Hart Family Ancestors in History: Christian Stauffer (1579-1672)
“Threatened Men Live Long”
by Jennifer Krulic Hart

Samantha and Drew are related to a rebellious preacher who was imprisoned and exiled for his religious beliefs. His name was Christian Stauffer and he lived over 400 years ago.

To understand his story, we will have to backtrack to the ideological revolution that was the Protestant Reformation. It began in 1517 when Martin Luther, dismayed by widespread corruption in the Catholic Church (then the only Christian religion) challenged the authority of the Pope and outlined his ideas for a complete revision and overhaul of Christian religion. Unfortunately, though he insisted that breaking away from the Catholic church was necessary, he and his followers were brutally intolerant towards people who believed in their reforms but wanted to take them further, or in different directions.

The Protestant Reformation was spearheaded by three main figures: Martin Luther of Germany, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) of Switzerland, and John Calvin of England. In Switzerland, a branch of Protestant worshippers split off from the Zwinglian Reformation movement in 1525, calling themselves the Swiss Bretheren. Since they did not believe in infant baptism, they were soon called Anabaptists (Taufers) by the established Zwinglian Protestant Church. The Anabaptists were in later years called Mennonites after one of their spiritual leaders.

The founders of the Anabaptist faith in 1525 lived in Zurich (Hart family ancestors still living in Zurich in 1605 included Hiestands and Stricklers). Soon, however, their persecution in Zurich proved so harsh that many Anabaptists and their families moved to the Emmanthal Valley, especially the Canton of Bern, including the towns of Oberdiessbach, Rothenbach, Sumiswald and Eggiwil. (Hart family ancestors living in Oberdiessbach include Beutlers from 1588; in Rothenbach include Stauffers from 1415, Bloniers from 1563, and Oppligers from 1563; in Sumiswald include Bixlers from 1706 and Stuckis from 1677; and in Eggiwil include Neukommets from 1520, Stauffers from 1495, Gallis from 1518, Lehmanns from 1560, and Bichsels from 1560). The oldest Mennonite Church in existence is in Langnau in the Emmenthal Valley, where it has existed since 1528.

The Anabaptists moved to the Emmanthal Valley because its villages were full of sympathizers (the authorities called them Halb-Taufer or half-Anabaptist) who were incensed by the unfair treatment of the Anabaptists and were willing to put themselves and their families in peril to aid the Anabaptists against their persecutors. In the time period between 1525, when the Anabaptist movement was formed in Zurich, and 1671, when the first large migration/exile from Switzerland occurred, the Emmenthal Valley seethed with conflict between the obstinate Anabaptists, the increasingly repressive Bern authorities, and the correspondingly sympathetic villagers.

For example, in 1527 the cantons of Zurich and Bern both issued a combined mandate ordering that Anabaptists must desist from the vice of Anabaptism or be banished. This was only two years after the religion was first established! In 1538, the Bern authorites issued orders that Anabaptist elders, preachers, teachers, readers and ringleaders be executed “with the sword” without mercy. In all, 40 Anabaptists were executed in Bern between 1527 and 1614. The last Anabaptist to be martyred in Bern was Hans Landes in 1614 (Hart family ancestors include Anna Landes of Zurich b. 1573).

Those in prison who refused to recant were tortured. Fines, confiscation of property, banishment and imprisonment were also authorized against Anabaptists. To find Anabaptists and imprison them, the Bern government paid the constable of the Emmenthal Valley six pounds for locating Anabaptists. The sympathetic villagers responded by hiding them. At one time, the entire village of Sumiswald was sentenced to pay authorities a heavy fine for hiding Anabaptists in their homes.

In 1566, citizens of the Emmanthal Valley were registered, house by house, and ordered to the church where they had to answer one by one whether they would be obedient to the government. Those who refused were banished.

In 1644, Christian Stauffer (Hart family ancestor) was jailed at Thun along with two other Anabaptist preachers. Luckily this was thirty years after the last execution of an Anabaptist and he was eventually released.

In 1659 the government of Bern established the Taufer Kammer (office of Anabaptist affairs), which was known for its brutal treatment of Anabaptists. In 1663 the Bernese government conferred authority to special officers to hunt down and imprison Anabaptists (in what came to be known as Taufer Jagen or Anabaptist Hunts). These special officers were to be independent of the sheriff and free to cross canton borders. They were also to be paid thirty Kreuzer for each Anabaptist they found and imprisoned, the money to be confiscated from the possessions of the one arrested. The sympathetic citizens of Bern hated and despised these officers, and the Bernese authorities had altercations with local townships that refused to cooperate with the special officers.

On May 3, 1671, the foundations were laid for the first mass migration/exile of Anabaptists from the Emmenthal Valley when the magistrate of Signau received orders from Bern to seize the Anabaptists of Eggiwil and bring them to prison in Bern, where they would then be exiled. The citizens of Eggiwil refused to allow the Anabaptists among them to be taken, so twelve of the wealthiest sympathetic residents of Eggiwil were imprisoned instead in Bern as hostages until the Anabaptists agreed to be delivered to the Bern prison or be exiled. The Anabaptists agreed to be exiled rather than see their friends and sympathizers imprisoned for their sake. Swiss authorities enforced the departure of several hundred Anabaptists from Bern to Alsace, France and Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany. (Hart family ancestors who were born in Bern and died in Ibersheim or Gerolsheim, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, include Christian Stauffer b. 1579, Adelheid Oppliger b. 1588, Jung Hans Hiestand b. 1605, Peter Beutler b. 1632, and Jacob Hiestand b. 1649). Christian Stauffer and his family were among those who agreed to be exiled, and hoped for a better life in Germany. Unfortunately, he died shortly after emigration in 1672 in Ibersheim, Rheinland-Pfalz. After all, he was over ninety years old, and the hardships of exile were difficult.

To understand why the Anabaptists chose Alsace, France and Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany as their destination, you have to go back to the Thirty Years War between France and Germany, fought over (and devastating) the Palatinate, an area on the border between the two that included both Alsace and Rheinland-Pfalz. After the war was over, the electoral prince of the German Palatinate granted limited toleration for Anabaptists from Bern to settle in this decimated land in 1664. In 1671, then, hundreds of Anabaptists took him up on his offer, going down the Rhine to the Palatinate area, both Germany and France.

Meanwhile, in Bern, the injustices towards Anabaptists by the authorities continued, and the general population continued to support the Anabaptists. In 1702 an Anabaptist Hunt in the Emmenthal Valley failed because the citizens blew horns, shouted, and fired guns to warn the Anabaptists that Taufer hunters were coming. In 1714 in Sumiswald, Anabaptists already in the custody of Taufer hunters were forcibly released by a mob of 60 to 70 irate citizens.

During the time between 1709 and 1717, a crackdown on Anabaptists and their sympathizers in the Emmenthal Valley led to a second wave of emigration/exile to the Palatinate. (Hart family ancestors born in Bern after the first wave of migration but dying in Germany include Anna Heistand b. 1675, Christian Beutler b. 1675, and Christian Bixler who was born in Bern in 1706, emigrated first to Germany and then to America).

In 1681 William Penn was granted land in the colony of Pennsylvania by King Charles II. He recruited settlers for his new land while visiting Switzerland and Germany by making speeches and distributing pamphlets touting the advantages of the New World, including good farmland and freedom from religious persecution. His speeches fell on willing ears in the Palatinate as living conditions had deteriorated due to yet another war. Louis XIV of France had ordered the destruction of the Rheinish Palatinate during the War of the Grand Alliance (1688). In all, over 100,000 Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania from the Palatinate in the 1700’s to become the Pennsylvania Dutch. Of these, about 2500 were Anabaptists, now called Mennonites. In 1707 a group of Swiss Mennonites living in Germany arranged with Penn to colonize a portion of Lancaster County (Hart family ancestors who settled in Hempfield Township, Lancaster County PA after emigrating from Germany include Susanna Stauffer, Heinrich Strickler, Henry Strickler Jr. and Christian Bixler). Susanna Stauffer, one of the Swiss Mennonites living in the Palatine who took William Penn up on his offer of land in Lancaster County, was Christian Stauffer’s great-granddaughter. She was also Samantha and Drew’s great (X9) grandmother. This is how they are linked to Christian Stauffer (their great (X12) grandfather).

From 1812 to 1860, another wave of immigrants settled further west in states including Missouri. Some came from Switzerland and the Palatinate, and some came from Pennsylvania. (Hart family ancestor Christian Bixler died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania after emigration from Germany and exile from Switzerland; his great (X2) grandson Abraham Bixler b. 1812 was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and died at Fairview in Newton County, Missouri. Abraham’s granddaughter Edith Bixler married Seth Hart, Samantha and Drew’s great (X2) grandfather). Samantha and Drew’s grandmother and grandfather still live in Newton County, Missouri to this day. That’s 5 generations born in Newton County from this genealogical line (including Chad).

Resources:

  1. Family tree at chadhart.com
  2. http://theflorys.org/Genealogy/josephintroduction.html
  3. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bobwolfe/gene/Web2Ged/GoodWolfe/pn/p4190.htm
  4. http://raven.bethelks.edu/services/mla/guide/index.html
  5. http://history.swissroots.org/77.0.html
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonites
  7. http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/de-pf_hi.html
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alsace
  9. http://www.bibleviews.com/menno-heritage.html
  10. Excerpts from the "Eby Report, Volume 1, Number 1" written by Clyde L. Groff and George F. Newman found on microfiche # 6055133.
  11. Excerpt from the Mennonite Encyclopedia by Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, PA, 1957