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.