McRoberts, Samuel (1868-1947)
Samuel McRoberts was a leading American banker, who was the key figure in the coming of the Canadian Mennonites to Paraguay in 1926-27. Born in Malta Road, Missouri, USA on 20 December 1868, he completed his education with BA and MA degrees from Baker University (1891, 1894) and an LB (Bachelor of Letters) from the University of Michigan (1893). He entered into the banking business in 1909 as vice-president of the National City Bank of New York (1909-19), continuing soon after as president of the Metropolitan Trust Company of New York (1921-25) and chairman of the Board of the Chatham-Phenix National Bank of New York (1925-32). During World War I he was chief of the division of procurement of the Ordnance Department of the United States Army. He was officially made Brigadier General on 26 August 1918, and, hence, was commonly called General McRoberts. He died 9 September 1947.
A committee of four people from the Old Colony settlement near Hague, Saskatchewan, who must have learned of McRoberts through a Canadian banker friend, visited him in 1919 and enlisted him to help the Mennonites. At first he refused aid but was won for the Mennonite cause by his wife (Harriet Skinner), a devout Christian Fundamentalist, daughter of a Presbyterian minister, who was convinced the Mennonites were outstanding Christians fighting God's battle in an unbelieving world, and therefore should be helped. With characteristic thoroughness McRoberts undertook the Mennonite case and became the chief promoter and financier (losing a considerable amount in the course of time) of the Canadian Mennonite colonization in the Paraguayan Chaco. He operated through the Intercontinental Land Company (organized in 1925) and the Corporación Paraguaya (organized in 1926). McRoberts engaged Fred Engen, an experienced land agent, who studied a wide range of locations throughout the world (Manchuria, Africa, Mexico, South America), keeping in mind the Mennonite terms, which were complete freedom of religion, language, and schools, military exemption, local autonomy, good soil, and isolation from the world. They decided on Argentina, but soon discovered that Argentina refused the Mennonite terms. An accidental meeting with president-elect Gondra of Paraguay en route to Argentina led ultimately to the choice of the Chaco for the Mennonite colonization project. McRoberts personally negotiated with Paraguayan government and civic leaders for the Mennonite privileges. He also persuaded the Catholic authorities, including the papal nuncio and the archbishop, to approve the project.
Without the personal intervention of McRoberts the Mennonite colonization (first the Menno Colony in 1926, and later Fernheim, and other Russian Mennonite colonies in 1930) would probably never have been established.
Bender, John. "Paraguay Calling," Part II, "The Mennonite Colonies in Paraguay," 9-35, gives further details of McRoberts' activities. (A copy is in the Goshen College Mennonite Historical Library.)
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 434. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "McRoberts, Samuel (1868-1947)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M3860ME.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1957). McRoberts, Samuel (1868-1947). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M3860ME.html.