Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was founded in 1741 by a group of Reformation-era Protestants from central Europe known as the Moravians. The Moravians were avid writers & faithful keepers of diaries; each member of a Moravian congregation was also charged with writing a kind of memoir called a lebenslauf, which translates into English as “course of life.”
1700s Diary Tells Of Capture By Indians Moravian Woman Escaped, Lived In Northampton County
September 10, 1986 by Jennifer Ritenour,
The Morning Call, Allentown, PA
"Some lucky people returned from Indian captivity, & Mariana Hoeth was one of them," the Rev. Vernon Nelson, archivist, told 50 people Sunday at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem.
The life of Hoeth, who became a Moravian in 1760, five years after being captured by American Indians, was the subject of the first Moravian Archives lecture of the season.
Using Hoeth's memoir, which she dictated to a fellow Moravian shortly after her return to civilization, Nelson related the details of Hoeth's life & experiences, citing historical reasons that it is accurate.
According to Hoeth's memoir, her family moved from Germany to Philadelphia in 1748. Her father, Friedrich, being what she termed a "legalistic" man who feared the worldly city, moved his family to a farm beyond the Blue Mountains near the present-day town of Gilbert.
The family lived there peacefully for several years, until November 1755, when they began to hear rumors of an Indian war & the massacre at Moravian mission at Gnaden Huetten (now Lehighton).
The 18-year-old Hoeth tried to persuade her father to move the family to a more populous location, but he refused, confident that the Indians wouldn't attack. But despite her father's confidence, the young Hoeth was fearful: "I did not think about being taken captive," she wrote, "but I feared death."
Both came on Dec. 10, 1755. "They came shooting," Hoeth wrote, adding that her father went out to see what the commotion was & was immediately gunned down. Her mother & youngest sister also were killed on the spot. She & two remaining sisters were taken captive.
"I cannot describe how I felt - first to lose my dear parents in such a way & to be taken by the wild Indians," the young girl wrote.
The girls were forced to walk to Tioga, near the northern border of the state. On the walk, Hoeth met Susanna Nitschmann, a missionary at the Gnaden Huetten Moravian mission & a survivor of the Gnaden Huetten massacre who had been cruelly tortured by her Indian captor.
When they reached Tioga, the Indian killed Nitschmann & took Hoeth as his prisoner. But his cruelty earned Hoeth the sympathy of the other Indians. "They gave me to an old mother as her child," Hoeth wrote. "Then I had it good - in Indian fashion."
Several months later she was told to marry an Indian, but refused. "I hid in the woods for eight days," she wrote, but she was found & carried off to be burned at the stake. Her adopted brother lighted the fire at her feet, & she quickly decided to marry.
"He was a good person," she wrote of her Indian husband. "He loved me very much. He wished I were at home with the white people." But he had done nothing to return her to her kind, so while her husband was away, Hoeth, who stayed with her adopted mother near Pittsburgh, plotted to escape with her young son. She spent much time planning & soon boarded a wagon & escaped back to civilization - to the Moravian settlement at Lancaster, where she was given medical treatment, & later to the Moravians of Northampton County, where she spent the remainder of her life.
One of Hoeth's sisters later married a Frenchman & the other was never heard of.
But is Mariana Hoeth's tale true?
According to Nelson, it is. "Her facts hold up," the archivist said, noting that the Lancaster congregation's diary mentions her arrival with her 1 1/2 -year-old son on Sept. 12, 1759, & that her arrival in Bethlehem several weeks later was noted in the Bethlehem congregation's diary.
"Mariana's account was read at her funeral," Nelson added. "Moravians were very well acquainted with Indians & would not have read something they did not believe was true."
Furthermore, Nelson noted, Hoeth's account of meeting Nitschmann is accurate. "Mariana was perhaps the first white woman to know that Susanna Nitschmann was still alive after the massacre," he said, noting that the Moravians assumed she had been killed. Hoeth's account of Nitschmann's survival was confirmed in July 1756 by a group of Christian Indians passing through Bethlehem.
In addition, Nelson said, the matter of adoption has been well documented. And even though her adopted brother was the one to light the match under Hoeth's feet, Nelson said, it was not an act of cruelty, but an act to avoid bloodshed. If another were to have lit the fire, Nelson said, the brother would have had to defend Hoeth & kill yet another according to Indian law.
"Mariana did not know the cultural background of the things that happened to her," Nelson said. "Mariana had the experience of living with the Indians in their natural state." Because of this, Nelson said, her experience is valuable. "Even the dates check up."
The Hoeth farm in the Blue Mountains was purchased by Moravians to be turned into a mission in 1760. It seemed to make a statement, Nelson said, that "even at this place of death there should be life," & proved true the adage "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."