Oesch, John (1791-1850)

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John Oesch (as he became known in Canada) was born in 1791 to Hannes Esch and Freni Heres (spelling uncertain).  There is evidence that "Freni" was of Dutch origin. At that time, the Esch family was living on the Barbelsteinerhof at the foot of the Berwartstein Castle near the village of Erlenbach some distance east of Zweibrücken. The spirit of the French Revolution had crossed the border into the German states, and the local residents were giving Hannes, the farmer at Barbelstein, a great deal of trouble.

When King Maximillian of Bavaria issued an invitation to residents of the Palatinate and Alsace to settle the farming cloisters which he had confiscated from the Catholic Church and to develop the Danube Marsh in the area between Neuburg and Ingolstadt in the early 1800s, Hannes was among those who responded.

John married Barbara Schultz in 1820 at  Rothsee, a former cloister farm, southeast of Munich. In 1823 a passport was issued to John at Weilheim, a town south of Munich, allowing him to visit Zweibrücken and the place of his birth.

Later in 1823 John and Barbara were at Probfeld on the Danube Marsh where their third child was born. Shortly after the death of this child the following spring, they were on their way to Canada, leaving Neuburg on the Danube on 1 June 1824. The traveling group consisted of John and Barbara Oesch, their two children, Barbara's widowed father, several unmarried Schultz young people, and Jacob Steinman.  They made their way to Amsterdam where they boarded the Brig Ospray, arriving in New York on 2 September.

Some of the travelers may have remained in Pennsylvania for a while, but John and Barbara acquired oxen and a wagon and continued their journey to Upper Canada. When they got to Waterloo, the survey in Wilmot Township had just been completed. They settled in Waterloo Township for a few years until John was able to establish a home on Lot 15, North Snyder's Road, the southern end of which would eventually be part of Baden and Castle Kilbride would be built on land he had cleared. 

In February 1829 John was ordained to the ministry in the Wilmot Amish Mennonite congregation and in September of the same year he was ordained to the office of "full minister" (bishop) to take the place of Peter Nafziger who was leaving for Butler County, Ohio. Joseph Goldschmidt and John Brenneman were the first Amish Mennonite ordained ministers in Wilmot in 1824. Nafziger was already an ordained bishop when he arrived from Germany in 1826, making John the first Amish-Mennonite bishop ordained in Canada.

For the next 20 years John served the growing Amish Mennonite community as a bishop. A congregation was organized in South Easthope and East Zorra townships, but no bishop was ordained until several years later, making them dependent on the services of the Wilmot bishop.

By the late 1840s, John and Barbara had 14 living children, eight of them sons. John's 200- acre farm was beginning to look very small. So, one day John set out on foot on the Huron Road and discovered that in Hay township the unoccupied land was unlimited. When a large contingent of Waglers arrived in Wilmot in late 1848 or early 1849, John left his claim to Lot 15 to the new immigrants and contracted with the Canada Company for 600 acres in Hay Township. He moved the family to Bayfield where he and his unmarried sons set to work building their second home in Canada.

In March of 1850, John became ill with what was probably a ruptured appendix and did not survive.  He had the time to compose a will in which he was careful to look after the needs of his wife and young children. Several family members became owners of some of the lots John had contracted for in Hay, and the Waglers bought the farm in Wilmot.

The Amish community in Hay grew and prospered, but the congregation did not ordain another bishop to succeed John. Not until 100 years later was Ephraim Gingerich ordained to that office.  In the interim, the congregation was always dependent on the services of the bishops from "down east" usually Wilmot or East Zorra.


Roth, Lorraine. "An Introduction to the Amish Mennonite Individuals and Families who Immigrated to Canada: 'Esch / Oesch.'" Unpublished manuscript, Waterloo, ON, 2005.

Roth, Lorraine. John and Barbara (Schultz) Oesch Family History and Genealogy. 2 vol. Kitchener, ON: Lorraine Roth, 1966.

Author(s) Lorraine Roth
Date Published November 2005

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MLA style

Roth, Lorraine. "Oesch, John (1791-1850)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2005. Web. 2 Jul 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oesch,_John_(1791-1850)&oldid=114125.

APA style

Roth, Lorraine. (November 2005). Oesch, John (1791-1850). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 July 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oesch,_John_(1791-1850)&oldid=114125.

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