Today’s Daily Prompt was surprising. (Really, it’s Thanksgiving, one would think…) Yeah, well it’s asking for Fear Factor, instead. I’ve decided to do both. I’m going to give Thanks to a Pilgrim Ancestress who not only knew fear in its most horrific forms, but chose to survive, courageously and find many things to be Thankful for…
She was never afraid or ashamed to show off her scars – which, her grandchildren found morbidly fascinating. They would crawl up into her lap, careful of her lame, mangled arm or gather around her feet to hear the tale of how she’d survived a most promising death.
Around 1642, Penelope had boarded a ship bound for New Amsterdam (later New York) from her home in Holland. She was a young bride, two years married to a man who’s name was either John Kent or John van Prince, Princin or Princes – no one knows for sure. He would fall sick on the voyage across the Atlantic and when a nasty storm shipwrecked them on the Northeastern shores of the New World, documented as Sandy Hook – he was riddled with pneumonia, wounded and unable to protect himself or his young wife from the unfortunate welcoming party waiting for them. Natives, likely bent on protecting their lands, fell onto the makeshift camp, killing John.
Penelope was stripped naked, scalped, her shoulder crushed, arm mangled and had received an ax to her stomach where parts of her entrails protruded. Presumed dead, Penelope either waited or regained consciousness after her attackers had finally left the area. Fearful of their return, she managed to drag her weak, broken and bloody self to the hollow of a tree; all the while with a hand clutching at the innards still trying to fall out of the cut in her stomach.
I can’t imagine the kind of pain she must have been in. The kind of fear, maddening grief or desperation Penelope must have been feeling at that time. Her husband was dead. She had no clothing, no food or water and was bleeding to death in a strange, new world she knew nothing about. Had she been ready to die by the time someone finally came? Or had there still been a spark of survival burning inside of her? And when she saw the deer stumble past with arrows buried in its bleeding pelt, had cold fear gripped her throat, believing that her husband’s murderers had returned? It was two members of the Navesink Tribe of Lenni-Lenape, and the popular belief is that the younger man had intended to kill her, but the older (sometimes noted as the Chief) stopped him.
They bound her wounds and carried her back to their home, where they continued to tend to her injuries and nurse her back to health. It’s unknown how long she remained with the Navesink, but there is no doubt that she forged a bond with at least the older man. Once she was able to travel, Penelope’s rescuers escorted her to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Some think it was to ‘sell’ her back, or at least procure a very handsome reward for her. In New Amsterdam, Penelope met and married Richard Stout, a prominent Englishman from Nottinghamshire who was twice her age. Richard and Penelope moved to Middleton, where they were closer to the Navesink Tribe. When her oldest child was still a babe in arms, the very man who’d rescued her arrived to forewarn her of a plotted attack on her colony.
In the dead of night, he helped Penelope, Richard and their infant sneak into a canoe in the shallows nearby and lay down inside of them in order to stay hidden and safe. It is unsure how, but the attack never happened. Some say Richard did not hide, but stood up to the threat alongside his fellow English and Dutchmen who managed to ‘dissuade’ their would-be-attackers.
Whether that last bit ever took place or not, one thing is for certain. Penelope Stout not only survived a shipwreck, a brutal attack that should have killed her, starvation, dehydration and the elements to finally find her place in the history of the New World – she also became known as having an influential part in the development and growth of Monmouth County, New Jersey. She ended up giving birth to 10 children and living to the age of 110. She knew 502 of her own descendants before death – at long, long last – staked a claim on her.
Penelope Stout should have died in the forest between Sandy Hook and New Amsterdam. Instead, she outlived them all: Her attackers and those who’d saved her. To this day, her immortal legend lives on in her approximate 10,000 descendants residing just in the United States, alone – and I am Thankful to be one of them.