French and Indian War

Many of the early Mennonite settlers in North America came because they were very concerned about preserving the right to practice their faith in the way they believed, including the strong belief that it was against the teachings of Jesus to fight, even in war.

The first waves of Pennsylvania Mennonite settlers took their nonresistance seriously.

So it is not surprising to see that the first waves of Pennsylvania Mennonite settlers (the first permanent Mennonite settlement was formed in Germantown, Pa., in 1683) took their nonresistance seriously. When things heated up toward the French and Indian War they produced literature that would teach their youth the principles of their faith. They published a new edition of the Ausbund, an old Mennonite hymnbook that recounts the stories of Anabaptist forebears who had suffered and died for their beliefs in nonresistance. They also published a German translation of Martyrs’ Mirror, a large volume with a full account of Mennonites in Europe who had suffered for their faith. (In fact, at over 1400 pages, this was the largest book printed in the English colonies at that time.)

Although numerous Mennonites were killed as Indians retaliated for lands they were losing, there is no record of Mennonites using force against the Indians. They did, however, respond to appeals for supplies during the war years, such as that made by Benjamin Franklin in 1755 for local farmers to contribute wagons and horses and supplies for General Edward Braddock’s red coats. Historian Richard K. MacMaster reflects that, “Being a practical people, not inclined to reflect much about how all sorts of noncombatant activities help to create a war system, they had no scruples” against supplying grain, hay and food.

Mennonites and others also began a spontaneous program of relief for those affected by the fighting, by sending wagonloads of food and clothing to help those who had been forced to leave their homes. They also cooperated with Quakers who had established a “Friendly Association” to “preserve peace with the Indians.” The Friendly Association proposed negotiating to pay the natives honest prices for the land (From War, Peace, and Nonresistance by Guy F. Hershberger, Herald Press, 1981; and Land Piety, Peoplehood: The Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America 1683-1790 by Richard K. MacMaster, Herald Press, 1985).