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"Peace Church Settlers of Whitchurch-Stouffville: Historical Background”

"Peace Church Settlers of Whitchurch-Stouffville: Historical Background”

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Peace Plaque Dedication Service, Stouffville, Sept. 22, 2013. Part of the Stouffville Peace Festival.
Peace Plaque Dedication Service, Stouffville, Sept. 22, 2013. Part of the Stouffville Peace Festival.

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Published by: Arnold Neufeldt-Fast on Sep 23, 2013
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Stouffville Peace Plaque DedicationSept. 22, 2013
Peace Church Settlers of Whitchurch-Stouffville: Historical Background
 
Dr Arnold Neufeldt-FastAssociate Dean, Tyndale Seminary
1
 This is a very significant event for our community, and it is an honour for me to unfold thehistorical background to this Peace Plaque.Said simply, this plaque is a commentary on the peace dove at the top of our Town Crest. Thedove is a tribute to the peace story that shaped the character, the actions, and the contributionof our first settlers.Mennonites, Brethren in Christ (Tunkers), and Quakers arrived in what is today Whitchurch-Stouffville not as individual settlers, but as groups.Each of these groups was defined by their refusal to take up arms; together, t
hey are Canada’s
three historic peace church groups, and are pioneers of Canadian conscientious objection towar.They came here not with a petition for militia exemption; rather Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoewanted these groups to settle Upper Canada, and with the Militia Act of 1793, offered themexemption from militia service as an incentive. (This same principle was restated almost 100years later when other Mennonites arrived from Europe as settlers of southern Manitoba. Lord
Dufferin announced (1877): “The battle to which we invite you is the battle against thewilderness ... you will not be required to shed human blood.”
)
2
 There was no other place in Upper Canada in which all three peace church groups settled insuch close proximity, and together formed the majority population.
1
Arnold Neufeldt-Fast is an ordained member at Community Mennonite Church Stouffville.
2
Cited in Frank H. Epp,
Mennonites in Canada
, Vol. 1 (Toronto: Macmillian, 1974), 370. I am thankful to my former professor,Dr. Helmut Harder for these two historical references.
 
2
Who were our earliest settlers, and what is the story that shaped them? 
A foundational category for Mennonite and Brethren in Christ ethics is the simple biblical
command, “Do not resist an
evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, [boldly] turn
to him the other also” (
Matt 5:39).For Mennonites this was not considered a saintly or heroic stance, but simply a description of the life of a people that gathered by and around the
Jesus story. “Do not repay evil for evil, but… live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:17,18). To abandon this teaching would be to
abandon the
one who teaches it. We can’t understand who these first settlers were without understanding
this teaching.But this teaching was hardly theoretical for those first settlers.
Abraham Stouffer’s grandfather with his parents and siblings, were
very likely amongst thoseSwiss Mennonites who had their property confiscated and were expelled from Switzerland in1710.
3
The Canton of Bern--from which the Stouffers and Reesors and many settler familieshail--was threatened in those years by the aggressive expansionist campaigns of Louis XIV, Kingof France.
4
The predominant reason given by the Bernese authorities for the expulsion of Anabaptist/Mennonites in 1710 and 1711 was their outright refusal to bear arms and serve inthe military.Stateless Mennonites and Tunkers were attracted to settle in Pennsylvania by the
Quaker 
 Governor William Penn.
Today we hear much about the “right” to bear arms;
Penn guaranteedhis settlers
“the
right to refuse
to bear Arms
!During the American Revolution this right was tested, amongst powerful rhetoric about
tyranny 
(e.g., of King George)
and freedom.
Mennonites
(i.e., the generation of Abraham Stouffer’s
parents), together with Quakers and Tunkers, brought a joint petition to the Quaker dominatedPennsylvania Assembly in which they said: It
is “
our principle to feed the hungry and to give thethirsty drink; we have dedicated ourselves to serve all men in everything that can be helpful to
3
 
Hans Stauffer was a Mennonite who, after being expelled from Switzerland, settled with his wife, Kingst Heistand-Risser, inthe Palatinate. On 9 November 1709, he and his family began their immigration to North America.He was in London on 20 January 1710 with his wife and children -
Jacob, Daniel, Henry, Elisabeth” (I.D. Landis and W.D. Swope, “Stauffer family,”
in:
Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
4
I thank my former colleague, Dr. Hanspeter Jecker, Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Liestal, Switzerland for detailedhistorical references regarding Stouffers/Stauffers in Switzerland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (personalcorrespondence).
 
3
the preservation of men's lives, but we find
no freedom
in giving, or doing, or assisting inanything by which men's lives art destroyed or hurt."
5
 These were the recent memories
with which our town’s earliest settlers arrived—
and againcrucial for our understanding who they were and why they were the way they were!Once here, war flared up again between the British and the Americans. Mennonites, Tunkersand Quakers were not required to take up arms, but they were taxed at a much higher ratethan their neighbours.A high number of charges were laid against settlers
especially the Quakers
for refusing toallow their property (horses and wagons) to be conscripted for military purposes.
6
Here aresome of the names of those charged from this area in 1812-13: David Byer, Martin Hoover,Abraham Groove, Michael Kipfer, David Raymer, David Wismer, Samuel Phipher, John Shank,John Snider, among others.
7
These are all typical Mennonite and Brethren-in-Christ familynames; pacifists. This is a significant list, given that by 1815 there were no more than 55families in what is Stouffville.
8
 Whitchurch (north of what is today Main St.) was settled primarily by the Quakers, also largelyfrom Pennsylvania.
9
In Dec 1812 in Whitchurch Township
seventy men chose to “hide out in thewoods rather than serve in their units;” they were identified as “rebels.”
10
Specifically, we
know that a Quaker from Whitchurch named “Jesse Lloyd,” had charges brought against him for
resisting in Dec 1812.
11
 It was the peace teachings of the Christian tradition that deeply shaped their worldview, andcaused them to wrestle wi
th what it means to be people of God’s peace, especially in times of 
conflict andwar.We respect the fact that
Stouffville’s history has many chapters and a diversity of actors; the
peace-church tradition is however the earliest prevailing story in town. It is not just an inspiring
5
Cited in G. F. Hershberger, E. Crous, and J. R. Burkholder, "Nonresistance," in:
Global Anabaptist Mennonite EncyclopediaOnline
6
See the Minutes of the "General Quarter Sessions of the Peace" in York, 1812-1813; Wm. H. Smith,
,
 
CanadianGazatteer 
(Toronto: Roswell, 1849), p. 212; By comparison, the Legion has a list of only
two
or
three
War of 1812 veterans wholived locally prior to the war (another five or six are listed whose next of kin moved here later in the century;http://www.scribd.com/doc/93323084/Stouffville-War-of-1812-Veterans); all of the others received militia exemption.Cf. also George Sheppard, 
 (Montreal/Kingston:McGill-Queens, 1994), p. 59.
7
These names among others appear in the Minutes of the "General Quarter Sessions of the Peace" in York, 1812-1813; I thankDr. Jonathan Seiling for kindly sharing this research with me.
8
See Barkey,Stouffville 1877-1977, p. 4.
9
Wm. H. Smith,
,
 
Canadian Gazatteer 
10
See George Sheppard, 
 (Montreal/Kingston:McGill-Queens, 1994), p. 59.
11
Minutes, "General Quarter Sessions of the Peace" in York, 1812-1813; I thank Dr. Jonathan Seiling for this reference (I havecopies of this microfilm).

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