P.O. Box 231 200 N. Poplar, Goessel, KS 67053 ~(620) 367-8200
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EXPERIENCE
The Settlers

Among the many Mennonites who emigrated from Ukraine to the North American Central Plains in 1874 were most members of the congregation and village of Alexanderwohl in the Molotschna Colony, a Mennonite settlement of about 60 villages south-southeast of Tokmak. The nearly 800 men, women and children of the Alexanderwohl immigrants traveled by rail to Hamburg, Germany, on the steamships SS Cimbria and the SS Teutonia across the Atlantic and again by rail to Nebraska and Kansas. In Nebraska, about 30 families decided to settle in the Henderson area. The remainder went on to Kansas. In Kansas, those who had sailed on the SS Cimbria transplanted themselves in what is now the Goessel area. Those on the SS Teutonia settled in the present-day Inman-Buhler area and established a new congregation, Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church.

The Alexanderwohl Mennonite congregation, whose meeting-house is located a mile north of Goessel on K-15, has a continuous history stretching back at least 300 years. The exact date and place of origin is not known, but it is certain that the congregation’s roots are in the “Old Flemish” group of Dutch Anabaptists of the 16th century.

 

Many of the Anabaptists who fled severe persecution in The Netherlands in the late 1500s and early 1600s settled in the delta region of the Vistula and Nogat rivers south of Danzig (now Gdansk), where the Prussian government allotted them a certain amount of barely arable land because of frequent flooding. (In time the Dutch developed this area into prime farmland.) An Old Flemish congregation was established in the Przechowko/Schwetz area. It was this congregation that eventually became Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church.

In 1763, Catherine II of Russia invited German farmers – Lutherans, Catholics, Reformed and Mennonites – to establish agricultural communities on the steppes of Ukraine. She granted them extensive special privileges “for all time,” including freedoms of religion, language, and self-governance, and for Mennonites, freedom from compulsory military service. Mennonites in Prussia finally accepted this invitation in 1789 and established the Chortitza colony along the Dnieper River. The colony along the Molotschna River was established in 1804.

The Groningen Old Flemish Mennonite congregation at Przechowko immigrated to the Molotschna Colony in 1821. Along the way they met Czar Alexander I, who wished them well on their journey. In the Molotschna Colony, they established a village which was namedAlexanderwohl because the tsar Alexander had wished them well(wohl).

In 1870, Czar Alexander II announced that in ten years the special privileges granted the Germans would be withdrawn. Immediately the Mennonites appealed to the government, but these efforts failed. For many, emigration was the only option. In the next two to three years contacts were made with Mennonites in the United States and Canada. A delegation of Mennonite leaders from Russia traveled throughout the Plains states and Manitoba in search of areas suitable for settlement. In 1874, in an effort to discourage Mennonites from emigrating, Czar Alexander announced that they could join the forestry service in lieu of performing military service. For many this was too late and not enough, however, and between the years 1874 and 1884, about a third of the Mennonites in Russia immigrated to North America. Most of them settled in the Central Plains region from Kansas to Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

 Mennonites in what became the Goessel area detrained in Peabody and followed the Peabody-McPherson mail route northwest about 14 miles, where the two immigrant houses built for them by the Santa Fe Railroad waited to be occupied.