Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Unsung Heroine of the Pennsylvania Frontier

Since March is Women
’s History Month, it is only appropriate to acquaint the reader with some aspect of women’s history available at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Most often such tributes focus on the more famous individuals of our nation’s past. However, though the account highlighted in this installment is historically obscure or unknown, it is highly representative of an example of hundreds of ‘unsung heroines’ of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, during the French & Indian War from 1753-1764. This case is a tribute to the sacrifice made by frontier mothers in behalf of their children.

On November 19, 1755, Lt. Colonel Conrad Weiser, farmer, judge, Indian agent and officer of the First Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment, wrote to Governor Robert Hunter Morris, from Heidleberg, concerning the massacre of a Pennsylvania German family by the name of Kobel, residents of Bethel Township in Berks County.

(Image: Penn Papers: Indian Affairs, Vol.II: 48-49)

A rescue party, “…Found a woman just expired, with a male child on her side, both killed & scalped. The woman lay upon her Face. My Son Frederick turned her about, to see who she might have been, and to his and his Companions surprise, they found a Babe, of about 14 days old under her rapped (sic) up in a little Cushion, his Nose quite flat which was set right by Frederick, and life was yet in it, and recovered again.”*

In a fragment of a letter from Conrad Weiser, found within the Conrad Weiser Papers, dated November 18th, 1755 (Image: ‘Conrad Weiser Papers: Correspondence, Vol.1: p.60), the Colonel relates a similar account as above, stating that “three children lay scalped, yet alive, one died…the other two, like to do well,” then relates once again the discovery of the woman and her child.

In the image to the right (PA Archives, First Series, Vol.2, pp’s. 511-512), Lt. Col. Weiser corresponded once again with Governor Morris, stating in a letter of November 24, 1755, that:

“I cannot forbear to acquaint your Honour of a certain Circumstance of the late unhappy Affair: One….Kobel, with his wife and eight children, the eldest about fourteen Years and the youngest fourteen Days, was flying before the Enemy, he carrying one, and his Wife and a Boy another of the Children, when they were fired upon by two Indians very nigh, but hit only the Man upon his Breast, though not Dangerously. They, the Indians, then came with their Tomhacks (sic) knocked the Woman down, but not dead. They intended to kill the Man, but his Gun…kept them off.

The Woman recovered so farr, and seated herself upon a Stump, with her Babe in her Arms, and gave it Suck; and the Indians driving the Children together, and spoke to them in High Dutch, ‘be still we won’t hurt you’. Then they struck a Hatchit into the Womans Head, and she fell upon her Face with her Babe under her, and the Indian trod on her Neck and tore off the Scalp. The Children then run: four of them were scalped, among which was a Girl of Eleven Years of Age, who related the whole Story: of the scalped, two are alive and like to do well. The rest of the Children ran into the Bushes and the Indians after them, but our People coming near to them, and hallowed and made noise; The Indians Ran, and the Rest of the Children were saved…There was about Seven or Eight of the Enemy.”

Mothers have for centuries, at the expense of their own health, sacrificed themselves for the welfare of their family. As we celebrate the contributions of women in today’s society, and the diverse and varied roles they are engaged in, from business to education, let us not forget the accounts of many women who served in the frequent selfless role as mothers, many who are nameless, but who gave their own lives, so that their posterity might live.

*Archaic spelling, grammar & punctuation has been retained, as found in the original manuscript documents.

Bibliography for picture credits:

‘Penn Papers: Indian Affairs, Vol. 2 (November 19,1755): 48-49

‘Conrad Weiser Papers: Correspondence: Collection # 700, Volume 1: p.60 (‘fragment for November 18, 1755)

Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, Vol. Two (1748-1756): 511-512.

For further reading, see the following:

‘Colonial Record Series: Vol.VI: (1754-1756): 703-705, ‘Pennsylvania Gazette,’ November 20, 1755.

Shirley J. Turner, “Jacob Kobel (1682-1731) of the Palatinate, New York, and Pennsylvania,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol 69, No.3 (September, 1981): 163-170 & by same author and same source, “Henry Kobel of Berks County, Pennsylvania, and the Kobel Massacre,” Vol.69, No.4 (December, 1981): 243-250).

“Killed, Captured or Missing.” ‘Western PA Genealogical Quarterly’ Vol.4, No.1 (August, 1977): 13.

Morton L. Montgomery, ‘History of Berks County, Pennsylvania,’ (Philadelphia: Everts, Peck & Richards, 1886): 122, 134-135

“List of Pennsylvania Settlers Murdered, Scalped and Taken Prisoner By Indians, 1755-1756,” ‘Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography’ Vol.XXXII (1908):309-319.