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Andrzej Piątkowski

Department of Pomorze History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Toruń

Developmental stages of the Olęder colonization in the Elbląg town estates from the 16th to the 18th century

Intensive colonization of the lowland sections of Elbląg's estates by incoming Olęder settlers began in the mid 1500s.

The city of Elbląg, similar to other large urban centers of Royal Prussia such as Gdańsk and Toruń, which were famous for large scale, long-distance trade and well-developed craftwork, owned large landed estates. If we compare these cities, it will become evident that in terms of the occupied area and the number of rural settlements, the Elbląg landed estates were second only to Gdańsk estates and were larger than those of Toruń.

The great estate of Elbląg was situated in the northeastern section of the old Malbork province. It constituted a separate territorial unit, which divided the province into two unequal parts: the central area with the cities of Malbork and Sztum, and the peripheral region centered around Tolkimicko.[1]

The northern border of the estate ran along the Vistula Lagoon from the Elbląg Vistula mouth all the way to the settlement of Pęklewo on Wysoczyzna. In the east, the city estate bordered the land of Tolkmicko and Ducal Prussia, and at the same time, constituted a border of the Malbork province. In the west and south, Elbląg land bordered the Malbork estate all the way to the Drużno lake.

The origins of the Elbląg estate go back to the times of the Teutonic Knights. As early as 1246, the city was granted the Lubecki charter with a considerable landed estate by the Grand Master, Henry v. Hohenlohe. This area was the town's initial legacy and stretched on both banks of the Nogat to the right bank of the Elbląg river. At the time when Stare Miasto was taking over the granted estate, the majority of its land was still not colonized. Flood plains and marshy areas dominated in the lowland part of the estate. In contrast, the upland section was covered with dense forests.[2]

Lands granted by Kazimierz Jagiellończyk were the most considerable territorial acquisition of Elbląg.[3] They were awarded as compensation for military and financial aid during the thirteen-year war with the Teutonic Knights (1454 - 1466). Under the royal privilege from August 24, 1457, the town was granted part of an estate remaining after the former Elbląg komturship. The lands included a wide belt of estates located on the Elbląska Wysoczyzna, settlements situated in the south up to the Drużno lake, and small enclaves in the territory of the subsequent Ducal Prussia. As for the lowland areas, the town was awarded fertile lands located in the southern section of Żuławy Elbląskie, where intensive colonization began in the late 1500s.

The area of royal grants, together with scattered forests, meadows, and pastures, equaled ca. 312 km2. Thus, as a result of this privilege, the city of Elbląg increased the area of its estate from the initial 200 km2 to ca. 512 km2. These grants created a strong material base for the town and established a market for town products and a source of supplies. Furthermore, the estate included vast undeveloped areas located chiefly in its lowlands, such as: marshes, peat bogs, and other wastelands, which, after colonization, could bring in significant revenue. This task was undertaken by the town's governing authority, the town council. To accomplish this task, the councilors took advantage of Anabaptists, who at the time were fleeing religious persecution in the Netherlands and had experience in the development of marshy areas. They were looking for regions where they would be able to settle and practice their religion undisturbed. The first groups of these settlers began to arrive in 1527 in Pasłęk.[4] In this area, they encountered light, sandy soils, with which they were not familiar. They also readily settled in the Gdańsk region. Their success in draining the Żuławy Gdańskie resulted in great interest in settling them in other areas. Initially, the Dutch settlers were introduced in Żuławy Malborskie, then in the Elbląg estate, and finally in the Vistula river and further south all the way to Warsaw. As a result, they deserve credit for draining a significant portion, if not the entire, Vistula valley. Several factors are noteworthy, including: the applied technology, rent forms, and organization of the Olęder communities.

Most probably, the immigrants from Holland and Frisia arrived in the Elbląg region around 1550. Both the bishop, M. Ferber, and the leader of the Lutheran congregation, A. Czerma, were alarmed by their inflow to the villages surrounding Elbląg.[5] Also, the city council, cautious in their actions, initially forbade the newcomers to settle within the town. Those who settled in the Elbląg villages proved to be adherents of the moderate and pacifist trend in Anabaptism. A work by S. Mennon entitled "Fundamentenbook", published in 1539 (The Fundamental Book), became the basis for their faith. The colonists arriving in the Elbląg region probably used the name Mennonite as a form of "protection". This name did not trigger as hostile a reaction in local communities as the name Anabaptist. The residents of Elbląg treated them as Luther followers, who diverged slightly from the message of the local ministers. The Gnapheus' departure from the Luther doctrine was discovered only by Królewiec theologians. The Elbląg Mennonites recognized private ownership and marriage; therefore, the state and town government were favorably disposed towards them. They recognized the Bible as the sole basis of their faith, which was a common element with their neighbors, the Lutherans. They were organized in religious communities, which, according to them, were governed by the Holy Spirit without the involvement of the Church hierarchy.

Baptism was a very important sacrament for the Mennonites and was treated as a conscious acceptance of the faith and devotion to God. Only adults could be baptized. Through baptism, which was administered by sprinkling with water or submersion in water, the new believer was admitted to the community. This aspect of baptism was common to the Mennonites and Arians, the so-called Polish Brethren. Both of these congregations shared a similar attitude towards wars and holding office; they were pacifists and accepted no official functions. The Mennonites had a very strict moral code and did not conduct missionary activities. These two traits, in addition to a proverbial diligence, won over the Elbląg town council, which, in 1572, allowed the Mennonites to settle in Elbląg and become craftsmen, and in subsequent years to get involved in commerce. They also granted them town privileges and allowed them to purchase real estate. Despite the growing rapprochement between the two communities, the Mennonites preserved their identity and did not fully assimilate into Elbląg society.[6]

The groups of Olęders that arrived in the Elbląg villages and settled on the wasteland were not numerous. A few families, at least initially, constituted a small community that was left to their own resources. Team work was the chief asset that enabled them to erect embankments and drain the land.

At that time, Elbląg was a large urban center and constituted a sizable market for Olęder products; therefore, the settlers were able to engage in intensive trade and farming on the drained land. The introduction of pure-bred cattle, including fattened animals and especially milk cows of the Holstein race, also were associated with the Olęders.

Groups of colonists flowed into the landed estates of Elbląg for many years between the mid-1500s to the final years of the 18th century. They were granted land on the emphyteutic, long-term lease, usually for 30 years. In practice, this 30-year period did not indicate the limit of the lease, but was to guarantee immutability of its terms.[7] The Olęders paid high rent in cash. In the area of Nizina Elbląska, the rent amount per emphyteutic włóka varied due to currency depreciation. We observe three stages of rent increase: between 1603 and 1636, the rent for some włókas increased from 13 złoty (zł) and 10 groszy (gr) to 55 zł and from 30 zł to 80 zł; between 1655 and 1698 the rent imposed on most emphyteutic włókas ranged from 40 zł to 66 zł and 20 gr; between 1715 and 1772 the town treasury usually received rent of 70-80 zł.[8] The demonstrated rent amounts increased the prices of land usage rights. In the lowland section of the estate, these prices fluctuated between 35 and 160 zł. In both Upland and Lowland areas, the rent from the emphyteutic włókas was higher in comparison to that from włókas in tenant farms. For that reason, the Elbląg town authorities were trying to colonize the lands, which were previously uncultivated for various reasons, by settling emphyteutic tenants. As a result, the numbers of peasants in this category increased significantly. The total amount of collected rent was affected by various factors, for example, the landowner's decisions (i.e. the town of Elbląg) or soil conditions. In addition to the rent, the emphyteutic farms paid taxes and contributions. Emphyteutic farmers also paid recruitment fees, poll tax, and stations.

The labour associated with maintenance of draining and flood protection devices also played a certain role in obligations of emphyteutic farmers. However, unlike the previously mentioned obligations, these tasks were not related to feudal rent. The maintenance of the drainage and flood protection systems was essential for the very existence of farms and lives of their residents. The literature refers to them as "roboty wałowe (floodbank works)". The entire village was required to participate in these works; they were carried out collectively. The village leaders were responsible for labor division. There was a practice of allocating particular sections of floodbanks to specific Olęder villages for maintenance. Furthermore, the village communities were responsible for maintaining various draining devices, such as mills or sluices. Some Olęder villages were also required to repair roads, bridges, and dams; additionally, the residents were to provide necessary materials, for example, sand or gravel.

While paying high rent and other monetary fees, the Olęders enjoyed a wide range of individual liberties; but still, they were not allowed to unilaterally withdraw from the contract or leave a farm before its expiration. They had the privilege of brewing beer for their own usage and were allowed to sell their farm products.

The Olęder colonization of the Elbląg landed estate developed beginning in the mid-1500s in several stages. As a result of this process, the density of the settlement network underwent significant changes. However, these changes affected only the lowland section of the estate, because the conditions on the upland part were unsuitable for this trend due to poor quality of soils, landform features, and a relatively dense network of settlements.

The colonization, managed by the Elbląg town council, coincided with a favorable economic climate for agriculture in Poland. New export possibilities for cattle and other forest and agricultural produce opened up for landowners in the mid-1500s. This situation encouraged nobles, royalty, and the church administration to deliberately introduce colonization policies.

When colonizing the wastelands in the lowland areas, the town of Elbląg initially based the entire process on the general and personal involvement of large groups of burgesses. This trend is clearly visible in the case of the earliest Dutch settlements located in the central and southern section of the lowland. For example, the twelve-włoka settlement of Mojkowo (Möskenberg) located on the border of the Malbork estate was founded as early as 1557 on wasteland that was granted to mayor Jakub Rieke by the Elbląg town council.[9] Then, in 1561, his heirs settled colonists on that land that had clearly Dutch surnames: Antoni Joost, Gewert Adriansen, Krzysztof Breda and Cyrus Petersen.

The so-called "bourgeois tenement villages" were founded under different circumstances. The beginnings of these settlements date back to 1563, when the town council decided to distribute a vast wasteland, which stretched from Elbląg all the way to the right bank of the Nogat river, among the residents of Stare Miasto (Old Town).[10] Initially, the landowners marked out 5 roads that outlined individual common pastures of the settlement complex Ellerwalde. Four of these parallel roads ran in an east-west line and accurately delineated borders of the following later settlements: Władysławowo, Adamowa, Kazimierzowo, and Józefowo (Ellerwald I-V Trift). In 1565, Dutch immigrants began to settle on the 145.5 włókas of land that had been provisionally distributed by draw to 435 burgesses of the Stare Miasto. The Dutch immediately began to drain and clear the previously uncultivated plots. Shortly after that, in 1596, the settlements were granted self-government.

The subsequent settlements were founded under the supervision of the town council. In the 1580s, the town authorities undertook to put the depression areas around the Drużno lake under cultivation. Yet, in that area the successful development of settlements depended on resolving the water issues. During that period, in addition to dams, ditches, and floodbanks, the town built sluices and water mills, and then the entire area was divided into eight single-włóka plots according to the soil quality. In 1586, six of these plots were allocated for the settlement of Karczowiska Elbląskie; later, another portion of this land was sectioned off for the settlement of Raczki. It should be mentioned here that according to a later land survey, these settlements occupied a much larger acreage, which suggests a successive development of these villages with the progressing land drainage. The remaining two plots were allocated for the settlement of Szopy. Two additional settlements were founded in the neighboring area: Małe Wikrowo (ca. 1590) and Nogatowo. The first of these settlements was established on the land of the existing manor, Wikrowa, on the so-called łąki rzeźnickie (butcher's meadows). These meadows covered a considerable acreage of 900 ha and their entire area had previously been used by the Elbląg butchers as pastures. Because the meadows failed to bring in a considerable income, the town council decided in 1602 to section off part of the pastures for farmland and lease the land to the Olęders. The participation of the Mennonites in all of these projects has been confirmed; they owned large plots of land in these villages. Newly arrived settlers were guaranteed the freedom to practice their own religion in private only. The whole of the Mennonites who were settling in the Elbląg region were under the administrative authority of the St. Anna Lutheran church in Elbląg. Other Lutheran congregations shared in the profits from the church taxes obtained from the Mennonites, but to a lesser degree than the St. Anna Lutheran church, according to the relevant administrative divisions.

In addition to the earlier mentioned villages, the Zawadka settlement, with inn and carrier services, and the village of Ostróżeń appeared by the Nogat[12] (both date from ca. 1594) near Kmiecińska and Panieńska Łacha.

The intensive process of colonization of Nizina Elbląska was halted for the first time in the first half of the 17th century. The war and occupation of Elbląg between 1626 and 1636, plagues, and floods did not favor further development of Olęder settlements. Only in the 1630s, after a long interruption, did new settlements begin to appear. From that period, the settlements of Wilżyna, Kopanka, and Gajewiec should be mentioned[13] .The farmland of Wilżyna was undeveloped and was used only as pastures up until the colonization. In 1631, the land was leased to an Elbląg resident, Kaper Plałenow, who developed the land with the help of the Dutch colonizers. The lease included a right to found a settlement. This period also coincided with the foundation of Kopianka, located to the west of the town, in the southwestern section of the above-mentioned butchers' meadows. Gajewiec was the last of the mentioned villages; its origin dates back to 1635.

Due to high quality soils, the area of Jazowa (Einlage), which was located between the Nogat and the Wielkożuławska Dam, was a particularly desirable terrain for colonization. In the discussed period, this area was not yet completely embanked and functioned as a natural retention reservoir.[14] Therefore, the colonization of that area progressed gradually with development of the flood protection system. This process is evident from the chronology of settlement contracts based on the rules of emphyteusis, the first of which date from 1632 and 1640; the last of which are very numerous and were signed as late as the end of the 17th century.

Marshy and peaty areas of the southern section of Żuława Elbląska were another area colonized in that century. A number of settlements were established on that area in a short period of time, among which the settlements of Kościeliska and Jagłownik (1640), Błotnica, Czarna Grobla, and Mechnica (1648) are noteworthy.[15] According to records from the mid-1700s, the Mennonites possessed 136 włókas and 16.5 morgas of land in emphyteutic settlements established before 1650. In contrast, the agriculture in the marshy areas along the Vistula Lagoon was still developing poorly. Only one new settlement, Swaryszewo, was established in that area; it was located by Panieńska Łacha, and was mentioned for the first time in 1640.

Following the mid-1600s, the negative effects of prolonged wars and occupation of Elbląg, which were accompanied by plagues and cattle pests, temporarily impeded the colonization process. Additionally, many other factors contributed to this trend, such as: interruption in the inflow of new colonists, war-inflicted demographic losses, decreased demand for agricultural produce, and lack of funds for water projects.[16]

Not until the end of the 17th century was the process of founding new settlements resumed. Vast marshes located by the Vistula Lagoon, between the Moczarka and mouth branches of the Nogat, became the new region of colonization. The area was particularly suitable for animal husbandry and in the 17th century was already partially leased. The Olęder colonists were introduced (this time not from the Netherlands) by the town writer, Fischer, who was then the lessee of the meadows. Foundation of the first settlement was unsuccessful; it was completely destroyed as a result of ice pressure.[17] In 1691, the town council of Elbląg established a new settlement in its place, Kępa Rybacka. The village was founded based on the emphyteutic rules. Several other non-Mennonite and emphyteutic settlements appeared at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries in the vicinity of Marzęcin, on the area of the former forest (Jungfersche Wald).

Following the mid-17th century, new trends can be observed in the colonization process. The Mennonites were purchasing plots in neighboring old Lubecki charter villages: Myszewko, Rakowiska, and Kmiecin. It seems that after the wars and natural disasters the Mennonite communities were more capable of accumulating the capital necessary for reconstruction and purchase of destroyed non-Mennonite farms.[18] This was an extended process that coincided with the resumption of the colonization at the end of the 17th century.

In 1703, the landed estates of Elbląg had to be pledged to Prussia, which began to intercept the greater part of the revenue from the land. The purchasing manager's office established by the Prussian authorities at the time was interested in increasing the profitability of the Elbląg estates. In 1715, the purchasing manager Braun, when inspecting the entire estate, provided the town council with a number of recommendations in this respect.[19] One of the instructions proposed the foundation of new emphyteutic settlements between the Nogat and Kmiecińska and Panieńska Łacha. The town council, in response to Braun's suggestions, undertook to lease out the wastelands while simultaneously continuing the water projects. New settlements began to arise, such as: Nowinki, Solnica, Powalina, and Łączki Myszewskie. The fees paid by their residents demonstrate how profitable the foundation of these emphyteutic settlements was. For instance, emphyteutic farmers from Solnica paid a buyout fee of 1800 grzywnas for 40 years and a unitary rent of 100 grzywnas per włóka per year. The other above-mentioned settlements paid similar fees.[20]

Colonization also developed on islets created by the Wisła Elbląska deposits. In 1735, a border between the Elbląg and Gdańsk estates was demarcated through this area. Initially, a settlement of Osłonka was founded in its proximity, and subsequently, after 1772 - the village of Graniczna.[21] The process of concentration of the settlement network in the lowland area did not end in 1772. Several additional settlements were established in the lowlands by the lagoon before the end of the century. However, this process proceeded at a much slower rate than during the discussed period.

[1] Prusy Królewskie w drugiej połowie XVI wieku, monoghraph by M. Biskup in coop. with L. Koca, Warszawa 1961, p. 147. Historical Atlas of Poland, Series B: General Maps, Warszawa 1961, p. 49 and also M. Biskup, Rozmieszczenie własności ziemskiej województwa chełmińskiego i malborskiego, Roczniki Towarzystwa Naukowego, R. 60, 1957, book 2, p. 34.
[2] A. Piątkowski, Posiadłości ziemskie miasta Elbląga w XVII-XVIII wieku, Polish Academy of Science, Institute of History, Wrocław?Warszawa?Kraków?Gdańsk. Ossoliński National Institute; Publisher, Wrocław 1972, p. 36-38.
[3] A. Piątkowski, op. cit., p. 39.
[4] Cf. A. Mączak, Rozwój społeczno-gospodarczy Prus Królewskich: wieś. Osadnictwo olęderskie, [W:] Historia Pomorza, vol. II do roku 1815, edited by. G. Labudy, part I (1464/66-1648/57), Poznań 1976, p. 216-218.
[5] M. Pawlak, Reformacja i kontrreformacja. Kościoły i wyznania. in Historia Elbląga, vol. II, Elbląg 1996, p. 192; E. Kizik, Mennonici w Gdańsku, Elblągu i na Żuławach Wiślanych w drugiej połowie XVII i w XVIII wieku. Studium z dziejów małej społeczności wyznaniowej, Gdańskie Towarzystwo Naukowe, Wydział I Nauk Społecznych i Humanistycznych Seria Monografii No 95, Gdańsk 1994, p. 53.
[6] K. H. Ludwig, Zur Besiedlung des Weichseldeltas durch die Mennoniten. Die Siedlungen der Mennoniten in Teritorium der Stadt Elbing und in der Ökonomie Marienburg bis zur Übernahme durch Preussen 1772, Morburg/Lahn 1961, p. 22.
[7] K. Ciesielska, Osadnictwo "olęderskie" w Prusach Królewskich i na Kujawach w świetle kontraktów osadniczych. Studia i Materiały do Dziejów Wielkopolski i Pomorza, vol. IV, 1958, book 2, p. 219-231.
[8] A. Piątkowski, op. cit., p. 98-100.
[9] E. G. Kerstan, Geschichte des Landkreises Elbing, Elbing 1925, p. 36-40; K. H. Ludwig, op. cit.,p. 51.
[10] E. Kizik, op. cit., p. 56.
[11] W.Maas, Zur Siedlungskunde Westpreussens 1466-1772, Marburg 1958, p. 121.
[12] W. Mass, op. cit., p. 122.
[13] E. C. Kerstan, op. cit., p. 238.
[14] H. Bertram, Die Eindeichung, Trockenlegung und Besiedlung des Weichseldeltas seit dem Jahre 1300 in ihrer geopolitischen Bedeutung, Zeitschrift des Westpreussischen Geschichtsvereins, Bd. 72, Danzing 1935, s. 21;
[15] R. Nordman, Neulandsbildungen am Frischen Haff im letzen Halbjahrtausend, Danzing 1937, p. 34
[16] National Archives in Gdańsk, Town records of Elbląg Landrichteramt (office of the land judge), 1648, H. 13,28, 34
[17] Cf. S. Hoszowski, Zniszczenia w czasie wojny szwedzkiej na terenie Prus Królewskich [in:] Polska w okresie drugiej wojny północnej 1655-1660, vol. 1, Warszawa 1957, p. 394.
[18] Ch.E. Rhode, Der Elbinger Kreis in topographischer, historischer und statistischer Hinsicht, Danzing 1871, p. 66.
[19] E. Kizik, op. cit., p. 60.
[20] National Archives in Gdańsk, Town records of Elbląg Recessus Causarum Publicarum (town agreements of Elbląg , cat. no. RCP, III 110 vol. 68.
[21] National Archives in Gdańsk, Town records of Elbląg Aussenkämereramt (office of outside treasurer), 1716, vol. 24.
[22] Ch. E. Rhode, op. cit., p. 94.

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