The Bergthal Mennonite settlement and church, near Mariupol, Ekaterinoslav, South Russia (Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine), begun in 1836, was the first daughter colony of the Chortitza (Old Colony) settlement. The Chortitza settlement, established in 1789, consisted of some 24,000 acres of land with some 20 villages. By 1830 the population had increased so that the surplus land was exhausted and there were many landless people.
In 1836 the government made available a tract of 30,000 acres of arable land approximately 40 miles east of the Molotschna settlement in the district of Mariupol. Some 145 landless Chortitza Mennonite families settled here, establishing five villages—Bergthal, Schönfeld, Schönthal, Heubuden, and Friedrichstal. By 1867 the settlement consisted of some 370 families of whom nearly 100 were again landless or day laborers.
Administratively and ecclesiastically the settlement was independent. The first elder was Jakob Braun, who was succeeded by Gerhard Wiebe. The administration of the settlement was in the hands of the Oberschulze. Because of its distant location the Bergthal settlement had little contact with its mother colony and thus did not keep pace with the developments of the larger settlements. When in the 1870s the educational system of the Mennonites was subjected to the control of the government and a general conscription of young men was in preparation, the leadership of the Bergthal settlement was greatly alarmed. They took part in the delegation to St. Petersburg and in seeking land where they would obtain the lost freedoms. Oberschulze Peters and Heinrich Wiebe investigated America for settlement purposes, joining the delegation of 12 in 1873. Elder Gerhard Wiebe writing about the outcome stated: "The congregation chose Canada because it is under the protection of the Queen of England and therefore we believe that the principle of nonresistance could be maintained there for a longer period of time and also that the church and school would be under our own administration."
In 1874 the first and largest group left Bergthal via Hamburg for Ontario, arriving in Winnipeg 31 July 1874 on the steamer International. From here they proceeded by boat 25 miles south where they established their homes on the East Reserve which had been chosen by their delegates. By 1876 all property of the Bergthal settlement in Russia had been sold and the last of the 500 families consisting of nearly 3,000 persons had left. Only a few families remained in Russia. This was the only Mennonite settlement which migrated as a compact group from Russia to America during that time. Some members of the Kleine Gemeinde joined the Bergthal settlement in Manitoba. Some of the Bergthal group soon moved from the East Reserve to the West Reserve. Those remaining on the East Reserve later became known as Chortitza Mennonites, while the majority on the West Reserve were named Sommerfeld Mennonites and a more progressive minority retained the name Bergthal Mennonites (see Bergthal Mennonites).
Although of the same background, the Bergthal and Old Colony Mennonites (coming from Chortitza and Fürstenland in Russia) never united as one congregation. Most of the Old Colony Mennonites later moved to Mexico and a considerable number of the Sommerfeld and Chortitza Mennonites migrated to Paraguay.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 165.
Wiebe, Gerhard. Causes and history of the emigration of the Mennonites from Russia to America. Winnipeg : Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1981.
Wiebe, Gerhard. Ursachen und Geschichte der Auswanderung der Mennoniten aus Russland nach Amerika. Winnipeg : Der Nordwesten, . Reprinted Strassburgo, Chihuahua, Mexico: Strassburg Platz, 1997.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Bergthal Mennonite Settlement (Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 25 Oct 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bergthal_Mennonite_Settlement_(Zaporizhia_Oblast,_Ukraine)&oldid=107129.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1953). Bergthal Mennonite Settlement (Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 October 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bergthal_Mennonite_Settlement_(Zaporizhia_Oblast,_Ukraine)&oldid=107129.
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