The Captives' Route
The Northkill Amish Series wouldn’t be complete without a map showing the probable route Jakob and his sons were taken on when the Indians carried them away, and Jakob's approximate route on his return home. The map included at the beginning of both volumes is based on one drawn in 1756, just a year before the attack. At that time, Pennsylvania had not been completely surveyed. Clearly the mapmaker made some guesses about the colony’s western regions, which were under the control of the French at the time. The Western Branch of the Susquehanna River, for example, isn’t correctly laid out, and distances between various points aren’t exact. But we chose to keep these quirks because the American colonists were familiar with this and similar maps, which would have informed their understanding of their environment.
Just as we do today, the Indians traveled along established “highways” rather than wandering through unfamiliar wilderness. These paths were established by the native peoples in ancient times for travel between towns, trade, and warfare. The Hochstetler plantation lay about two miles from the base of the Blue Mountain, not far from Fort Northkill, which at the time of the 1757 attack had been abandoned. It is most likely that the war party took their captives over this ridge via the Northkill Gap in order to avoid encountering settlers and militia patrols. From there they would have headed west to the closest Indian path, the Tulpehocken-Shamokin Path that led to the old Indian town of Shamokin at the confluence of the eastern and western branches of the Susquehanna.
Shamokin was abandoned the previous year when the British occupied the area and built a major stronghold, Fort Augusta, there. According to the deposition Jakob gave the British after his escape the following spring, they forded the river twenty miles below the fort and traveled along the west branch of the Susquehanna. This route places them on the Great Island Path, several miles south of the river but bearing along its course to Great Island, the shortest and most direct route to their eventual destination.
At Great Island they would have crossed the river to follow the Great Shamokin Path to Chinklakamoose. There they would turn onto the Venango Path, heading north to Fort Machault, the first of the French forts Jakob mentions in his deposition. After a three-day journey aboard large canoes the French called bateaux, they reached the second fort he described, Fort Le Boeuf. And from there, after a one-day portage, they reached Fort Presque Isle. In all, the captives' journey took them approximately 370 miles in 17 days. It is a testimony to their fortitude and endurance that they made it there.
That Jakob managed to escape in May 1758 and make his way home over such a distance in spite of daunting obstacles is astonishing. After his escape from the Seneca town of Buckaloons, he traversed the plateau between the Allegheny River and the Allegheny mountains and found his way to the Western Branch of the Susquehanna River. He built a raft and floated downstream until he came to the British Fort Augusta at the Forks. From there a detail commmanded by Colonel James Burd brought him to Harris's Ferry, then across the river to Carlisle, where he was interrogated by Colonel Henry Bouquet, second in command of the British forces to General John Forbes.
Finally released, Jakob made his way back to Harris's and from there all the way to the Northkill community and to his older children, John and Barbara, and their families. Over the next few years, he persisted in seeking information about Joseph and Christian, petitioning the governor for their release at least twice. All that is known of where Joseph and Christian were held is that one of the boys was with the Lenape sachem Custaloga, and that one of them was adopted by an elderly man. Joseph finally returned sometime between 1763 and 1764, and Christian found his way home in 1765. Their story is a precious and inspiring legacy to us today.