Penelope Stout stood on Sandy Hook in 1640 and watched as her fellow passengers on a Dutch ship bound for New York abandoned her, promising to send a rescue party.

Their ship had become stranded near the Raritan Bay and the Dutch voyagers, fearful of the Lenape in the area, made haste to get away. Penelope's husband fell ill during the Atlantic crossing and couldn't join the fast retreat from Sandy Hook. Penelope, noble Mother of Monmouth County that she'd become, elected to stay with sick husband and wait for help.

The shipwrecked party was killed by Native Americans, as was Penelope's husband. Penelope was "mangled" and left for dead.

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The injuries described by Samuel Smith in his 1765 book History of the Colony of Nova Csesaria, or New Jersey and recounted in a Stout family genealogy book were gruesome: Penelope's "skull was fractured, and her left shoulder so hacked, that she could never use that arm like the other; she was also cut across the abdomen, so that the bowels protruded; these she kept in with her hands."

She survived by hiding in a hollow tree trunk and eating bark and insects until she was rescued by a kind-hearted Lenape chief.

At least, that's how the unlikely legend goes.

Penelope Stout: Is the Historical Legend True?

I remember digging through archival books in the basement of the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan around 2004 for a newspaper article about the history of Penenelope Stout and her historic house in Holmdel. At the time, the home and Holmdel Township officials were attempting to negotiate a path toward preserving the house. (It would eventually be torn down in 2006.

READ MORE: Colts Neck, NJ Once Housed a Commune

The archival librarian, whose name I've unfortunately long forgotten, had a masterful way of distilling the old language of the historical records and the folklore excess into reality.

"She suffered a major abdominal wound and went on to have 10 children? I don't think so," she said to me.

Monmouth County historian Randall Gabriellan agreed with my helpful librarian friend's assessment, telling the Asbury Park Press in 2017, "I cannot imagine any way of picking the fact from the tall tale as the presentation of the story seems so fanciful."

How Penelope Stout Became the 'Mother of Monmouth County'

Penelope would eventually marry Richard Stout and would be among the first families to settle in Middletown.

As the legend goes, Penelope remained friends with the Lenape chief who rescued her. When the white settlers in Middletown were on poor terms with their Native American neighbors, the Lenape chief warned Penelope and her family to flee the area, effectively saving her life a second time.

READ MORE: Was a Skeleton Found at Sandy Hook Lighthouse?

Smith's books says Stout lived to a whopping 110 years, and she would live to see 502 relatives born, including those 10 children.

That extensive family line and her fascinating history -- if likely more legend than fact -- led to Penelope Stout being deemed the "Mother of Monmouth County."

Interested in more historical figures where legend may straddle fact and fiction? Pirate Captain William Kidd has ties to Monmouth County.

Historical Portraits of Captain Kidd

Gallery Credit: Getty Images

History of the Evil Clown of Middletown

Gallery Credit: Jackie Corley

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