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Stories of New Jersey
The Story Of Penelope Stout
Period, prior to 1669.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

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 shore.

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 at that time, and his wife was too good a woman to leave her husband in that lonely spot; and so these two were left behind, while the rest of the company started for New Amsterdam, promising, however, that they would send help to the unfortunate couple.

The fears of these immigrants in regard to the Indians were not without foundation ; for 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. It is unfortunately the disposition of most savages to show little pity for weakness and suffering, and the fact that the poor young man could not do them any possible harm had no effect upon them, and they set upon him and killed him; very much as a boy would kill a little harmless snake, for no reason whatever, except that he was able to do it.

Then they determined to kill Penelope also, and, attacking her with their tomahawks, they so cut and wounded her that she fell down bleeding and insensible. Having built a fire, these brave 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 from these bloodthirsty red men: so, slowly and painfully, she crawled away to the edge of a wood, and found there a great hollow tree, into which she crept.

This made but narrow and doleful quarters for a wounded woman, but it was preferable at that time to the blue sky and fresh air. 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, – for she was not able to go in search of berries and other food, – poor Penelope lived for a few days, with her dead husband on the beach, and her almost dead self in that cavern-like tree. The hours must have passed mournfully indeed to this young woman who had set out for the New World with such bright hopes.

That she survived her terrible hardships was due entirely to the existence of the danger she most feared; that is, the reappearance of the Indians. On the second morning, nearly famished and very weak, Penelope was making her way slowly over the ground, endeavoring to find something she could eat, or a little dew in the hollow of a leaf, that she might drink, when suddenly there came out of the woods two tall Indians, who, naturally enough, were much surprised to find a wounded white woman there alone upon the seashore.

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. That an Indian should be able to perform a feat like this is not at all surprising; for when one of them shoots a deer in the forest, though many of those animals are heavier than Penelope was, he will put it on his back and carry it through the forests, perhaps for miles, until he reaches his camp. And so Penelope, as if she had been a deer wounded by some other hunters, which these men had found, was carried to the Indian camp.


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