........ Conjecture, noun, the formation of judgments or opinions on the basis of incomplete or inconclusive information. Source: Encarta Dictionary

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Was Penelope Scalped?

The earliest reference I’ve found that claims Indians scalped Penelope was printed in 1876 by John Carroll Power in Early Settlers of Sangamon County [IL] – 1876. Springfield, IL: E. L. Merritt & Bro., Printers, 1876. pp 690-3

Even though John Carroll Power cites Benedict’s book as a source, this 1876 version disagrees in many respects with Benedict. See how many you can identify.

This garbling of a cited source suggests that the scalping was invented or at least was an embellishment of the original.

“STOUT, the origin of this family in America is quite romantic. The principal points in their history may be found in Benedict's History of the Baptists. Some of his statements are based on the writings of an earlier historian. The following embraces all that is known on the subject:

“Some time during the seventeenth century, probably about 1680 or '90, a young couple just married in Holland, embarked on a vessel bound for America. The voyage was prosperous until they were nearing the port of New Amsterdam, now the city of New York. The vessel was wrecked off what is now the coast of New Jersey, and nearly all on board drowned. The young couple of Hollanders, escaped drowning and with a small number of the passengers and crew succeeded in reaching the shore. Upon landing they were attacked by Indians, who lay in ambush awaiting their arrival. The whole party were tomahawked, scalped and otherwise mutilated, and left for dead. All were dead except the wife, from Holland. She alone survived, and although her scalp was removed and she was otherwise horribly mangled, she had sufficient remaining strength to crawl away from the scene of the slaughter, and secreted herself in a hollow log which was concealed by underbrush. She lay there a day or two, during which time her mental and bodily suffering may be imagined but cannot be described. She finally made up her mind that there was no possibility of her escaping with life; that if she remained quiet she would certainly die of hunger and thirst, and if she attempted to seek sustenance, that would expose her to the Indians, who would be sure to kill her. At this juncture, a deer, with an arrow sticking in its body, ran past where she was. This led her to believe that Indians were near, and she reasoned that it would be a much easier death to let them kill her, than to endure the pangs of starvation by remaining where she was. She then summoned all her remaining strength and dragged her body out to an open space that the Indians might see her should they pursue the deer. In a short time three of the savages appeared on its trail. Two of them rushed upon her with uplifted tomahawks, but the third one, a chief, restrained them and saved her life. It was not humanity, but gain that prompted him to this act of mercy. He took his prisoner to New Amsterdam and there received a ransom for her. That placed her in the hands of friends who gave her the proper surgical treatment and nursing as she recovered. The name of her husband is not known, neither is her own family name, nothing but her first or given name, Penelope; a name that has stood for more than twenty-five centuries, in tradition and literature, as the highest ideal of a true and loyal wife. It will readily be understood that I allude to one of the creations of Homer, the father of Greek poetry. A brief statement of the case, gleaned from his works will not be out of place here.

"When the Greeks declared war against Troy...[omitting long paragraph on  Trojan War]

“This modern Penelope had no such doubts to contend with. The death of her first husband was only too sure, having been witnessed by her own eyes. After her recovery, she became acquainted with and married an Englishman by the name of Richard Stout. They then went over into New Jersey, made themselves a home and raised a family of twelve sons. One of them, Jonathan Stout, and his family, were the founders of the Hope well settlement, in Hunterdon county, New Jersey, where Hopewell Baptist Church was afterwards constituted. Of the first fifteen members, nine were Stouts. The church was organized at the house of a Stout, and for forty years their meetings were held chiefly at the houses of the Stouts; after which they erected their first house of worship. In 1790, two of the deacons and four of the elders were Stouts. Jonathan Stout lived until his descendants were multiplied to one hundred and seventeen....

“The Stouts very justly take pride in their family history, and being mostly Baptists, they take pride in their Baptist history also. When they meet a stranger by the name of Stout, who manifests a disposition to claim relationship, they apply one test only in their family history. They do not ask him to pronounce the word Shibboleth, but ascertain if he has any knowledge of PENELOPE, and if he knows nothing of her, they know nothing of him. In other words, they do not cultivate his acquaintance, in the direction of relationship, any further.”

The same passage (minus the long-winded paragraph about the Trojan War) also appeared in PORTRAIT & BIOGRAPHICAL ALBUM OF SANGAMON COUNTY, ILLINOIS , Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1891  p 493 and in PAST AND PRESENT OF THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD AND SANGAMON COUNTY ILLINOIS by Joseph Wallace, M. A. of the Springfield Bar (The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, IL 1904).

The novel ideas in this passage are
Voyage about 1680 or 1690
A mention of New Jersey but not Sandy Hook
Indians lay in ambush at time of shipwreck
Tomahawked and scalped
Three Indians rescued her
Twelve sons

However, I do like their method of distinguishing Stouts who are relatives from non-relatives.

If anyone knows of an earlier scalping reference, please let me know.


  1. The closest thing I know of was Allen Joseph Stout's hand written journal which hasn't survived to the present time. The most quoted copy is at BYU, but the copy I have was copied from the handwritten one, and claims to be a more accurate copy. This was a journal that was given to him by his children in 1883. It was started when he was 67 years old to replace the one he had kept in earlier years, but was burned by a "careless" housekeeper he had hired after being widowed.
    The only thing that was said in this version is referring to Richard: "married a woman who had been scalped and tomahawked and left amongst the dead. and from thence came all of the numerous hosts of Stouts now in the United States"

  2. Jim, how in the world could a runaway indentured servant travel from Kent Island in Chesapeake Bay to New Amsterdam? How would she know it existed? How would she know how to find it? Were there roads in the early 1640's between Maryland's Eastern Shore and New Amsterdam? It's over 200 miles, including a crossing of the Susquehannah River. This theory seriously stretches the bounds of probability.

    The other tale, in which the young Dutch couple is attacked in the same way as Penelope's traditional story simply does not comport with the family time series. Penelope and Richard's children were supposedly born between about 1650 and 1670 and there are records of Richard at least being on Long Island in Gravesend with several of the older children.

    Now it's certainly possible that Penelope wasn't the woman scalped and mutilated. But it's extremely unlikely that she and her first husband arrived in the 1680's or 1690's. That would eliminate an entire generation of descendants, and they're fairly well documented.

  3. R.M.Gorham@att.netJanuary 24, 2018 at 1:33 AM

    I have read that Penelope wore a cap the rest of her life, as the scalped portion did not regrow hair. Also that she asked a grandchild to place his hand in her apron pocket to feel the scar on her abdomen, so that he could in turn pass the story on down to his grandchildren one day.

    1. In the story told to me by my great grandmother, upon landing all of the people on the ship were killed, except for Penelope. the indians who found her were two, the elder and younger.