The Story Of Penelope Stout
By Frank R. Stockton ,Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003 and re-edited by this
In the early days of New Jersey, the Dutch settlers suffered very much
from Indian hostilities. It was at the time that New Amsterdam, afterwards
New York, was in the possession of the Dutch, that a ship came from
Holland, bringing passengers who intended to settle in the new country.
The ship was unfortunately wrecked in the neighborhood of Sandy Hook;
but all the passengers managed to save themselves, and reached the
Among these was a young couple whose names we do not know, except
that the wife's maiden name was Penelope Van Princis. Her husband had
been very sick during the voyage; and getting ashore through the surf
from the wreck could not have been of any benefit to him, for, after
he had reached dry land, he felt even worse than he had upon shipboard,
and needed all the attention his wife could give him.
Although the passengers and crew of this vessel had reached the shore,
they did not by any means consider themselves in safety; for they were
very much afraid of the Indians, and desired above everything to make
what haste they could toward New Amsterdam. They therefore started away
as soon as possible. But Penelope's husband was too sick to go any
farther, so these two were left behind. The company started for New Amsterdam,
promising that they would send help.
The main party had not long departed, when a band of red men, probably
having heard in some way of the wreck of the ship, appeared upon the
scene, and discovered poor Penelope and her sick husband. The Indians
immediately killed her husband and decided to kill Penelope, attacking
her with their tomahawks. They so cut and wounded her that she fell
down bleeding and unconscious.
Having built a fire, the warriors cooked themselves a comfortable meal,
and then departed. But Penelope was not killed, and, coming to her
senses, her instincts told her that the first thing to do was to hide
herself. Slowly and painfully, she crawled away to the edge of a wood,
and found there a great hollow tree, into which she crept. She did not
leave the tree until nightfall, and then she made her way to the place
where the fire was still glimmering; and by great care, and with what
must have been painful labor, she kept this fire from going out, and
so managed to get a little warmth.
In this way, living in the tree the greater part of the time, and depending
for food chiefly upon the fungous excrescences and gum which grew
on the outside of it, poor Penelope lived for a few days, with her
dead husband on the beach. One morning, nearly famished and very weak,
Penelope was making her way slowly over the ground, when suddenly there
came out of the woods two tall Indians.
Penelope gave herself up as
lost. There was nothing now for her to do but to submit to her fate.
It was a pity, she thought, that she had not been slain with her husband.
But the Indians did not immediately rush at her with their tomahawks:
they stood and talked together, evidently about her, with their fierce
eyes continually fixed upon her. Then their conversation became more
animated, and it was soon plain that they were disputing. Of course,
she did not then know the cause of their difference of opinion; but
she found out afterwards that one of them was in favor of killing her
upon the spot, and the other, an older man than his companion, was
more mercifully inclined, and wished to carry her off as a prisoner to
their camp. At last the older man got the better of the other one; and
he, being determined that the poor wounded woman should be taken care
of, took her up and put her on his shoulder, and marched away with her.
There she was taken care of. Food and drink were given her. Her wounds
were dressed and treated after the Indian fashion. In due course of
time she recovered her health and strength, and there – living in a wigwam,
among the women and children of the village, pounding corn, cooking food,
carrying burdens as did the Indian women – she
remained for some time, not daring even to try to escape;
for in that wild country there was no place of safety to which it was
possible for her to flee.
Although there was a good deal of bad feeling between the Indians
and the whites at that time, they still traded and communicated with
each other; and when, in the course of time, it became known in New
Amsterdam that there was a white woman held as a prisoner in this Indian
camp. Consequently some of the men who had been her fellow-passengers
came over to the Indian camp, which was not far from where Middletown
Here, as they had expected, they found Penelope, and demanded
that the Indians should give her up.
After some discussion, it was agreed that the matter should be
left with Penelope herself; and the old Indian who had saved her life
went to her. Here she was, with a comfortable wigwam, plenty to eat
and drink, good Indian clothes to wear, as well treated as any Indian
woman, and, so far as he could see, with everything to make her comfortable
and happy; and here she might stay if she chose. On the other hand,
if she wished to go to New Amsterdam, she would find there no one with
whom she was acquainted, except the people who had rowed away and left
her on that desolate coast, and who might have come in search of her
a long time before if they really had cared anything about her. If she
wanted to live here among friends who had been kind to her, and be
taken care of, she could do so; if she wanted to go away and live among
people who had deserted her, and who appeared to have forgotten her,
she could do that.
Very much to the surprise of this good Indian,
Penelope declared that she should prefer to go and live among people
of her own race and country; and so, much to the regret of her Indian
friends, she departed for New Amsterdam with the men who had come for
A year or two after Penelope had gone back to New Amsterdam,
being then about twenty-two, she married an Englishman named Richard
Stout. He, with other settlers, went over to New Jersey and founded
a little village, which was called Middletown, not far from the Indian
camp where Penelope had once been a prisoner. The Indians still remained
in this camp, but now they appeared to be quite friendly to the whites;
and the new settlers did not consider that there was anything dangerous
in having these red neighbors. The good Indian who had been Penelope's
protector, now quite an old man, was very friendly and sociable,
and often used to visit Mrs. Stout. This friendship for the woman whom
he had saved from death seemed to have been strong and sincere.
One day this old Indian came to the house of Mrs. Stout,
and, seating himself in the room where she was, remained for a long
time pensive and silent. This rather unusual conduct made Penelope fear
that something had happened to him; and she questioned him, asking
him why he was so silent, and why he sighed so often. Then the old man
spoke out and told her that he had come on a very important errand, in
which he had risked his own life at the hands of his tribe; but, having
saved her life once, he had determined to do it again, no matter what
might happen to himself.
Then he told her that the good will of the Indians toward their white
neighbors had come to an end, and that it had been determined in
council that an attack should be made that night upon this little village,
when every person in it – men, women, and children – should
be put to death, the houses burned, and the cattle driven away.
His brethren no longer wanted white people living near
them. Of course, this news was a great shock to Penelope.
She had now two little children, and she could not get
far away with them and hide, as she herself had once
hidden from Indian foes. But the old man told her that
she need not be afraid: he could not save all the people
in the village, but he was her friend, and he had arranged
to save her and her family. At a certain place, which
he described so she could not fail to find it, he had
concealed a canoe; and in that she and her husband, with
the children, could go over to New Amsterdam, and there
would be plenty of time for them to get away before the
Indians would attack the place.
Having said this, and
having urged her to lose no time in getting away,
the old Indian left. As soon as he had gone, Penelope sent
for her husband, who was working in the fields,
and told him what she had heard, urging him to make preparations
instantly to escape with her. He pooh-poohed the
whole story, and told his wife that the natives over there
in their camp were as well disposed and friendly
as if they had been a company of white settlers. It would be
all nonsense, he said, to leave their homes, and
run away from Indians so extremely friendly and good-natured
as those in the neighboring camp. But Penelope
had entirely different ideas upon the subject. If her husband chose
to stay and risk his life, she could not
help it; but she would not subject herself and her children
to the terrible danger which threatened them. She had
begged her husband to go with her; but as he had refused,
and had returned to his work, she and her children would
Consequently she set out with the little
ones, and with all haste possible she reached the
place where the canoe was moored among some tall reeds, and,
getting in with the children, she paddled away
to New Amsterdam, hoping she might reach there in time to send
assistance to Middletown before the Indians should
attack it. When Farmer Stout found that his wife had really
gone off, and had taken the children with her,
he began to consider the matter seriously. He called together
a number of the men of the village, and they determined
that it would be a wise thing to arm themselves
and keep watch all night.
About midnight they heard from the woods
that dreadful war whoop which the white settlers
now well understood. They could not believe that these apparently
mild and easy-going fellows could really be the
terrible savages they tried to make themselves appear. So Richard
Stout and his companions went boldly out, guns
in hand, to meet the oncoming savages, and, calling a parley,
they declared that they had no intention of resting
quietly, and allowing themselves and families to be slaughtered
and their houses burned. If the Indians, who had
so long been their good neighbors, were now determined to become
bloody enemies, they would find that they would have
to do a good deal of hard fighting before they could
destroy the village of Middletown; and, if they persisted
in carrying on the bloody job they had undertaken, a
good many of them would be killed before that job was
Now, it had been very seldom that Indians who
had started out to massacre whites had met with
people who acted like this; and these red men in war paint thought
it wise to consider what had been said to them.
A few of them may have had guns, but the majority were armed
only with bows and tomahawks; and these white men
had guns and pistols, with plenty of powder and ball. It
would clearly be unsafe to fight them. So, after
discussing the matter among themselves and afterwards talking it
over with the whites, the Indians made up their
minds, that, instead of endeavoring to destroy the inhabitants
of Middletown, they would shake hands with them
and make a treaty of peace. They then retired ; and on the following
day a general conference was held, in which the
whites agreed to buy the lands on which they had built their
town, and an alliance
was made for mutual protection and assistance.
This compact was faithfully observed as long as there were any Indians
in the neighborhood, and Middletown grew and flourished.
Among the citizens of the place there were none
who grew and flourished in a greater degree than the Stout
family. Although Penelope bore upon her body the scars
of her wounds until the day of her death, it is stated,
upon good authority, that she lived to be one hundred
and ten years old; so that it is plain that her constitution
was not injured by the sufferings and hardships of the
beginning of her life in New Jersey.
"History of New Jersey." S. Smith.
"History of New Jersey." J. C. Raum.
"Historical Collections." Barber and Howe.
"Story of an Old Farm." A. C. Mellick.