Peters, Jacob (1813-1884)
Jacob Peters: farmer and Oberschulze (Reeve); b. 17 October 1813 in the Frisian village of Kronsweide, Imperial Russia to Peter and Katharina (Siemens) Peters. He was the fifth child in a family of ten. On 27 September 1834, he married Elisabeth Friesen (b. 29 November 1814, Kronsweide, Russia – d. 22 October 1871, in Heuboden, Russia) in Kronsweide, Russia. She was the daughter of Jacob Friesen and Anganetha Braun. They had seven children, only two of which reached adulthood. Jacob d. 7 May 1884 in Reichenbach, Manitoba.
Jacob grew up in Kronsweide, attending the village school, marrying a Kronsweide girl, and working for family and neighbours. In 1839, when the fourth wave of settlers moved to the Bergthal Colony, Jacob and Elisabeth also went, settling in Heuboden where Jacob became a full-fledged landowner at the age of 25. In 1845 he was elected as Beisitzer (Assistant) to the Oberschulze for the Bergthal Colony, and by 1854 he had been elected as Oberschulze. In this office, Jacob Peters steered his people through several major crises, notably the Mennonite response to the Crimean War, the matter of increasing landlessness, and the emigration to America. In 1871 Elisabeth died, leaving Jacob a widower, who nevertheless adopted a rejected Russian child and brought him to Canada amid his other responsibilities. All his efforts were characterized by a farsighted leadership and a compassionate spirit.
The Crimean War of 1854-55 involved the Mennonites who were forced to supply money, lodging and transportation to the troops, something that the Bergthal people under the guidance of Peters did so diligently that the Russian Government issued him an inscribed gold watch in recognition of his contribution.
The problem of landlessness was addressed and money raised, but eventually it was the third major issue, emigration, that resolved both this matter and the increased pressure towards “russification” that threatened the revocation of the special privileges of the Mennonites. Here Peters together with Aeltester Gerhard Wiebe played a major role in negotiating with the Czarist Government. Later, as one of the delegates chosen to visit America in 1873, and as one of the leaders in negotiating with the Russian and Canadian governments, he worked tirelessly to secure permission to emigrate from Russia and to obtain an Order-in-Council protecting the traditional Mennonite distinctives in Canada.
Peters led in the process of closing down the administration of an entire colony in Russia, transplanting 500 families to America and pacifying the malcontents. Peters used his personal funds to supplement the proceeds of sales for many who felt their lands were sold too cheaply. He negotiated with the Chortitza Fire Insurance when part of Bergthal burned down after the departure of the colony residents.
The last main group of Bergthal colonists left on 20 July 1876 with Jacob Peters and Peter Klippenstein in charge. Peters carried over $35,000 in cash, which included the money for the sale of one of the Bergthal villages. In Manitoba, he continued to function as the Oberschulze until 1 January 1880, when the transition to a municipal council was effected and Gerhard Kliewer was elected as Reeve. During this time Peters and his sons homesteaded in what is now Mitchell, just west of present day Steinbach, naming it Vollwerk. He continued to lead in Mennonite affairs, organizing the construction of a road to market and in organizing the visit of the Governor General in 1877. As the elder statesman of the Mennonites of the East Reserve, he was chosen to address the Governor-General on behalf of the settlement.
Jacob Peters died 8 May, 1884 at the age of 70. His leadership was characterized by a servant attitude and a deep Christian compassion. His example of public service continued to be followed by his descendants, three of whom became Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Hanover for a total of 18 years. The land homesteaded by Peters remained in the family for over 100 years.
Dyck, John. Oberschulze: Jakob Peters, 1813-1884. Steinbach, MB: Hanover Steinbach Historical Society, 1990.
Enns, William. Das Verstossene Kind. Steinbach, Manitoba (Derksen Printers, 1944).
Penner, Lydia. Hanover. One Hundred Years. Steinbach, MB: Rural Municipality of Hanover, 19__).
Schroeder, William. The Bergthal Colony, Rev. ed. Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 1986.
Wiebe, Gerhard. Causes and History of the Emigration of the Mennonites from Russia to America, trans. Helen Janzen. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1981.
Warkentin, Abe. Reflections on our Heritage: A History of Steinbach and the Rural Municipality of Hanover. Steinbach: Rural Municipality of Hanover.
Peters, Klaas. Die Bergthaler Mennoniten (reprinted Steinbach: Mennonitische Post, 1983).
Enns, William. Das Verstossene Kind. Steinbach, MB: Derksen Printers.
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MLA style: Braun, Ernest. "Peters, Jacob (1813-1884)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2005. Web. 25 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/P486ME.html.
APA style: Braun, Ernest. (October 2005). Peters, Jacob (1813-1884). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/P486ME.html.