The Kobel Massacre

November 16, 1755 was a dark day for the Henry Kobel family of Berks County, Pa.  It would be their last.

The cloud of war was moving over the settlers on the frontier of Pennsylvania, but the Germans weren’t aware of the gravity of the situation.  Arriving in 1710, they had been pushed from one location to the next by unscrupulous British politicians, to the breaking point.  Twice, they went to live among the Indians, quite successfully. They negotiated with the Mohawks for land and lived as good neighbors, in harmony, until once again, they were told by the British that they didn’t own their land and would have to repurchase it from wealthy British land-owners.  Finally, they wound up in the 1720s on the newly formed frontier in what would eventually become Berks County, living once again next to the Indians, this time, the Delaware.  All went relatively well for many years, but with the advent of the French and Indian War in the 1750s, things changed.  The Delaware, in retrospect, blamed the Germans for pushing them off of their lands.

The Germans thought they were safe.  In their eyes, they weren’t British and they weren’t French.  They had negotiated as Germans with their neighbors, the Indians.

However, the French thought of them as British subjects, which they were.  The Iroquois Indians who were not their neighbors though of them as one more wave of European interlopers taking their lands, and when the French encouraged the Indians to raid the white settlements, the Germans of Bethel Township in Berks County, Pa. were prime targets on the edge of the white settlement, up against Indian villages.

More than one account says that the Germans were warned by friendly Onieda Indians, several times, but the Germans laughed and scoffed at those warning them.   One Onieda Indian said that the Germans “paid not the least regard to what I told them; and laughed at me, slapping their hands on their buttocks.”  They would not laugh long.  Not only did they disregard the warnings in 1755, but again in 1756 and 1757, and again, they were attacked.

Another account says the Germans refused to accept the British troops sent to protect the frontier, believing they didn’t need protection.  After they were attacked, they quickly petitioned for those British troops to return.

The German confidence in their Indian friends and allies was not entirely misplaced.  Yet another report says that over 100 Indians turned back when they realized their target was the Germans, but 250 more proceeded with 90 French to attack their villages and farms.

What we do know, unquestionably, are the results.

Conrad Weiser, a leader in the German community was a man intimately familiar with the Indians, having lived among the Mohawk, with a Mohawk family, as a young man, and was torn apart by this turn of events.  He functioned with ease in both worlds and had for his entire life.

In a letter to Conrad Weiser, Peter Spycker reported on the massacre in Bethel Township on Sunday, November 16, 1755: “John Anspack and Frederick Reed came to me and told me the miserable circumstances of the people murdered this side of the Mountain.  Yesterday, the Indians attacked the watch, killed and wounded him at Derrick Sixth (Dietrich Six’s fort in Bethel Township) and in that neighborhood great many in that night.  This morning our people went out to see; came about 10 o’clock in the morning to Thomas Bower’s house, finding a man dead, killed with a gun shott.  Soon we heard a noise of firing guns; running to that place and found 4 Indians sitting on children, scalping, 3 of the children are dead and 2 are alive, the scalps are taken off…”

Weiser wrote to Governor Morris on November 18 and 19 about the massacre, discussing the event, but not providing the names of those massacred.

Conrad Weiser’s November 19th letter to Gov. Morris:

“On my return from Philadelphia I met in Amity Twp., Berks Co., the first news of our cruel enemy having invaded the county this side of the Blue Mountains, to wit: Bethel and Tulpehocken.  My sons Philip and Frederick arrived from the pursuit of the Indians and gave me the following relation: That on last Saturday, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, as some men from Tulpehocken were going to Dietrich Six’s place under the hills on the Shamokin road, to be on the watch appointed there, they were fired upon by the Indians but none hurt nor killed (our people were but 6 in number, the rest being behind), upon which our people ran towards the watch-house, which was one half of a mile off, and the Indians pursued them, and killed and scalped several of them.  The first party (of settlers who came the next day) saw four Indians running off.  They had some prisoners, whom they scalped immediately; three children they scalped yet alive, one died since and the other two are likely to do well.  Another party found a woman just expired, with a male child on her side, both killed and 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 about 14 days old under her, wrapped up in a little cushion, his nose quite flat, which was set right by Frederick and life was yet in it and it recovered again.”

At Reading on November 18, 1755, Captain Jacob Morgan of Colonel Weiser’s regiment deposed that on November 16 he and Philip and Peter Weiser were on their way about 5 o’clock in the afternoon to Dietrick Six’s, that in a house about 9 miles from Conrad Weiser’s they found many people, including a girl of about 6 who had been scalped but was still alive.  Two of their party returned to Tuplehocken to get more powder and shot.  Hearing that the Indians were at George Dollinger’s house, they gathered a party of about 100 men and on November 17, went to Dollinger’s whose family had already left.  Much damage had been done by the Indians.  In the garden they found a girl of about 8 years of age said to the daughter of one “Cola” lying dead and scalped.  They buried her.  They went on the house of one Abraham Sneider, in whose cornfield they found the wife of “Cola” and a child about 8 or 9 years old, both dead and scalped. In the house they found another child of “Cola” about 10 years old dead and scalped.  The buried all three.  Then they went on to Thomas Bower’s house where they found a dead man who had been scalped.

However, Weiser’s letter on November 24th, again to the Governor, provides us with the terrifying details and the identity of the family.

“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, though out of order so he could not fire, 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.”

Certified genealogist Shirley Turner writing in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly in December 1981 relates more about this family and filled in some details.

Henry Kobel and his wife were Mennonites.  The Mennonite faith is a pacifist faith that refuses to fight, even to protect themselves and opposes violence of any kind.  It’s certainly possible that the Kobel family did not defend themselves, even after Henry had been shot.  Perhaps it wasn’t that his gun couldn’t fire, but that he wouldn’t, although from today’s perspective, that is simply difficult for me to imagine.

Both parents were killed of course.  Of their 8 children, we know that 3 were scalped and died that day.  Two more females were scalped and initially survived, but we don’t know if they ultimately survived the scalping or if they died from the results, or from something else.  One would think that having an ancestor who survived being scalped would be noteworthy, but there are no stories of such (that I’m aware of) in the Kobel family or the German descendant community.

The three Kobel children known to have survived, all boys, the two oldest children and the youngest at just 14 days of age, were all eventually baptized back into the Lutheran faith as young adults.  Henry Kobel had been raised Lutheran but had married a Mennonite woman.  Their children were born into the Mennonite faith.

Ultimately, the French and Indian War, also known as the 7 Years War, ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763.  Both the French and the Indians lost.  France ceded Canada and the demarcation line of the frontier, ostensibly to protect Indian lands, shown in green below, was pushed westward to the Appalachian Mountains, a line that was never respected and did little to stem the tide of settlers flowing into the Indians’ lands.

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Delaware, Iroquois, Mohawk, Oneida. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The Kobel Massacre

  1. Pingback: Surviving a Scalping | Native Heritage Project

  2. sbabcock1 says:

    I am an ancestor (and survivor?!?!) of the KOBEL massacre.
    My 5th great grandfather Johann Fredrich Kobel/Koble (b1743 Berks Co.- d1801) was one of the little boys that out-ran the invading indians during massacre of his family in 1755.
    >Johann Friedrich Kobel (1764-1837)
    >Peter Kobel (1805-1895)
    >Jacob Kobel (1839-1911)
    >James H. Koble (1867-1912)
    >>my grandma Mary R Koble (1899 – 1982)

  3. Shane Beener says:

    My best friend in High School was a Jon Coble of Dauphin County. He still lives there in the family farm. Wonder if their is a relation.

  4. Charles J. Adams III says:

    Is there a possibility the author of this story could contact me regarding re-publishing it in an historical magazine?
    Charles Adams, Reading, PA

  5. Donna Gerber says:

    I am also a Kobel descendant, but am not quite sure how I might tie into this family. Barbara Kobel who married Peter Deppen in September 1772 was my 5th great-grandmother twice – once on my father’s side and once on my mother’s. Her parents were supposedly Frederick Kobel and Veronica. I have seen the baptisms of the surviving Kobel boys as adults in the church records and wondered if they had perhaps been Mennonites. Was pleasantly surprised to learn I was right.

  6. Erica says:

    I am also a Kobel descendent. I am a descendent of Johann Jacob Kauffman by way of George/George and then Barbara.

  7. The warning about an imminent attack by the French and their Indian allies is usually attributed to the raid on German Flats, NY in November 1757, two years after the first attack on Berks County.

  8. William H. Sites says:

    I am also a direct descendant of Johann Friedrich Kobel (ca 1743 – 1801). His son Johannes/John Kobel/Cobel (1765 – 1847) bought two tracts of land in Hamilton Township, Franklin County, PA on October 12, 1798. That is just west of Chambersburg. Cobles lived on that land for several generations. My grandmother, Cora (Cobel) Besecker was born and raised on it. Many generations are buried in the nearby Coble Cemetery.

  9. Cindy Copeland says:

    Through genealogy research I have discovered that I am a descendant of the Kobel family.

    • If you have taken the autosomal DNA test at Family Tree DNA, or transferred results there, you are welcome to join the Kobel/Cobel DNA project.

      • Greer Palmer says:

        I’m reluctant to add noise to YDNA groups when it is not my paternal line. How is the atDNA compared? I’m not confident I can confirm this way as I have many lines from the area.

      • You would look for matches within the project, contact the matches, look for your common ancestor or ancestors and work to triangulate the segments.

  10. Patti Kobel says:

    my name is Patti Kobel I most be related to the Kobel I would like to be able to take the DNA test

  11. Jeff Sharon says:

    I too am a descendant of this family. The oldest son. Does anyone know the exact location if the massacre? I am returning ti Pensylvania soon and would like to visit the site to pay my respects.

  12. Mike says:

    I’ve found Johann Heinrich Kobel is my 7th Great Grandfather via the Batdorf family. Very interesting website.

  13. Kimberly Faith Kobel says:

    I am Kimberly Faith Kobel
    My Father: Frank AI Kobel 1932-2008
    My Grand Father: Charles Henery 1902-1965
    Great Grand Father AI Welcome: 1878-
    Levi David: 1849-1920
    Christain: 1808-1892
    Christain: 1765-1830
    Johanna Hendrich: 1741-?
    Henery: 1712-1775

    Christain: 1808-1892

  14. In the course of researching the early history of Bethel Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania, I have found little evidence to support the various family stories about the circumstances surrounding attacks on the German settlers living on the Pennsylvania frontier by Lenape warriors during the French and Indian War.

    By 1755, the Lenape villages were a considerable distance from Bethel Township. Sassoonan and his people had vacated the ancestral land south of the Blue (Kittatinny) Mountain soon after the arrival of the Palatine Germans in 1723 because the cattle brought by the refugees from New York destroyed the corn and other crops planted by the Lenape. Sassoonan’s nephews, Pisquetomen and Shingas, who led the Lenape raids on the Pennsylvania frontier, had relocated to the Ohio Valley several years before the French began their aggressive claim to that area.

    The warning given to German settlers by Oneida neighbors occurred in the Mohawk Valley of New York, not in Pennsylvania. However, the farmers in Bethel Township were aware of possible attacks in mid-November 1755 because of reports of the massacre at Penns Creek in the upper Susquehanna Valley (on the other side of the Blue Mountain) a few days earlier.

    There is no record of British troops protecting Bethel Township. However, the farmers were grateful for the presence of Pennsylvania militia stationed at Fort Henry and Fort Northkill, which served as ranging posts and shelter for local families — but constructed only several months after the Kobel massacre.

    In reality, few French soldiers (actually Canadian militiamen) accompanied the Lenape raiding parties. Probably not even 90 French/Canadian fighters were involved in the entire frontier conflict beyond the Ohio Valley from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. During raids on the farmers of eastern Pennsylvania, Lenape warriors led the way, and the occasional white man tagged along.

    The background issues may be in dispute, but you are right: What we do know, unquestionably, are the results.

  15. Theresse says:

    I am a Cable, and it seems it stems from Kobel. My g.g.g. grandfather was a William Cable b. around 1799 in Pennsylvania. He was supposedly married (though I can find no proof other than a marriage certificate signature) to a mysterious Emaline Forbes. They had several children, including my g.g. grandfather, Daniel Martin Cable. I just got my DNA results and when I typed “Cable” in the search bar for DNA relatives, one woman’s profile popped up, which had Cable as one of her surnames. I found her tree and found that Cable, which lead me to another Cable name (a female – so the Cable/Kobel name ended there), which lead me to this article. That female ancestor of hers had one brother (that her tree shows anyway) and his name was Johann Heinrich Kobel. I wonder if I descend from his grandson – if indeed he had one. Or maybe this is just a stretch and my imagination’s gotten the best of me. However I’ve yet to find ANY other Cable/Kobel DNA relative until now (e.g. while managing my dad’s and brother’s accounts on 23andMe)…it’s certainly not a very common name. If anyone knows more that might be of use, please let me know! Thank you.

    • If you have a Cable male to Y DNA test, we can resolve that question. Otherwise, have people in that line done autosomal testing at Family Tree DNA? We do have known descendants there.

  16. Mary Carden says:

    I recently found out that I .most likely related through Coble /Noble family line by way of my grandmother last name McCann…by way of George Coble and Johann Henrich”Henry”Coble who was born in Hanover,York,Pennsyvannia in 1751 who .married A. Margareta Emig Amick 1750 to1826 born in Guilford North Carolina Nov1750 they lived in North Orange N.C. and are buried there. A Sarah Elizabeth “Betty”Coble andJemima”Jane”Coble-McCann1845-1929 Hickman Tn. Rest of .McCanns were in Perry Co ect in Tn and No a d Ark ..many in Cal. Ind Ohio.ILL. I traceed I form A 2nd cousin family in Cal. all of this started because I was trying to find .y fathers real mothers grave as she died when he was in diapers her name was .Myrtle Modena McCann–Briley. I read article about massacre…was hard reading it…a d how many died…Hopefully maybe you’ll find some of us in your search for family .

  17. james rich says:

    I descend from Johann “Frederick” Friedrich Kobel of Bethel Township, Berks Co., Penn. His grandson, Abraham Kobel, resided in Carroll Co., Indiana. Abraham is my ggg grandfather. I have a book from the early 1800s, which reports the 1755 attacks. We have a Kobel family history which includes the survivors of the attacks.

  18. Kim Faith Kobel says:

    I would really love to find a copy of the book also can you tell me the name of it please
    Kimberly Kobel

  19. Jeff Sharon says:

    Did anyone ever get that book? I’d be very interested in getting a copy for myself.

  20. Greer Palmer says:

    Hello, I believe I am a descendant of the Kobel family through my Deffenbaugh/Riffel line. This line has been a pain and lead me chasing down the wrong Deffenbaughs for centuries until I believe I corrected it here. I have Maria Sybilla Kobel as my ancestor, daughter of Johann Heinrich and Anna Maria. I would appreciate any help confirming this.

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