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Development of Dutch settlements in the 16th and 17th centuries

Map of migration

Poland in XVII century

Colonists from the Netherlands appeared on Polish lands not later than the 13th century. They were summoned by the Teutonic Knights, as well as by individual bishoprics, monasteries, and nobles to drain marshy areas periodically flooded by rivers, which were unsuccessfully managed by the landowners[1]. Already in that period, the Dutchmen were famous for their extraordinary diligence and skill in fighting the water elements. However, their actual arrival took place at the beginning of the 16th century.

Their appearance was inextricably linked to the rise of Mennonitism. Derived from Anabaptism, Mennonitism was an outcome of the reformation movement within the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church in the first half of the 16th century.

The Mennonites derived their doctrine from the traditions of the early Christian communities, and invoked an example of Jesus Christ, who was baptized as an adult. The group's name literally meant "newly-baptized"[2] . Members of the sect assumed that in order to follow the road to salvation and live in the community of saints, one must be born again. And precisely the baptism of a adult individual was to symbolize the new birth.

The early development of Anabaptism was closely linked to the peasant wars, which engulfed the entire Germany and part of the Netherlands. The majority of peasant leaders were Anabaptists, and as a result, their program included a mixture of social and religious demands. Like the Anabaptists, they demanded the abolishment of secular and ecclesiastical authority and establishment of the "Kingdom of God", which was to be based on the principles of brotherly love and peaceful coexistence. Anabaptists rejected the idea of private ownership, claiming that people are equal before God, and all his gifts should be commonly owned.

They were in favor of abolishment of all forms of serfdom and privileges. Within their community, the Anabaptists addressed each other "brother", in imitation of early Christian communities, whose members were all "brethren in Christ". They believed that only Anabaptists were authorized to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus Christ, who would then proclaim the Christ's Kingdom. Nonbelievers were considered sinners who were destined to be annihilated by Elias's sword.

In 1535, the majority of the German and Dutch Anabaptists arrived in Münster, where they believed the second coming of Christ was to take place. In that town, called by the Anabaptists New Jerusalem, the faithful supposedly were to crush all the heathens, that is, people from outside their sect.

The purposeful actions of the Anabaptists provoked disturbances, riots, and pogroms, which were primarily directed at the town patriciate, and had to be suppressed by troops summoned by the Münster's bishop. As a result of the army intervention, many supporters of the sect perished; the group leaders were executed and their bodies were displayed in cages, which were suspended from the tower of the local cathedral as a warning[3].

These events, fraught with consequences, led to a collapse of the radical faction of Anabaptism, but at the same time gave birth to a new religious faction - Mennonitism. The sect was created by Menno Simons (1496-1561). Simons, who later became the sect's leader, was born in a little town of Witmarsum in Friesland, a dozen or so miles from the North Sea cost. After a long period of service, he decided to break free of the Roman Catholic Church. Bearing in mind the recent tragic events, he decided that fighting with a sword is not the right way to salvation, and only humility can open the gates to the Kingdom of God. Menno Simons believed that people should be shown the new way to reach Heaven.

The principles of Mennonite faith had a lot in common with that of Anabaptists. For example, Mennonites did not baptize infants, which was in accordance with their biblical concept of the church. It was believed that only adults can be baptized. Since original sin was redeemed by Christ's death on the cross, administering baptism to infants was unnecessary. Baptism of adults confirms an individual's belonging to the Mennonite community.

Mennonites practiced true fraternity and love between members of the church. These principles were manifested through sharing one's own possessions with others in order to satisfy their needs. Mennonitism puts a particular emphasis on the entire community's Mass attendance; hence, only through such participation can an individual achieve union with God. Universal equality, especially before God, was the primary principle of Mennonites.

The events that occurred in Münster were responsible for the fact that Mennonites completely rejected the use of military means, and in consequence, refused to serve in armed forces. They based their lives on the principles of peace, love, and humble acceptance, which were applied to all interpersonal relations[4]. Mennonites views on authority were similar to that of Anabaptists.

They believed that all individuals should obey the state authorities; hence, any authority was given by God. However, a Mennonite could not hold any office, since this was considered as serving evil. The everyday life of Mennonites was characterized by modesty and faithfulness. They used very simple domestic appliances and clothes devoid of any decoration or refinements. They abstained from alcohol, smoking and dancing.

The religious principles of Mennonites were reflected in their social organization. Solidarity, equality, and joint responsibility were the underlying principles of the group functioning. Assistance was provided to the needy and suffering by all members of the church. This principle was also applied to old and lonely people. Individuals who broke the religious rules were expelled from the community, and deprived of any property and means of livelihood.

The great strictness of the religion and a consistent adherence to its canons were responsible for a certain containment of the group. Mennonites maintained only sporadic relations with non-Mennonites. They did not participate in village life, in which they were a minority, but also did not allow any outsiders in their community[5].

The Münster events, a hostile attitude from both evangelicals and Catholics, and persecutions that they suffered in northern Germany forced them to emigrate to Friesland, which was relatively more tolerant towards different denominations. However, this relative tolerance was short-lived. The queen of Spain and regentess of the Netherlands, under the influence of Charles V, issued an edict that placed Mennonitism among major crimes. As a result, all its adherents were forced to leave Friesland.

Religion both distinguished Mennonites from society, and also cemented the group ties. The basic organizational unit of the Mennonite congregation was the community, modeled after the early Christian communities. Its function was not only to organize religious activities, but also to control the personal lives of community members. The obligations imposed by the community were ruthlessly enforced. In case of a breach of any of the religious principles, the community imposed sanctions and punishment on its disobedient member. The doctrine distinguished three types of punishment for such individuals.

The first penalty was an admonition administered in the church office. The next was a reprimand administered in front of the entire community; as a consequence, the punished individual was not allowed to participate in the Mass. The third and most severe punishment was banishment. This penalty was seldom used. The prospect of a penalty imposition by the community elders and fear of being expelled resulted in the fact that the rules were strictly obeyed. This way the community became increasingly closed and did not welcome any outsiders[6].

At the beginning of the 16th century, Mennonites began to settle in Żuławy Wiślane and in the vicinity of Gdańsk, where their freedom of religion was guaranteed. At that time, Poland was considered a country with religious tolerance and a wide range of liberties. Their arrival was advanced by Jan Łaski, who was probably the most prominent representative of Polish reformation. He visited Friesland several times and met Menno Simons. Together they engaged in doctrinal discussions.

The village Tujce (Trigenhof), which was founded by the Gdańsk mayor Faber, is considered the first Mennonite settlement[7]. This fact is confirmed by the arrival of Menno Simons in Gdańsk in 1549, which may be an argument in favor of the theory that claims that the Mennonite settlement in this area was an organized operation. Members of the Gdańsk town council guaranteed Mennonites religious freedom and other privileges; for example, concessions associated with rent and taxes paid to the owner and the state.

In exchange, the settlers undertook to complete various works that were to intensify agricultural productivity and develop the marsh and wasteland areas.[8] Colonization was also favored by political factors. The Konfederacja Warszawska act, which was introduced in 1573, guaranteed freedom of worship to the members of alternative faiths settling in the Republic of Poland. However, in the initial period of settlement development, the principal role was played by the economic contacts between Gdańsk and Amsterdam.

In 1577, there were already 12 villages settled by the Mennonite colonists. The majority of colonists arrived from Friesland; however, their communities also included settlers from Lower Germany.[9] As early as 1568, Dutch newcomers were settled in the Sartowicko-Nowska lowland by Roźnicki starost Jan Dulski: "he gives 50 włók (surface area unit) to Tomasz and Piotr Jansen, Leonard von Pho, Bernard von Bayer, Andrzej Unruh together with their household members and relatives"[10]. Subsequent settlements were founded in the vicinity of Chełm and Świecie between 1600 and 1650, as well as around Toruń and Włocławek at the beginning of the 17th century[11]. Colonists also reached Warsaw and settled Saska Kępa in 1628.

However, in this initial period, the area of Dutch settlement was not limited to the lower Vistula. In 1599, under the Puck starost Jan Wejcher initiative, the colonists settled in two villages, Karwieńskie and Kniewskie Błota, located by the Rega river. The Dutch also colonized areas by the Bug (villages Neudorf and Neubrau)[12], near Sławatycz[13], but also areas far removed from larger rivers; for example, villages in the Sochaczew region founded by Hieronim Radziejowski in 1645, such as: Baranów, Jaktorów, Kaski, and Szczawinek[14].

[1] S. Ingolt, Problem kolonizacji flamandzko-holenderskiej w Niemczech i w Polsce, "Kwartalnik Historyczny", R. XLIII, vol. 1, Lwów 1929.
[2] K. Mężyński, O mennonitach w Polsce, "Rocznik Gdański", R. 1961-1962, no 20-21.
[3] C. J. Dyck, An introduction to Mennonite History, Scottdale 1972, p. 78.
[4] K. Mężyński, op. cit., p. 224.
[5] E. Kizik, Mennonici w Gdańsku, Elblągu i na Żuławach Wiślanych w drugiej połowie XVII i w XVIII wieku, Gdańsk 1994.
[6] Ibid.
[7] K. Mężyński, op. cit., p. 221.
[8] W. Marchlewski, Mennonici w Polsce (o powstaniu społeczności mennonitów Wymyśla Nowego), "Etnografia Polska", vol. XXX, 1986, z. 2.
[9] W. Łęga, Ziemia Malborska, Toruń 1933, p. 6.
[10] Z. Ludkiewicz, Osady holenderskie na nizinie sartawicko-nowskiej, Toruń 1934, p. 31.
[11] E. L. Ratzlaff, Im Weichselbogen. Mennonitensiedlungen in Zentralpolen, Winnipeg 1971.
[12] J. Górak, Holenderskie domy nad Bugiem, "Polska Sztuka Ludowa", 1971, no 1, p. 31.
[13] I. Baranowski, Wsie holenderskie na ziemiach polskich, "Przegląd Historyczny", vol. 19, 1915, p. 68.
[14] Ibid.

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