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A Curious Letter, Part Four: Facts v. Legend

Penns Creek

Without a doubt, the story was extremely moving. However, as with any legend, it is somewhat difficult to get at the real facts of this story. (Click here for the prior post)

Here is some of the history behind the tale.

In the years prior to the American Revolution, the frontier of Pennsylvania, the mountains and valleys near to and just west of the Susquehanna River, was dangerous territory. For years the French and the English competed for control of these lands, and the help of the native American Indians was critical to both. Following the disasterous defeat of General Braddock, even the farmsteads east of the Susquehanna were often raided. Many settler cabins were burned to the ground and many settlers themselves were killed or taken into captivity by the Indians.

There is some confusion of Regina’s identity. Reverend Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (read the post about him here), the son-in-law of Conrad Weiser, had recorded the story told to him by the widow of John Hartman while she was visiting him from her home in Lebanon County in February 1765. She had been a member of one of Reverend Kurtz's (a Lutheran pastor in Berks County) congregations. She and her husband had emigrated to this country from Reutlingen, Wurtemberg, and settled on the frontiers of Lebanon County. The Indians fell upon them in October, 1755, killed her husband, one of the sons, and carried off two small daughters into captivity, whilst she and the other son were absent. On her return she found the home in ashes, and her family either dead or lost to her, whereupon she fled to the interior settlements at Tulpehocken and remained there.

Many have read this and have assumed that Regina was the daughter of the widow Hartman. At no point did Reverend Muhlenberg record this in his writings; he merely stated Regina’s story was told to him by the widow of John Hartman. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Reverend Muhlenberg never identified Regina's last name.

The date of the supposed massacre and abduction was the same day as the Penns Creek Massacre when, on 16 October 1755, Lenape warriors attacked the German settlements on Penns Creek, near present-day Selinsgrove and New Berlin.

Very early on the morning on October 16, 1755, the hired hand of Jean le Roy heard six shots while in the fields and immediately reported back to Jean what he heard. Around eight that morning, the party of Delaware arrived at the le Roy home. They ambushed Jean at the spring near the house, killing him by striking him with their tomahawks. Jean’s son, Jacob, tried to defend himself but was overpowered and taken captive. Along with Jacob the Delaware took Marie, Jean’s daughter, and a young girl who had been staying with them prisoner.

Once the terrible deed was done, the warriors plundered the house and set it on fire, tossing Jean le Roy’s body into it with the two tomahawks still sticking in his bloody head. As this was happening, a neighbor by the name of Bastian was riding past. The raiding party shot and scalped him.

During these horrible activities, two members of the raiding party went to the neighboring Leininger homestead. At the home were Barbara and Rachel Leininger, along with their father and brother. The two Delaware warriors demanded rum and when told they had none, asked for tobacco, which was given to them. They filled and smoked a pipe before they shot and killed Mr. Leininger and then tomahawked the brother to death. Barbara and Rachel were taken prisoner. Mrs. Leininger had gone to the mill that day, which saved her life.

Barbara and Marie le Roy would be taken to Fort Duquesne and then on to the Indian town of Muskingum (near present-day Sharon in Mercer County). On 16 March 1759, the two girls finally managed to escape, eventually arriving at Fort Pitt and they were then returned to Philadelphia. Their experiences were published in a pamphlet called The Narrative of Marie le Roy and Barbara Leininger. Barbara’s sister, Rachel, would become a part of folk history when she was returned home after the end of Pontiac’s War.

Regina Leininger was by this time eighteen years old. According to Muhlenberg, her mother arrived in Carlisle on 31 December 1764 in hopes of finding Regina there, but after searching the line of captives, she was unable to recognize her daughter among them and was in tears. Colonel Bouquet suggested that she try doing something that would recall the past to her children, and Mrs. Leininger began to recite a German hymn that she had sung to her children when they were small. With those words, a young woman began to sing along and threw her arms around Mrs. Leininger. Regina had forgotten how to speak German, but she still remembered the hymn.

Muhlenberg's narrative states that a younger girl who had been held captive with Regina was now eleven and refused to be separated from her. The other girl had no parents, having probably been murdered. She clung to Regina and begged to be taken home with her. Poor as was the widow she could not resist the appeal and Mrs. Leininger took her in as well and the three departed together.

Reverend Muhlenberg did not give the name of the family and did not definitely give the location of the tragedy. In time the belief became quite general among Pennsylvania historians that Regina was a daughter of John Hartman, born 20 June 1710, and that the scene of the tragedy was at or near the site of the town of Orwigsburg in Schuylkill County.

Captain H. M. M. Richards, a descendant of Reverend Muhlenberg, contended that Regina was none other than Regina Leininger, who, as described above, was captured at the Penns Creek massacre of 16 October 1755, the very date Muhlenberg gave as the date of the tragedy described in his account. In addition to the date of the alleged Hartman tragedy being the same as the date of the Leininger tragedy, there are several points of similarity in the narrative of Reverend Muhlenberg and the narrative of Marie Le Roy and Barbara Leininger will be noted. In each tragedy, the mother was absent, the father was killed, a son was killed and two daughters, one named Regina and the other Barbara, were captured.

Furthermore, Muhlenberg said that the father "was already advanced in years, and too feeble to endure hard labor," but John Hartman would have been only forty-five years old at the time of the tragedy. Also, there is no record of Indian outrages east of the Susquehanna until after the attack on John Harris, on 25 October 1755, and none in the neighborhood of Orwigsburg until at least the middle of November.

So, when closely comparing the narrative of Barbara Leininger and Marie le Roy with Reverend Muhlenberg's account, one will agree with Captain Richards that each narrative describes the same tragedy and that Regina "Hartman" was in fact Regina Leininger.

"Regina, the German Captive," and her mother are said to be buried in Christ Lutheran Cemetery, near Stouchsburg, Berks County. Regina's memorial bears both the last names of Hartman and Leininger. Whether or not the person who reposes in this cemetery is actually named Regina Leininger or Regina Hartman, God knows where she sleeps and has written her name in his book of ever-lasting remembrance.


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