Menno’s Folks. The Mennonites are a pie of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after a Frisian priest — Menno Simons (1496-1561). Simons, through his writings, articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders who espoused a relatively simple earth-based faith in Jesus Christ premised on the collaboration of Jesus with his Disciples.
The "Wiedertäufer" (Again-Baptists, or Anabaptists) became part of a broad reactionary movement against the practices and theology of the Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation. Both the Catholic and Protestant states in which they lived soon regarded them with suspicion because of the extremist element of their preaching of a non-secular and pacifist lifestyle. Even Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, better-known reformers of that era, cast worrisome glances at these “pseudo”-Utopians.
Rather than fight, some Anabaptist groups fled to neighboring states that at first tolerated their radical belief in adult baptism. Anabaptist missionary martyrs were regarded as “superb obstructionists, denouncing the ministers and the magistrates, uncowed by danger, invincible in disputation, and unconquerable under torture. ”How could such people learn to live with each other, wondered a Yale professor of ecclesiastical history, Roland Bainton, author of a book titled, The Age of the Reformation?"
Menno’s theology drew a small gathering of sympathizers in a country we call The Netherlands, and many had Frisian blood -- that is of Germanic origins with Dutch mixed in. Frisian dialects still are recognized as official languages in both The Netherlands and Germany.
Almost 150 years after the widespread religious-cultural rebellions of the 16th Century, in the 17th a believer named Jacob Amman wearied of the moderating influences on the Mennonite church in Switzerland and South Germany. He preferred stricter obedience to Christ and a set penalty to be imposed on individuals who wander off the narrow path of righteousness. “Shunning” was his verdict of choice.
Amman and his Alsatian Anabaptist followers split from the other Mennonite congregations in the 1690s, and Jacob’s followers became known as the Amish Mennonites. In later years, other schisms among the Amish resulted in such groups as the Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, the Conservative Conference and numerous other groups. From 1812 to 1860, in the US, a major wave of Mennonite immigrants, mostly farmers, moved westward to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. These Swiss-German-speaking Mennonites, along with the Amish, mostly emigrated from the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe as well as from Switzerland.
Northern New York State (Lewis and Jefferson Counties), Jeb’s home, attracted a small nucleus of descendants of persons who had assigned to themselves the label, “Apostles” of the Reformation. Jeb was born in the shadow, or was it the “light," of the Conservative Conference type of social order. His youth was that of a Mennonite (Conservative), and not strictly Amish. But many of his relatives living across the US border at Niagara Falls in Canada's Ontario province sported beards, drove buggies or black cars, and fostered huge families composed of double-digit multitudes of offspring.
These people loved the land and were experts with building tools and the carpenter’s hand. They were inherently self-sufficient as farmers and craftsmen.
However, Jeb didn't take to hammering nails and disliked the slobbering cows and never milked them. So he was an outlier from the early days.