Up until the 16th century, Europeans were essentially Catholic. But just about the time that Columbus was "discovering" America, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in Geneva and Knox in Scotland were publically questioning the Catholic Church. Thus began a period of religious rebellion.
Among the rebel religions were the "peace churches": German Baptist (Dunkard), Anabaptist (Mennonite), and Society of Friends (Quaker). These religions had these things in common:
- Simplicity: They believed in a simple life style based on the teachings of the Bible. They refused to take oaths of allegiance, claiming that their allegiance was to God.
- Non-violence: They refused to participate in the many wars against the French and Indians, and later the British.
- Direct communication with God: They did not believe in the elaborate rituals, political structure, and dogma associated with mainstream churches. Each individual was to seek that of God within himself and act accordingly.
Because of these differences with the normal civil order, there was a separation from the main-stream culture of the new colonies. To make matters worse, the Brethren and the Mennonites spoke German, separating them even further from the English-speaking populations.
The Mennonites were the first, originating in 1625 in Switzerland. Their main argument with other religions, besides those mentioned above, was the baptising of infants. They insisted that religion came from within, and that an infant was incapable of comprehending baptism. This rite was performed when an individual was able to choose freely.
Religious intolerance sent the Mennonites off to America early on. In 1683, thirteen of them set off from Krefeld, Germany, aboard the ship "Concord". They arrived in Philadelphia in October, 1683, and founded Germantown. Soon, however, they had headed towards the frontier. Basic in the Mennonite belief was that, in order to live their Christian lifestyle, they had to isolate themselves from the evils of society, and the frontier gave them the space to do so.
The Quakers were next, being founded in 1652 by George Fox. The Quakers objected to church ritual. Their church services, called "meetings", had no minister and no hymns; instead they sat in silence, each giving testimony as the spirit moved them.
The Quakers also were pushed out of Europe by religious intolerance, and settled in Rhode Island at first, and then in Pennsylvania when it was established in 1682. From there, they followed the frontier as it developed. Unlike the Mennonites and the Dunkards, the Quakers were politically active, speaking out against war, against slavery, against any injustice they saw. One of the factors sending them west was the need to survive economically without slaves.
Then came the Dunkards, started in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany. Like the Mennonites, the Dunkards were anabaptists, believing in adult baptism. In 1719 Peter Becker led a group of Dunkards to Krefeld, Germany and from there to Germantown, Pennsylvania. This was the beginning of the Palatine immigration phase, with inhabitants of the palantine region of Germany heading for America in great numbers.
From: German Migration to North America, originally posted in ROOTS-L by Melissa Alexander" on Apr 8, 1998:
According to Baxter, there were a number of reasons for the great migrations: poor crops, bad winters, heavy taxes, military service, religious persecution and, most of all, the devastation caused by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and subsequent invasions of the Rhineland by France in 1673, 1688, and 1707.
As the west opened up, the practitioners of these three religions moved westward. Perhaps they hoped to find isolation from the pressures of mainstream culture; perhaps they simply wanted a better life. At any rate, these ancestors were true pioneers.
For further information about the Anabaptists (Mennonites), see:
For further information about the Society of Friends (Quakers) see:
For further information about the Brethren (Dunkards) see: