Historical and biographical sketches/05 Mennonite Emigration to Pennsylvania
MENNONITE EMIGRATION TO PENNSYLVANIA.
By Dr. J. G. De Hoop Scheffer, of Amsterdam.
The extensive tract of land, bounded on the east by the Delaware, on the north by the present New York, on the west by the Allegheny mountains, and on the south by Maryland, has such an agreeable climate, such an unusually Fertile soil, and its watercourses are so well adapted for trade, that it is not surprising that there, as early as 1638 — five and twenty years after our forefathers built the first house in New Amsterdam (New York) — a European colony was established. The first settlers were Swedes, but some Hollanders soon joined them. Surrounded on all sides by savage natives, continually threatened and often harassed, they contented themselves with the cultivation of but a small portion of the land. After, however, King Charles II. had, in settlement of a debt, given the whole province to William Penn, there came a great change. There, before long, at his invitation and through his assistance, his oppressed fellow-believers, followers like himself of George Fox, found a place of refuge. They settled on the Delaware, and, united by the common sufferings endured for their convictions, they founded a city, to which they gave the suggestive name of the city of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia). The province itself received the name of Pennsylvania from the man who brought its settlers over from a land of persecution to his own estate, and has borne it to the present time, though its boundaries have been extended on the north to Lake Erie, and on the west beyond the Allegheny mountains to the present Ohio.
In accordance with the fundamental law established April 25th, 1682, complete freedom of conscience was assured to all religious communities, and William Penn and his associates saw a stream of those who had been persecuted and oppressed for their belief pour into the colony, among whom were many Mennonites from Switzerland and the Palatinate.
In Switzerland for nearly half a century religious intolerance had been most bitter. Many who had remained there were then persuaded to abandon their beloved native country and betake themselves to the distant land of freedom, and others, who had earlier emigrated to Alsace and the Palatinate, and there endured the dreadful horrors of the war in 1690, joined them, hoping in a province described to them as a paradise to find the needed comforts of life. The travelling expenses of these exhausted wanderers on their way through our fatherland were furnished with a liberal hand from the “funds for foreign needs” which our forefathers had collected to aid the Swiss, Palatines, and Litthauers. These emigrants settled for the most part at Philadelphia, and to the northward along the Delaware.
One of the oldest communities, if not the oldest of all, was that at Schiebach or Germantown, The elder of their two preachers, Wilhelm Rittinghausen, died in 1708, and in his place two new preachers were chosen. The same year eleven young people were added to the church through baptism, and two new deacons accepted its obligations. Moreover, the emigration of other brethren from the Palatinate, with Peter Kolb at their head, who were enabled to make the journey by the aid of the Netherlanders, gave a favorable prospect of considerable growth. Financially, however, the circumstances of the community left much to be desired. In a letter written to Amsterdam, dated September 3d, 1708, from which these particulars are derived, and which was signed by Jacob Gaetschalck, Harmen Karsdorp, Martin Kolb, Isack Van Sinteren, and Conradt Jansen, they presented “a loving and friendly request” for “some catechisms for the children and little testaments for the young.” Beside, psalm books and Bibles were so scarce that the whole membership had but one copy, and even the meeting-house needed a Bible. They urged their request by saying “that the community is still weak, and it would cost much money to get them printed, while the members who came here from Germany have spent everything and must begin anew, and all work, in order to pay for the conveniences of life of which they stand in need.” What the printing would cost can to some extent be seen from the demands of a bookseller in New York, who beside only printed in English, for the publication of the Confession of Faith in that language. He asked so much for it that the community could not by any possibility raise the money, for which reason the whole plan had to be abandoned. The proposition was first considered because of conversations with some people there whose antecedents were entirely unknown, but “who called themselves Mennonites,” descendants perhaps of the Dutch or English colonists who in the first years of the settlement established themselves on the territory of Pennsylvania. That the young community was composed of other people besides Palatines has been shown by the letter just mentioned, bearing the Netherlandish signature of Karsdorp, a name much honored among our forefathers, and which has become discredited through late occurrences at Dordrecht.
It is no wonder that a half year later the “committee on foreign needs” cherished few hopes concerning the colony. They felt, however, for nine or ten families who had come to Rotterdam — according to information from there, under date of April 8th, 1709 — from the neighborhood of Worms and Frankenthal, in order to emigrate, and whom they earnestly sought to dissuade from making the journey. They were, said the letter from Rotterdam, “altogether very poor men, who intended to seek a better place of abode in Pennsylvania. Much has been expended upon them hitherto freely, and these people bring with them scarcely anything that is necessary in the way of raiment and provisions, much less the money that must be spent for fare from here to England, and from there on the great journey, before they can settle in that foreign land.” Naturally the Rotterdamers asked that money be furnished for the journey and support of the emigrants. But the committee, who considered the matter “useless and entirely unadvisable,” refused to dispose in this way of the funds entrusted to them. It was the first refusal of the kind, and little did the committee think that for twenty-four years they must keep repeating it before such requests should entirely cease. It would in fact have been otherwise if they had begun with the rule which they finally adopted in 1732, or if the determination they expressed in letter after letter had been followed by like action, and they had not let themselves be persuaded away from it continually — sometimes from perplexity, but oftener from pity. The Palatines understood the situation well. If they could only reach Holland without troubling themselves about the letters, if they were only urgent and persevering, the committee would end by helping them on their way to Pennsylvania. The emigrants of April, 1709, accomplished their objects though as it appears through the assistance of others. At all events, I think, they are the ones referred to by Jacob Telner, a Netherlander Mennonite dwelling at London, who wrote, August 6th, to Amsterdam and Haarlem: “Eight families went to Pennsylvania; the English Friends, who are called Quakers, helped them liberally.” His letter speaks of others who also wanted to follow their example, and urges more forcibly than ever the people at Rotterdam to give assistance. “The truth is,” he writes, “that many thousands of persons, old and young, and men and women, have arrived here in the hope and expectation of going to Pennsylvania, but the poor men are misled in their venture. If they could transport themselves by their own means, they might go where they pleased, but because of inability they cannot do it, and must go where they are ordered. Now, as there are among all this multitude six families of our brethren and fellow-believers, I mean German Mennonites, who ought to go to Pennsylvania, the brethren in Holland should extend to them the hand of love and charity, for they are both poor and needy. I trust and believe, however, that they are honest and God-fearing. It would be a great comfort and consolation to the poor sheep, if the rich brothers and sisters from their superfluities would satisfy their wants, and let some crumbs fall from their tables to these poor Lazaruses. Dear brethren, I feel a tender compassion for the poor sheep, for they are of our flesh, as says the Prophet Isaiah, lxviii, 7 and 8.”
It was not long before pity for our fellow-believers was excited still more forcibly. Fiercer than ever became the persecution of the Mennonites in Switzerland. The prisons at Bern were filled with the unfortunates, and the inhuman treatment to which they were subjected caused many to pine away and die. The rest feared from day to day that the minority in the council which demanded their trial would soon become a majority. Through the intercession, however, of the States General, whose aid the Netherland Mennonites sought, not without success, some results were effected. The Council of Bern finally determined to send the prisoners, well watched and guarded, in order to transport them from there in an English ship to Pennsylvania. On the 18th of March, 1710, the exiles departed from Bern; on the 28th, with their vessel, they reached Manheim, and on the 6th of April Nimeguen; and when they touched Netherland soil, their sufferings came to an end at last; they were free, and their useless guards could return to Switzerland. Laurens Hendriks, the preacher of our community at Nimeguen, wrote in his letter of April 9th: “It happened that very harsh decrees were issued by the rulers at Bern to search for our friends in all corners of the land, and put them in the prisons at Bern, by which means within the last two years about sixty persons were thrown into dungeons, where some of them underwent much misery in the great cold last winter, while their feet were fast in the iron shackles. The Council at Bern were still very much at variance as to what punishment should be inflicted on them, and so they have the longer lain in prison; for some would have them put to death, but others could not consent to such cruelty, so finally they determined in the Council to send them as prisoners to Pennsylvania. Therefore they put them on a vessel, well watched by a guard of soldiers, to send them on the Rhine to Holland; but on coming to Manheim, a city of the Palatinate, they put out all the old, the sick, and the women, but with twenty-three men floated further down the Rhine, and en the 6th of April came here to Nimeguen. When they heard that their fellow-believers lived here, one of them came to me, guarded by two soldiers. The soldiers then went away and left the man with me. After I, with the other preachers, had talked with him, we went together to the ship, and there found our other brethren. We then spoke to the officers of the guard, and arranged with them that these men should receive some refreshment, since they had been on the water for twenty days in great misery, and we brought them into the city. Then we said to our imprisoned brethren: The soldiers shall not get you out of here again easily, for if they use force, we will complain to our magistrates. This, however, did not happen. They went about in freedom, and we remained with them and witnessed all the manifestations of love and friendship with the greatest joy. We spent the time together delightfully, and after they were entirely refreshed, they the next day departed, though they moved with difficulty, because stiffened from their long imprisonment. I went with them for an hour and a half beyond the city, and there we, with weeping eyes and swelling hearts, embraced each other, and with a kiss of peace separated. They returned to the Palatinate to seek their wives and children, who are scattered everywhere in Switzerland, in Alsace, and in the Palatinate, and they know not where they are to be found. They were very patient and cheerful under oppression, though all their worldly goods were taken away. Among them were a preacher and two deacons. They were naturally very rugged people, who could endure hardships; they wore long and unshaven beards, disordered clothing, great shoes, which were heavily hammered with iron and large nails; they were very zealous to serve God with prayer and reading and in other ways, and very innocent in all their doings as lambs and doves. They asked me in what way the community was governed. I explained it to them, and it pleased them very much. But we could hardly talk with them, because, as they lived in the mountains of Switzerland, far from cities and towns, and had little intercourse with other men, their speech is rude and uncouth, and they have difficulty in understanding any one who does not speak just their way. Two of them have gone to Deventer, to see whether they can get a livelihood in this country.”
Most of them went to the Palatinate to seek their kinsmen and friends, and before long a deputation from them came back here. On the first of May we find three of their preachers, Hans Burchi or Burghalter, Melchoir Zaller, and Benedict Brechtbühl, with Hans Rub and Peter Donens, in Amsterdam, where they gave a further account of their affairs with the Bern magistracy, and apparently consulted with the committee as to whether they should establish themselves near the Palatinate brethren or on the lands in the neighborhood of Campen and Groningen, which was to be gradually purchased by the committee on behalf of the fugitives. The majority preferred a residence in the Palatinate, but they soon found great difficulty in accomplishing it. The Palatinate community was generally poor, so that the brethren, with the best disposition, could be of little service in insuring the means of gaining a livelihood; there was a scarcity of lands and farm-houses, and there was much to be desired in the way of religious liberty, since they were subject entirely to the humors of the Elector, or, worse still, his officers. For nearly seven years, often supported by the Netherland brethren, they waited and persevered, always hoping for better times. Then, their numbers being continually increased by new fugitives and exiles from Switzerland, they finally determined upon other measures, and, at a meeting of their elders at Manheim, in February, 1717, decided to call upon the Netherlanders for help in carrying out the great plan of removing to Pennsylvania, which they had long contemplated, and which had then come to maturity. Strange as it may appear at first glance, the very land to which the Swiss tyrants had once wanted to banish them had then become the greatest attraction. Still there was reason enough for it; reason, perhaps, in the information which their brethren sent from there to the Palatinate, but before all, in the pressing invitation or instruction of the English King, George I., through his agent (Muntmeester) Ochse, at the court. “Since it has been observed,” so reads the beginning of this remarkable paper, “that the Christians, called Baptists or Mennonites, have been denied freedom of conscience in various places in Germany and Switzerland, and endure much opposition from their enemies, so that with diffilculty they support themselves, scattered here and there, and have been hindered in the exercise of their religion,” the king offers to them for a habitation the country west of the Allegheny mountains, then considered a part of Pennsylvania, but not yet belonging to it. Each family should have fifty acres of land in fee simple, and for the first ten years the use, without charge, of as much more as they should want, subject only to the stipulation that after this time the yearly rent for a hundred acres should be two shillings, i. e., about a guilder, less six kreutzers. “There is land enough for a hundred thousand families. They shall have permission to live there, not as foreigners, but on their engagement, without oath, to be true and obedient to the king, be bound as lawful subjects, and possess their land with the same right as if they had been born such, and, without interference, exercise their religion in meetings, just as do the Reformed and Lutherans.” After calling attention to the fact that in eastern Pennsylvania the land was too dear (£20 to £100 sterling for a hundred acres), the climate in Carolina was too hot, New York and Virginia were already too full for them to settle there with good chances of success, an attractive description of the country followed in these words: “This land is in a good and temperate climate, not too hot or too cold; it lies between the 39th and 43d parallels of north latitude, and extends westward about two hundred German miles. It is separated from Virginia and Pennsylvania by high mountains; the air is very pure, since it lies high; it is very well watered, having streams, brooks and springs, and the soil has the reputation of being better than any that can be found in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Walnut, chestnut, oak, and mulberry trees grow naturally in great profusion, as well as many fruit-bearing trees, and the wild white and purple grapes in the woods are larger and better than in any other place in America. The soil is favorable for wheat, barley, rye, Indian corn, hemp, flax, and also silk, besides producing many other useful things much more abundantly than in Germany, A field can be easily planted for from ten to twenty successive years without manure. It is also very suitable for such fruits as apples, pears, cherries, prunes, quinces, and especially peaches, which grow unusually well and bear fruit in three years from the planting of the stone. All garden crops do very well, and vineyards can be made, since the wild grapes are good, and would be still better if they were dressed and pruned. Many horses, cattle, and sheep can be raised and kept, since an excellent grass grows exuberantly. Numbers of hogs can be fattened on the wild fruits in the bushes. This land is also full of cattle (rundvee), called buffaloes and elks, none of which are seen in Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Carolina. Twenty or thirty of these buffaloes are found together. There are also many bears, which hurt nobody. They feed upon leaves and wild fruits, on which they get very fat, and their flesh is excellent. Deer exist in great numbers, beside Indian cocks and hens (turkeys?), which weigh from twenty to thirty pounds each, wild pigeons more than in any other place in the world, partridges, pheasants, wild swans, geese, all kinds of ducks, and many other small fowls and animals; so that if the settlers can only supply themselves for the first year with bread, some cows for milk and butter, and vegetables, such as potatoes, peas, beans, etc., they can find flesh enough to eat from the many wild animals and birds, and can live better than the richest nobleman. The only difficulty is that they will be about thirty miles from the sea; but this, by good management, can be made of little consequence.”
Apparently this description sounded like enchantment in the ears of the poor Swiss and Palatines who had never known anything but the thin soil of their native country, and who frequently met with a refusal if they sought to secure a farm of one or two acres. And how was that land of promise to be reached? Easily enough. They had only before the 1st of March to present themselves to one or another well-known merchant at Frankfort, pay £3 sterling or twenty-seven guilders each (children under ten years of age at half rates), that is, £2 for transportation, and £1 for seventy pounds of biscuit, a measure and a half of peas, a measure of oatmeal, and the necessary beer, and immediately they would be sent in ships to Rotterdam, thence to be carried over to Virginia. First, however, in Holland, one-half of the fare must be paid and additional provisions, etc., secured, viz.: twenty-four pounds of dried beef, fifteen pounds of cheese, and eight and a quarter pounds of butter. Indeed, they were advised to provide themselves still more liberally with edibles, and with garden seeds and agricultural implements, linen, shirts, beds, table goods, powder and lead, furniture, earthenware, stoves, and especially money to buy “seeds, salt, horses, swine, and fowls,” to be taken along with them. All of these things would indeed cost a large sum, but what did that signify in comparison with the luxury which was promised them? Should not the Netherland brethren quickly and gladly furnish this last assistance? So thought the Palatine brethren. It is not to be wondered at, however, that the “committee on foreign needs” judged differently. They knew how much exaggeration there was in the picture painted by the English agent. They thought they were not authorized to consent to a request for assistance in the payment of travelling expenses, since the money was intrusted to them to be expended alone for the persecuted, and the brethren in the Palatinate were then tolerated; they feared the emigrants would call for more money; and in a word they opposed the plan most positively, and explained that if it was persisted in no help need be expected. Their objection however accomplished nothing. In reply to their views, the committee received information, March 20th, that more than a hundred persons had started, and three weeks later they heard from Rotterdam that those already coming numbered three hundred, among whom were four very needy families who required 600 f. for their passage, and that thirty others were getting ready to leave Neuwied. Though the committee had declared positively in their letters that they would have nothing to do with the whole affair, they nevertheless immediately passed a secret resolution, that, “as far as concerns our committee, the friends are to be helped as much as possible;” and apparently they took care that there should be furnished from private means what as officials they could not give out of the fund. Among the preachers who were at the head of these colonists, we find principally Hans Burghalter and Benedict Brechtbuhl.
The desire for emigration seemed to be entirely appeased in the Palatinate until 1726, when it broke out again with renewed force. The chief causes were higher burdens imposed upon them by the Elector, the fear of the outburst of war, and perhaps also pressing letters of invitation written by the friends settled in Pennsylvania. Moreover, the committee were guilty of a great imprudence. Though they so repeatedly assured the emigrants that they could not and would not help them, and promised liberal assistance to the needy Palatines who abandoned the journey, still, through pity for a certain Hubert Brouwer of Neuwied, they gave him and his family 300f. passage-money. Either this became known in the Palatinate, or the stream could no longer be stayed. Though some of their elders, together with the committee, tried to dissuade them, and painted horrible pictures of the possibility that, in the war between England and Spain, they might “by Spanish ships be taken to the West Indies where men are sold as slaves,” the Palatines believed not a word of it. On the 12th of April, 1727, there were one hundred and fifty ready to depart, and on the 16th of May, the committee were compelled to write to the Palatinate that they “ought to be informed of the coming of those already on the way, so that they can best provide for them;” and they further inquired “how many would arrive without means, so that the Society might consider whether it would be possible for them to arrange for the many and great expenses of the passage.”
Some did not need help, and could supply from their
own means what was required; but on the 20th the
committee learned that forty-five more needy ones had started
from the Palatinate. These with eight others cost the
Society 3271f. 15st. Before the end of July twenty-one
more came to Rotterdam, and so it continued. No
wonder that the committee, concerned about such an
outpouring, requested the community in Pennsylvania “to
announce emphatically to all the people from the pulpit
that they must no more advise their needy friends and
acquaintances to come out of the Palatinate, and should
encourage them with the promise that, if they only
ccross the sea, they would be liberally provided
for in everything.” If, however, they added, the
Pennsylvanians wanted to pay for the passage of the poor
Palatines, it would then of course be their own affair.
This the Pennsylvanians were not ready nor in a condition
to do. The committee also sent forbidding letter
after letter to the Palatinate, but every year they had to
be repeated, and sometimes, as, for instance, May 6th,
1733, they drew frightful pictures: “We learn from New
York that a ship from Rotterdam going to Pennsylvania
with one hundred and fifty Palatines wandered twenty-four
weeks at sea. When they finally arrived at port
nearly all the people were deal. The rest, through the
want of vivres, were forced to subsist upon rats and vermin,
and are all sick and weak. The danger of such an
occurrence is always so great that the most heedless do not run
the risk except through extreme want.” Nevertheless
the stream of emigrants did not cease. When finally
over three thousand of different sects came to Rotterdam,
the committee, June 15th, 1732, adopted the strong resolution, that under no pretence would they furnish means
to needy Palatines, except to pay their fares back to their
fatherland. By rigidly maintaining this rule, and thus
ending where they undoubtedly should have commenced,
the committee put a complete stop to emigration. On
the 17th of March they reported that they had already
accomplished their object, and from that time they
were not again troubled with requests for passage-money
to North America. In the meanwhile their adherence to
this resolution caused some coolness between the
communities in the Netherlands and in Pennsylvania. Still
their intercourse was not entirely terminated. A special
circumstance gave an impulse which turned the
Pennsylvanians again toward our brotherhood in 1742. Their
colony had increased wonderfully; they enjoyed prosperity,
rest, and what the remembrance of foreign sufferings
made more precious than all, complete religious freedom;
but they talked with some solicitude about their ability
to maintain one of their points of belief — absolute
nonparticipation in war, even defensive. They had at first
been so few in numbers that they were unnoticed by the
government, but now it was otherwise. Could they, when
a general arming of the people was ordered to repel a
hostile invasion of the neighboring French colonists or an
incursion of the Indians, refuse to go, and have their conscientious scruples respected? They were in doubt about
it, and little indications seemed to warrant their
uncertainty. The local magistracy and the deputed authorities
looked favorably upon their request for complete
freedom from military service, but explained that they
were without the power to grant the privilege which they
thought existed in the King of England alone. In
consequence of this explanation the Pennsylvania Mennonites
resolved to write, as they did under date of May 8th,
1742, to Amsterdam and Haarlem, and ask that the com-
munities there would bring their powerful influence to bear
upon the English Court in their behalf, as had been done
previously through the intervention of the States-General
when alleviation was obtained in the case of the Swiss
and Litthauer brethren. This letter seems to have
miscarried. It cannot be found in the archives of the
Amsterdam community, and their minutes contain no reference
to it, so that its contents woukl have remained entirely
unknown if the Pennsylvanians had not written again
October 19th, 1745, complaining of the silence upon this
side, and repeating in a few words what was said in it.
Though it is probable that the letter of 1742 was not
received, it may be that our forefathers laid it aside unanwered,
thinking it unadvisable to make the intervention
requested before the North American brethren had substantial
difficulty about the military service, and it must be
remarked that in the reply, written from here to the second
letter, there is not a word said upon this subject, and
allusions only are made to things which, in comparison,
the Pennsylvanians surely thought were of much less
In the second part of their letter of October, 1745, which is in German, the Pennsylvanians write, “as the flames of war appear to mount higher, no man can tell whether the cross and persecution of the defenceless Christians will not soon come, and it is therefore of importance to prepare ourselves for such circumstances with patience and resignation, and to use all available means that can encourage steadfastness and strengthen faith. Our whole community have manifested an unanimous desire for a German translation of the Bloody Theatre of Tieleman Jans Van Braght, especially since in this community there is a very great number of newcomers, for whom we consider it to be of the greatest importance that they should become acquainted with the trustworthy witnesses who have walked in the way of truth, and sacrificed their lives for it.” They further say that for years they had hoped to undertake the work, and the recent establishment of a German printing office had revived the wish, but “the bad paper always used here for printing” discouraged them. The greatest difficulty, however, was to find a suitable translator, upon whose skill they could entirely rely, without the fear that occasionally the meaning would be perverted. Up to that time no one had appeared among them to whom they could give the work with perfect confidence, and they therefore requested the brethren in Holland to look around for such a translator, have a thousand copies printed, and send them bound, with or without clasps and locks, or in loose sheets, to Pennsylvania, not, however, until they had sent over a complete account of the cost. The letter is dated at Schiebach, and bears the signatures of Jacob Godschalck, Martin Kolb, Michael Ziegler. Heinrich Funck, Gillis Kassel, and Dielman Kolb. Not until the 10th of February, 1748, did the “Committee on Foreign Needs,” in whose hands the letter was placed, find time to send an answer. Its tenor was entirely unfavorable. They thought the translation “wholly and entirely impracticable, as well because it would be difficult to find a translator as because of the immense expense which would be incurred, and which they could very easily avoid.” As “this book could certainly be found in the community, and there were some of the brethren who understood the Dutch language,” it was suggested “to get them to translate into the German some of the chief histories wherein mention is made of the confessions of the martyrs, and which would serve for the purpose, and have them copied by the young people.” By so doing they would secure “the double advantage that through the copying they would give more thought to it, and receive a stronger impression.”
The North American brethren, at least, got the benefit of the information contained in this well-meant counsel sent two and a half years late. In the mean time they had themselves zealously taken hold of the work, and before the reception of the letter from Holland accomplished their purpose. That same year, 1748, the complete translation of the Martyr's Mirror of Tieleman Jans Van Braght saw the light at Ephrata. It was afterwards printed, with the pictures from the original added, at Pirmasens in the Bavarian Palatinate, in 1780, and this second edition is still frequently found among our fellow members in Germany, Switzerland, and the mountains of the Vosges.
Though the completion of this very costly undertaking gives a favorable idea of the energy and financial strength of the North American community, they had to struggle with adversity, and were compelled, ten years later, to call for the charity of their Netherland brethren. Nineteen families of them had settled in Virginia, “but because of the cruel and barbarous Indians, who had already killed and carried away as prisoners so many of our people,” they fled back to Pennsylvania. All of one family were murdered, and the rest had lost all their possessions. Even in Pennsylvania two hundred families, through recent incursions of the savages in May and June, lost everything, and their dead numbered fifty. In this dreadful deprivation they asked for help, and they sent two of their number, Johannes Schneyder and Martin Funck, to Holland, giving them a letter dated September 7th, 1758, signed by Michael Kaufman, Jacob Borner, Samuel Bohm, and Daniel Stauffer. The two envoys, who had themselves sorely suffered from the devastations of the war, acquitted themselves well of their mission on the 18th of the following December, when they secured an interview with the committee at Amsterdam. They made the impression of being “plain and honest people,” gave all the explanations that were wanted, and received an answer to the letter they brought, in which was inclosed a bill of exchange upon Philadelphia for £50 sterling, equal to £78 11s. 5d. Pennsylvania currency, or 550f. The newly chosen secretary of the committee, J. S. Centen, adds: “We then paid their expenses here, and supplied them with victuals and travelling money, and they departed December 17th, 1758, in the Hague packet boat.”
After this event all intercourse between the North American Mennonites and those in the Netherlands ceased, except that the publisher of the well-known “Name List of the Mennonite Preachers” endeavored, until the end of the last century, to obtain the necessary information from North America for his purpose; but it is apparent, upon looking at the remarkable names of places, that very much is wanting. They wrote to him, however, that he might mention as distinct communities Schiebach, Germantown, Mateschen, Indian Kreek, Blen, Soltford, Rakkill, Schwanin, Deeproom, Berkosen, Anfrieds, Grotenswamp, Sackheim, Lower Milford, with two meeting houses, Hosensak, Lehay, Term, Schuylkill, and forty in the neighborhood of Kanestogis. In 1786 the community in Virginia is also specially mentioned. For some years this statement remained unchanged. The list of 1793 says that the number of the Mennonite communities of North America, distinct from the Baptists, was two hundred, and some estimate them at over three hundred, of which twenty-three were in the Pennsylvania districts of Lancaster and Kanestogis. This communication was kept unchanged in the Name List of 1810, but in the next, that of 1815, it was at last omitted, because, according to the compiler, Dr. A. N. Van Gelder, “for many years, at least since 1801, we have been entirely without knowledge or information.”
In 1856, R. Baird, in his well-known work, “Religions in America,” says that Pennsylvania is still the principal home of the Mennonites in the United States, and that they have four hundred communities, with two hundred or two hundred and fifty preachers and thirty thousand members, who are, for the most part in easy circumstances. Perhaps these figures are correct, so far as concerns Pennsylvania; but according to the “Conference Minutes of the entire Mennonite Community in North America, held at West Point, Lee County, Iowa, the 28th and 29th of May, 1860,” the number of the Mennonites in all the States of the Union amounted to 128,000. After having for many years almost entirely neglected mutual relations, and separated into many small societies, they finally came to the conclusion that a firm covenant of brotherhood is one means to collect the scattered, to unite the divided, and to strengthen the weak. The delegates of the communities come together annually, as they did the present year from May 31st to June 3d, at Wadsworth, Ohio. On the 20th of May, 1861, they repeated in their own way what our fathers did fifty years earlier; they founded a seminary for the service of the church, with which, since that time, Dr. Van der Smissen, formerly minister at Frederickstadt, has been connected as professor and director. May it be to them as great a blessing as ours has been to us.
- The article here translated from the Dutch, and annotated, appeared in the “Doopsgezinde Bijdragen” for 1869, under the title of “Vriendschapsbetrekkingen tusschen de Doopsgezinden hier te landeen die in Pennsylvanie.”
- It is certainly worthy of attention that the first request these people send back to their brethren in Europe was for Bibles and Testaments. Jacob Gaetschalck was a preacher at Skippack. Martin Kolb, a grandson of Peter Schuhmacher who died at Germantown in 1707, was born in the village of Wolfsheim, in the Palatinate, in 1680, and came with his brothers, Johannes and Jacob, to Pennsylvania in the spring of 1707. He married May 19th, 1709, Magdalena, daughter of Isaac Van Sintern, who also united in this letter. Isaac Van Sintern was born September 4th, 1662, and was a great-grandson of Jan de Voss, a burgomaster at Handschooten,. in Flanders, about 1550. He married in Amsterdam, Cornelia Claassen, of Hamburg, and came to Pennsylvania with four daughters after 1687. He died August 23d, 1737, and is buried at Skippack.
- See note upon page 41.
- “But not only did the leaders of the early Society of Friends take great interest in the Mennonites, but the Yearly Meeting of 1709 contributed fifty pounds (a very large sum at that time) for the Mennonites of the Palatinate who had fled from the persecution of the Calvinists in Switzerland. This required the agreement of the representatives of above 400 churches, and shows in a strong light the sympathy which existed among the early Friends for the Mennonites.” — Barclay's Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, 251.
This simple picture is fully as pathetic as that other, which it
forcibly suggests, beginning: —
“ Heu! misero conjunx, fatone erepta, Creusa Substitit, erravit ne via, seu lassa residit, Incertum; nec post oculis est reddita nostris.”
- Hans Burghalter came to America, and was a preacher at Conestoga, Lancaster County, in 1727.
- According to Rupp, Bernhard B. Brechtbuhl translated the Wandelnde Seele into the German from the Dutch.
- This is of course correct as far as the committee at Amsterdam is concerned, but neither emigration nor Mennonite aid ended at this time. The Schwenckfelders, some of whom came over only the next year, speak in warm and grateful terms of the aid rendered them by the Mennonites. Their MS. journal, now in the possession of Abraham H. Cassel, says “Mr. Henry Van der Smissen gave us on the ship 16 loaves of bread, 2 Dutch cheeses, 2 tubs of butter, 4 casks of beer, two roasts of meat, much flour and biscuit, and 2 bottles of French brandy, and otherwise took good care of us”
- Michael Ziegler, as early as 1722, lived near the present Skippackville, in Montgomery County, and was, for at least thirty years, one of the elders of the Skippack Church. He died at an advanced age about 1763, and left £9 to the poor of that congregation.
- Henry Funk, always one of the most able and enterprising of the Mennonite preachers, and long a bishop, settled on the Indian Creek, in Franconia Township, now Montgomery County, in 1719. He was ever faithful and zealous in his work, and did much to advance the interests of his church. He wrote a book upon baptism, entitled “Ein Spiegel der Taufe,” published by Saur in 1744, which has passed through at least five editions. A more ambitious effort was the “Erklärung einiger haupt-puncten des Gesetzes,” published after his death by Armbruster, in 1763. This book was reprinted at Biel, Switzerland, in 1844, and at Lancaster, Pa., in 1862, and is much esteemed. He and Dielman Kolb supervised the translation of Van Braght's Martyr's Mirror from the Dutch to the German, and certified to its correctness. Beside these labors, which were all without pecuniary compensation, he was a miller, and acquired a considerable estate. He died about 1760.
Yillis Kassel came to Pennsylvania in the year 1727, and was a
preacher at Skippack, and one of the representative men of the
church. His father or grandfather, Yillis Kassel, was also a
Mennonite preacher at Kriesheim in 1665, and wrote a Confession of
Faith and a number of MS. poems, which are now in the possession
of his descendant, the noted antiquary, Abraham H. Cassel. They
describe very vividly the horrible condition of the Rhine country at
that time, and the sufferings of the people of his faith. The
composition was frequently interrupted by such entries as these: “And
now we must flee to Worms,” “In Kriesheim, to which we have
again come home.” From one of them I extract: —
“ Denn es ist bekannt und offenbar. Was Jammer, Elend, und Gefahr Gewesen ist umher im Land Mit Rauben, Plündern, Mord, und Brand. Manch Mensch gebracht in Angst und Noth Geschändeliert auch bis zum Tod. Zerschlagen verhauen manch schoenes Haus, Vielen Leuten die Kleider gezogen aus; Getreid, und Vieh hinweggeführt, Viel Jammer und Klag hat man gehört.”
A copy of the first German edition of Menno Simon's Foundation (1575), which belonged to the younger Yillis, and is, so far as known, the only copy in America, is now in my library.
- Deep Run.
- Great Swamp.