Two works of historical fiction based on the story of Jacob Hochstetler have hit bookshelves over the past month.

The first, Jacob’s Choice by Ervin Stutzman, we heard about a few weeks ago. Today we have a Q & A with Bob Hostetler and J.M. Hochstetler, authors of Northkill.

Northkill Novel Amish Hochstetler

Northkill Giveaway

Two copies of Northkill are available for Amish America readers to win.  To enter, just leave a comment or question on this post.

For an extra entry, share this post via Facebook, Twitter, or other social platform (let me know you did with an email to We’ll randomly draw and post the winners here next Monday, March 10th.

Update: Northkill Giveaway Winners

We’ve added in additional social share entries, and just chose 2 Northkill winners using Comment numbers 57 (Carolsue) and 7 (AGB) are our two winners.   Carolsue and AGB, send me an email (to with your shipping address and we’ll get your books sent to you.  If you didn’t win, the book is available in many places including Amazon, Amazon Kindle, and Masthof Bookstore.

J.M. Hochstetler & Bob Hostetler on Northkill

Amish America: What drew you to this project?

Joan: I’m a direct descendent of Jacob Hochstetler through his oldest son, John, and I’m very faith oriented. I’m also very interested in the history of this country. The facts we know about the experience of this family offers a truly compelling basis for expansion into a fictional treatment, and since I write historical fiction, it was just too tempting to resist.

Bob: As a descendent of two sons of Jacob Hochstetler (John and Joseph), I have heard this story all my life, and have long wanted to write about it. The period, the international and intercultural tensions, the challenges our pioneer ancestors faced, the courageous choice of non-resistance in the face of aggression, the years of separation and captivity, the eventual return to their home and kindred, and more, continues to excite and intrigue me.

What is your background?

J.M. HochstetlerJoan: I was raised on a farm near Kokomo, Indiana. My father was a farmer and we were members of Howard-Miami Mennonite Church. I graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Germanic Languages and minors in history and sociology, got married, had kids, all the usual things one does. I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in the early 1990s and for many years was an editor with Abingdon Press, an imprint of The United Methodist Publishing House. In 2006 I founded a small publishing house, Sheaf House Publishers, to publish mainly inspirational fiction. I’m also an author. I’m writing a long sprawling saga of the American Revolution, the American Patriot Series, and I’ve also published a contemporary novel, One Holy Night.

Bob HostetlerBob: I was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and received Bible and English degrees at Cincinnati Bible College and Bloomfield College in New Jersey. I served with my wife, Robin, for twelve years as an officer in The Salvation Army. have since become an award-winning writer, editor, and speaker. My thirty-five books, which include the award-winning Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door—co-authored with Josh McDowell—and the novel, The Bone Box, have sold over three million copies). My wife and I have two children and four beautiful grandchildren—with a fifth on the way.

Why is this an important story?

The Authors: The story of the Hochstetler massacre is important and well-known in the Amish and Mennonite communities not only because of its historical significance to the first organized Anabaptist settlement on this continent but also because of its affirmation of nonresistance. It also has contemporary significance as a powerful testimony to the church and the world today.

Who are the people in this story?

The Authors: The main characters are Jacob Hochstetler and his wife, whose name is unknown, and their children John, Barbara, Jacob, Joseph, Christian, and an unnamed daughter. Using the accounts in our family genealogy book, Descendents of Jacob Hochstetler, and Early Amish Land Grants in Berks County, Pennsylvania, which lists other Amish settlers in the Northkill community, we were able to add many of the real people who were their neighbors, friends, and fellow church members. We also know or have very good evidence that they were in contact with several well known people of the time, such as Conrad Weiser, and we included them as well. Almost everyone who appears in the story is a real person.

How do you create a story around a historical event? How much concrete research is it based upon, how much is educated guesswork?

The Authors: That depends on the facts that are available for the story you’re trying to tell. Obviously you have to start with what’s been documented, and for Northkill we had an astonishing amount of facts, considering that these events took place 257 years ago. The story was handed down orally through the family for many years before it was written down. Contemporary accounts that were discovered in the Pennsylvania Archives and elsewhere more recently have confirmed the great majority of the family tradition, which is pretty amazing.

Northkill Amish Settlement

Sign marking the historic location of the Northkill Amish settlement. Photo: Mennonite Church USA

We started with very small snippets of action and conversations that were remembered and handed down by the survivors of the attack, documented in Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler. The work of more recent historians like John A. Hostetler, J. Virgil Miller, and Beth Hostetler Mark have been helpful as well. And, of course, we consulted all available historical records, such as Jacob’s deposition by British Colonel Henry Bouquet at Camp Carlisle after he escaped from the Indians, which provides invaluable details of the journey he and his sons were taken on when they were carried away; it also tells us a good deal about Jacob’s intelligence, endurance, and resourcefulness. To flesh out details of our ancestors’ daily lives and create action and dialog, we had to make many educated guesses based on other historical records of the time and the beliefs and practices of the Amish today.

You are both Hochstetlers/Hostetlers. Can you tell us something about your family tree? Any idea how many Hochstetlers are out there today? How many Amish and non-Amish?

Joan: I’m descended from the oldest son, John through his descendents Henry, David H., David D., William D., and Alvin W.

Bob: My grandfather, David A. Hostetler, was born into an Amish family in Goshen, Indiana, where he was known as “Adam’s Davey.” Though he left the community as a young man, he maintained strong ties to his extended family and in the 1950s compiled a family history entitled Descendants of David J. Hochstetler with his aunt, Drusilla (Yoder) Hostetler. I am the third son of David’s first son, Charles Vernon Hostetler.

Northkill Amish HochstetlerI wish I knew the number of Hochstetlers and Hostetlers out there today (an article by Daniel E. Hochstetler, one of the founders of The Jacob Hochstetler Family Association, founded in 1988, tries to extrapolate the possible extent of the family today). The JHFA has published a newsletter since its founding that has reached thousands (and a “Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler” Facebook group has 1,000+ members). Since 1988, the JHFA has hosted a “Nationwide Gathering” every five years that has attracted as many as 1,200 people (the 2013 reunion was held in Lewistown, Pennsylvania; locations are currently being scouted for the 2018 gathering).

According to our cousin Daniel, it is likely that “Most people with Amish or Amish Mennonite connections, west of Lancaster County, Pa., likely are Hochstetler-related.” He says the reason for the exception is that all of Jacob’s children and grandchildren either died in Berks Co. or went West to central Pa. (Mifflin/Juniata Counties) or southwest Pa. (Somerset/Cambria Counties) and from there fanned out across Pa. and Md. and westward to Ohio and beyond. None went directly to Lancaster and surrounding counties, though a few did later marry or move there.

Regarding how many Hochstetlers are Amish, we have no idea. Daniel guesstimates that “the Old Order Amish are a rather small minority of the total H/H/H descendants today–likely less than 25%.  If you include the various groups who use or have used the designation Amish Mennonite, that proportion might increase some.”

As widespread as the family is today, I still use a little “shorthand” method when I meet someone named Hostetler (or whose ancestry includes the name): I ask if there is an Indian massacre in their family history. If they answer yes, I tell them we’re almost certainly related, then.

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