The story of Amish folk hero Jacob Hochstetler for a new generation

Rarely has my professional work intersected so nicely with my personal history than in the forthcoming publication of a new book by author Ervin Stutzman, Jacob’s Choice.


The Jacob in this page turner of a book (to be released by Herald Press on Feb. 8) is my sixth-generation-back great-grandfather, along with how many other thousands of kin: Mennonite, Amish, or not. As Jacob’s early 1700s-era home was torched, he witnessed not only the agony of the death of his wife and two children, but he and two surviving sons were captured by members of the tribe of Lenapi Native Americans.

One of the older sons who was not captured was John, my five times great-grandfather. He was already married and living away from the farm where the raid happened.

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Photo of Moses P. Miller, (long beard in back row, top left)
my great-grandfather, and Jacob’s triple great-grandson.

Thousands of Hostetler, Hochstetler, Hochstettler, and probably a dozen other spelling variations in North America (and many more relatives with other surnames like me) lay claim to that same faithful legacy. Valerie Weaver-Zercher, editor for this book, is one; Amy Gingerich, who acquired the title for Herald Press, is another. Some of the relatives have created this website and organize a huge reunion every five years. (Watch the fun graphic at the top of the home page, which morphs into all the different ways Hostetler is spelled by all these relatives.)

The novel is set in the Northkill area of eastern Pennsylvania and, while carefully historically researched, is a fictionalized version of the events. So much is not known, especially the interior thought life of these ancestors.

In Jacob’s Choice, Ervin has chosen to focus his look at this courageous, peaceloving ancestor on Jacob’s decision to eventually seek reconciliation in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy that befell his family. Here’s a link to two free excerpts.

And this volume is just the first of three books in a planned trilogy called the “Return to Northkill” series. A lifelong churchman and currently executive director of Mennonite Church USA, developing the writing chops to turn out plausible and engaging fiction is no easy feat. Fiction coaches help, so say my inside (but not secret) sources.

Cousin Ervin (okay, its really shirttail, as momma always used to say about distant cousins, but still) has done hundreds of hours of painstaking research. He became something of a skilled historian and researcher in pulling together the fictionalized stories published earlier by Herald Press of his own mother and father in Emma and Tobias). I greatly respect not only his work, but how he is able to get all this done on the side.

The expanded edition of Jacob’s Choice includes maps, photographs, family tree charts, and other historical documents to help readers enter the story and era of the Hochstetler family. Both Jacob’s Choice (the novel only) and Expanded Edition (novel with all the other goodies) are on prepublication discount ($10.50 and $20.99, respectively) until the publication date of Feb. 8.

If you are on Facebook and a relative (or just interested) you might enjoy hooking up with the “official” Facebook site for Hostetler/Hochstetler relatives, called Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler. There is a version of the genealogical book of the same name on Amazon, but I cannot vouch for its authenticity. There is also a complete PDF of the whole book available online. Yes. Here. All 1200+ pages!

In the 70s, when I was a student at Eastern Mennonite University, I first discovered the genealogy book in the Historical Library there and was so excited to find my father’s name written in it that I scribbled out all of the information pertaining to my lineage on notebook paper (not being able to photocopy it). I still have those scribbles and I remember feeling such a powerful connection to my heritage.

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After writing about this for my own blog here, I sat on the floor for a morning workout and all of a sudden my eyes were drawn to my grandfather’s rocking chair. I could almost see him sitting there, elderly, as I knew and loved him. (Photo bottom left is my Grandpa Uriah seated circa 1962 at a CROP Farm dedication.) I had not felt his presence or even thought about him much for many years but how thankful I am for the long (92 years), loving and faithful heritage he bequeathed to our family.


Are you part of the Hochstetler clan? We’d love to have you comment, share, like this on Facebook, join in the celebration. And if you are in the eastern Ohio area, join Ervin Stutzman & our editorial director Amy Gingerich for a book signing there from 9 a.m. to noon, Feb. 8, at Gospel Book Store, in Berlin! Or in Harrisonburg, Va., join us for a launch Feb. 14 at Park View Mennonite Church. And sign up to follow Mennobytes blog to always get information like this as it becomes available.

Do check out Jacob’s Choice – a great read and powerful example of living your faith,
regardless of any personal historical or family connections.
Order before Feb. 8, 2014 for the discount.