The Palatinate

THE PALATINATE1 (1650-1786)

From The European History of the Swiss Mennonites from Volhynia
Schrag, Martin H 1956

Swiss Mennonite Refugees Settle in the Palatinate. The severe persecution inflicted on the Swiss Mennonites during the latter part of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, resulted in the migration of several hundred Mennonites to the Palatinate. There had been large movements of Swiss Mennonites to the Palatinate prior to this time, especially in the first years of Anabaptism,2 but such settlements were largely destroyed by persecution and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).3

The devastation wrought by the Thirty Years War resulted in something of a reversal of policy on the part of the Government, and several once persecuted groups were asked to return. Hoping to rebuild his wasted farmlands, Prince Karl Ludwig, ruler of the Palatinate, offered limited religious liberty to the Swiss Mennonites in 1684. The terms included freedom to hold the Mennonite faith, provided Mennonites did not attempt to proselyte nor accept outsiders into their church, and freedom of worship, provided the meetings were not held in public buildings and not more than twenty families met at one time. In addition, the Mennonites were not to teach anything savoring of political revolt, and they were required to pay an annual tax.4

Large groups of Mennonites arrived in the Palatinate in years of more intense persecution, but only small groups, sometimes only a few individuals, came during periods of limited or no persecution. Some Mennonites found their way there as early as 1650,5 but the really large migration was a group of seven hundred which came in 1671. Mennonites kept trickling in from Switzerland in the succeeding years, with occasional larger groups, as in 1711.6 Uprooted and forced to flee immediately, the refugees arrived destitute. Fortunately, the Dutch Mennonites came to their aid and thus helped eliminate their dire need.

The Swiss Mennonite refugees established their socio-religious communities in the Palatinate. Here they perpetuated their faith in God and way of life, which included their German-Swiss culture. The Mennonites were, for the most part, peasant farmers, separated from the world. They wanted, above all else, to be true to God, as He revealed Himself in the New Testament through His Son Jesus Christ. They were a tolerated, peculiar people, viewed from outside the community. They tried to be self-reliant in material things, and thus by example of labor and industry, hoped to gain respect and consideration from their neighbors.

The Swiss-Volhynians and the Palatinate. It is possible to trace, the Krehbiel family from 1671-1784 living in the midst of the larger Mennonite community in the Palatinate. The Miller, Schrag, Zerger, and other families from Switzerland lived in the Palatinate.7 Individuals from these families and their location can be identified as the Palatinate party left for Galicia in 1784-1786.

Some seven hundred Mennonite refugees arrived in the Palatinate from Switzerland in 1671.8 They responded to the invitation of Prince Charles August, Count of Nassau. They settled in the duchy of Nassau-Weilburg (located within the Palatinate electorate but under the control of the House of Nassau).9 The three sons of Jost Crayenbuehl–Michael, Jost, and Peter were among this large group. They settled in the vicinity of Kircheimbolanden.10 On December 14, 1709, a son Jost Krehbiel11 purchased the lease to the Pfrimmerhof farm near Sippersfold.12 from Caspar Sherer and Johannes Hardenburg. The farm was half-wooded and half-cultivated. It was a beautiful place, but the soil was not too productive. After Jost died in 1722 his wife petitioned the prince to divide the farm between the two oldest sons. This was effected on November 16, 1723 with the issue of a new lease by Karl August. According to the new contract the Krehbiels were required to give the tenth in cash and a specified amount of grain. Johann Jacob, the oldest son, worked his portion of the land for the remainder of his life. Jost, a second son, after ten years sold his half to his younger brother, Johann Christian, who subleased it.

The children of Johann Jacob were Peter, Johann Jacob, Michael, Anna, and Magdalena. The oldest son, Peter, purchased the lease to a manor in the Ripport, only a few miles from Pfrimmerhof. It was from this location that Peter left for Galicia with others in 1784.13

Certain individuals (Swiss-Volhynians) can be identified as the Mennonite groups left for Galicia in 1784 and 1786. Johannes Schrag left for Galicia from Albisheim on the Eis River.14 Johannes Zercher was born in Potzbach, Grafschaft Falkenstein15 and left from Kaiserslautern to join the migration.16 Heinrich Muller was born in Ebersheim.17 Others left for Galicia from the immediate vicinity, as substantiated by the name given to the first village in Galicia–Falkenstein, the name of a Palatinate duchy bordering Nassau-Weilberg.18

It is interesting to note that the Krehbiel and Muller names are very common in the Palatinate records and census lists of this period.19 The Krehbiels were active in church leadership.20 In the census lists published in the Mennonite Quarterly Review, the name Zerger is mentioned twice. A Johannes Zerger lived in Rohrhof in 173821 and a Christian Zerger lived in Alsheim by Gronau.22 Names similar to that of Schrag are also to be found in the lists. One Andres Schreger lived in Ubersheimer Hof in 1759.23 One Andreas Schorock from Baysitzers zu Ubersheim is shown in a listing of 1753.24

The Amish Schism: The most significant Anabaptist religious development in the period 1560-1786, was the Amish schism of 1693-1697, which split the Mennonite churches in Switzerland, the Palatinate, and Alsace. (The Swiss-Volhynian Mennonites emerged out of the Amish persuasion.) The controversy, referred to historically as the Ammann-Reist controversy, was over separation from evil, non-conformity, and other minor issues. It reached its climax when Jacob Ammann, a Mennonite elder in Switzerland and Alsace insisted that all Mennonite ministers accept the newly introduced25 practice of Meidung; i.e., social and religious avoidance or shunning of excommunicated members. He believed that church members should not eat, do business, or fraternize with excommunicated members.

In addition to Meidung, two other issues were directly involved in the conflict. One was whether those who spoke falsehoods should be excommunicated; the other, whether true-hearted persons (treuherzige, (half-way Anabaptists), friends of Mennonites who accepted many of their views and helped them in times of persecution) would be saved. Ammann felt that persons guilty of falsehood should be excommunicated and rejected the thought that the treuherzige would be saved. Also Ammann contended for uniformity in dress, including style of hats, cut of clothing, pattern of shoes and stockings, and wearing of the untrimmed beard. He took a strong stand against attendance at State church services.26 There was also contention regarding the use of tobacco.27

Two Amish disciplines, dated 1779 and 1781 respectively, reflect Amish concerns of that day. Salient concerns include a strong sense of separation from the world, Meidung, believer’s baptism, and instructions relative to rites and ceremonies.28

The opposition, led by Elder Hans Reist, refused to acquiesce, and a split resulted. Most of the churches in the Palatinate and virtually all of the churches in Switzerland followed Reist (who led the larger of the two groups), while a few from these areas and virtually all the churches in the Alsace followed Ammann.29

The Reist-Ammann controversy has long been forgotten in Europe, but over 20,000 baptized Amish members live in America. They, like their spiritual leader, tend to be stricter than most Mennonites. The Ammann-Reist controversy is important because Swiss-Volhynians which came from the Montbeliard community–the Gerings, Grabers, Kaufmans, and Stuckys were Amish.

Life Among the Mennonites in the Palatinate: Since the Mennonites (and Amish) were barred from many professions and occupations, they pursued their farming with religious intensity, and became pioneers in progressive agriculture. The Mennonites introduced the cultivation of casparsette (a variety of clover), the use of the potato, improved feedlot practices, and the use of minerals as fertilizers.30 The Swiss Mennonite concentration on dairying and cheesemaking was expanded in the direction of more general farming. The Mennonites were also active in the milling industry and in linen weaving.31

Life was very simple, sometimes owing to economic necessity, and always because of Christian concern. There was a concern that material wealth would not be a distraction from spiritual values. Simplicity was the keynote in the house, home furnishings, and clothing. Food was also kept simple, with silent prayer before and after the meal. The clothing was homespun (from hemp), and homemade.32

The Mennonites tended to live high moral lives characterized by industriousness, honesty, and hard work. They shunned profanity, swearing, drunkenness, or other deeds of “the flesh.” They attempted to maintain peaceful relations with their fellowmen, were obedient to the government, and approached life with a religious intensity.33

The Mennonites (and Amish) were subject to greater restrictions, with the emergence of a Catholic line of princes. The restrictions included additional taxes, a reduction in the number of families to two hundred, and the Redemption Act. This Act stated that land having been sold by a non-Mennonite to a Mennonite could be repossessed by the non-Mennonite at the initial purchase price.34

During the course of the seventeenth century the Mennonites in the Palatinate gave up their Swiss dialect and many Swiss aspects of their culture, adopting the South German dialect and high German, and German culture.35

Life in the Palatinate in the eighteenth century was so burdensome and difficult that tens of thousands sought a more favorable place in which to live. During this time one hundred thousand Germans, largely from the Palatinate, including two thousand, five hundred Mennonites, found their way to virgin Pennsylvania. The Mennonite migration to Pennsylvania took place during the first half of the century.36

The historian Bachmann lists the following background factors as determinative in the movement of the German colonists from the Palatinate to Galicia in 1782-1789: There was a scarcity of land due to the increased population. The countryside was constantly ravaged by war and to pay for the wars and the pleasures of the nobility, additional taxes were required. The high taxes placed the farmer under a crushing financial load. The farmers were annoyed by the restrictions prohibiting them from hunting the wild beasts of the forest, as deer and wild pig, which destroyed their crops. The nobility were unconcerned about farmer’s loss and in fact did what they could to retain their game preserves.37

In summary, because of persecution in the period from 1650 to 1786, many Swiss Mennonites fled to the Palatinate where they started life anew amid many difficulties which were accentuated when a new line of rulers came to power. Despite the difficulties, however, Mennonite and Amish church life continued, and the group made a definite contribution to the science of farming. When persecution hounded them in the Palatinate many left for America and other parts of Europe, including Poland and Russia, in hope of finding more favorable opportunities. Thus some of the Swiss-Volhynian Mennonite ancestors came from the Palatinate, where they were scattered among the larger Mennonite and Amish communities.


1 The Palatinate was one of the largest provinces of Germany, located in South Germany on both sides of the Rhine and with Heidelberg as the capital. The Palatinate was an electorate.

2 Christian Hege, “Kurpfalz,” Mennonitisches Lexikon II, p. 589.

3 C. Henry Smith, The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth Century (Norristown, Pa.: Pennsylvania-German Society, 1929), pp. 29-30.

4 Ibid., pp. 30-31.

5 Fellman, “Kriegsheim” Mennonitisches Lexikon II, p. 572.

6 C. Henry Smith, The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 31-33.

7 Almost if not all Palatinate Mennonites in this period were Swiss or descendants of Swiss Mennonites, since proselyting in the Palatinate was forbidden as was also the acceptance of all voluntary applicants for church membership by rebaptism. Ibid. p. 30. Furthermore, the church book begun by the Galician Mennonites about 1810 states that the settlers in Galicia were originally from Switzerland.

8 “Nach alten Papieren und Erzachlungen eines Grossvaters wie die Krehbiels auf den Weierhof kamen,” p. 3.

9 For location of the duchy see p. 22

10 David Krehbiel, “Description des Pfrimmerhofes, zur Gemeinde Sippersfeld gehurig, dessen erste Bewohner und Abstaummung der jetzigen Familie. Hergeleitet aus authentischen Beweischriften und Belegstücken, 1880” (unpublished article secured from Paul Schowalter, Weierhof, Germany), p. 3. A scholarly written article based on primary sources.

11 Name changed to Krehbiel during time in the Palatinate (P.P. Wedel, p. 11).

12 For location see p. 22

13 David Krehbiel, pp. 5-6.

14 Bachmann, p. 125. For location see p. 22

15 Ibid., p; 148.

16 J.J. Krehbiel, “Einges aus der Geschichte der aus Russland eingewanderten Schweizer Mennoniten,” Der Herold, p. 5.

17 Bachmann, p. 145.

18 For location see p. 22

19 Harold S. Bender, “Palatinate Mennonite Census Lists, 1684-1774, I,” Mennonite Quarterly Review XIV:I (January, 1940), pp. 5-39; Bender, “Palatinate Mennonite Census Lists, 1664-1774, II,” Mennonite Quarterly Review XIV:2 (April, 1940)

20 Friedman, p. 65

21 Bender, “Palatinate Mennonite Census Lists, 1664-1774, I,” Mennonite Quarterly Review, p. 58.

22 Bender, “Palatinate Mennonite Census Lists, 1664-1774, IV,” Mennonite Quarterly Review XIV:4 (October, 1940), p. 237.

23 Bender, Census List II, Mennonite Quarterly Review, p. 70.

24 Bender, “Palatinate Mennonite Census Lists, 1664-1774, III” Mennonite Quarterly Review XIV:3 (July, 1940), p. 154.

25 It was through the Dortrecht Confession of the Dutch Mennonites that the concept of Meidung was introduced to the Swiss, Palatinate and Alsatian churches. The Confession was signed by a group of thirteen Alsatian Ministers in 1660. The evidence suggests, however, that some of the signers did not fully understand the concept. The Confession was not signed by the Swiss Mennonites. (Milton Gascho, “The Amish Division of 1693-1697 in Switzerland and Alsace,” Mennonite Quarterly Review II:4 October, 1937, pp. 248-249.)

26 Gascho, pp. 244-245.

27 C. Henry Smith, “The Mennonites in Europe”; J.S. Hartzler and Daniel Kauffman, Mennonite Church History (Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Book and Tract Society, 1905), p. 101.

28 Harold S. Bender, “An Amish Church Discipline of 1779,” Mennonite Quarterly Review,XI:2 (April, 1937), pp. 163-168 ; “An Amish Church Discipline of 1781,” Mennonite Quarterly Review, IV:2 (April, 1930), pp. 140-148.

29 Harold S. Bender, “Amish Division,” The Mennonite Encyclopedia I, pp. 90-92.

30 Walter Kuhn, “Swiss Galician Mennonites,” Mennonite Life, VIII.1 (January, 1955), pp. 24-26.

31 Ernst Crous, “Mennonites in Germany Since the Thirty Years War,” Mennonite Quarterly Review, XIV:4 (October, 1951), p. 355.

32 Bachmann, pp. 98-100.

33 Horsch, Mennonites in Europe, p. 269.

34 C. Henry Smith, The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 35-54.

35 Crous, p. 236.

36 C. Henry Smith, The Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 217-221. It is interesting to note that among those who came to Pennsylvania were Krehbiels, Millers, Zergers, and Schrags. Of the latter, Smith states that the name Schrag was changed to Schrock in America (p.239)..

37 Bachmann, pp. 120-121