My Grandmother used to tell me stories as a girl of an Indian Princess in our family. I was facinated by her tale of the only woman EVER known to have survived a scalping by Indians. My Grandmother always had her mind, even at age 105, and I had no doubt that she knew her family history. But it wasn’t until I recently Googled “Penelope Von Princess” that this tale came to life for me. There is nothing like seeing it printed in front of you on the Internet, and suddenly a family fable has a basis in reality.
It was the year 1622. A baby girl was born in Amsterdam, Holland named Penelope Kent. She grew up, and married a Mr. Van Princen (some versions of the story say his name was Von Princess or Van Princis. Grandma had told me Von Princess and I am sticking with it. She would have never gotten Van and Von confused.), set sail with her husband for the New World in 1642. It was a long, dangerous journey by sea. Many of the passengers on board the ship became ill in their cramped conditions. A storm ship wrecked their vessel off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1643. Although they made it to shore, it was not easy. Mr. Van Princen was already ill, and now injured. The small group of settlers didn’t want to remain on the beach for very long, fearing attack by the Indians. They were eager to be on their way to New Amsterdam (which is now New York City). Penelope could not convince them to stay where they were while her husband recovered, and the group soon left them to fend for themselves on the deserted beach. Somehow Penelope managed to move her husband into the nearby woods, looking for shelter. Shortly afterwards, the Indians did attack them. They killed her wounded husband, brutally slashed and scalped her, leaving her for dead.
Penelope was not dead, however. She was severely wounded, her left arm hacked so that it would never regain it’s usefulness, her scalp fractured, and her abdomen slashed so she actually had to hold her intestines in her body with her one good hand. She regained conciousness and dragged herself inside of an old hollow log for shelter. For the next 7 days she survived solely by eating mushrooms from inside the log. Eventually two Indians came deer hunting, and disovered her. The younger of the two men was eager to finish killing her off, but the older man would not let him. Perhaps he saw what a miracle it was she was still alive. He wrapped her carefully in a blanket, took her back to his wigwam, and nursed her back to health. Penelope ended up living with the Indians for several years before she finially finished her journey to New Amsterdam. (This is probably why the family story claimed she was an Indian Princess). Penelope remained friends with the Indians that had healed her, even after she returned to the colony.
Penelope later met her second husband Richard Stout in New Amsterdam in 1646. A few years after their marriage they moved to Middleton, New Jersey in 1648-1649. Despite her previous maming, Penelope and Richard had a total of 10 children. Penelope lived to be 110 years old, and had 502 total off spring by the time she died in 1732.
Wow, what a story! November is the month all the little kiddies begin to make Pilgrim costumes for the “Harvest Festival” and decorate pinecones to look like turkeys for the Thanksgiving table. It drives me crazy. What really bothers me is that we sugar-coat our heritage for our children. The Mayflower was not the only ship to sail across the sea. Thousands of settlers came her seeking refuge, but ended up suffering incredibly in the process. The bountiful Harvest did not miraculously appear on the Thanksgiving table, and the Indians who shared the feast were not one bit friendly. It amazes me the things these people went though. I would feel like packing it up and heading back where I came from. I can’t imagine inviting your enemies to dinner, sharing your only food, not knowing if they would eat with you, or have your scalp for dessert.
We should teach our children the other side of the Thanksgiving story. True faith, trust and forgiveness are present in this tale. Penelope must have wished she was dead while waiting for 7 days in that log. She must have had tremendous faith. I cannot imagine why she did not go insane from the pain she endured. She certianly would have feared the Indian man who took her and healed her. She wouldn’t have been able to understand his language to know he wasn’t going to harm her. Being moved to the Indian village alone must also been terrifying for her. Perhaps he was trustworthy, but what about the other Indians? He must have been incredibly skilled at healing, for her to bear so many children later in life. Wow, what an amazing true story. Much better than the happy go lucky stories on the seasonal Hallmark cards, don’t you think? This is what true legends are made of.
Enjoy discovering your Heritage this month.
Update: My father recently discovered this Ripley’s Believe It or Not newspaper clipping among Grandmother’s things.
I love the verbage:
“Penelope Van Princis (1602-1712) After journeying to America from Amsterdam at the age of 18, was attacked by Indians, who killed her husband, fractured her skull, shoved a spear through her body and left her in the belief she was dead.
She spent 7 days in a hollow tree, survived to live another 92 years, and had 502 descendants when she finally died at the age of 110.”