Marienburger Werder (now part of Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland), a level lowland along the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the Vistula River, consisting of the Gross-Werder (large marsh) between the Vistula and the Nogat, and the Klein-Werder between the Nogat and Lake Drausen. With the Danzig Werder to the west of the Vistula and the lowlands lying north of the Vistula at Danzig and Elbing they constitute the Vistula-Nogat delta. About 160 sq. miles of cultivated land lie from 3 to 7 feet below sea level. The Marienburg Werder was occupied by the Teutonic Order in 1242 and the Danzig Werder in 1309. In the second half of the 13th century several villages were settled in the Gross-Werder by German settlers. Throughout the 14th century dikes were built on both sides of the Vistula and Nogat and most of the Werder was settled. In 1456 the Danzig Werder came into the possession of the city of Danzig, and in 1466 the Marienburg Werders passed into the possession of the Poles.
In 1520-1530 the Reformation made its appearance in the Werders. Many of the peasants and dike workers accepted Lutheranism. The Lutherans as well as the Mennonites were benefited by the Confederation of Warsaw adopted in 1585 by the Prussian estates, promising mutual toleration. But by 1608 the bishop of Culm gave orders to the Landtag not to tolerate the Mennonites. Likewise the bishop of Ermland ordered in 1648 that religious liberty should be granted only to the Lutherans and should not include the Mennonites.
In 1642 the chamberlain Willibald von Haxenberg succeeded in extorting 80,000 florins from the Mennonites, giving the landed estates an occasion to rise to their defense. When the Mennonites appealed to King Ladislaus IV they received from him the Privilegium of 22 December 1642 (Mannhardt, p. LX). In spite of recurrent hostility on the part of the Landtag at Marienburg and the parliament at Warsaw the Mennonites were able to maintain themselves in the lowlands, where good use could be made of their industry and skill.
From 1328 on, there are reports of broken dikes causing the Werders to be flooded and ruined by the Vistula and the Nogat. In 1540 and 1543 the Vistula broke through its dike and flooded the Danzig Werder. For many years most of the lower Werder remained a desolate area largely covered with water. Then came the Dutch, who offered to restore the lost territory at their own expense. On 28 November 1547, the Danzig city council granted the village and estate of Reichenberg to Philippus Edzema, and granted him permission to settle it with people of his nationality (Dutch). In the same year the Dutch were granted Scharfenberg and Landau, in 1550 Wesslinken, in 1552 Schmerblock, in 1556 Breitfelde, in 1601 Schönrohr, as well as Hochzeit and Neunhuben. These villages, covering over 10,000 acres, were known as the Dutch villages. They were granted many liberties by the Danzig city council, which were maintained until 1857 in spite of the objections of the other villages.
These Dutch (Mennonite largely) immigrants attained significant success in a short time; the first five villages, which at first paid 90 marks a year, were soon paying 768 marks. Both in the drainage of the marshes and the improvement of the soil their work was of lasting importance and influence. The consequent export of grain made rapid increases. Whereas at the close of the 15th century 22,000 tons of grain were shipped via Danzig from Poland and Danzig, by 1575 Polish Prussia alone exported 100,000 tons. Their influence on cattle raising was also important, for they introduced the superior Dutch breeds of cattle and horses.
In 1582 the Mennonites made an appeal to the government to be relieved of the fee charged them for not complying with the demands of the state church regarding communion, church attendance, and infant baptism, stating that they had freely and openly admitted their faith 30 years before when they entered the country, and nothing had been said of the requirement of this crushing fee.
On 15 March 1526 the Vistula broke through its dike near Schoneberg, and flooded the lower areas of the Gross-Werder for many years, compelling the inhabitants to emigrate. In 1550 the Polish king leased the Tiegenhof area with 20 villages to Simon Loysen and his brothers, who then built a new center of management on the left bank of the Tiege. In 1562 they invited Mennonites from Holland to settle in this area, which was largely covered with water and overgrown with reeds. The Mennonites built dams on the Haff, Lake Drausen, and lower on the Nogat, Vistula, and the Tiege, and set up windmills to make the land arable. In 1578 Hans Loysen leased these restored lands to the Mennonites. About 1581 Ernst Weiher took this land from Loysen in payment of a debt; he signed a new contract with the Mennonites, which his widow renewed in 1601 for a period of 40 years (according to H. Donner). The Mennonites were very successful. Everywhere there were now grassy meadows, orchards, and gardens (Hartwich). The market town founded soon after 1600 by Melchior Weiher beside the castle was called Weihershof, and later Tiegenhof.
About 1565 the estates of the Teutonic Knights, which had been acquired by the Polish crown, Heubuden, Leske, Klein Montau, Thörichthof, Markushof, etc., were leased out to Mennonites. The low places in the Barwalde region were also settled with Mennonites. In 1565 the council of Elbing parceled out the 14 square miles of the Ellerwald, which had been a communal pasture, and the citizens rented them to Dutch Mennonites, who began the systematic drainage and cultivation of this land. (See Farming Among Mennonites in West Prussia and East Prussia.)
In the 1530s many Dutch Sacramentists and Anabaptists immigrated to the lowland to the right of the Nogat, to Polish Prussia and the Danzig region. Some Mennonites also came from the duchy of Prussia, where Dutch Sacramentists had been settling since 1528. On the former Teutonic Knight estates 11 villages were settled, including Wickerau and Markushof, They built the dam on the west side of Lake Drausen, drained this lowland, and by 1631 established 15 villages here, including Thiensdorf and Augustwalde, by 1676 five more villages. Fifteen of these were probably Dutch settlements. After 1680 the river islands in the Vistula near Danzig and in the Nogat, which could be drained after the dikes had been built, were also reclaimed, an area of 110 sq. miles in 550 years, known as "Kampen," and inhabited for the most part by Mennonites.
The draining of these lands below sea level not only created new farm land, but also increased production on the higher lands by lowering the water table. Although the Dutch had the lowest, least valuable land, they improved the soil so consistently that their villages in a short time not only equaled but surpassed the more elevated villages of the Teutonic Order in the number of cattle and productivity of the soil. This settlement of Flemish and Frisian Mennonites in the Vistula-Nogat delta is the cradle of Mennonitism in Russia and of a large block of that in America.
Exact dates cannot be given for many of the Dutch settlements in the delta, for there was no formal settlement. The land was leased out by the owners to the Mennonites. Not until the law of 2 March 1850 was passed did the Mennonites receive title to the land.
The settlements of the period of the Teutonic Knights were made in the form of closed villages. Homes were separate from barns and stables; the dwelling houses frequently had the characteristic Vorlaube, and the land vvas divided into parcels. The settlers of the 16th century (Dutch) built isolated farms surrounded by their land, or in even rows along a dike so that the farm buildings faced the land. In the lower villages dirt embankments had to be thrown up around the houses to prevent spring floods. Dwelling houses and farm buildings were joined under one roof, sometimes forming a right angle or even a rectangle. Roofs were thatched with straw or reed.
In the southern part of the Gross-Werder in and around Marienburg the Heubuden Mennonite church has been in existence since the middle of the 16th century. In the Elbing region of the Gross-Werder in Tiegenhof and in Barwalde, the Flemish group was organized, while the Frisians living here united in 1585 to form the Orlofferfelde congregation. In 1735 the Flemish group was divided into four parts because of the wide area it covered: Tiegenhagen, Rosenort (Elbing), Ladekopp (Orloff), and Fürstenwerder (Barwalde). Each division had its own preachers and deacons; one elder served all. In the Klein-Werder the Thiensdorf congregation was formed.
On 13 September 1772 Marienburg passed to Prussia, and in 1793 the Danzig Werder also. The Elbing region had been controlled by Prussia since 1702. In 1788 began the great migration of the Mennonites to South Russia, and in 1851 to eastern Russia. In 1874-1892 many Mennonites emigrated from Russia, also some from Prussia, to the United States and Canada.
In 1937 there were 4,100 Mennonites in the Gross-Werder, 1,550 in the Klein-Werder, and 300 in the Danzig Werder, a total of 5,950 members. The Werder was lost to the Mennonites in 1945, when it was occupied by the Russians and all the Mennonites were evacuated.
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Cite This Article
Driedger, Abraham. "Marienburger Werder (Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 21 Apr 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Marienburger_Werder_(Pomeranian_Voivodeship,_Poland)&oldid=58270.
Driedger, Abraham. (1957). Marienburger Werder (Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 April 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Marienburger_Werder_(Pomeranian_Voivodeship,_Poland)&oldid=58270.
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