“When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return, and that this is not natural [to them] merely as Indians, but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.” -Benjamin Franklin
Indian capture, tragic fiery deaths, and a court battle that lasted nearly a decade…few tales are as dramatic and unbelievable as that of the Stookey family in Virginia. This story could be dismissed as exaggerated family lore if the details weren’t so well documented in Virginia court records.
The life of Jacob Stookey
Jacob’s Stookey’s parents, John “Jacob” and Magdalene (Shaffer) Stookey, were part of the Swiss Anabaptist immigration in the early 1700’s. Like the Eby Family (follow the link to read about the Eby migration) the Stookey’s (Stucki in German) fled from Switzerland to Germany and finally sailed to Philidelphia in 1737. The family eventually settled in Maryland, near Hagerstown, where Jacob Stooky, Jr. is believed to have been born, around 1740.
At the age of 16, Jacob Jr. was hired to accompany wagon trains traveling from Hagerstown to Cumberland, a nearly 70-mile trip. During one of these journeys, Jacob and a younger brother were captured by Shawnee Indians. His younger brother escaped and returned home, but Jacob was adopted by the tribe and given the name Nouegehaw. His tribal overseer while living with the tribe in Conococheagure, Pennsylvania was John Hat (Shawnee name Tawroomu). According to tribal records, Jacob married an “adopted” Chalakatha Sister in 1760 and had two children. Tribal records recorded three opportunities where Jacob chose to remain with his Shawnee family rather than return to his white birth parents.
a Shawnee and Wyandot warrior
Jacob not only embraced his new family but fought as one of the tribe. According to “Shawnee Heritage”, he took part in the following conflicts as a tribal warrior:
- Cornstalk War 1758-77
- Ohio River Valley Raids 1758
- Pontiac War 1762-66
- Bushy Run 1763
- New Greenbrier and Jackson River Valley Raids 1763
- Ohio Little Kanawha, Big Sandy, and New River Valley Raids 1772
- Point Pleasant 1774-75
- Blue Jacket War 1777-94
- Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia Raids 1777-81
- Point Pleasant 1778
- Boonesboro 1778
- Crawford 1782
- Ohio River Valley Raids 1788-92
- Fallen Timber 1794
Throughout Jacob’s lifetime, the tribe moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio and eventually to Michigan. In 1790 Jacob’s first wife died and he married a Wyandot woman, who gave birth to two more children.
Forty-five years after his capture, in January of 1802, in poor health, Jacob returned to his white birth family. During his absence, the Stookey’s had relocated to property in current day Hardy County, West Virginia (still Virginia at this time), which was granted to Jacob Stookey Sr. in 1773 by Thomas Lord Fairfax under a rental contract. In 1782, Jacob Sr. died transferring the land to his three sons, according to the deed.
Upon Jacob’s return, he discovered that his brother and sister-in-law, Abraham and Eve (Shobe) Stookey perished in a house fire a few days earlier leaving no will. Abraham and Eve died, likely of smoke inhalation, while attempting to rescue nine of their children from their flaming cabin. The Stookey orphans, the youngest barely two years of age, were left in the care of relatives.
Jacob’s only other brother and will claimant, Michael, had passed away in 1782. According to the land deed contract, the land claim now fell solely to him.
Moved by the death of his brother (and possibly the urging of other relatives) Jacob Jr. recorded a will dividing his portion of the Stookey inheritance between his brother Abraham’s orphaned children, and his older sister Margaret’s son Jacob Shobe. According to Virginia court records, Jacob Stookey, Jr. died just ten days after his return to the Stookey family. Of course, family members who had gradually occupied the land since Jacob Sr.’s death nearly 20 years before were not accepting the crazy claim by this estranged family member.
hyer vs shobe – a landmark Virginia court case
A year later, in February of 1803, Jacob Shobe (the son of Jacob Stookey’s sister Margaret…who was named in his will) brought suit against a cousin, Jacob Hyer, who had taken residence on his inherited land. Not surprisingly, the defendant, Jacob Hyer, questioned the legitimacy of the will based on the following:
- Was the man who mysteriously reappeared after 45 years really Jacob Jr.?
- Since Jacob Jr. never established ownership of the land, did he still have the right of conveyance in his will?
After nearly a decade of court battles and appeals, the Supreme Court of Appeals in Virginia upheld the original verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Jacob Shobe. The judge stated that at the death of Jacob Stookey Sr., “The title devolved on his eldest son and heir (Jacob Jr.)…which right was not taken away during the absence of such heir from the commonwealth.” During the trial, Margaret testified that she identified her brother Jacob based upon a prominent childhood scar that resulted from a kick in the face by a horse. Several other men testified that they had spoken to Jacob during his time with the Shawnee and Wyandot tribes and confirmed his claim as the son of Jacob Sr.
This tragic and unexpected story leaves so many questions unanswered. There were reports that one of the family members actually brought Jacob back before his death. Why did he return when he was so ill? Was this an underhanded land grab by a few family members or was the timing of Abraham’s house fire and Jacob’s return a coincidence? I encourage you to click here to read a transcribed version of the trial testimony. It is a fascinating read! What do you think? Do you believe that Jacob was who he said he was?
My account simplifies the trial verdict for the sake of brevity. For a complete trial summary, follow the source links below.
more information about the Stookey family and lineage
The link above will direct you to Jacob Stookey and his brother Abraham, our direct ancestor, in our Ancestry tree. Additional sources are linked below.