The Branchweilerhof becomes a Mennonite Settlement

Refugees from Switzerland find a new Homeland

A new era in the History of the Branchweilerhof started in 1671. At that time the "Menisten" (Mennonites) who were forced out of Switzerland, settled here as "Temporalbeständer" (lease holders).

Who where those people:
Fritz Dester and his wife Elisabetha,
Jakob Weber and his wife Barbara as with
Daniel Stauffer and his wife Anna
With their Families.

After eleven years of working the farm it became possible for them to take over the Branchweilerhof under an "Erbbestand" (hereditary lease) agreement. The "Erbbestandsbrief" from September 28. 1682, issued by Prince Karl (1680 - 1685) gives us some insights of the Rights, Duty and Limitations that were put on the Erbbeständer. There duty was to carefully farm the Fields, remove the Brush and Bushes left over from the 30 year war to make those fields productive land again, to fertilize the fields and vineyards with manure, to remove all mole hills from the pastures and clean all ditches to properly water and drain the land. All additional work necessary was to be done in a manner fit for ambitious and honourable Farmers. This put a huge workload on the shoulders of the Erbbeständers until a somewhat normal farming could commence.

The Farm consisted, at the time of the Erbbestandsübernahme, of one big Farm house (the Spital) and other Farm buildings, including in 1674 a large burned down Barn, 100 acres of Farmland and 12 acres of vineyards. The three Families had to pay a one time Price of 1650 Gulden. Yearly the Families had to pay 200 Gulden in cash and additionally 21 Malter of Korn (=18,84 dz), cleaned and dried. The rent for the vineyards was to be one third of the harvest. For expansion there where an additional 150 acres of leased land available. For this land they had to deliver yearly 37,5 malter Korn (33 dz). For the big Zehnt (tenth) where 25 Malter (22 dz) of Korn and for the small Zehnt 5 Gulden was due. For Schatzung and their Liberty, the yearly 30 Gulden was due which had to be paid to the war fund.

Additional restrictions for the Hereditary Tenants where that they could not split up the farm among others then immediate family members and not to rent or sell to People that do not live on the farm. In case that they, their heirs or descendents still wished to sell, then they had to give first choice to the Manager for Branchweiler. Only if they were not interested then they could sell to anyone they wished and from what one could expect that they would be good farmers.
Because of the Religion of the Erbbeständern the Prince made the following conditions: 1 "in as much as their Religion concerns, will they remain therefore unquestioned, however with the expressed rules and conditions, that they do not hold public or secret meetings and gatherings of others, that do not live on the Spitalhof, or other places, much less other Churfuerstlich pfaelzlsche subjects and people to recruit or entice, also not blasphemously, arrogant or against the authority talking or rebel, and to refrain re-baptizing".

As founding year for the church at the Branchweilerof, according to passed on history, is the year 1683 shortly after the 3 families bought the farm. Surely was the small group thankful, that in spite of the restrictions that where placed upon them by the authority, they could live by their Faith and principles.

Prayer and Bible reading gave them the strength to overcome the many emergencies, hostility and difficulties of settling into their new Homes. Their faith in God was the only weapon they used to fight the ever-new Oppressions put upon them by the authority. As other Mennonite Families moved in the Church grew. In the year 1717 the families Egly, Hegi, Ellenberger, Guth, Dester und Mayer are listed. The name Lichti is added in the year 1724. By 1732 the church grew to 25 Families. Some of those lived in the villages of Haardt, Essingen, Duttweiler and Mußbach. The servant to the word (Preacher) was Hans Dester and the Deacon was Jakob Guth.

The Schutzgeldlisten (protection Money lists) gives some over view of the names and members of the church from 1685 till 1773. We also have a list of the Preachers. Sorry to say that we do not have records of Births, Baptisms, Marriages or Deaths. Also what is not clear is to when the church started to use the present Building. We know that Prince Carl Philipp (1716-1742) in his confirmation document in 1717 expressively wrote that no public churches were permitted. That means that a gathering place could not be visible from the street as such. At this time, it is assumed, that the remodelling of the front part of the church in to the Sheperdshouse took place, and in that way to hide the church and at the same time satisfies the Princes restriction.

The Mennonites at the Branchweilerhof in 1740 were accused of holding secret church services. After that the Jesuit, who were the owners of the Farm from 1700-1773, wrote the following positive report.

1 "That the re-baptiser at the Spitalhof Branchweiler as Hereditary Tenants alone there to our Schaffnei Branchweiler owed Erbbestandspacht and other prästanda (debts) every year so exact payment make, that there is no reason to complain, but only pleased and it is not known or did hear that nightly Conventikel (meetings) take place, the truth of this Document and the existence is herewith certified.
Neustadt, 27. February 1740 Christophory Butzfeld p. d. Superiof ".

Also in the year 1744 an issued Regulation, that the number of Mennonite families in the Kurpfalz is to be reduced to 200, therefore it was frequently required for a Konzessionserneuerung (Concession renewal) to produce a Personenverzeichnises (Person listing) in order to inhibit a quick growing Mennonite community. This is mentioned in a letter from the Jesuits to Prince Carl Theodor in 1753, where they wrote:
1 "anno 1682 Prince Carl only 3 main Branches, named Fritz Dester, Jakob Weber, Daniel Staufer, Mennonites, the then year/existed and transferred Branchweiler Hospital/Farm, all Erbbestand; but by now they multiplied quickly to now six main Families are located there."

The requests of the Jesuits to reduce the Families of Mennonites did not materialize. Instead Appraisals of their Farming know how, where compiled. In one from June 16, 1763, it is written:

1 "The Sect uncommonly abhorred and should be expediently-erased, but the daily experience teaches, that there are no better, more industrious and more efficient, subjects to be found, except for their religion, and their faith and wrong customs as in undaunted eagerness to work day and night which could serve other religion as a model. You hear never cussing, bad words or other bad things, and in court there is never any complaining, while they, which should be of Christian perfection, involved in all kinds of crime and need to be punished".

In another Appraisal from 1794, it is said that the Mennonites are very hard working and are exceptional Farmers.

1 Direct quotes from the original Document. The text of this translation was kept in context as much as possible and with words that where used at that time.