Program: “This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair”

Preeminent local historian and storyteller John Ruth will present his new manuscript This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair, a book about the transfer of land from native peoples to our Mennonite ancestors. Open to the public. Admission by donation. Program will be repeated on Sunday, November 24, 2 p.m. at the Indian Valley Public Library, Telford.

Author John Ruth states:
My title for this book which has been brewing since 2006 consists of two expressions about land. The first is the oft-quoted accusation by a Delaware “King,” stamping his foot at Easton in 1758 when recalling the notorious “Walking Purchase” of 1737. The second concerns a speculator’s shady payment in 1719 for the land I live on along the East Branch Creek of the Perkiomen Creek in Lower Salford Township, Montgomery County, PA.

My motive is less argument than curiosity. Must the great transfer of homeland that gave me my place on the map be so faceless in our memory? What did the indigenous people say as they left, and where did they go? Should we really have eliminated their story from our boast of the “lines planted in pleasant places” for which we thank God?

My efforts are certainly not innovative — these topics have been increasingly addressed in the interval of my own research by authors with Mennonite names such as Hostetter, Landis and Stutzman. They have effectively employed fictional methods to probe the interaction of Mennonite settlers with indigenous people enraged by the loss of their land. My own method is to see what can be said without adding what I think might have been said or done. There is available – more and more on line — a large library of both official records and commentary by university scholars that can bring readers much closer to what happened than imagined since the days of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

What I have allowed my imagination to do is to keep comparing the three mostly separate stories of (1) William Penn, (2) immigrants on the specific land of my birth, and (3) the departing Lenapes. Beginning in 1644, when Penn and a Swiss man named Hans Stauffer were born, I follow the Lenape sachem Sassoonan from Perkasie to Shamokin until his death in 1747, and after him a set of his nephews, grandsons of the Neshaminy and Perkiomen watersheds, as long as they can be heard from on the Ohio frontier.

While I had expected to see this 31-chapter book published by the end of 2019, a knee-injuring fall in September 2018 has delayed its completion. However, I plan to introduce the finished manuscript in a lecture at the Mennonite Heritage Center on November 17, and Indian Valley Public Library on November 24, and am in consultation with Cascadia Press regarding publication in 2020.