Zehr, Peter (1809-1898)
Peter Zehr is believed to have been born in 1809 to Michel Zehr and his third wife, Madeleine Farny, on the Olferdingerhof at Gros-Rederching, Moselle (also known as Lorraine), France. In 1813, Peter's father died and his mother married Joseph Risser.
During Peter's youth, military training and service was compulsory in France and no doubt Peter served in the army. It is believed that he served in the medical core, thus gaining the medical knowledge which he used during the rest of his life. Peter married Barbara Roth of Baden, Germany.
On 28 December 1835, Peter, Barbara, and their son, born enroute, landed in New York, probably remained in Pennsylvania over winter and proceeded to Lewis County, New York the following spring. The congregation in Lewis County probably ordained both Peter and his half brother Michael, possibly in 1836.
Many of the settlers in Lewis County were looking elsewhere for less rocky land, and some of them, including Peter and Barbara chose to come to Canada. By the summer of 1839 they were in Canada where Peter was reported to be treating a boy with an injured leg. Dr. Scott of Berlin (now Kitchener) was not pleased with the report. Although the altercation in the newspaper was between Doctor Scott and the editor, it may have prompted Peter not to flaunt his medical practice. At any rate, he was always Peter Zehr, the farmer, not "doctor" or "minister."
Peter and Barbara purchased a lot in South Easthope Township from the Canada Company and proceeded to create a farm. Peter set aside a parcel of land at one corner for a burial ground, and later a school was built beside it - as was the custom in rural Ontario.
The South Easthope - East Zorra Amish Mennonite congregation had organized in 1837 with the services of a resident deacon. Peter became the first resident ordained minister, serving in that capacity until his death 60 years later. It is said he received some criticism from his parishioners when he was called away to tend the sick instead of filling his place in the pulpit (or table, as long as services were held in homes and barns). When the congregation built their first meetinghouse in 1883 in East Zorra, it became known as the East Zorra Amish Mennonite Church.
In 1871, Peter Zehr and his fellow minister, Daniel Schrag, traveled to Illinois to attend the Amish Mennonite Ministers' Conference. Peter was chosen as part of a council to investigate the circumstances in various congregations in Illinois. No doubt, they both used this opportunity to visit relatives as well. Most, if not all, of Barbara (Roth) Zehr's family had migrated to Illinois.
With the founding of the Upper Canada School of Medicine in 1850 and the college of Physicians and Surgeons in 1869, more pressure was brought on unlicensed practitioners like Peter Zehr. In 1878, at the age of almost 70, Peter went to Toronto to obtain a license. Whether he wrote tests or gave demonstrations is not known, but on 8 April 1878, he was granted a license by the college of Physicians and Surgeons.
Peter had always been referred to as Dr. Zehr by his clients, but after his licensing he was referred to as "doctor" or "physician" in the census records and in the numerous land purchases and sales in which he was involved. The civil birth and death records frequently cite Dr. Zehr as the attending physician.
According to family tradition, Zehr kept office hours in what is now the Walper Hotel in Berlin ( Kitchener) on a weekly basis. He remained active until shortly before his death on 2 January 1898 at the age of 89 years.
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MLA style: Roth, Lorraine. "Zehr, Peter (1809-1898)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2004. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/Z449.html.
APA style: Roth, Lorraine. (October 2004). Zehr, Peter (1809-1898). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/Z449.html.