Martens, Wilhelm Aron (1781-1845)
Wilhelm Aron Martens: estate owner and pioneer; born 31 December 1781 in the Memelniederung area of Prussia to Aron Martens (ca. 1754-1801) and Anna (Janzen) Martens (ca. 1758-1807). He was the second of eight children, five daughters and three sons. In 1809 he married Aganetha Baerg (10 March 1792 – 18 July 1819). The couple had five children, one of whom died in childhood. Almost a year after his wife’s death in 1819, Wilhelm married Justina Willms (7 September 1795 – 24 February 1828) on 16 April 1820. The couple had four children together, three of whom survived to adulthood. On 17 September 1828, eight months after Justina’s death, Wilhelm married Marie (Rempel) Dick (13 October 1791 – 2 March 1870), who had been married twice before. The couple had one daughter together, but she died in childhood. Wilhelm died by suicide on 10 June 1845 in Halbstadt, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia.
Although Wilhelm Aron Martens was born in Prussia, he moved to Russia with his family in 1793 and settled in Schoenwiese, Chortitza Mennonite settlement. Wilhelm and his family remained there until 1823, when he and his wife Justina, together with the children, moved to Halbstadt, Molotschna. Wilhelm established a business collecting butter, eggs, wool, and other products to sell outside the colony, even going as far as Poltava province in the north and Odessa in the west to sell the goods. Often, he would travel in a convoy for several weeks before returning home. The business was quite lucrative, and when he had saved enough money, he began to buy estates. Eventually, he became the richest landowner of the time.
The first estate Martens bought was in the area of Jergotlitzky Kut (Jerlitzkoye) between the Black Sea and the Dniepr River. Because of the proximity to the sea, Wilhelm decided to call his estate "Meerfeld." He hoped to raise sheep there, but soon discovered that only a portion of the land was suitable for grazing because of saltpeter near the sea and sandy soil near the river. The land nearby had much better soil than Wilhelm’s, and two other landowners bought the property and established the estates of "Davidsfeld" and "Elisabethfeld" there. Finding enough drinking water was also a problem on Meerfeld, but Wilhelm drilled some wells and soon found sufficient artesian water to fill the needs of animals and people.
Wilhelm also bought a large piece of land near Melitopol in 1836 and later probably joined another landowner, David Schroeder, in purchasing property in Maytschekrak and the Crimea. Soon he was one of the wealthiest landowners in the Mennonite colonies, with sheep-raising as an important element of his work. At his death, Wilhelm was believed to have owned about 75-100,000 dessiatines of land. He committed suicide on 10 June 1845, and his property was distributed among all of his children after his widow’s death in 1871.
Wilhelm Aron Martens was a dedicated businessman and landowner who used his skills to build estates and establish new communities for the Mennonites in the area. Although his life ended tragically, his legacy as an estate owner influenced future generations.
Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonite Estates in Imperial Russia. Winnipeg: Springfield Publishers, 2005.
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MLA style: Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. "Martens, Wilhelm Aron (1781-1845)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2009. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/martens_wilhelm_aron_1781_1845.
APA style: Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. (January 2009). Martens, Wilhelm Aron (1781-1845). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/martens_wilhelm_aron_1781_1845.