Friday, April 18, 2014

The Rhodes Family Massacre at Tom's Brook

A period of terror and fear.” (from Old Homes of Page County, Virginia by Jennie Ann Kerkhoff)

In the late afternoon on August 11, 1764 the Reverend John Hans Rhodes came to the door of his home in the Shenandoah Valley after he heard shouting from the yard. Before the sun had set, the Reverend, his wife, and five of his children were murdered murdered, and likely scalped, and his home burned.

My sixth great-grandfather, the Reverent John Rhodes (Rood, Roodt, Rhodes, Roads) died in one of a series of "Indian raids" that occurred in the Shenandoah Valley. He was a Swiss Bretheran (or Mennonite) and a pacifist who would not use arms, even in self protection. His twelve-year-old daughter Elizabeth escaped and married my fifth great-grandfather Jacob Gochenour.

Mennonite Persecution and Emigration

The 16th c saw the emergence of 'radical' ideas that birthed the Protestant movement. Some believed that infant baptism was meaningless ritual, that baptism should be the mark of a believer who has chosen Jesus Christ as Lord. Known today as Anabaptists, "one baptism", they also eschewed paid ministers and prepared sermons, participation in government, and the swearing of oaths. They were non-violent pacifists. They would not swear allegiance to the state or bear arms.

The Anabaptists were persecuted across Europe by the state churches and governments. Their afflictions included beatings, jailing, loss of property, confiscation of children, and sometimes death.

The Swiss Mennonites of Lake Zurich in the Canton of Berne were exiled and moved to outlaying small towns.  In 1650 these capable farmers were invited to the Palatine in Germany to restore the war-torn, once rich farm and orchard lands. They paid a fine to live there. Then, around 1700 a new ruler ended toleration.

Those who remained in Switzerland were banished in 1710. The Berne Mennonites were allowed to sell their property, if they agreed to take the money and leave forever.
William Penn, the English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania, felt a kinship with the Mennonites and welcomed them to settle in America.

So, the Swiss Mennonites left the Palatine. Between 1711 and 1732 thousands immigrated to Pennsylvania, settling in Germantown outside of Philadelphia, and in Berks and Lancaster Counties. Others left for Holland and England, some becoming indentured servants to pay their way to New York State and the Mohawk Valley. By 1730 so many Germans had come to Pennsylvania that the British colonists worried about "The German Peril." As land became scare in Pennsylvania some followed the 'river road' of the Susquehanna River south into the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.

John Rhodes Immigration
In 1711 the Mennonites in Sumiswald, Canton of Berne, Switzerland were exiled.
Ulrich Rhodes born May of 1680 in Interlaken, Bern, Switzerland to Daniel Rode and Susannah Ballmer (1689-1729) immigrated with their family to Pennsylvania in 1741, arriving in the port of Philadelphia on August 19, 1728. They settled in Lancaster, PA.

In 1730 John Rhodes and other Swiss Bretheran arrived in the Shenandoah Valley as the first European settlers along with the Strickler and Kauffman families. The Gochenours came with the second wave of settlers. In 1740 John Rhodes married Eva Catharina Albright (born 1723 in Germany). They had thirteen children.

In 1741 John Rhodes purchased 100 acres along the Shenandoah River adjacent to Martin Kauffman's tract. On November 4, 1760 he purchased land from Thomas Palmer of New York, who was granted the Virginia land from Lord Fairfax in 1751. Rev. Rhodes's estate had grown to over 400 acres along the Shenandoah River, with his home situated at the mouth of Tom's Brook. The area today is three miles northeast of Mauertown, VA not far from Luray. The Rhodes home was in the shadow of Kennedy's Peak, the highest point in the Massanutten mountains.

For an article with photos on the area see:

On the fatal day, his eldest son Joseph and two daughters were already in their own homes. The younger children were still at home.
The Massacre at Tom's Brook

They were called Indian Raids. Between 5 and 6 p.m. in August 11, 1764, Simon Girty, “The White Savage” who had committed a string of attacks, led a party of eight Native Americans into the valley and to the Rhodes home. Their intent was robbery. The method was murder.

Rev. Rhodes was shot in the doorway of his home. Eva and a son had been killed in the yard of the house. The raiders followed two boys who had fled into a cornfield along the river. One boy climbed a pear tree located 150 yard from the house, perhaps to hide, perhaps to see what was happening. The marauders found him and shot him. The other boy had run to the river hoping to cross to safety. He was killed in Tom's Brook, the area known afterward as Bloody Ford.

The marauders searched the Rhodes home but did not find the money that was hidden in a niche in the cellar wall. They burned the house down with Rev. Rhodes body in it. The money, along with important papers, were found safe afterward.

Twelve-year-old Elizabeth had grabbed 15-month-old Esther and run into the barn. While a man tried to break into the barn, the girls escaped through an opening in the back of the barn. They ran through a field of hemp, crossing the river to find refuge in a neighbor's house about four miles away. Then Elizabeth walked another eight miles to her brother's home in Ida, her baby sister in her arms. She told Joseph of the horror that had descended upon their parents and siblings.

Two boys and one or two girls were captured and taken into the Massanutten Mountains. The party was in a hurry to get away and the frightened children could not keep up the pace. First they killed the seven-year-old boy who had been ailing. The girl(s) refused to go on and were murdered and left with their brother. Michael alone survived. He was taken to Ohio and spent three years with the Native Americans before a treaty brought his released. He then returned home.

Some sources say the family was scalped and the scalps sold to the French for $15 each. The next day neighbors came and buried the Rhodes family near the river, their headstones now in the Brubaker family cemetery.

Rev. Rhodes father Ulrich died shortly afterward on August 31, 1764.

The Children
  1. Joseph Rhodes was born in 1735 and died in 1766 at Massanutten, August Co., VA. He had a farm in Ida at the time of the massacre. By law he inherited his father's estate. Joseph married Elizabeth Mary Strickler, who was the daughter of Shenandoah Valley pioneer Rev. Abraham Stickler. Abraham immigrated from Zurich, Switzerland around 1705 and came to Chester Co, PA before migrating to the Shenandoah Valley in 1726 with his sons. Stickler was a master weaver and a Mennonite preacher.
  2. Anna was born around 1738 and died on May 6, 1774 in Ohio. In 1758 she married Christian Grove. In 1765 Christian was deeded 116 acres on the North Branch of the Shenandoah by Joseph Rhodes. Christian was born in 1738 in Lancaster, PA and fought in the Revolutionary War. After Anna's death Christian married Ester Musselman, of another early settler family. He died at Woodstock, VA in 1786. The Groves great-grandfather had left Zurich, Switzerland for Lancaster, PA.
  3. Susannah (Susan) Elizabeth was born in 1740. She married Mark (Marcus) Grove, brother to Christian Grove who married her sister Anna. Joseph Rhodes gave Mark 120 acres on the north for of the Shenandoah River at the mouth of Elk Lick Run. After Susan's death Mark married Mary. He died in 1800.
  4. Daniel born 1746 and died in the massacre on August 11, 1764.
  5. David who was born in 1745 and died at age 19 in the massacre on Aug 11 1764.
  6. A son born 1757 and died in the Massanutten mountains on August 11, 1764.
  7. A daughter, perhaps Mary, born in 1754 and died on August 11, 1764.
  8. A son born 1760 and died on August 11, 1764. Likely he was the son with Eva, killed in the house yard with her.
  9. Michael was born May 1, 1749, He was captured and taken to Ohio for three years. On March 26, 1780 he married Anna Strickler, daughter to Benjamin. Benjamin was brother to Elizabeth Strickler who married Michael's brother Joseph.
  10. Esther was born in 1762. She was rescued by her sister Elizabeth. In 1786 she married Dr. Jacob Kauffman. Esther died in 1836. Jacob's father the Rev. Martin Kauffman was one of the earliest settlers in the area. Kauffmans appear in the earliest annals of the Mennonite church.
  11. Elizabeth born July 21 1752 and died August 26, 1818. She married Jacob Gochenour, my fifth great-grandfather.
Elizabeth and Jacob Gochenour

Jacob Gochenour was born near Woodstock, VA, the grandson of the original Gochenour immigrant from Lake Zurich, Switzerland. The Gochenours had been Mennonite for generations; a Gochenour appears in the annals of Mennonite martyrs. They were converted to Anabaptism by the Peter family.

Elizabeth was deeded 177 acres by her brother Joseph, situated on the east side of the Shenandoah River near Tom's Brook where her brothers were killed. Jacob bought land across the river near Luray and built a flour mill.
My family tree goes like this:
  1. Gorg or Georg Gochanauwer born 1567 in Fischenthal, Zurich, Switzerland and died in Alsac Lorraine in 1609. He married Maria Weber in 1589.
  2. Jacob or Jakob Weber Gachnouwer born 1605 in Fischenthal, Zurich, Switzerland and married Margarethe Peter, whose family were Mennonites and likely converted Jacob to the faith. A 1634 Census for Fischenthal shows Jacob Gachnauer and Margareta Peter with children Jorg age 5, Hannss age 3, Heinrich age 2, and Barbel age 1. War in 1693 drove Jacob and his family to Northern Germany where he settled in Friedrichstadt.
  3. Heinrich Gochenour who was born in 1632 in Frischenthal, Zurich, Swizterland and immigrated with his father to Alsac Lorraine and then to Ibersheim, Hesse, Germany. He was a tailor.
  4. Joseph Gochenour born in Ibersheim in Palatinate Germany in 1673 and immigrated to Hemfield, Lancaster, PA and died there in 1738.
  5. Jacob Gochenour 1715-1771 married Elizabeth Rhoades. He was a literate man who owned ten books. He obtained 400 acres of land. In 1769 he and Jacob Strickler petitioned the House of Burgess for the right to follow their faith and not bear arms but instead would contribute a “proportional part of their Estates whenever the Exigencies of Government may require it.” A second petition in 1785 asked Mennonites be exempted from military duties. Among the seventy-four Mennonite signatures are the names of Jacob Gochenour, Joseph Gochenour, John (Johannes) Gochenour, and Abraham Gochenour.
  6. Abraham Gochenour born in Alonzville, VA in 1771 and died in 1812. He married Christina Haas, whose father Johann was an immigrant from Germany.
  7. Henry Gochenour 1799-1856 married Barbara Wiseman whose grandfather Johann Phillip immigrated from Germany.
  8. Samuel Gochenour 1826-1901, who served in the Virginia Militia as a Private, Company C, 3rd Regiment, 7th Brigade from July 1861 to September 1861; also from December 1861 at Woodstock, VA; and volunteered March of 1862. The Militia were issued no uniform or arms and usually were employed in manual labor. He married Susannah Catherine Hammon whose grandfather immigrated from Germany. She was a devoted Evangelical Lutheran. They are buried in the Mt. Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery.
  9. Henry David Gochenour born in Fairview, VA in 1861 and died in Stonewall, VA in 1924. He married Mary Ellen Stutz whose grandfather immigrated from Germany.
  10. Alger Jordan Gochenour born in Woodstock VA in 1904 and died in Tonawanda, NY in 1955. He married Emma Becker, born in Volhynia, Russia, daughter of immigrant John Becker.
  11. Eugene Vernon Gochenour 1930-2008, my father.

Samuel Gochenour

Henry David Gochenour family

Henry Gochenour and wife Mollie with son Clarence and wife Alice

Gochenour homestead, birthplace of Alger Gochenour, Woodstock VA


  1. Hi Nancy, I guess this makes us cousins. I am of Jacob Gochenour line who married Elizabeth Rhodes.
    I am finding so much interesting information and thought would just say hi. Did you do a dna test. I have one but still trying to find connections to family lines.
    Take care,
    Carolyn Grisham

  2. Hi Nancy, Thanks for your article. Rev Rhodes is my 7th Great Grandfather. Thank goodness
    for Elizabeth! Regards, Bill Percival (Woodbridge VA)

  3. Thank you so much for this information. I believe that Reverend John Rhodes is my 7th Great Grandfather.

  4. Rev. John Rhodes and Eve Catherine Albright are my 6x great-grandparents and Elizabeh my 5x great-grandmother. I spent all day working on this branch of my family and your blog was so helpful! Now it's time to sort the Gochenour branch. Ha hah Thank you. Enjoy the Spring!