Mennonites, The, are Germans who received this name from the religious denomination to which they belong, and which was founded at Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525. Members of this sect located in Switzerland, Austria and Russia and it is from these countries that the greatest number emigrated. In 1783 Catharine II, of Russia, invited the Mennonites to colonize the recently acquired province of Taurida. As an inducement to gain these settlers, they were granted immunity from military service, religious freedom, their own local administration, and a community grant of land equal to about 160 acres. They did not own the lands but leased them on condition of cultivating them, the improvements alone, belonging to them. The Mennonites had little to do with the general government, as each of the villages had its burgomaster and the government carried on its business with them by means of three officials. The privileges were granted to these emigrant Germans for 100 years, when each family was to get title in fee simple to the land allotted. The villages increased to about fifty in number and from the first settlements which were made along the Dnieper, spread through the Crimea, eastward toward the foot of the Caucasus. Other settlements were made along the Volga and the members of the colonies grew in wealth and importance.
Everything went well for a number of years, but a feeling of jealousy grew up against them because of their exclusiveness by refusing to intermarry with the Tartar and Russian natives, and most important because of their success and wealth, which was attributed to their privileges. In 1871 the government announced its intention of withdrawing the privileges and making a general conscription, against which the Mennonites protested. The privileges could not be legally withdrawn before 1883, the end of the century, and they were told that they could leave if they did not like it. A period of ten years was granted, during which time any of the 3,000,000 colonists might leave, but few knew of this and had not one of their leaders, Cornelius Jansen, advised emigration to America, many would have become Russian subjects. For enlightening his people Jansen was expelled from Russia and visited the United States just at the time the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad began its scheme of colonization in the summer of 1873. He spent a week looking over the land of the company, where a few Mennonites had already located.
Three delegates had been sent to this country to see about land and report. The railroad then sent an agent of its own, C. B. Schmidt, to Russia to look into the conditions and encourage emigration, with a view to having them take the land of the railroad. The Russian government was loth to have these excellent colonists leave and made it as difficult as possible for them to secure passports, but notwithstanding this, 400 familes or 1,900 people, bringing with them over $2,000,000 in gold, arrived in Kansas in 1875 and bought 60,000 acres of land in Reno, Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties.
While waiting to select their lands, these families lived for a month in the King bridge shops at Topeka which had been purchased by the Santa Fe road, but were not yet fitted with machinery, and they furnished excellent accommodations. Before the Mennonites left for their homes, the governor asked them to visit him at the capitol building and the strange company in their foreign clothes filed through the building shaking hands with the chief executive and other state officials. Following the first emigrants came many others, and during the ten years there was a steady stream of these excellent farmers pouring into the state. It was estimated that by 1883 some 15,000 had settled on the lands of the Santa Fe road, and since that time they have increased to 60,000. The emigration from Russia started a similar movement from South Germany, Switzerland and West Prussia. The importance of the settlement of these people in Kansas can not be overestimated, as they were professional farmers, with ample means and settled in large numbers. They brought with them and introduced the Turkey red wheat, which revolutionized the milling business of Kansas, and led to its rapid development as a great grain state. In 1890 they had 31 church edifices in the state, with a membership of 4,620. Fifteen years later the number of members had increased to 7,445.Pages 268-270 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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