Ervin Stutzman on Jacob’s Choice (Interview & Giveaway)

Ervin R. Stutzman is the author of a just-released work of historical fiction called Jacob’s Choice, the first in a three-novel series called Return to Northkill.

jacobs-choice-herald-pressThe book is based on the story of 18th-century Amish pioneer Jacob Hochstetler, whose example of non-resistance in the face of violence has inspired generations of his descendants.  From the press release:

Based on actual events, Jacob’s Choice, Book 1 of the Return to Northkill series, tells the dramatic story known among Amish and Mennonites as the “Hochstetler Massacre.” Northkill was the first Amish settlement in America.

Hochstetler lived beside Northkill Creek on the Pennsylvania frontier when warriors, goaded by the hostilities of the French and Indian War, attacked Hochstetler’s family in 1757. Three family members were killed and three were taken captive by the warriors.

After enduring a hard winter as a prisoner in a Native American longhouse, Hochstetler makes a harrowing escape to return home to Northkill, and there he attempts to reclaim what he has lost. Hochstetler’s commitment to pacifism leads to an unrelenting search for missing family members, a complicated romance, and conflicting emotions regarding possible reconciliation.

“In an era of Amish reality TV, Jacob’s Choice offers an authentic, real-life story of Amish life in early America,” notes editor Amy Gingerich.

For today’s post I asked Ervin a few questions about Jacob’s Choice and the history behind it.

Jacob’s Choice Giveaway

Herald Press is giving away a copy of Jacob’s Choice to an Amish America reader. Entering the contest is simple: just leave a comment on this post.

For an additional entry, share this contest on Facebook, Twitter or other social sharing site (and let me know you did with a quick email to  I’ll announce the winner here on Tuesday (Feb 18).

UPDATE: Jacob’s Choice Winner

I just drew a random winner from your entries using  The winner is comment #40, Christine.  Email me your mailing address Christine and I’ll pass it to the publisher so you can get your book.  If you didn’t win, you can find Jacob’s Choice at various outlets including

Ervin Stutzman on Jacob’s Choice

Amish America: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ervin Stutzman: I am the Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA. Before taking on this role in January 2010, I served for nearly 10 years as Dean and Professor of Church Ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Va. I have also served the Mennonite Church in the roles of pastor, district overseer, missions administrator, conference moderator and, from 2001 to 2003, as moderator for Mennonite Church USA.

Author Ervin R. Stutzman
Ervin R. Stutzman

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University. I hold master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. I received my Ph.D. from Temple University.

I was born as a twin into an Amish home in Kalona, Iowa. After my father’s death a few years later, my mother moved our family to her home community near Hutchinson, Kan. I was baptized in the Center Amish Mennonite Church near the small town of Partridge. Later, I joined the Yoder Mennonite Church.

I married Bonita Haldeman of Manheim, Pa. Together we served for five years with Rosedale Mennonite Missions in Cincinnati, part of that time in voluntary service. I was ordained to serve as co-pastor of Mennonite Christian Assembly. From there, we moved to Pennsylvania, where we were members of the Mount Joy Mennonite Church.

We currently live in Harrisonburg, Va., and are members of Park View Mennonite Church. I am a preacher, teacher and a writer for Herald Press. My early publications include Being God’s People, a study for new believers, Creating Communities of the Kingdom (co-authored with David Shenk), Welcome!, a book encouraging the church to welcome new members. My two books of family history are Tobias of the Amish, a story of my father’s life and community, and Emma, A Widow Among the Amish, the story of my mother. My latest publications include a scholarly study of the church’s conversation about peace, called From Nonresistance to Justice: The Transformation of Mennonite Church Peace Rhetoric 1908-2008 (2011), and Jacob’s Choice (2014), a historical novel about an early immigrant ancestor.

I enjoy doing woodworking projects in partnership with Bonita. We have three adult children—Emma, Daniel and Benjamin—and are the grandparents of Eva and Felix.

What drew you to this project?

Ervin Stutzman: I’ve been interested in the story of my Hochstetler ancestor for many years. About five years ago I decided I wanted to write a historical novel about it. I hope the novel will appeal to the many modern readers of Amish fiction who have little knowledge of Amish pacifist convictions. They’re missing much of the essence of Amish belief and practice.

Yours is the second book coming out on this topic which I’m aware of.  Why do you think there is interest in this story now?  Is there something about it which is applicable to today’s times?

Ervin Stutzman: Actually, mine is the first, in that it was released on February 8, and the other one won’t be released until March. However, there have been many articles and short stories that have told the story over the last hundred years. The core of the story is very familiar to the Amish.

There is also a renewed interest in the interaction between Native Americans and colonial settlers. Several recent scholarly books have explored that topic.

How do those in Anabaptist churches regard the story of the Hochstetler Massacre? 

Ervin Stutzman: Although the primary event in the narrative has often been referred to as “the Hochstetler Massacre,” today’s sensitivities beg for a softening of that language. I have chosen to simply call it an attack. There were indeed many massacres during the French and Indian war, larger-scale hate killings perpetrated by European whites as well as Native Americans. One of the most egregious was the massacre of the peace-loving Conestoga Indians by the Paxton Boys in December 1763.

jacobs-choice-ervin-r-stutzmanThe story has served the Anabaptist churches as a lesson in moral courage under test, or faith under trial. It may also have led to some self-congratulation along the way, since it makes heroes out of the white Amish settlers. I wrote Jacob’s Choice—the first novel in the Return to Northkill series—from the viewpoints of Jacob and his daughter Barbara. Although their Anabaptist understanding of Native Americans was considerably more compassionate than that of many of the Pennsylvania settlers, they did not have the deep concerns about justice for Native Americans that many of us do today. Descriptions of the “red man,” “natives,” and “braves,” as well as other characterizations of Native Americans contained in the novel, reflect the common preconceptions and prejudices of the colonial era. This novel would be very different if it had been narrated from a Native American point of view.

The next two novels in this series will more fully explore the Native American perspective. Readers who wish to explore Native American issues from a contemporary justice perspective may benefit from reading the series of essays in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together (Herald Press, 2013).

When you’re writing a work of historical fiction, how much is research, how much is re-creation?

Ervin Stutzman: I did a significant amount of research for the book, both in the Amish life of Jacob Hochstetler, as well as the Native American life during the French and Indian War in the 1750s. As much as possible, I used the known names of the people in this story. I used my imagination to put the flesh of this story on the bones of known facts to create a plausible account of what may have happened. For me, it was very important that every incident in the story could well have happened just the way I described it.

As a way of documenting my findings and to show the historical basis for my novel, I produced an expanded version of Jacob’s Choice with 90 extra pages. That version contains photographs, maps, endnotes, genealogical charts, an early historical account and a list of references.

How much do we actually know about Jacob Hochstetler and his family?

Ervin Stutzman: In the expanded version of Jacob’s Choice, I refer to the three basic sources which provide most of what we know about Jacob and his family. The first is the historical account given by William Hochstetler as part of Harvey Hostetler’s two large volumes—Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler and Descendants of Barbara Hochstedler and Christian Stutzman.

The second is Beth Hostetler Mark’s book, Our Flesh and Blood: A Documentary History of The Jacob Hostetler Family During the French and Indian War Period 1757-1765. Third Edition, published by the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association, Inc. Elkhart, Indiana, in 2003. She provides commentary on quite a number of archival sources, some of which provide corrections to the account in Hostetler’s account.

The Jacob Hochstetler Family Association also publishes a quarterly newsletter which contains articles featuring research into the life of Jacob Hochstetler or his descendants.

Thanks to Ervin for taking the time to share with us today.  Jacob’s Choice is available at, among other other online and bricks-and-mortar sources.

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    1. Greg Stutzman

      Hochstetler Massacre

      I remember visiting this site of my ancestry around 40 years ago on a family vacation. Should be a great read.

      Hoping to win the free book! 🙂

    2. Stephanie Rollins

      This is a new turn in Amish fiction!

    3. John Gingerich

      Jacob's Choice

      I’m looking forward to reading the book, whether I win the giveaway, or purchasing a copy!

    4. Marcus Yoder

      I would love to win this book as Jacob Hochstetler was my ancestor through three different ways
      Marcus Yoder

    5. MaryAnn Pepe

      Very Interesting!

      I would love to win this book! It sounds like it is very different from typical “romance” Amish novels. The history sounds fascinating too!

    6. Theresa Camil

      I am looking forward to reading this book. Thank you.

    7. Pat

      This sounds like a fascinating book. I have read a great deal of Amish fiction and also have read some work written by Dr. Donald Kraybill….a scholar known for his study of the Amish….so I would like to read Jacob’s Choice, too.

    8. Felicia

      I really enjoyed reading about Mr. Stutzman. What an accomplished man! I did not know about this event in history, but it would be interesting to read his take on it in a fictional light. Thanks for sharing the interview and the opportunity to win what sounds like a fabulous book!

    9. Ruth

      Jacob's choice

      I would love to read this story. I read everything I can about the Amish, fiction or non. Thank you for the opportunity to win this book.

    10. Nancy @ A Rural Journal

      Sounds very interesting and I would love to win this giveaway. Thank you for the opportunity!

    11. Juanita Cook

      I am looking forward to reading this book. I didn’t know about this time in the history of the Amish. Would love to win this book.

    12. OldKat

      I'm all in

      Not generally a fan of fictional stories, but this sounds different as it is so closely based on an actual event. This story has always intrigued me anyway, so count me in.

      Q1: Is the expanded version of Jacob’s choice something that will be available for purchase, too?

      Q2: If I were to flatter Ervin by saying he doesn’t look near old enough to have grandchilden; would it help my chances of winning the giveaway?

    13. Jacob's Choice

      I thought that I read or saw something about this before or maybe
      another story like this one but any way I think it would be a story where you could not put the book down until you read the whole book. would love to win it but win it or not I will buy it
      and then share all three with my friends.

    14. Denise

      Sounds very interesting. I love historical fiction. Nice to know Ervin Stutzman was born in Kalona, Iowa, my home state.

    15. Marijane Grassie

      Jacobs Choice

      I visit Amish country in PA. Every year at least once. Now I enjoy visiting a Amish Farm on the NY Amish Trail each year. I read only Amish Books and have a wonderful collection. I would realy enjoy adding you books to this collection. Thanking you in advance Marijane Grassiem

      1. Greg Stutzman

        You have a very interesting name.

    16. eli

      One entry please. I am also not a regular fiction reader but this one sounds interesting.

    17. Rich Stevick

      Anything Ervin writes is good

      . . . and this book will be no exception–well-researched, gripping, and informative on an Anabaptist and Amish core value.


    18. Christy

      Thank you for the chance to win a copy of this book. This is a different spin on Amish Fiction and I’ll certainly welcome that.

    19. Robin

      Jacob's Choice

      Please add my name to the list of those who would like to win this giveaway. Jacob’s Choice sounds like a book that I will thoroughly enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

    20. Susan Fletcher

      I haven’t had the opportunity to read any books by this author. I’d love the chance!

    21. Dawn Searcy

      Jacob's Choice Contest

      I can’t wait to read this one, wow! :O)

    22. Dee Taylor

      Sounds Interesting!

      Looking forward to a good, historical read!

    23. Margaret

      I have read several things on this topic, and I am looking forward to reading his book. I’m sure it will be an excellent read! Thanks for featuring this for us, Erik!

    24. Valerie

      Enter me in please

      Sounds like an interesting book, I’d like to enter the contest please! Having some Indian blood in me I feel bad to know about this part of history-yet I the story is inspiring (the true story) so hm. Sounds good!

    25. Jean Junkin

      Jacob's Choice Contest

      I would love to add this book to my collection. I read very fast, and would love to read the story.

    26. Sara Mandal-Joy

      the book

      I’d love to win a copy of this book, and will suggest it to my local library as well.

    27. mary ellen ashenfeder

      Jacob's Choice giveaway

      This sounds like a very interesting read — and, this is a new author to me. Would love to win a copy of this book. Thank you.

    28. George Moore

      Jacob's Choice Giveaway

      I would love to win this book. I love all the Amish books I have read so far and I have some I need to read now but I don’t have the time to because I’m going to school.



      I love books about the Amish and think this would be a good book to read since there is history involved in the story.

    30. Nancy Consolo

      I'd love to win

      I am related to this family through the Stutzman family and grew up in Elkhart, Indiana and never knew it then. Thanks for allowing me to enter

    31. Kevin L.

      As someone said earlier, this is a nice twist on Amish fiction. Count me in for the contest!

    32. Michelle Conti

      Jacob's Choice

      Jacob Hochstetler is my 8th Great Grandfather. Looking forward to reading the book. Thanks for a chance to win 🙂

    33. Emily

      I went to grad school with Emma–we became friends in our first class when I mentioned my interest in working with Old Order communities and her head snapped up looking for the Amish nerd. 🙂 So excited to get another book from Ervin, whether I am lucky enough to win it or whether I buy it.

    34. Debbie Halcomb


      I love reading books based on history. This sounds like a series I would enjoy. I have not read much on that time in American history, this has peaked my interest.

    35. Kathy Rowe

      Sounds like a real interesing read. Would love to win it!




    37. Rachel Gingrich


    38. Jeanne

      Comment on Ervin Stutzman and Jacob's Choice

      I am SO looking forward to reading this series. It would be wonderful to win the first book.

    39. Christine

      I have been reading Amish romance novels lately. This sounds like a good book to read too. Hope to win a copy. Thank you.

    40. sharon c


      This series sounds very interesting, History with some fictional additions…a must read for all!

    41. I was just looking at the book today. So if I win I wont have to buy a copy. I am curious how his interpretation of the event compares to mine when I put together the documentary a couple of years back.

    42. Thanks, it sounds very interesting. I would love to win.

    43. Sounds fantastic. Real life and fiction put together.

    44. Karen Hostetler Deyhle

      Family History

      I heard this story many times while growing up. My father used to be invited to give talks about it in local public schools.

      About 15 years ago I was helping a friend shop for quilts in Lancaster and Bird In Hand area, and met a young Amish woman who had taught in an Amish school. She said that they had a xerox copy of a “book” written up of this history, a book that they used in the school to teach pacifism. This was long before my sister, Beth, researched and wrote her “Flesh and Blood” book.

      I look forward to reading your novel.

    45. Loretta Shumpert

      Reading this seems to bring to mind something that I read along these lines. I can’t recall what it was that I read. Would love to read this book and learn new (to me) information.

    46. Looking forward to reading & adding to my library!

    47. Susan C

      Sounds like a good book to read.

    48. Trish in Indiana

      It must have been an interesting challenge as a writer to portray the perspective of white settlers accurately while having a more balanced modern perspective that takes the indigenous point of view just as seriously.

      If I don’t win the free copy of this book, I will probably check it out at some point from the Elkhart Public Library (which I’m guessing will have a copy!)

    49. Carol Shetler

      Lots of interest in this new book!

      It is exciting to hear of this book, because my cousin is Beth Hostetler Mark, who did the historical research and wrote a book about it (cited by Stutzman for his writing). Also, I and my family had visited the historic homestead site many years ago and heard about the incident involving our ancestors many times, too.
      I look forward to possibly winning a free book, but for sure I will be reading the book no matter what!

    50. Carol Shetler

      Lots of interest in this new book!

      It is exciting to hear of this book, because my cousin is Beth Hostetler Mark, who did the historical research and wrote a book about it (cited by Stutzman for his writing). Also, I and my family had visited the historic homestead site many years ago and heard about the incident involving our ancestors many times, too.

      I will be reading the book no matter what!