Thiessen, Abraham (1838-1889)

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Abraham Thiessen: champion of the landless Mennonites in Russia; born 1 November 1838 in Schönau, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia, the fourth of 10 children of Peter P. Thiessen (8 March 1808, Rosenort, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia - 26 February 1873, Neuanlage, Borozenko Mennonite Settlement, South Russia) and Margaretha (Friesen) Thiessen (4 November 1810, Ohrloff, Molotschna, South Russia - 1 September 1876, South Russia). Abraham's first wife was Agatha Harder (10 August 1843 - 4 April 1870), daughter of Johann J. Harder (1800-1852) and Agatha (Wiens) Harder (1818-1845). Abraham and Agatha had two children: Peter (died young) and Johann. Abraham's second wife was Anna Heidebrecht (6 November 1858, Blumstein, Molotschna, South Russia - 16 April 1944, Jansen, Nebraska, USA), daughter of Peter Heidebrecht (1815-1896) and Aganetha (Fast) Heidebrecht (1823-1896). Abraham and Anna had two sons: Herman and Henry. Abraham died 7 May 1889 in Jansen, Nebraska, USA.

Abraham was raised in a Kleine Gemeinde family, his father having become a minister in the Kleine Gemeinde in 1849.

Abraham is best known for his land reform activities in Russia during the 1860s. He was one of several men in the Molotschna Mennonite Settlement who demanded that the settlement administrators divide lands that were being rented by well-to-do farmers among those who were landless. Many in the Kleine Gemeinde saw Thiessen's actions as being inconsistent with the church policy of non-involvement in administrative affairs, and these actions, along with some personal shortcomings, led to his excommunication in February 1864. Disagreements over the way in which Thiessen's excommunication was handled led to an eventual split in the Kleine Gemeinde. On 23 January 1866, Abraham was again accepted as a member of the smaller Kleine Gemeinde group led by Johann Friesen.

In 1872 he published Ein Brief, nur für die Mennoniten im berdjanskischen Kreise (Odessa, 1872). Abraham's continued involvement in the land reform movement led to his imprisonment in Siberia in 1874. He escaped two years later and fled to Switzerland, arriving in Zürich on 15 May 1876. In this same year he published Ein Rätsel, oder die Frage: weshalb war ich vom Jahre 1874-76 in Verbannung?; Die Lage der Deutschen Kolonisten in Russland (Leipzig, 1876).

Eventually Thiessen made his way to Jansen, Nebraska, where he joined his son Johann, who had immigrated with Abraham's brother Peter in 1875. When Abraham came to America, he married Anna Heidebrecht. In the fall of 1877, Abraham Thiessen visited the Kleine Gemeinde in the East Reserve in Manitoba and tried to persuade them to move south, even offering free transportation to those who wished to move. He was under the impression that the Canadian Mennonites had less freedom than that offered to immigrants to the USA.  For his efforts, Abraham received only a very cool reception and returned to Nebraska after a few days.

By 1881 Abraham was promoting the sale of mulberry trees for the production of silk in Nebraska. In 1882 some silk was displayed at the Nebraska state fair, for which he received a diploma. In the end, the silk industry in Nebraska could not compete with imports from China, and the venture met with only limited success.

Abraham did not forget the plight of the landless Mennonites in Russia. In 1887 he returned to Russia once more to speak for the poor and oppressed. The Russian government expelled him before he could achieve his purpose.

Abraham Thiessen was denounced by many as a radical agitator and even a socialist, but his persistent actions in favor of land reform brought about relief for many landless Mennonites in the Molotschna Mennonite Settlement.


GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 6.02 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2010: #3659.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. IV, 315.

Horsch, John. Kurzgefasste Geschichte der Mennoniten. Elkhart, 1890: 126.

Krahn, Cornelius. "Abraham Thiessen: A Mennonite Revolutionary?" Mennonite Life (April 1969): 76.

Mennonitische Blätter (1876): 95.

Plett, Delbert F. Profile of the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde 1874. Steinbach, MB: DFP Publications, 1987: 89, 110.

Author(s) Richard D Thiessen
Date Published October 2010

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Thiessen, Richard D. "Thiessen, Abraham (1838-1889)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2010. Web. 22 Sep 2021.,_Abraham_(1838-1889)&oldid=146290.

APA style

Thiessen, Richard D. (October 2010). Thiessen, Abraham (1838-1889). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 September 2021, from,_Abraham_(1838-1889)&oldid=146290.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 712. All rights reserved.

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