The Eby Migration: A Quest for Religious Freedom

October 29, 2017

We ask you Holy Father, to show your grace and mercy to us all, throughout the whole wide world. Graciously draw us together with your blessing, care, and protection. Do not let division and disunity come among us.

-Excerpt from Die Ernst­hafte Christien­pflicht (Prayer Book for Earnest Christians), translated by Leonard Gross

Theodorus “Durst” eby

Durst Eby sat in prayerful contemplation. The year was 1704 and he was mourning the recent death of his lovely wife, Margaret. A peaceful man, Durst’s only desire was to live in harmony with his neighbors without sacrificing his own strongly held beliefs. His father Jacob had been a Bishop in the Mennonite church so he was accustomed to intolerance from other religions. Recently the hatred had escalated, leading to the difficult decision to leave his beloved home in Zurich, in hopes of giving his nine children a more stable future.

(Cover photo is a representation of Zurich in the 1800’s.)

why the persecution?

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
-Ecclesiastes 1:9

Much as we see intolerance throughout America today for differing beliefs, the Mennonites were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th century, as they were deemed too radical and a danger to religious stability.

What was this radical viewpoint which was hated by both Catholic and Protestant governments? The Mennonites held the Anabaptist notion that a person should wait to be baptized until old enough to make the choice for themselves, rather than being baptized in infancy.

Menno Simons was one of the early adopters of the Anabaptist ideas. When religious persecution resulted in the death of his brother whose only “crime” was to be rebaptized, Menno left the Catholic church and joined the Anabaptist movement in 1536. His group of believers eventually came to be called Mennonites. They were a pacifist group who preferred to relocate rather than resort to violence to defend their beliefs. Until his death 25 years later, Menno traveled across Europe as a hunted man, preaching nonviolence, adult baptism, and faithfulness to the Bible.

the Eby family searches for a more peaceful life

In 1704 Theodorus “Durst” Eby moved his family to the Palatinate region of southwest Germany, where they lived until 1715. Here Durst married Barbara Dysli, with whom he had four more children. In 1715, the Eby’s joined many other Mennonites, accepting the invitation from William Penn to join his settlement in America. Durst resettled his family near what is now Mill Creek, Pennsylvania (his house pictured left). Here the family found the peaceful community they sought. Durst died here in 1727.

christian eby, son of durst

Durst’s sixth son, Christian, (who we are descended from) was only six years old when the family left Switzerland. In 1730 he married Elizabeth Mayer and they settled north of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Christian and Elizabeth had ten children. Like the other men in his family, Christian learned carpentry at a young age.  In 1754, he built the house pictured below. (Click on the photo to see a Google street view and “walk around”.)

The datestone, on the front of the house, is inscribed “Christian Ebi, Elisabetha, 1754.”

Christian passed away in Pennsylvania in 1756, followed by his wife in 1787.

peaceful times never last
Pennsylvania Mennonite churchyard on a Sunday morning.

Decades later when the American colonies were torn between loyalty to the crown and declaring their freedom, a rift developed between the “Old Mennonite Settlers”, who were Tory loyalists, and the more progressive Mennonite separatists. Looking once again for peace, many of the Mennonite loyalists moved to Waterloo, Canada, including two of our ancestral lines. As was common within social and ethnic groups during colonization, endogamy (marriage between distant cousins) was practiced within Mennonite settlements, rather than marry outsiders. The two Eby lines from which we are descended are outlined below. (Click to see the family lines on our Ancestry tree.) It wasn’t until the early 1900’s when the Eby descendants returned to the US. Barbara Bergey was born in Idaho in 1936.

additional sources

Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association

ThoughtCo. Mennonite History

From Pennsylvania to Waterloo: A Biographical History of Waterloo Township

Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

A Biographical History of the Eby Family

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