December 2, 2013

“In this evocative and gripping story, Ervin Stutzman details the love, the loss, and restoration of Jacob as fervently as Jacob pursued his own rebirth from the ashes of a terrible past. All of this occurs within the stunningly depicted confines of Amish life and history.”

Review by: John Ruth, author of The Earth Is the Lord's - December 2, 2013

“Ervin Stutzman’s intimately imaginative entrée into the most famous Amish experience in colonial America is woven around documented historical and geographical data. Jacob’s Choice will confront readers with equally inescapable choices of our own.”

Review by: C. Rusty Sherrick, interpreter of Delaware Indian history - December 2, 2013

“The story transports the reader to a time in Pennsylvania history when the area was beyond the edge of the frontier, a place steeped with great danger. The account is accurate and uncomfortable. You can almost smell the smoke and feel the pain.”

Review by: Sam Stoltzfus, Old Order Amish historian - December 2, 2013

“Using historical facts and a vivid imagination, Ervin Stutzman does a beautiful narration of nonresistant Amish life.”

Review by: Karen Johnson-Weiner, coauthor of The Amish - December 2, 2013

“This novel of Amish life in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania allows us to imagine the joys, tears, doubts, and religious devotion of the earliest Amish immigrants. In retelling the story of the Hochstetler massacre, Stutzman reminds us that the family was real and that their sacrifice was both a human tragedy and a triumph of faith.”

Review by: Becky Gochnauer, director, 1719 Hans Herr House & Museum and the Lancaster Longhouse - December 2, 2013

“Ervin Stutzman’s recounting of this tragic event demands soul-searching. Written with honesty and grace, Jacob’s Choice draws the reader into the story to feel the angst of the Hochstetler family. A must-read for all of us who strive to live out our faith.”

Review by: Susan Schultz Huxman, president, Conrad Grebel University College - December 2, 2013

“Ervin Stutzman understands that a good story is the most powerful rhetorical form to bind communities together, pass on traditions, and ultimately to understand the triumph and the tragedy of the human condition. In this dramatic and accessible tale of how one Amish family faced a horrific crucible of their nonresistant faith during the French and Indian War, Stutzman puts &lquo;flesh on the bones’ of known facts. He also creates a searing virtual experience that challenges us to see how extraordinarily difficult it is to follow Jesus Christ and love our enemies.”

Review by: William Unrau, distinguished professor emeritus of history, Wichita State University - December 2, 2013

“Ervin Stutzman has composed an incisive historical novel dealing with Amish courage and forgiveness during the turbulent period of the French and Indian War. His narrative on how Jacob Hochstetler dealt with an Indian attack on his family, related indignities, and his own tribal captivity and escape—coupled with a tender romance and other matters of the heart—provide for a truly edifying and rewarding read.”

Review by: Beth Hostetler Mark, Messiah College librarian and descendant of Jacob Hochstetler - December 2, 2013

“Ervin Stutzman has written a fictionalized yet historically accurate story of an eighteenth-century Amish family’s nonresistance in the face of attack, murder, and captivity. Jacob’s subsequent sojourn with Native Americans in a Seneca village is authentically portrayed. Stutzman brings characters from the past to life!”

Review by: Daniel Hochstetler, cofounder of the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association - December 2, 2013

“Stutzman’s keen knowledge of time and place brings to life the Hochstetler family’s testing through the Indian attack and captivity and their commitment to Anabaptist values. Nonresistance, forgiveness—and romance—are just some of the choices this most widely known family in the original pioneer Amish settlement must make.”

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