On this day in 1683, the first Mennonites arrived in America. Mennonites were persecuted in Europe and tended to move around to avoid violence, rather than fight other Christians. The American colonies promised a home where they could settle for good and practice their faith in peace.
Francis Daniel Pastorius, a German lawyer and teacher, was hired by German merchants and the Frankfurt Land Company to found a colony of Mennonites in America. He purchased 15,000 acres in Pennsylvania from William Penn and founded Germantown, which later became part of Philadelphia.
Pastorius was more open-minded than most of his white settler contemporaries. After eating with a group of Native Americans, he wrote, “[they] have never in their lives heard the teaching of Jesus concerning temperance and contentment, yet they far excel the Christians in carrying it out.” In 1688, he wrote a treatise to slave-holding Quakers in Germantown to convince them to free their slaves. This was the first formal protest of slavery recorded in the U.S. colonies.
Most people confuse Mennonites with the Amish, because they’re both Anabaptist sects and wear simple, traditional clothing. But the Mennonites are actually more liberal and don’t shun members for violating group rules. Along with the Quakers, Mennonites have a strong history of pacifism and concern for social justice.