Review of Delbert Plett’s Volumes on the Kleine Gemeinde in “Heritage Posting”

April 15, 2013

Delbert Plett’s 7 volumes on the history of the Kleine Gemeinde were reviewed in the March 2013 issue of Heritage Postings.   Click “More” for the full text of the review.

Review Of Delbert Plett’s Seven Volumes on the Kleine Gemeinde

Reviewed by Dr. Harvey Plett

Delbert Plett Q.C. (1948-2004), was a man of diverse interests. He ran a successful law firm, was a major landowner in the Rural Municipality of Hanover, was an historical researcher and a prolific writer and publisher. His writing focused on the history of the Kleine Gemeinde, (KG), today known as the Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC).

Delbert’s Kleine Gemeinde Historical Series consists of:

Volume 1: History and Events: Writings and Maps pertaining to the History of the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde from 1866 to 1876, 1982, 166 pp.

Volume 2: The Golden Years: The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde in Russia, 1812-1849. 1985, 355 pp.

Volume 3: Storm and Triumph: The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde 1850-1875. 1986, 337 pp.

Volume 4: Profile of the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde 1874. 1987, 312 pp.

Volume 5: Pioneeers and Pilgrims: The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde in Manitoba, Nebraska and Kansas, 1874 to 1872. 1990, 604 pp.

Volume 6: Leaders of the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde in Russia, 1812-1874. 1993, 932 pp.

Volume 7: Dynasties of the Kleine Gemeinde in Imperial Russia and North America. 2000, 767 pp.

The books are a chronological history of the KG. Volume 1 is a somewhat introductory volume focusing on the years just prior to emigration and two years following the migration. Plett quotes the writings of Peter Toews and introduces two ministers, Johan Dueck and Jacob Wiebe. The latter froze to death during the early years. Included are some 20 maps which are helpful to get a view of the migration and settlement in North America as well as a listing of key events of 1866-1868 and 1869-1872.

Plett’s history is a documentary history. That is, he quotes extensively from the writings of the early KG leaders, records various interesting incidents that happened, and then adds commentary. Volume 2 includes a chapter on the history of the church to the Reformation. After looking at the migration to the Molotchna, Plett focuses on the beginning of the KG, quoting Klaas Reimer, the founder, and Heinrich Balzer, an articulate writer to outline the beginning of the KG.

Volume 3 examines the lifestyles of the KG in the Molotchna as well as conflict in the colony including the Landless problem. He focuses on Peter Toews writing called “Book 2”. The 1866 split in the KG also receives adequate treatment. He concludes the volume by a somewhat negative examination of Pietism and its advocacy of millennialism. In 1870 came the Russification Act. The last part of the volume speaks about the decision to migrate to North America and the migration itself.

Volume 4, in the words of Plett, “This work identifies the almost two hundred families of the denomination emigrating from Imperial Russia during the 1870’s, and provides related genealogical, socio-economic and historical reference material.” KG readers will be interested to see if their ancestors are listed.

Volume 5 deals primarily with the early years of settlement in North America. Included in the volume is previously unpublished correspondence and writing of the period discussed, some personal accounts and reminiscences of the pioneers, some sketches by the descendents of the first pioneers and genealogies of the first families that migrated.

Volume 6 is a series of articles on the early leaders of the KG. The articles are written by a number of different Mennonite historians. Most of the writers are KG members. It is a volume loaded with information about the leaders. Included in the volume are various personal letters and other writings of these early people.

Volume 7 is a genealogical study of key family trees of the KG.

Delbert has done the KG, now EMC, an invaluable service in writing these volumes. He has made available much primary resource material for the English reader. It will help the KG-EMC get a good understanding of where they have come from.

Bibliographic information: Plett, Harvey. “Review of Delbert Plett’s Seven Volume on the Kleine Gemeinde.” Heritage Posting (March 2013): 7-8.

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