top of page

A Curious Letter, Part Two

After I came across that letter, I did more digging and found an earlier reference to it with more (and different) information. (For Part 1, click here)

In the November 1947 edition of the Reading Railroad Magazine, there was an article about Frederick Schoener's letter and the resulting action of its recipient. The article was then published in the Friday 14 November 1947 edition of The Call, a newspaper from Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania.

Before relating the story, I will point out the two main differences between information contained in the prior post and what was mentioned in this article, published 4 years earlier. First, Frederick Schoener is said to be a maternal uncle and not a brother-in-law. The initial greeting in the letter was not included in the article so I uncertain how they came to that relationship. Second, the Hartman's first name is give as John and not George. Perhaps his real name was Johann Georg?

Regardless, here is how the story was told in the article...

The story began in Reutlingen where John Hartman was born in 1713. He married Magdalena Swartz and had four children-George, Barbara, Regina and Christian. They were happy and contented, farming and prospering. John's maternal uncle, Frederick Schoener, had immigrated to America. He frequently sent letters to relatives back in Baden-Württemberg. One letter was preserved, dated 17 June 1753. That was the fateful letter.

John read and reread it. He made a decision and sold his farm, setting sail for Philadelphia with his family. The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took 64 days and they finally reached Philadelphia on 20 June 1754. John was eager to reach his uncle in Heidelberg. He went around the city asking in the markets how to take his family up to Berks County. In the last days of June, a farmer who had come to the city to deliver wheat said he would take the Hartman family "up country." The family left their rooming house on Front Street and climbed aboard the wagon.

The trip took them up a dusty road, which later became Ridge Pike. Along the way, John asked about Frederick Schoener. He thought surely everyone would know him, but no one did. When they finally reached Heidelberg, he was disappointed. Everyone knew Frederick, but he had moved away, seeking better land beyond the Blue mountains. What should he do?

An old soldier who knew the country beyond, suggested that the Hartman family push on. Surely Frederick would be found somewhere to the north and, besides, the land was excellent in the hilly country along the upper Schuylkill River. So John purchased two horses and an old wagon for 27 pounds, 6 shillings and four pence.

After a few days, they passed through the little town of Reading which, at the time consisted of a few houses on a market square. John started north along the river road. As they travelled, they watched rafts on the river as well as the occasional Native American paddling a canoe, a member of the friendly Lenape tribe who traded with the local settlers.

They finally reached the hilly country and were told that a German named George Gottfried Orwig had settled at Sculp Hill. He had been living there since 1747. The land was a dense forest covering a great hill. It was there that they decided to settle and make their home in the summer of 1754.

Without the aid of his uncle Frederick, whom he never found, John built a house, cleared land and prospered in his new life. In the solitude of the forest, which at that time was still a part of Berks County, they lived in happiness and piety. Their only books were a Lutheran Catechism, a Bible and a German hymn book. Every day there were family prayers and in the evening the family gathered by the hearth to sing their favorite hymn, "Allein, und doch nicht ganz allein bin ich" (Alone, and not alone am I).

The time passed until everything changed on 16 October 1755. That morning at breakfast, Magdalena said, "Well, John, you know the flour is all gone and someone must go to John Finscher's mill. Why not let Christian and me go, and you and George finish the seeding? Barbara and Regina can stay in the house and clean up." John agreed and Magdalena and Christian went down the winding road to the mill beside the river.

In the meantime, John and his children George, Barbara and Regina sat talking beside the fire. Suddenly someone heard a noise outside. Then their dog, Wasser, came running into the house growling and barking. John grabbed his flintlock from above the fireplace, but he was too late. The children screamed as, in a flash, the room was filled with Indians. John was dead before he could take aim. George struggled and he, too, was killed. Barbara, then ten, and Regina, then nine, pleaded for mercy. The Indians grabbed them as captives and they were led into the forest. As the raiding party moved away, the Hartman home was set on fire and burned to the ground.


bottom of page