Eby, Peter (1765-1843)
Peter Eby, born 14 October 1765 north of Lititz, along the Hammer Creek in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was the son of Christian and Catharine Bricker Eby, and the third child in a family of twelve. The father was the first known deacon in the Hammer Creek (Mennonite Church) district. The fourth child was Hans, whose influence helped decide the fate of the Waterloo, Ontario, colony. The eleventh child was Bishop Benjamin of Ontario. Of Peter's boyhood and youth we have no record.
Peter's great-grandfather Theodorus, son of Bishop Jakob Eby, was born in Switzerland in 1663. In 1704 he emigrated to the Palatinate, and in 1715 to America, settling in Earl Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania In 1735 his son Christian and wife, Elizabeth Meyer, settled on a 236-acre tract on Hammer Creek. In 1754 they built the large house in which their son Christian, Peter's father, reared his family. In this house regular meetings were held. It was still occupied and in good condition in 1948. The barn Peter's father built was also still in use. In 1750 Peter's grandfather built a mill which the family operated until 1790, when Peter's father built a new one further downstream, which mill was rebuilt in 1850 and was operating in good condition in 1948. Peter's father freely furnished supplies for wounded soldiers quartered at Zion Church of nearby Brickerville.
Such a heritage and environment was the school of the youth who became "the great bishop of Pequea," who, according to Ellis and Evans, "was a positive man of clear native mind, a natural orator, and though making no pretense to a thorough scholastic training, commanded, both in temporal and spiritual matters, the deference of his brethren." Of him J. F. Funk wrote, "The doctrines of Peter Eby were sound Mennonite doctrines. He was a most remarkable man." Harris says his preaching was extemporaneous, eloquent, and very effective, appealing to reason, not emotion; and also that in the councils of the church his decisions were impartial and just.
In July 1788 Peter married Margaretha, daughter of John Hess, of Hess's congregation, Warwick Township, and in 1791 they moved to the Mt. Patton farm in Salisbury Township, near Gap, their home for the rest of their lives. They had nine children and by 1950 their descendants numbered well over 2,000, many of whom have been valuable assets to the church and society.
No record exists of the date of Peter's baptism, nor the exact date of his ordination as minister or bishop. Present sources of information indicate his ordination as minister about 1800, and as bishop of the Pequea district about 1804, in which office he served until his death. Under Peter's bishopric the church grew from a few scattered families to strong congregations. In 1806 Paradise meetinghouse was built, Hershey's school and meetinghouse in 1814 and a new meetinghouse in 1837, and in 1841 Old Road. Peter also shepherded the church through the War of 1812, and the troubled times of the organization of the Reformed Mennonite Church by John Herr. He was a member of the Lancaster bishop board and in 1831 became moderator of the Lancaster Conference.
Peter's labors, however, were not confined to Pequea. Tradition, later disputed, says he journeyed to Canada to ordain Benjamin Eby minister in 1809, and bishop in 1812. He ministered to the congregations of Susquehanna Valley, Southwestern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and on some occasions, Virginia. He also made social visits to the Franconia Conference area. In 1840 Christian Herr, Peter's personal choice, was ordained bishop as his assistant and successor, a unique event in the Lancaster Conference, and a tribute to the stature of Peter in the eyes of his brethren.
Peter Eby died 6 April 1843 in his seventy-eighth year, and was buried in the old cemetery at Hershey's Church. He left no writings or books, but his ministry made an impression that still lived a century later.
"The Correspondence of Martin Mellinger." Harold S. Bender, translator and editorl. Mennonite Quarterly Review 5 (1931).
Eby, Ezra. A Biographical History of the Eby Family. Berlin, ON: E.E. Eby, 1889: 1-26.
Ellis, Franklin and Samuel Evans. History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1883: 338, 339, 620.
Good, E. Reginald. "Jacob Moyer's Mennonite church records: an interpretive sketch." Mennogespräch 3 (March 1985): 1-5.
Landis, Ira D. "Bishop Peter Eby of Pequea." Mennonite Quarterly Review 14 (1940): 41-51.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 139-140. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Eby, Martin C. "Eby, Peter (1765-1843)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E2925.html.
APA style: Eby, Martin C. (1956). Eby, Peter (1765-1843). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E2925.html.