Swiss Mennonites in the Netherlands

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During the 16th and early 17th centuries there was hardly any contact between the Dutch and the Swiss Mennonites. About 1640, when the Dutch Mennonites became aware of the bad conditions of the Mennonites in Zürich, Switzerland (see Hattavier), and soon after, of the persecutions in the canton of Bern, they tried both directly through one of their members, Adolph de Vreede, who visited Bern, and especially by the intervention of the Netherlands States-General (see François Fagel) to support their Swiss brethren and to ameliorate their lot. This intervention, however, had only slight effect, and particularly in the canton of Bern conditions gradually grew worse. Bernese authorities had resolved to remove all the Mennonites from their territory because of their refusal to do military service and to unite with the state church. On 18 March 1710, a shipload of Bernese Mennonites who were to be forcibly transported to the English colonies in North America were released by order of the Dutch government when they arrived at Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Nearly all of them returned to the Palatinate, Germany. A small number of Swiss Mennonites seem to have immigrated to the Netherlands as early as 1660, settling in the province of Groningen; Swiss Brethren from the Palatinate are also reported to have settled near the city of Groningen. The Dutch Mennonites, whose delegates had set up a committee for the relief of foreign Mennonites in February 1660 (see Fonds voor Buitenlandsche Nooden) and who upon the initiative of Jan van Ranst of Rotterdam had made a proposal in 1671 to help the oppressed Mennonites in Switzerland by bringing them all to the Netherlands and settling them there at the expense of the Dutch Mennonites, began a major relief undertaking in 1711, when many Mennonites had to leave Switzerland. Johann Ludwig Runckel, the "resident" (that is, ambassador) of the Netherlands in Switzerland, made contact with the Dutch government and the Dutch Mennonites and after much negotiation with the Bernese authorities organized the immigration to the Netherlands. Runckel faced many difficulties. The Bernese Mennonites had just rejected the invitation of King Frederick I to settle in Prussia because they did not like to leave their native country, in spite of all persecution and misery. Also the controversy between the Amish and Reist groups was unfavorable to the success of the emigration, for often the Reist group refused to sail in the same ships with the Amish. Besides all this, many Mennonites in the canton of Bern had gone into hiding, although a mandate of amnesty had been proclaimed by the government of Bern. Finally 363 persons, including some non-Mennonites, were more or less voluntarily loaded into four ships and sailed from Basel on 18 July 1711. At Breisach, Germany, thirteen Mennonites left the ships. The others arrived at Amsterdam on 3 August, where they were warmly welcomed by the Dutch Mennonites, who attended to their many wants. Provided with many things (including an amazing quantity of hooks and eyes!), they were divided into four groups, and sailed on 20 August from Amsterdam to Harlingen in Friesland (21 persons), to Groningen (126), to Kampen (87), and to Deventer (116). A few remained in Amsterdam. Some of these immigrants were penniless; others had brought their money, even considerable amounts. Some were craftsmen, others farmers. The craftsmen were directed to Groningen and Deventer; the farmers obtained farms near Kampen, Groningen, and Sappemeer. Both the craftsmen and the farmers received ample support from the Dutch Committee. At Groningen, Elder Alle Derks was very active in behalf of the refugees; at Deventer Steven Cremer aided them.

The Swiss emigrant group which was conducted to Harlingen were followers of Hans Reist (all the others were Amish). Only a few stayed at Harlingen; most obtained farms near Gorredijk in Friesland, but they did not feel at home here; in May 1712, with the aid of the Dutch Committee they were settled amidst their coreligionists near Kampen. But because of objection to the Amish views most of them moved to the Palatinate in the next year.

In the following years most of the group which was located at Deventer moved to Kampen or to Groningen and Sappemeer, some immigrated to the Palatinate, and a few soon joined the Deventer Old Flemish Mennonite church. There was no Swiss Mennonite congregation at Deventer as there was at Kampen and at Groningen and Sappemeer.

The Kampen group used the Swiss-German language for two or three decades, and then adopted the Dutch in its services. Elders of this group were Daniel Ricken 1712-1736, Peter Teune 1736-1763, Jacob Stähly 1736-1757, Hans Hupster 1769-1792, and finally a Dutch Mennonite, Jan Hans Hoosen 1805-1822. In 1822 their congregation merged with the Dutch Mennonite church at Kampen.

That there were serious difficulties in the Swiss Amish group (which congregation is not clear) in the Netherlands, so serious as to cause a suspension of all communion, baptism, marriages, and ordinations for at least six years, is revealed by a letter written by Johannes Nafziger, an Amish bishop of Essingen near Landau in the Palatinate in 1781. Nafziger tells of three successive committees of Amish ministers from the Palatinate and Alsace sent to Holland in 1766, 1767(?), and 1770 to settle the dispute and supervise the congregation there, which they successfully did. The letter is published in Mennonite Quarterly Review II (1928) 198-204.

The Groningen-Sappemeer group, which was augmented in the following years by the arrival of some new emigrants from Bern, worshiped both in the town of Groningen and near Sappemeer. Their first elder was Hans Anken, who seems to have served both in Groningen and Sappemeer as did his successors until about 1760. About 1720 a schism arose among these Swiss Brethren, dividing them into the Oude Zwitsers (Old Swiss) and Nieuwe Zwitsers (New Swiss). The cause of this schism is said to have been the purchase of a house by Elder Anken, which a part of his congregation, composed of very plain people, considered too sumptuous and too worldly. The Oude Zwitsers were the more conservative group, not only in dress, but also in maintaining their native tongue. Their church services also differed from those of the New Swiss, who soon adapted themselves to the Dutch way of living and worshiping, using the Dutch language by about 1750. In the Old Swiss services, after the preacher had finished his sermon other brethren spoke to express their agreement with the sermon or to add a few words from the Bible. They knelt for (silent) prayer and practiced foot washing in their communion services. They had no special confession of faith; the German Ausbund was their hymnal.

Both at Groningen (about 1720 in a house "Achter de Muur") and in Sappemeer (in a house on the Kleinemeer) the Swiss Brethren had meetinghouses, which were used in turn both by the Old and the New Swiss. Gradually the ties between the members living in and near Groningen and those in Sappemeer relaxed. In Groningen the Old and New Swiss merged about 1780. Here the Swiss congregation bought the former Waterlander meetinghouse in the Pelsterstraat in 1815. After the death of their last preacher, Christiaan Jacobs Leutscher, who served 1812-died 1824, the Swiss congregation merged with the Dutch Mennonite congregation of Groningen.

At Sappemeer the Oude Zwitsers and Nieuwe Zwitsers seem to have merged about 1790. In the meantime some Old Swiss had joined the Sappemeer Old Flemish church, where as many New Swiss joined the Waterlander congregation. The (united) Swiss congregation of Sappemeer merged with the main Dutch congregation before 1802.

Preachers and elders of the Groningen-Sappemeer Swiss groups (as far as the lists are complete and reliable) were as follows:

New Swiss: Hans Anken, elder 1712-?, Michael Ruysser (Riszer) 1711-1759, elder after the death of Anken, Peter Leenders 1711-1757, Jan van Ko(o)men, died 1743, Anthony Kratzer 1740-1779, elder 1760, Christiaan Ancken 1754-1770, Jan Leenders 1754-1759(?), Rudolf Leutscher 1755-1761. Then the Groningen New Swiss group was led by Balster Franssen (Wolkammer) 1762-1782, Hendrik Cornelis 1768-1808, elder 1794, Rudolf (or Roelof) Jans 1781-died 1790, Izaak Jannes Leutscher (1740-1826) 1799, elder 1811, David Jacob de Goed 1811-1813, and Christiaan Jacobs Leutscher (1812-1824). The last leaders of the Sappemeer group were Isaak van Kalkar (Calcar) 1772-1796, Alle Cornelis 1791-1800, and Ties Hansen Top 1791-1797. Old Swiss: Abraham Loover (Lauffer), died 1774, living near Groningen, elder 1726, Claus Gerber 1739-1761, Peter Riegen (Ricken) 1740-1772. Jacob Stehle (Stähly), the elder of the Kampen Swiss Mennonite group, also seems to have served the Groningen-Sappemeer group 1736-1757. David Righen (died 1796), preacher 1767, elder 1774, was the last elder of this group.

The Swiss Mennonites in the Netherlands, who at first lived and worshiped rather separately from their Dutch coreligionists both because of their language and their particular views and practices, gradually adjusted themselves to the Dutch Mennonite practices. But not all. A number of them, particularly members of the Kraster (Krätzer), Rijkens (Rich, Ricken), and Stuckje (Stucky) families, joined the Reformed Church in the late 18th and the 19th centuries.

Many descendants of these Swiss Mennonites are still found among the Dutch Mennonites everywhere; particularly the names of Meihuizen (Maihuser), Boer, Rijkens (Rich, Ricken), and Teune.

After 1717 a number of Swiss emigrants moved from the Netherlands to America, receiving financial support from the Dutch Mennonites. (See Groningen, Kampen, Hoogezand-Sappemeer.)


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Naamlijst der tegenwoordig in dienst zijnde predikanten der Mennoniten in de vereenigde Nederlanden. Amsterdam, 1731, 1743, 1755, 1757, 1766, 1769, 1775, 1780, 1782, 1784, 1786, 1787, 1789, 1791, 1793, 1802, 1804, 1806, 1808, 1810, 1815, 1829.

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1959

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Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Swiss Mennonites in the Netherlands." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 29 Nov 2023.

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Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1959). Swiss Mennonites in the Netherlands. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 672-673. All rights reserved.

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