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Areas of Settlement of Swiss Russian Mennonites

Switzerland, Palatinate, Alsace, Montbéliard, Galicia, Poland, Volhynia

Canton Bern, Switzerland

Map of contemporary Steffisburg

Picture of contemporary Steffisburg

Stahley, Mennonite Family History, April 1993, p. 52:

"The Swiss origins of the Amish Mennonites in America is immediately apparent in their family names. Specifically, they come from the environs of Thun in Canton Bern, just north of the mountains of the Oberland.

By the time Jakob Ammann began preaching about 1690, there was a movement to go abroad, to the French-speaking Jura, then under the Bishop of Basel, to Canton Neuchatel, then a possession of Prussia,, to Montbéliard, now France but then a dependency of Württemberg, and especially to Alsace under the King of France.

The Anabaptists, or Täufer (more specifically Wiedertäufer, or rebaptized), had been in Switzerland since the Reformation, and there was continous persecution by the State and the Reformed Church, which was an arm of the State. A large emigration had left around 1671 and settled in the Palatinate in Germany. They were not affected by the Amish movement.

There were congregations in the Emmenthal which did not respond favorably to the more conservative emphases of Jakob Amman and his fellow-preachers. But in the hills behind Steffisburg and Diessbach were families who had fled persecution, and many followed their preaching. By 1700, a rather sizable group from Switzerland gathered at Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace, under the leadership of Ammann and others."

Gratz, Bernese Anabaptists and their American Descendents, p. 21:

an Anabaptist, one Conrad Eichacher (Eicher) was drowned as an execution for his faith in 1530. In 1532 orders were sent to district offices of Thun (Steffisburg is in that area.)

Martin O. Schrag, The European History of Swiss Mennonites, Swiss Mennonite Cultural & Historical Association, Mennonite Press, North Newton, Kansas, 1974. p. 17-20.

"On the basis of primary sources, as recorded by the historian Mathiot, it can be asserted that the famillies arriving in Volhynia from the Montbéliard community in France were of Swiss origin. Mathios states in relation to families living in the Montbeliard community, that the Flukiger family came from Lützelfüh and Hettiswil in Bern, the Graber family from Bern (possibly Kirchdorf), the Kauffman family from Grindelwald, Bern, and the Stuckys from Kirchdorf, Diessbach, and Diemtigen. This evidence relates family names found among Swiss-Volhynian Mennotes with explicit points in Switzerland.."

The life and culture of the Swiss Mennonites in Switzerland and later was largely influenced by the persecution of the State as the officers of the State tried to drive these dissenters into conformity. As they spent most of their communal energy on resisting persecution they withdrew more and more from the world. One of the basic tenets of the Anabaptist faith was a separation from and non-conformity with the world. Persecution institutionalized this basic religious tenet. Higher education was discouraged.

Farming was the chief occupation in the remote mountain valleys of Switzerland. The remotness and the ties to the land reinforced the religious principles of integrity, industry, frugality and simplicity of dress. Most of the Anabaptists were engaged in dairying, and fruit growing in addition to growing the usual crops. Due to their industry and ability to focus on the challenges of the land they became outstanding farmers &endash; a quality which was to appeal to rulers in other lands in later generations who offered the Mennonites regligious toleration and a safe haven in return for the immigration of an industrious farming community.

Palatinate

Map of contemporary area of the Palatinate

As a result of the persecutions in Switzerland a number of Mennonites emigrated to the Palatinate. This is an area of Germany near which includes the cities of Mainz, Kaiserslautern, Coblenz and Trier. Mennonite settlers began arriving in the Palatinate area from Switzerland as early as 1671. After the devastation of the Thirty Years War, in 1674, Prince Karl Ludwig, ruler of the Palatinate offered limited religious liberty to Swiss Mennonites to settle on his wasted farmlands and help to restore them to productivity.

Schrag (p. 24):

…[The Mennonites] became pioneers in progressive agriculture...[introducing] the cultivation of casparsette (a variety of clover), the use of the potato, imporved feedlot practices, and the use of minerals as fertilizers…[They] were also active in the milling industry and in linen weaving."

During the 100 years following the inititial migrations from Switzerland the Mennonite immigrants became subject greater restrictions, especially after the emergence of the Catholic rulers. It was during this time that about 2500 Mennonites migrated from the Palatinate to Pennsylvania.

According to Schrag (p. 25) "the historian Bachmann lists the following background factors as determinative in the movement of the German colonists from the Palatinate to Galicia in 1782-1789":

  • There was a scarcity of land due to the increased population.
  • The countryside was constantly ravaged by war and to pay for the war and the pleasures of the nobility, additional taxes were required.
  • The high taxes placed the farmer under a crushing financial load.
  • The farmers were annoyed by the restrictions prohibiting them from hunting the wild beasts of the forest, as deer and wild pig, which destroued their crops.
  • The nobility were unconcerned about the farmers' loss and in fact did what the could to retain their game preserves.
To: Galicia -- Hutterite Colony -- Michalin, Russia (Migration Route I)

To: Alsace -- Montbéliard -- Poland (Migration Route II)

To: Volhynia (Migration Route II)