Tuesday, October 13, 2009
My wife comes from hardy stock.
The headstone on the left belongs to Christina Gortner, one of Rudy's great great great great great great (six "greats") grandmothers. On the right is that of John Jacob Hill, her husband. Rudy is sulking because he wanted to play his video game.
This is being written as we're camping and exploring in the Muncy valley of Pennsylvania, looking up some family history. The earliest white settlers here were Gortners (also spelled Gardners, Gertners, and etc.) and Hills, both lineages being ancestors of my lovely bride.
A father and son who shared the same name, John Daniel Hill, were both captured by indians. They were taken to Canada, where the father starved to death and the son was murdered by them. Joseph Hill Sr., their brother and uncle, respectively, was also captured but escaped and later fought in the revolution of 1776.
George Gortner was Rudy's great great great great great great great (seven "greats") grandfather. He fled Germany on account of the calamities of the Thirty Years War and settled here on the north side of Muncy Creek, about a mile and a half from it's outlet into the West Branch of the Susquehanna, in 1773. He spent five years clearing a farm on the good bottom land before being killed by Indians. We have four accounts that vary in details. In what seems the most credible, he and a friend named Christian Merkel were inspecting his corn crop after a Sunday dinner. Several indians laying under the bank of a stream fired on them, killing the former and nicking the latter's ear. The Indians went on to kill another man named Clark about two miles upstream, then departed for parts unknown. Christian Merkel had been a colonial ranger during the French and Indian War, and was then the captain in command of the garrison at Fort Muncy, to which he escaped. He returned with a party of his soldiers and buried the scalped and mutilated body of his friend in an unmarked grave close to where he fell. As near as we can figure, there's a shopping mall on top of him now. The valley was then "abandoned to the savages" in what became known as "The Great Runaway". All the settlers who remained in an attempt to tend their crops were killed "without exception."
Christina Gortner was one of George Gortner's daughters, She was engaged to John Jacob HIll when he enlisted in the Continental Army, and waited almost eight years for him to return. An interesting entry from Christina's diary: "When we moved here in 1773 then and afterwards the Indians were civil and friendly, and on the upper part of the place they had lodges or what was called an Indian town. We used to go to see them often and had no fears. Their diet consisted of almost anything they could get. One day we were there and a squaw with several kits around her seemed to be much interested in something covered up in the hot embers. Soon she removed it. It was a land tortoise with the bottom side up. After removing the flat shells she raised the contents carefully and preserved the broth and drippings in the shell and divided the fleshy parts between her and the children, to the latter sparingly. She then raised the shell and between whiffs and audible sips and ahs, she made the broth all her own; but not without boxing each papoose that came near enough, coaxing for just a little."
John Jacob Hill was one of Liz's great great great great great (five "greats") grandfathers, born May 9th, 1750 in Windsor Castle, Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania archives, he is listed as a captain in the Berks County Militia. He was a shoemaker until the revolution broke out, when he enlisted in the Fifth Regiment of the Continental LIne. He endured the winter at Valley Forge, and reenlisted after General Washington's famous speech there. He witnessed the "sort of mutiny" that General "Mad Anthony" Wayne ended by barring the way and saying "You can only proceed by crossing my dead body". In the end, John Jacob served a total of seven years, six months and twenty days, and campaigned in seven states - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Among the many battles he participated in was the crossing the icy Delaware to attack the Hessians on Christmas Eve. At the end of the war, he was "permitted to carry home with him his musket with which he never parted." He took up shoemaking again, as well as farming and beekeeping, and settled down with the Christina Gortner mentioned above. Although disabled "from exposure during his protracted army life", he refused to apply for the pension he was due, saying "I have enough, and we now have a free country." (He would undoubtedly be appalled to learn that nowadays he would be considered a dangerous criminal for enjoying the freedoms he fought for.) He died on January 9th, 1824, six days after his wife passed away.