“The thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when it finally comes.”
December 10, 1764
Several figures slipped quietly past the cabin window, casting momentary shadows from the setting sun onto Anna’s face. A few moments later, she was startled by a shout at the door. She paused in the middle of a mending stitch to glance nervously at her husband, Jacob, as he rose from his rocking chair. Who would be paying a visit at this time of evening in December?
Jacob lifted the clunky iron latch and swung open the oaken door to reveal a young Indian silhouetted in the doorway. Anna shrank back from the sight of a tomahawk and a knife in his belt, and a heavy necklace strung with large bear claws. A leather bag embroidered with beads hung at his side, and he wore brightly beaded moccasins. She shivered as two other Indians—a man and a woman—stepped to the side of the young man at the threshold. What had brought the dreaded Indians to their door? Had they come in peace?
Perhaps they were hungry. Should she offer them the pie she had baked the day before? She wasn’t about to deny whatever they’d demand.
All she could think about was the story. More than seven years ago, before she was married to Jacob, several Indians had scribed a charcoal X on Jacob’s cabin door. Jacob’s first wife, Lizzie, had shooed them off empty-handed rather than sharing the peach pie they’d requested. Later, Lizzie was stabbed to death when a French and Indian war party surprised the family in a predawn raid. They also killed two of Jacob and Lizzie’s children and kidnapped Jacob and his sons Joseph and Christian. Then they departed, leaving the Hochstetler house and barn in ashes.
By God’s grace or good fortune, Jacob had escaped after eight months in the Seneca village of Buckaloons. Anna married him four years later. His sons, however, remained captive with the Indians. Jacob’s persistent nighttime prayers and his written appeals to the British authorities were in vain. His longing for his lost sons had always hung like a cloud over their home.
A cold breeze from the open doorway now swept across Anna’s feet as Jacob surveyed the visitors from head to toe. Was he about to invite them in, she wondered, or would he step through the doorway to speak to them outside, as she hoped?
As Jacob stood there wordless, the youngest Indian uttered one simple and hesitant word.
Anna took a quick breath. Why was this young Indian calling her husband Dat? She laid aside the trousers she was mending for Jacob and leaned forward to scan the young visitor’s expression, noticing his narrow nose and green eyes.
Jacob’s face wrinkled in disbelief. “Jo–Joseph?”
“Jah.” The young man nodded.
The young man watched Jacob’s face, as if looking for a sign. The silence stretched into discomfort as the young man waited.
Amish men did not show physical affection in public. But Anna could see disbelief and pent-up joy in Jacob’s inability to speak.
At last, Jacob extended his hand. “My son.” Jacob paused again, his voice breaking. “Come in.” A tear coursed down his cheek as Jacob gripped Joseph’s hand in his strong and callused right hand, and tenderly enfolded it with his left.
It was a gesture Jacob reserved for the most intimate of greetings; she had seen him use it only once before, when a visitor brought greetings from Jacob’s extended family in the Old Country. Father and son stood, clasping hands, their eyes wet with tears.
Joseph turned away from Jacob and reached out with affection to touch the woman with russet skin who stood at his left side. “Mein mutter,” he said. And then he nodded at the warrior who stood on his right.
“Mein mütterlicher Onkel.”
Who would have expected Joseph to bring his adoptive Indian mother and uncle to their door? Anna and Jacob had heard rumors of captives being adopted by their captors, but hadn’t imagined it happening to Jacob’s sons. Did this mean they’d only come for a visit, or was Joseph intending to stay? She trembled as she rose from her chair to greet Joseph and his Indian family. He was no longer the athletic thirteen-year-old neighbor boy with the impish face as she’d known him years before.
As she reached out to shake Joseph’s hand, she noticed yet another visitor who stood behind them—a tall young man dressed in a British uniform and wearing a ponytail.
“I will assume this is your son, then?” the soldier asked.
“Jah,” Jacob said, his voice breaking a bit. “Thank you for bringing him home to us.”
“It is our responsibility, according to the treaty,” the soldier replied. “Now I’ll be on my way.”
“Won’t you stay for supper?” Jacob asked, with a questioning glance at Anna.
“No, thank you, sir,” the soldier said. “You’ll have your hands full with the company you have.”
Anna thought she saw the hint of a smile on the soldier’s face as he bowed, turned, and strode into the gathering darkness that hinted of snow.
Jacob motioned the remaining guests into the room. The man wore a ring in his nose and silver earrings that dangled from loops of skin on the bottom of his ears. The woman wore a red blanket around her shoulders, and her long black hair was tied back in a braid with a red cloth. They stepped in hesitantly and shook their heads when Jacob pulled back chairs from the table for them. Expressionless, Joseph sat cross-legged onto the floor, and his uncle followed suit. The woman hesitated for a moment before squatting on the other side of him.
These people must be famished, Anna thought. What could she add to the meager fare she’d prepared for supper? Perhaps she could fetch a couple of cabbages and red beets or turnips from the underground storage barrel in the garden, or onions from the attic. And where was she to bed down the guests for the night?
She had often prayed with Jacob for Joseph’s return. But this was so different than they’d envisioned it. Despair washed over her as the reality of the moment began to sink in. Somehow, Jacob and she had always imagined that his two sons would be released at the same time and come home together. Where was Christian? Had he not survived the captivity?
If only his companions had gone with the young soldier. She hoped Jacob would find a way to dismiss them without incident—the sooner the better. She was afraid of Indians, so she was terrified at the thought of having them stay. Being a stepmother to a son who’d lived among the Indians was frightening enough; it was even worse to think about offering hospitality to his adoptive family. How would they occupy themselves all day? What kind of food would she need to prepare? And what would Joseph think of her—his father’s new wife?
Even if his Indian friends left and Joseph remained alone with them in the house, how could she feel safe, not knowing what lay in the depths of his heart after his long exposure to the untamed habits of the Native people? She’d heard too many accounts of stealth killings in the colony, acts of violence that severed the fragile cord of trust between the whites and the Indians.
How could her stepson, this lanky young man who carried himself with the stony-faced demeanor of a Delaware warrior, ever earn her trust, let alone her love? And how could she ever earn his?
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Ervin R. Stutzman is Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA. He also served for nearly 12 years as Dean and Professor of Church Ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He holds master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Eastern Mennonite Seminary and received his Ph.D. from Temple University.
Ervin was born a twin into an Amish home in Kalona, Iowa. After his father’s death a few years later, his mother moved the family to her home community near Hutchinson, Kan. Ervin was baptized in the Center Amish Mennonite Church near Partridge.
Some of Stutzman’s Herald Press publications include Welcome!, a book encouraging the church to welcome new members and Tobias of the Amish, a story of his father’s life and community. Ervin enjoys doing woodworking projects with his wife, Bonita. They have three adult children, Emma, Daniel and Benjamin.
Learn more and purchase Ervin’s books here.