The Westfall family and Indian Wars from the French and Indian War in New Jersey to the early settlement in the Monongahela Valley of Western Virginia

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When the Old West Was New

It seems strange in this age to think of New York, northern New Jersey and Virginia as the Old West. Yet, the story of the Westfall family on the western frontier begins in those places. During the seventeenth century ninety percent of the population was clustered close to the towns and villages on the east coast. The western frontier was only a short walk inland. When Juriaen Westfall and the family of Mary Hansen came to New Netherlands, the western frontier was the Hudson River.

Juriaen and Mary Hansen Westfall first experienced conflict with Native American tribes in the settlement at Esopus on the Hudson River. In 1663 the Indians for whom the area was named attacked the Dutch settlement. Juriaen and his family escaped unharmed, but four years later Indians killed Juriaen while he was guiding a group of British soldiers sent out to quell the uprising. In 1696 Indians killed Thomas Quick, husband of Juriaen's daughter Rymerick during an attack near Kingston on Dutch and English settlers, including other members of the Westfall family.

One thing you are bound to notice in this story is that the Westfall's for several generations favored the name Juriaen for their sons. In the records the name is spelled multiple ways. I choose to use "Juriaen" which is the most common. This makes telling the story at times confusing. I will do my best to identify which "Juriaen" I'm writing about by identifying his ancestral line without making it tedious. Juriaen, by the way, was the Dutch version of the name "George."

When the Westfall clan pushed south and west from the Hudson River they settled in the area on the Delaware River where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. This area was known as the Machackemech and Minisink. Those areas are now in Orange County, New York and Sussex County, New Jersey. Juriaen's sons John, Symen and Nicolas purchased land from the Minisink tribe in about 1696 in Machackemech - the name was from the native words for Pumpkin Field. The Minisinks were related to the Lenni Lanape, Esopus and Munsee (Minsee) tribes. "Minisink" translates as "land of the Minsee." The British labeled all of these people the Delaware Indians because their villages were concentrated near the Delaware River and because their language and customs were similar.

Westfall's began arriving in the Machackemech and Minisink about 1699. The Minisinks welcomed them and treated them and their fellow Dutch settlers as friends and neighbors. For the next five decades the Westfall's experienced mostly peace with the Indians. The grandsons of Juriaen and Mary Westfall grew up with the Minisink hunting, fishing and playing with their Indian peers. By the 1730's the relentless migration of white settlers into their lands became a serious concern to the Minisink and a threat to their way of life. In 1737 land speculators Thomas and John Penn the brothers of William Penn, tricked the tribe into selling their valuable hunting areas in what is today Pike and Wayne County, Pennsylvania. The Penn's sold the land to white farmers including some of the Westfall clan. The Minisink tribe made a formal complaint to the council of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations, in Philadelphia. Before the Minisink appeared before the council the council members had been bribed by the Penn brothers. The council ridiculed the Minisinks and their allies, ignored their complaint and told them to remove themselves from the area. The Minisink feeling they had no recourse went west to the Ohio River. At this time the vast area along the Ohio was French territory and the French courted the friendship of the Indians.

In 1753, at the outset of the hostilities we know as the French and Indian War, the French promised the Indian tribes they would restore them to their homes if they joined with the French in attacks against the English and their allies in America. Of course, that included everyone in the British colonies including the Dutch in Machackemech and Minisink. Although skirmishes began in 1753, official war was not declared until 1756. The conflict raged between the British and French in earnest along the Ohio valley, Lake George, Lake Champlain and Great Lakes. However, the Delaware and other tribes took their fight to the American colonists all along the western frontier from New York to the Carolinas. More than fifty years after their fathers had settled the area, the descendants of Juriaen Westfall in the Minisink began to feel the wrath of their former Native American neighbors.

In the spring of 1756 a small group of Indians attacked the farm of one of the Westfall families. They burned the barn killing two-dozen cows, several horses and destroying all their grain, but none of the family was hurt. The loss must have been catastrophic for the family but no human blood was shed.

In early August 1756 in Machackemech north of the New Jersey border, Peter Westfall, Gerardus Swartwout and Samuel Finch were discovered murdered and stripped naked. Swartwout and Finch were scalped but Peter was not. Peter was the son of Nicolas and grandson of Juriaen 1st. He had grown up as a friend with his Minisink peers and perhaps they did not scalp him because they knew and respected him. Surviving Peter was his young wife Arriana and their only son, one-year-old Abraham. After his death Peter's brother Juriaen took little Abraham into his family to raise as his own son.

The day before Peter's body was found, Abraham Van Aiken, husband of Margaret Westfall was working in his field (Margaret was the daughter of Juriaen, granddaughter of John and great-granddaughter of Juriaen 1st). Abraham was harvesting a crop, which because of the season was probably corn. His young daughter was helping him. She was riding on top of the load of grain in the farm wagon. An Indian had hid himself in an old abandoned house probably used to store grain in one of Abraham's fields. When the Van Aiken's approached the old house, the Indian took aim and fired his musket. The ball struck Abraham in the left arm, passed through the flesh and blew off the tip of a finger on his right hand. Severely wounded, Abraham yelled for the little girl to jump and run for her life. The girl fell as she leaped off the wagon and the Indian was immediately on top of her, raising his tomahawk to kill her. Frantic, Abraham grabbed his pitchfork, his only weapon, and charged the Indian to save his daughter's life. Abraham's quick action prevented the Indian from delivering the fatal blow. Hearing the musket shot and seeing the commotion in the field, Abraham's son, only a child himself grabbed the loaded musket kept near at hand during these days and ran to help his father and sister. Seeing the boy with the gun coming to help, the Indian fled. At the edge of the field two other Indians emerged from the trees and the trio disappeared into the forest. Abraham was seriously wounded and undoubtedly in shock. He was near death for several days, but he eventually recovered.

A company of men under the command of New Jersey Captain Gardner crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania looking for the lair of the Indians. The men crossed the Susquehanna River near present day Scranton or Wilkes-Barre and fifteen miles above Wyoming discovered an Indian town. Probably warned of the approaching soldiers, the Indians had all disappeared. The soldiers burned the Indian homes and destroyed the town. They reported that some of the houses "were quite good ones."  It is a misconception many of us have that the Native Americans at that time lived in very primitive conditions. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the tribes in the areas of the American colonies usually lived in settled towns except during hunting expeditions. They raised crops to supplement their diets and the "wigwams" they lived in were not all that different from the log cabins built by the white settlers on the frontier. Both usually had dirt floors and beds were hammocks or blankets sewn together and filled with straw or grass which were stored away in the daytime. In many homes the furniture was often only a table and benches or chairs made from logs. Cooking was done in a fireplace during rough weather and outside over an open fire during mild weather. White captives from the frontier and those living voluntarily among the Indians would not have noticed a major change in their manner or standard of living. The Indians certainly used their traditional weapons for hunting and war, but they were as proficient with muskets and pistols as any white man and most men of both races had one or more in their homes.

In early June 1758 a band of about twenty-five Indians crossed the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. They were detected by sentries along the river and a group of men consisting of a small number of New Jersey soldiers and citizens went out after them. When they were unable to find the raiders, five of the patrol separated from the rest to expand the search. A short time later the five ran into an ambush set by their enemy, a group of seventeen Indians. The Indians fired their muskets at the patrol killing two and wounding one. The surprised soldiers immediately returned the musket volley.  One Indian was killed and from the signs of blood afterwards, three others wounded. The rest of their patrol, hearing the noise of the fight, ran to the rescue of the three surviving New Jersey men. The Indians escaped carrying their dead and wounded and the colonists were forced to give up the chase.

A week later another attack came, this time to the home of Juriaen and Catherine Westfall. Like his brother Peter killed two years earlier, Juriaen was the son of Nicolas Westfall. His house was probably a stone and plank structure common in the area at the time. It had a cellar used to help preserve the produce from the farm. A dozen New York soldiers were at Westfall's, stationed in the Minisink settlement to help protect the community from the Indian raids. The sudden attack on Juriaen's farm killed seven of the fifteen men at the house. The survivors ran to the cellar and from there were finally able to drive off the raiders. However, the Indians had time to collect six scalps and four children; one of the kidnapped children was Peter Westfall, the two-year-old son of Juriaen and Catherine. When the attack first began an older boy with a musket saw the Indians coming down on him. He held his fire until the attackers were almost upon him. The boy fired his only shot, killing one attacker before he ran to safety. After the fight, several men with dogs went out with the boy to find the dead Indian. At the edge of the field where the attack began and under a pile of stones was the body. It was recognized by the men as the Delaware Indian leader John Armstrong. The colonists took the scalp, decorated with many beads and feathers. Later the soldiers displayed it to Francis Bernard, the governor of New Jersey when the governor visited the Minisink community soon after the skirmish. The taking of scalps was not solely an Indian practice. Besides being a grisly souvenir, for both sides it was a way of providing an accurate body count.

The Indians raised little Peter as one of their own. Sometime after the American Revolution more than twenty years later he was found among the tribe.  He was persuaded to return to his childhood home to claim an inheritance left to him by his father. By that time he had forgotten most of his English. When he returned to his old home his mother recognized him – something perhaps only a mother would be able to do after so many years. She pleaded with her son to stay with her, but he refused and returned to his tribe and his Indian wife and family. It is said that he eventually became a leader in his tribe. We don't know how many children Peter had or if any of them choose the carry the Westfall name. But, there is probably living now some Native Americans with a trace of Westfall DNA in their blood.

Before the Indian war heated up in New York and New Jersey, several Westfall families moved to Virginia from the Minisink.  Beginning around 1736 the first family to come to Virginia was Jurian "Jury" Westfall and wife Blandina DeWitt Westfall and five of their six children.   Next was Jacob Westfall and his wife Judith Hornbeck and four young children.  Jacob moved to Virginia as early as 1739 at the age of 24 for he appears in the official records in Virginia in 1740.  A couple of years later Jacob's uncle Abel Westfall, arrived in Virginia. With Abel and his wife Ann Bogard was their twenty-year-old son John, eighteen-year-old daughter Lea and probably their younger daughters. Some of Ann's Bogard relatives were in Virginia about the same time.  In 1746 Abel received a grant of land along the south branch of the Potomac River in what was then Augusta County. His land was about eleven miles south of present day Moorefield in Hardy County, West Virginia. Soon, other Westfall family members made their way to Virginia. The lure, of course, was cheap or possibly free virgin land on the western frontier. But eventually the cost turned out to be high.

Ronald N. Wall
Modified:  05 September 2017