Historiography: North America

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[This article was written in the 1950s; check the catalogs of Mennonite Historical Libraries for more current listings.]

The writing of history by North American Mennonites, either of the history of the Mennonites in their own land, or of Europe, was a late development. The lack of trained men, whether ministers or scholars, the rural conservatism combined with traditionalism and preoccupation with pioneering problems, readily account for this. It was only at the end of the 19th century and especially in the first quarter of the 20th that substantial and worthy history writing began, with C. H. Wedel (1860-1910), John Horsch (1867-1941), and C. Henry Smith (1872-1948) as the first capable historians. Before that time the few volumes which appeared as history were chiefly apologetic or polemic and occasioned by schisms. These include: Christian Funk's Spiegel für alle Menschen (1813, 54 pp.), Jakob Stauffer's Eine Chronik oder Geschicht-Büchlein von der sogenannten Mennonisten Gemeinde (1859, 439 pp.), John Holdeman's A History of the Church of God (German 1875, English 1876, 303 pp.), Daniel Musser's The Reformed Mennonite Church, Its Rise and Progress (1873, pp. 608), and John F. Funk's reply to Musser's sharp attack on the "old" church in his The Mennonite Church and Her Accusers (1878, pp. 219). Of these only Holdeman and Funk contain a significant amount of information of historical value. Benjamin Eby's little Kurzgefasste Kirchen Geschichte und Glaubenslehre der Taufgesinnten Christen oder Mennoniten (Berlin, Canada, 1841, 16mo. historical part 164 pp.), though often reprinted, was only a frontier preacher-schoolteacher's attempt to assemble a modicum of information about Mennonites in various parts of the world. The very first bit of American Mennonite history written was that by Jacob Gottschalk in 1712 (see H. S. Bender, "The Founding of the Mennonite Church in America at Germantown, 1683-1708," Mennonite Quarterly Review VII, 1933, 227-250).

General Works

The first American Mennonite historian, D. K. Cassel of Germantown, self-taught writer, produced two books devoted to the Mennonites of America: History of the Mennonites (1888, 450 pp.) and Geschichte der Mennoniten (1890, 545 pp. but containing almost twice the information of the English book), containing much valuable undigested and unorganized information, gathered largely from primary sources. John Horsch's Kurzgefasste Geschichte der Mennoniten-Gemeinden (1890, pp. 146) is chiefly valuable for its remarkable Anabaptist bibliography. C. H. A. van Smissen's Kurzgefasste Geschichte und Glaubenslehre der Altevangelischen Taufgesinnten oder Mennoniten (1895, pp. 251) is avowedly based on secondary sources, chiefly the German Antje Brons (Ursprung, Entwickelung, etc., 1884, which contains only 34 pp. out of 444 on the American Mennonites) and has next to nothing on America. Johannes Bartsch's Geschichte der Gemeinde Jesu Christi, das heisst, der Altevangelischen und Mennoniten-Gemeinden (1898, 207 pp.) is little better. C. H. Wedel's training and scholarship was registered in his useful four-volume Abriss der Geschichte der Mennoniten (1900-1904, total 756 pp.), but only 80 pages of the last volume were devoted to America. C. Henry Smith's Ph.D. dissertation (he was then a professor of history at Goshen College) The Mennonites of America (1909, pp. 484) was the first and until 1955 the only scholarly general history of the American Mennonites. He reworked this material twice in combination with a general Mennonite history, once in his The Mennonites (1920, pp. 340), and again in his The Story of the Mennonites (1941, pp. 823, revised in 1950). His booklet Mennonites in America (1942, pp. 71) condensed this material for Civilian Public Service men. The only other extensive general history of the Mennonites of North America published to 1955 was Part II of Peter M. Friesen's monumental work on the Mennonites of Russia, Die Alt-Evangelisch Mennonitische Brüderschaft im Russland (Halbstadt, 1911), covering 154 large pages in three sections: A. Mennonite Brethren; B. The General Conference Mennonites; C. The "Old" Mennonites. The work is more descriptive than systematic. Friesen's source was largely Cassel's Geschichte der Mennoniten, with C. H. Wedel's Abriss, the Mennonitische Rundschau, and private correspondence with M. B. Fast and John Horsch. W. S. Gottshall’s Mennonite History (1921, pp. 84) and Daniel Kauffman's booklet by the same title (1927, pp. 147) are minor popularizations. John C. Wenger's Glimpses of Mennonite History (1940, pp. 126) devotes pp. 38-54 to American Mennonites, while the revised edition of 1947 devotes pp. 101-136 to them. J. J. Friesen's An Outline of Mennonite History (1944, pp. 114) is very general. P. J. Schaefer's Woher? Wohin? Mennoniten (pp. 491), intended as a high-school text for (German) Mennonite schools in Canada, was published in four parts: I. Western Europe (1942, pp. 66); II. Russia and the United States (1942, pp. 82); III. Canada (1946, pp. 187); IV. Mexico and South America (1954, pp. 115). The third volume is the only general work on Canadian Mennonite history published as of 1954. Horst Penner's Weltweite Bruderschaft devotes 45 of its 224 pages to North and South America. H. S. Bender's Mennonites in America appeared in 1957.

Denominational Histories

The following histories of individual Mennonite groups have appeared: H. P. Krehbiel, History of the General Conference of Mennonites of North America I (1898, pp. 504), II (1938, pp. 682); Klaas Peters, Die Bergthaler Mennoniten (1924, pp. 45); J. S. Hartzler and Daniel Kauffman, Mennonite Church History (MC, 1905, pp. 422); J. A. Huffman, History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church (1920, pp. 282); J. F. Harms, Geschichte der Mennoniten Brüder-Gemeinde (1924, pp. 342); W. B. Weaver, History of the Central Conference Mennonite Church (1926, pp. 254); J. H. Lohrenz, The Mennonite Brethren Church (1950, pp. 335); Walter Lugibihl and Jared Gerig, Missionary Church Association (1950, pp. 164); J. G. Rempel, Fünfzig Jahre Konferenzbestrebungen (1902-1952), Konferenz der Mennoniten in Canada (GCM 1952, pp. 491); J. J. Wiens, The Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America (1954, pp. 192), consists of pictures of meetinghouses with brief sketches of congregations.

Regional Histories

A series of regional or district conference histories of the Mennonite Church (MC) appeared in the second quarter of the 20th century, several of them outstanding in quality, including doctoral dissertations (marked herein with an asterisk *) at leading universities: M. G. Weaver, Mennonites of Lancaster Conference (1931, pp. 496); Harry F. Weber, Centennial History of the Mennonites of Illinois (*1931, pp. 680); L. J. Burkholder, A Brief History of Mennonites in Ontario (1935, pp. 358); J. C. Wenger, History of the Mennonites of Franconia Conference (*1937, pp. 523); E. J. Hirschler, Centenary History of the Swiss Mennonite Churches of Allen and Putnam Counties, Ohio (1937, pp. 150); Melvin Gingerich, The Mennonites in Iowa (*1939, pp. 419); John Umble, Ohio Mennonite Sunday Schools (1941, pp. 522). Several interesting county, local, or congregational histories should be mentioned, some quite brief; W. H. Grubb, History of the Mennonites of Butler County, Ohio (1916, pp. 49); Samuel Peachey, The Amish of Kishacoquillas Valley (1930, pp. 48); F. P. Schultz, The Settlement of German Mennonites from Russia at Mountain Lake, Minnesota (1938, pp. 123); Eva Sprunger, The First Hundred Years, A History of the Mennonite Church in Adams County, Indiana (Berne) (1938, pp. 344); C. Z. Mast and R. E. Simpson, Annals of the Conestoga Valley (1942, pp. 689); Edward Yoder, The Mennonites of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (1942, pp. 64); R. M. Yoder, Clinton Frame (Ind.) Sketches (1944, pp. 106); J. J. Gering, After Fifty Years, A Brief Discussion of the History and Activities of the Swiss-German Mennonites Who Settled in South Dakota in 1874 (1924, pp. 58); Jacob Rupp, Entstehung und Auflösung der Gemeinde zu Maxweiler bei Neuburg an der Donau in Deutschland, und erste Pionierjahre in Amerika (1924, pp. 24); C. E. Krehbiel, Historical Sketch of the First Mennonite Church, Halstead, Kansas (1925, pp. 53); P. B. Amstutz, Geschichtliche Ereignisse der Mennoniten-Ansiedlung in Allen and Putnam County, Ohio (1925, pp. 411); J. G. Rempel, Die Rosenorter Gemeinde in Saskatchewan (Rosthern, 1950, pp. 183). Numerous county histories contain valuable material on the history of early Mennonite settlements in America.

Immigration and Colonization History

Several excellent volumes have been devoted to immigration and colonization history: C. Henry Smith, The Coming of the Russian Mennonites (1927, pp. 296); C. Henry Smith, The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania (1929, pp. 412); P. J. Kaufman, Unser Volk und seine Geschichte (1931, pp. 168, tells of Volhynian Mennonites settling in the United States); S. C. Yoder, For Conscience Sake: A Study of Mennonite Migrations Resulting from the World War (1945, pp. 300); Delbert Gratz, Bernese Anabaptists and Their American Descendants (1953, pp. 219); E. K. Francis, In Search of Utopia, The Mennonites in Manitoba (1955, pp. 294); J. Winfield Fretz, Mennonite Colonization (1944, pp. 80); J. Winfield Fretz, Mennonite Colonization in Mexico (1945, pp. 43); Cornelius Krahn, Editor, From the Steppes to the Prairies (1949, pp. 115); G. E. Reimer and G. R. Gaeddert, Exiled by the Czar, Cornelius Jansen and the Great Mennonite Migration, 1874 (1956, pp. 205); note also J. H. Langenwalter's earlier brief summary, The Immigration of Mennonites into North America (1914, pp. 100).

A considerable number of monographs have been published on special phases of Mennonite history, work, life, and thought in America, some of them outstanding in quality.


Building on the Rock (MC mission in India, 1926, pp. 200); Twenty-Five Years with God in India (General Conference Mennonite mission, 1929, pp. 250); Ed. G. Kaufman, The Development of the Missionary and Philanthropic Interest Among the Mennonites of North America (1937, pp. 224); Alta Erb, Studies in Mennonite City Missions (1937, pp. 224); Ira D. Landis, The Missionary Movement Among Lancaster Conference Mennonites (1937, pp. 119); The Gospel Under the Southern Cross (MC mission in Argentina, 1943, pp. 272); W. B. Weaver, Thirty-Five Years in the Congo (Congo Inland Mission, 1945, pp. 241); Everek R. Storms, What God Hath Wrought (Mennonite Brethren in Christ-United Missionary Church foreign mission work, 1948, pp. 164); The Love of Christ Hath Constrained Us (Mennonite Church mission in India, 1949, pp. 63); Emma Oyer, What God Hath Wrought (MC Home Mission in Chicago, 1949, pp. 186); G. W. Peters, The Growth of Foreign Missions in the Mennonite Brethren Church (1952, pp. 327); Mrs. H. T. Esau, First Sixty Years of Mennonite Brethren Missions (1954, pp. 552).


D. M. Hofer, Die Hungersnot in Russland (1924, pp. 575); P. C. Hiebert and Orie O. Miller, Feeding the Hungry (1928, pp. 450); M. C. Lehman, The History and Principles of Mennonite Relief Work (1945, pp. 48); Willard H. and Verna Smith, Paraguayan Interlude (1950, pp. 184); Irvin Horst, A Ministry of Goodwill, A Short Account of Mennonite Relief 1939-1949 (1950, pp. 119); J. G. Holsinger, Serving Rural Puerto Rico (1952, pp. 232); J. D. Unruh, In the Name of Christ, A History of the Mennonite Central Committee and Its Service 1920-1951 (1952, pp. 404).

Peace and Nonresistance

J. S. Hartzler, Mennonites in the World War (1921, pp. 145); John Horsch, The Principle of Nonresistance as Held by the Mennonite Church (1927, pp. 60); Guy F. Hershberger, War, Peace, and Nonresistance (1944, pp. 415, revised editions 1946 and 1953); Guy F. Hershberger, The Mennonite Church in the Second World War (1951, pp. 308); Melvin Gingerich, Service for Peace (1949, pp. 508); Willard Hunsberger, Franconia Mennonites and World War II (1951, pp. 30).


H. P. Peters, History and Development of Education Among the Mennonites in Kansas (1921, pp. 221); John E. Hartzler, Education Among the Mennonites of North America (1925, pp. 195); C. Henry Smith and E. J. Hirschler, Story of Bluffton College (1925, pp. 296); Bluffton College, An Adventure in Faith (1950, pp. 268); Marie Waldner, For Half a Century, The Story of Freeman Junior College (1951, pp. 103); P. J. Wedel, The Story of Bethel College (1954, pp. 632); John Umble, Goshen College 1894-1954 (1955, pp. 284).

Miscellaneous Topics

H. S. Bender, Mennonite Sunday School Centennial (1940, pp. 64); J. C. Wenger, Historical and Biblical Position of the Mennonite Church on Attire (1945, pp. 32); Ira D. Landis, The Faith of Our Fathers on Eschatology (1946, pp. 423); Robert Friedmann, Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries (contains several chapters on America, 1949, pp. 287); J. Winfield Fretz, Christian Mutual Aid (1947, pp. 88); Paul R. Shelley, Religious Education and Mennonite Piety Among the Mennonites of Southeastern Pennsylvania (1952, pp.193).


Menno S. Steiner, John S. Coffman, Mennonite Evangelist (1903, pp. 139); M. G. Brumbaugh, The Life and Works of Christopher Dock (1908, pp. 272); Memoirs of Peter Jansen, An Autobiography (1921, pp. 140); P. A. Wiebe, Kurze Biographie des Bruders Jacob A. Wiebe (1924, pp. 27); Harry A. Brunk, The Life of Peter S. Hartman (1937, pp. 73); John Umble, Mennonite Pioneers (collected Mennonite Church missionary biographies, 1940, pp. 211); J. W. Kliewer, Memoirs or From Herdboy to College President (1943, pp. 150); Paul Schaeffer, Heinrich H. Ewert (1945, pp. 161); M. G. Ramseyer, Joseph E. Ramseyer (1945, pp. 293, founder of the Missionary Church Association); Lambert Huffman, Not of This World, Biography of J. A. Huffman (1951, pp. 159); J. Paul Graybill, Noah H. Mack (1952, pp. 177); Alice K. Gingerich, Life and Times of Daniel Kauffman (1954, pp. 160); G. E. Reimer and G. R. Gaeddert, Exiled by the Czar, Cornelius Jansen and the Great Mennonite Migration, 1874 (1956, pp. 205).

Reference Works and Bibliographies

L. J. Heatwole, Mennonite Handbook of Information (1925, pp. 187); Daniel Kauffman, Mennonite Cyclopedic Dictionary (1937, pp. 443); H. S. Bender, Two Centuries of American Mennonite Literature 1727-1929 (1929, pp. 180); John A. Hostetler, Annotated Bibliography on the Amish (1951, pp. 100); A. Warkentin, Who's Who Among the Mennonites (1937, pp. 221); A. Warkentin and M. Gingerich, Who's Who Among the Mennonites (1943, pp. 428).


The only strictly historical American Mennonite periodical has been the Mennonite Quarterly Review (1927- ), published by the Mennonite Historical Society of Goshen College, which has carried a large number of scholarly articles on Anabaptist and Mennonite history, thought, and life.

Mennonite Life (1945- ), published by Bethel College, is an illustrated quarterly magazine featuring the Mennonites the world over. It has carried many briefer historical articles. In a way it is the continuation of the Monatsblätter aus Bethel College and Bethel College Monthly (1903-1918), in which C. H. Wedel and others published many historical articles. The several conference yearbooks and almanacs have often carried valuable historical material and shorter articles, such as the Mennonite (MC) Family Almanac (1870-1955), the Mennonite (MC) Yearbook and Directory (1905- ), Bundesbote Kalender (GCM, 1886- ), Mennonite (GCM) Yearbook and Almanac (1895-1930), Yearbook of the General Conference Mennonite Church (1930-46), and Mennonitisches (GCM) Jahrbuch (1948- ). The Proceedings of the Conference on Mennonite Educational and Cultural Problems (1942- ) frequently contains solid historical papers.

Latin America

The following books on the Mennonites in Mexico and South America should be noted: Walter Quiring, Deutsche erschliessen den Chaco (1936?, pp. 207); Walter Quiring, Russlanddeutsche suchen eine Heimat (1938, pp. 192); Walter Quiring, Im Schweisse deines Angesichts, largely a picture book (1953, pp. 150); A. E. Janzen, Glimpses of South America (1944, pp. 130); Walter Schmiedehaus, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Der Wanderweg eines christlichen Siedlervolkes (1948, pp. 307); S. C. Yoder, Down South America Way (1948, pp. 148); Gladys Widmer, We Enter Puerto Rico (MC Mission History in Puerto Rico 1946-1951; 1952, pp. 95); J. Winfield Fretz, Pilgrims in Paraguay, The Story of Mennonite Colonization in South America (1953, pp. 247).

In this historiographical report numerous and important periodical articles, as well as sections in books on the colonial history of Pennsylvania such as Seidensticker, Kuhns, and Pennypacker, have been omitted.

See also Historical Writing

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Historiography: North America." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 27 Sep 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historiography:_North_America&oldid=161254.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1956). Historiography: North America. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 September 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historiography:_North_America&oldid=161254.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 767-769. All rights reserved.

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