Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mennonite Immigration from Russia to America

Russian Mennonites on the North American prairies

If you are interested in the Mennonites, I've found an old article that you may enjoy reading. It appears in an 1878 encyclopedia that has been digitized by Google. You can read the first paragraph at the bottom of this post, and then go to the link to read the remainder of the article (about two pages in all.)

The article explains some of the circumstances that led Mennonites to immigrate in large numbers from Russia in the 1870s and settle on the North American prairies.

Brief history of the Russian Mennonites

Thousands of Moravian and Prussian Mennonites went to Russia during the 1600s and 1700s to escape cruel persecution in their homelands. However, in the 1870s, they were threatened with conscription into Russian armies, which was against their religious beliefs.

Because of their reputation as an industrious, law-abiding, productive people, the government of Canada sent a special messenger in 1874 to invite Russian Mennonites to settle in Manitoba. Canada even lent them money to help them resettle.

Settlements were also established in Kansas, Dakota, Nebraska, and Minnesota. In some cases, whole villages of Mennonites left Russia and resettled on the prairies of North America.

The author (name not given), writing in 1878 during the surge of Russian Mennonite immigration, comments that they are hardworking and thrifty farmers, but reluctant to associate with outsiders and fond of their own language. The women are good housekeepers and the men are good farmers. He is impressed with their ability to establish attractive, well-equipped, productive farms despite limited funds and adverse weather conditions.

The historic marker in the photo below tells a little about the hard red wheat ("Red Turkey Wheat") that the Russian Mennonites brought with them to Kansas. This wheat made Kansas the "bread basket of the nation." I took this photo along Highway 50 in Harvey County, east of Walton, Kansas.

Russian Mennonites brought red wheat to KansasRed Turkey Wheat: Mennonite gift to agriculture.
Text on this historic marker is also available here.

Mennonite immigration to America began in the 1600s.

It is curious that the encyclopedia author writes as if the Mennonites from Russia were the first Mennonites to come to the New World. That's not correct at all.

In 1683, William Penn extended an invitation to the Mennonites to settle in Pennsylvania, and that was the beginning of a large settlement of Mennonites in Pennsylvania. Penn was a Quaker, and he viewed the Mennonites as gentle people of similar faith.

By 1735, there were already close to 500 Mennonite families in Pennsylvania. (Source) I suspect that number included families that we would call Amish today. The Amish were Mennonites who followed Jacob Ammen's teaching about church discipline.

1878 encyclopedia article about Russian Mennonites

Here's the first paragraph of the old encyclopedia article about the Russian Mennonites. The link below it, will take you to the full article.

If the small print is difficult to read, there's a text version. Just follow the link above, and when you get to the Google page, look in the upper right hand corner for the "View Plain Text" link.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.