The Germantown Mennonite Settlement, the first permanent Mennonite settlement in North America, was established 24 October 1683, six miles (10 km) north of the then one-year-old town of Philadelphia. The first Mennonite group settlement in America, however, was that established by Pieter Cornelisz Plockhoy in 1663 with Dutch settlers at Horekill on the Delaware some 70 miles (120 km) south of Germantown, which was destroyed by English raiders a year later. Earlier even than this, scattered individual Dutch Mennonite immigrants or traders were found at New Amsterdam and Gravesend (Long Island), but they did not form a congregation and left no trace.
Germantown (also called Germanopolis) was founded personally by the Pietist scholar Francis D. Pastorius who, as agent for the pietistic Frankfurt (Land) Company, purchased 15,000 acres from William Penn's agents at London in May 1683 and proceeded to Pennsylvania in June to locate the land. He had previously (March 1683) spent a week at Kriegsheim (Kriesheim) in the Palatinate visiting the Quakers there, certainly in regard to their interest in settling in Pennsylvania (they came to Germantown in 1685). In March 1682 three Krefeld Mennonites, led by Jacob Telner who had visited New York and Pennsylvania at least once in 1678-1681, had purchased 5,000 acres each to aid their needy coreligionists at Krefeld to find new homes. Ultimately none of the Frankfurt Company ever came to Pennsylvania except Pastorius, and no settlers were secured through their agency. But on 24 July 1683, 13 Krefeld German (Dutch-speaking) families including 33 persons sailed from Gravesend (London) on the "Concord," arriving at Philadelphia on 6 October 1683. They were largely poor people, weavers, who had scarcely enough money to reach the new world. On 24 October the townsite of Germantown was laid out along a single village street, lots being drawn to decide the allocation of the several plots of land to the individual families.
Two smaller Mennonite groups joined the Germantown settlement from other localities: (1) from Hamburg-Altona, Germany, eight Dutch-speaking families came in 1700—two Karsdorp families, two van Sinteren, and one each of Roosen, Berends, Klassen, and van Vossen; (2) from the Palatinate (Kriegsheim-Mannheim, Germany), five German-speaking families, in 1707—Kolb, about this time or earlier, Kassel, Bowman, and Graf, and a Clemens in 1709. Of these 13 families Roosen and Berends soon returned to Germany. Apparently the descendants of the Hamburg families did not remain permanently in the Mennonite fold, but the Palatine families, apparently all farmers, remained and all became prominent in the life of the Franconia district settlement and elsewhere. Thus a total of roughly 40 Mennonite families settled in Germantown in the first 25 years 1683-1708. In the latter year the Mennonite congregation here, when it built its first meetinghouse and held its first communion service, had 45 baptized members, of whom 11 were added by baptism just before the communion. By 6 April 1712, the total number was 99, including the Skippack settlement some 12 miles (20 km) farther north in the open country. Who the additional 54 members received in 1708-1712 were is not known, except that some new settlers came from the Palatinate, most of whom, being farmers, went directly to Skippack. The Mennonite immigration from Krefeld-Lower Rhine had ceased by 1708 or earlier. It is possible that the two Connerts families, listed in one source as Germantown Mennonite members in 1708, were related to Thones Kunders, one of the 13 Krefeld families. Gorgas, another Mennonite family from Germany, was in Germantown in 1709.
Until William I. Hull proved that most of the original (1683) families were an interrelated group of Quakers, it had been assumed that the group was Mennonite. But since only one family (Jan Lensen) of the original 13 remained Mennonite, while the other 12 appear in the Quaker meeting records, and since most of them had signed a Quaker marriage certificate at Krefeld in 1681, it is safe to assume that this first group of Germantown settlers was essentially a Quaker movement. There was a Quaker congregation in Krefeld 1667-1686, all former Mennonites. A total of 15 Quaker families came from Krefeld to Germantown, all by 1686. Later two of the first 12 Quaker families, Abraham and Hermann op den Graeff, reverted to the Mennonites.
A total of 16 Mennonite families ultimately came from Krefeld to Germantown as follows: 1683— Lensen, 1684—van Bebber, 1685—Telner (returned soon to Krefeld), Umstat (Umstead), and Jansen, 1687—van Bebber and Streypers, 1688—Seilen, 1690 —Neuss (Nice), 1693—Küster (Custer), 1702—Hosters, 1703—Neuss (Nice), (?)—Tyson. Two additional families came from the Lower Rhine, 1691— Kasselberg, 1702—Godschalk from Goch. Five additional families probably came from the same general region although their exact residence is unknown, 1685—Papen, 1698—Engel, before 1702— Krey, before 1707—Jansen. Of this total of 23 Krefeld-Lower Rhine families, few have had permanent representatives in later American Mennonitism (Updegrave, Umstead, Johnson, Nice, Tyson, Godshalk, Engel, Seilen). Three other Dutch Mennonite families, directly from Amsterdam, William Rittenhouse and Dirk Keyser and his son Peter, arrived in 1688. Peter Keyser joined Alexander Mack's Dunkards in 1719. Rittenhouse was the first Mennonite preacher (1690 or 1698) at Germantown.
It has often been asserted that the first Mennonites came to Germantown because of a direct personal invitation from William Penn, but this is incorrect. Penn never visited Krefeld, and there is no record of his ever visiting any Mennonites in Germany. He may have met some Mennonites when he visited the Quakers in Kriegsheim on 23 and 26 August 1677, three years before he applied for the grant of Pennsylvania, but the tension between the Quakers and Mennonites there at that time renders this dubious. There is no trace of any correspondence between Penn and any Mennonites who lived in Germany or who came to America. In the pamphlets published by Penn and his agents on behalf of the colonization of Pennsylvania, not the slightest reference is ever made to Mennonites. Penn's alleged invitation to Mennonites in Germany to come to Pennsylvania, personally or by publication, is purely legendary. The Mennonites (and Quakers) who came from the Lower Rhine area came to Germantown to escape oppressive persecution. Those who came from the Palatinate and Switzerland to Germantown from 1707 on also came to find greater religious freedom and to take advantage of the economic opportunities which the rich colony afforded. Many others besides Mennonites and Quakers of course came to Germantown in 1683-1709. Hull lists a total of 397 immigrant persons (excluding children) with provenance as follows: Holland—63, Krefeld and Kaldekerk—96, Kriegsheim and neighborhood—41, other Germany—49, uncertain Holland or Germany —120, other European countries—11, Great Britain— 17. It is clear that the Mennonites were not more than 15 per cent of the Germantown population in 1708, the Quakers possibly a somewhat larger proportion. Germantown was a German settlement, but it was not essentially a Mennonite settlement; nor was it primarily a Krefeld settlement.
The Mennonite settlement in Germantown never prospered greatly, apparently never exceeding 100 baptized members in size. It was too much under the influence of the stronger Quakers and other environment and was not able to retain its own natural increase. Besides, the main stream of Mennonite immigrants from Germany and Switzerland, being farmers, passed it by for settlement on the land. Apart from the conference held in the Mennonite meetinghouse here in 1725, the first Mennonite conference in America, which adopted the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, nothing of significance happened in Germantown, and the settlement did not exercise any particular leadership among the Mennonites in the following years. The up-country Franconia settlement and the inland Lancaster settlement, both rural and German, became the significant Mennonite centers in America. Dutch language Germantown Mennonitism was only a small pocket, with the honor of having been the first settlement, with the first meetinghouse, first preacher and bishop, and first organized congregation. The tradition of connection with the Dutch Mennonites of the Lower Rhine and Holland was kept alive for several generations, and did serve the Franconia Mennonites in a minor way by giving them the Dordrecht Confession and the Martyrs' Mirror. For the history of the Germantown Mennonite congregation see that article.
Bender, Harold S. "The Founding of the Mennonite Church in America at Germantown 1683-1708." Mennonite Quarterly Review 7 (1933) 227-250.
Cassel, Daniel Kolb. History of the Mennonites: historically and biographically arranged from the time of the Reformation, more particularly from the time of their emigration to America, containing sketches of the oldest meeting houses and prominent ministers ; also their confession of faith, adopted at Dortrecht, in 1621. Philadelphia: Daniel K. Cassel, 1888.
Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust. "Significant Dates in The History of Mennonites in Germantown." 2004. Accessed 18 October 2007. <http://www.meetinghouse.info/sigdates.html>
Hubben, Wilhelm. Die Quäker in der deutschen Vergangenheit. Leipzig, 1929.
Hull, W. I. William Penn and the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania. Swarthmore College, 1935.
Jenkins, C. F. The Guidebook to Historic Germantown. Germantown, 1904.
Nieper, Fr. Die ersten deutschen Auswanderer von Krefeld nach Pennsylvanien. Neukirchen, 1940.
Pennypacker, Samuel W. The Settlement of Germantown Pennsylvania: and the Beginning of German Emigration to North America. New York : B. Blom, 1970.
Pennypacker, Samuel W. Hendrik Pannebecker. Philadelphia, 1894.
Rembert, K. "Zur Geschichte der Auswanderung Krefelder Mennoniten nach Nord-Amerika," in Beiträge zur Geschichte rheinischer Mennoniten, No. 2 of the Schriftenreihe des Menn. Geschichtsvereins. Weierhof, 1939.
Rosenberger, Jesse Leonard. The Pennsylvania Germans: a sketch of their history and life, of the Mennonites, and of side lights from the Rosenberger family. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1923.
Smith, C. Henry. The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania. Norristown, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1929.
Smith, C. Henry. The Mennonites of America. Goshen, IN: The Author, 1909.
Smith, C. Henry. Smith's Story of the Mennonites. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1981.
Wenger, John Christian. History of the Mennonite: of the Franconia Conference. Telford, PA, 1937. See chapter I (Part II, Congregational Histories) "Germantown," 87-95.
Correll, Ernst. "Germantown." Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 76-81. Includes citation of older literature.
Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust website
|Author(s)||Harold S Bender|
Cite This Article
Bender, Harold S. "Germantown Mennonite Settlement (Pennsylvania, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 5 May 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Germantown_Mennonite_Settlement_(Pennsylvania,_USA)&oldid=91903.
Bender, Harold S. (1956). Germantown Mennonite Settlement (Pennsylvania, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 May 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Germantown_Mennonite_Settlement_(Pennsylvania,_USA)&oldid=91903.
Herald Press website.
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