A Success Story: The German Colonists
in New Russia and Bessarabia: 1787-1914
Brandes, Professor Dr. Detlef. "A Success Story: The German Colonists
in New Russia and Bessarabia: 1787-1914." Acta Slavica Iaponica Tomus, IX, 1991.
In 1763, the new Tsarina Catherine II invited foreigners from all
other countries to settle in Russian towns and some sparsely populated
areas of her Empire and entrusted a special office in St. Petersburg
with the administration of the "foreign colonists." Most
of the German immigrants in the following three years were sent
to the Volga region around Saratov, and a few small groups settled
near the capital. When later the Russian position in the South had
been strengthened by the results of her First Turkish War and the
annexation of the Crimea, "New Russia," (the later provinces
of Kherson [Cherson], Ekaterinoslav, and Tavrida [Tauride]) was
opened for settlement by the German colonists. From 1787 to 1796
immigrants from Danzig and the surrounding Werder travelled to New
Russia. The Mennonites, a Baptist sect with Dutch origins, founded
several colonies on the Dnepr [Dnieper] south of Ekaterinoslav and
around the later Aleksandrovsk, in the "Khortica" [Chortitza]
district. The Lutherans were settled in villages near Elisavetgrad
and Ekaterinoslav, where some Catholics from the earlier wave of
immigration were transferred, too. Preference was given to the Mennonites;
they got twice as much financial support and land as the Lutherans.
However, the money was distributed in such small instalments that
the Mennonites were not able to buy the necessary work animals and
agricultural tools. Also many of the horses and cattle which they
had brought from Danzig were stolen by their unruly neighbors.1
In 1800, Tsar Paul I entrusted assessors with the inspection [of]
the colonies on the Volga, around St. Petersburg, and in New Russia.
Kontenius, the assessor for the Southern colonies, found the German
settlers in a deplorable state, for which he blamed the former government.2
If the "Human Capital"3 invested in New Russia
was to be saved, additional money had to be spent. Above all, the
foreign colonists were again put under the control of a special
administration which had been abolished by Catherine in 1783. In
St. Petersburg a "Board of State Economy, Guardianship of Foreigners
and Rural Husbandry" attached to the Senat, and in Ekaterinoslav
an "Office of Guardianship of New Russia Foreign Settlers"
were established. Paul I granted to all colonists another five tax-free
years and to the Mennonites a special charter, which Potemkin had
promised them in 1787. Upon Paul I's order, the colonists were given
the money embezzled by corrupt officials and fraudulent merchants.
In addition he deducted the colonists' travel expenses from their
debt to the crown. He also made efforts to attract more Mennonites.
Before he could reap the fruits of his endeavors, however, he was
Under the reign of his son Alexander I, large groups of Bulgarians
and Germans were directed to New Russia and Bessarabia. There was
a big influx of Mennonites during the years 1804-06, and thereafter
a steady trickle of Mennonite immigrants well into the 1830s. All
of them were sent to Tavrida, where they founded a series of colonies
along the Molochna [Molotschna] river. During the years 1803/4 and
1808/9 large parties of emigrants from South West and West Germany,
following the invitations of Russian agents, embarked at Ulm and
sailed down the Danube via Vienna and Budapest to the Moldavian
[Moldovan] principalities. Some disembarked at Budapest and took
the land route to Galicia. They established colonies in the hinterland
of Odessa, along the Molochna River, and on the Crimean peninsula.
In 1813, Alexander I found the German colonists recently settled
by the Prussian King in Poland in a desperate state and sent them
to New Russia in spite of the ministry of interior's resistance.
The bureaucrats had warned that Russia had not yet digested the
former immigrants.5 These "Warsaw" colonists built
their villages in the southern part of the newly acquired province
of Bessarabia. In 1817 some Pietistic circles in Württemberg
had developed into Chiliastic groups. Instigated by the Baltic Baronesse
von Krüdener, who saw in Napoleon the antichrist and in the
pious Alexander I the saviour who would lead the faithful to the
place of salvation in the East, the Chiliasts headed for mount Ararat
in Transcaucasia. Some of them, however, accepted the offer of the
Russian government to stay in New Russia.6 They were joined
by the followers of a Catholic, but at the same time Chiliastic
priest. They settled in Bessarabia in 1822.7 Lutheran and
Catholic emigrants from West Prussia and Hessia were given land
north of Mariupol' after 1823.8
The Russian government made use of the economic distress of the
people in the German South-West, caused by over-population, war
damages and high taxes imposed by the absolutistic rulers, and several
crop failures in the second decade of the 19th century. The government
was interested especially in sectarians like the Mennonites, the
Pietists, and the Chiliasts, since it was hoped that they would
prove as successful as the Moravian Brethren in Sarepta, a small,
but prospering model colony on the Volga.9
Despite the fact that Alexander I renewed orders to improve the
situation, the transfer of the Germans was poorly organized. They
paid a high death toll especially in the quarantine stations. These
stations in the border towns Dubossary and Ovidiopol' consisted
of three or four huts built of mud in which both sick and healthy
immigrants were packed like sardines. Others had to camp outdoors
for several weeks. A total of one sixth of the 1803/4 German immigrants
died here.10 The colonists hoped to be settled on their future
land as soon as possible, but there was not enough free state land
left, since Catherine II and Potemkin had awarded noblemen and state
officials with huge estates. The immigrants had to wait until the
crown could buy back the necessary land from the private owners.
Waiting not only led to moral decline, but also to higher debts
to the crown which the settlers had to pay off after the tax-free
The privileges of the colonists were defined in Catherine's decree
of 1763 and the settlement plans for the Volga region and for New
Russia of the following year. The colonists were given financial
aid for the journey to and inside Russia. State loans were meant
to enable them to buy two oxen, one cow, a plow and a harrow. Their
communities were to receive enough land to provide each family with
the use of 30 desiatiny (1 desiatina = 1.09 hectares
or 2.7 U.S. acres) of arable land. In New Russia the Mennonites
were granted a land share (nadel) of 65 and the other German
immigrants of the 19th century were endowed with a nadel
of 60 desiatiny. The colonists were not allowed to sell,
mortgage or subdivide their shares among heirs. In New Russia they
were discharged from taxes for 10 years and in the Volga region
for 30 years. They were exempted from military service and granted
religious freedom. After the big influx of poor settlers in 1803
Alexander I introduced minimum requirements with regard to the applicants'
property and capabilities. In 1819, the immigration of foreigners
with the exception of Mennonites and Bulgarians was officially suspended.12
The Mennonite Model of Agriculture
Due to their larger starting capital and greater agricultural experience
the Mennonites on the eastern bank of the Molochna made faster progress
than the Lutheran and Catholic colonists on the other side of the
river, since over half of the latter had been craftsmen in their
former homes and had spent their last money on the journey to New
Russia. In 1806 the majority of these colonists still lived in mud
huts (zemlianky). Some had not yet recovered from the illnesses
of the transfer.13 With their German tools and horses, the
Mennonites could plow, seed, and harrow one desiatina within
two days, while their neighbors had to work with their Russian tools
and oxen for four days to achieve the same results. The Mennonites
saved additional time by using scythes instead of sickles, and transporting
the sheaves from the field to the barn on their big German carriages.14
In 1830, an "Agricultural Society" was formed in the
Molochna Mennonite district which oversaw the introduction of a
four-fields system with fallow and crop rotation. The fallow was
harrowed in the autumn, and could absorb more moisture in the spring.
The neighboring Lutherans and Catholics took over the fallow from
the Mennonites, while the German colonists near Odessa only introduced
the four-fields system in the 1860s and the Bessarabian colonists
never adopted it at all. The "Agricultural Society" made
efforts to improve stock-breeding too. In each village a herd with
the best sheep was separated from the rest in order to improve the
quality of the wool. Johann Cornies, the chairman of the Society,
had dictatorial powers over his fellow-believers. He forced them
to plant trees along the roads and bushes to protect the fields.
The agents of the Society made sure that the peasants painted their
houses and fences every year. Offenders were punished with forced
labor in the communal sheep-breeding station or even flogged.15
The foundation of the town and harbor of Berdiansk on the Sea of
Azov in 1831 improved the situation of the colonists on both banks
of the Molochna. In 1838, the Lutherans and Catholics planted wheat
on 36% and the Mennonites on 43% of their fields, and sold it to
the merchants in Berdiansk.16 In 1851, the Molochna Mennonites
obtained about half of their income from the sale of wheat, and
15% from the sale of wool. Due to the greater distance from seaports,
the Khortica Mennonites concentrated on stockfarming, and sold sheep,
cattle, horses, and wool to the merchant and neighboring estate
owners.17 When the Crimean War interrupted the export of
wheat and when the American Civil War increased the demand for Russian
wool soon thereafter, the expansion of farming at the cost of ranching
came to a halt. After the end of both wars, however, it gained new
momentum. By 1875 the average Mennonite peasant devoted more than
half of his land to farming. The big sheep-herds of the former period
Earlier than any other group of peasants including the Lutheran
and Catholic colonists the Mennonites introduced plows with three
or more shares and later also sowing, mowing and threshing machines.
In 1886 every second German peasant, but only every 7th Bulgarian,
and every 20th state peasant in the Berdiansk county possessed a
mowing machine.19 In 1914, the average Mennonite peasant
on the Molochna had six horses, five cows, two carriages, two plows--most
of them with several shares--and 1.5 sowing machines. About half
of the Mennonites possessed mowing and threshing machines, and one
fourth of them harvester-reapers.20
The Agriculture of the Lutheran and Catholic Colonists
The Mennonites were "admirable", the Bulgarians "incomparable",
but the Germans, "unbearable", New Russia's General Gouvernor
Richelieu wrote in a letter in 1804. He insisted that it was their
own fault that their harvest was below the average. Without external
help they would die of hunger.21 The inspector of the colonies
around Odessa complained in 1811 that many of the settlers had not
the faintest notion of agriculture, but were too arrogant to imitate
the Russian peasants.22 In Germany more than half of them
had been wine-growers, artisans, day-laborers, soldiers and so on.
Only the villages founded by Germans who had lived in Hungary for
about 25 years and had joined the parties of emigrants when they
passed through their temporary home country fared better. After
the harsh "French winter" in 1812 the local authorities
had to support the German colonists with food and seeds. The government
sent assessors to the colonies. They reported that many settlers
were dispirited, since they had lost part of their family during
the journey to Russia. Others died or fell ill, since they were
not used to the climate, had only water and food of low quality,
and insufficient clothing for the cold winter. Many settlers had
not been able to buy the necessary oxen and tools because of general
price increases. The immigrants of 1808/9 had not received the promised
mills. The Colonial Administration found "lazy, wicked, and
disobedient" peasants among the German colonists whose behaviour
it intended to correct through fines and corporal punishment. The
Germans had to be forced to repair their houses and stables, plant
mulberry trees, breed merino-sheep, and make silk, Kontenius ruled.
When he and the assessors inspected the colonies, they examined
the efforts and achievements of each individual peasant and punished
some of the less diligent with forced labor within their villages
or in public gardens and deprived a few of their land shares.23
With the exception of the immediate period after the Napoleonic
Wars, the prices for wheat were low in the 1810s and 1820s. Also,
in the early twenties much of the crops was devoured by locusts.
During the Russian-Turkish War of 1829-30, troops were billeted
in the Bessarabian colonies. Many peasants fell victim to the plague
brought into the villages by the soldiers. In 1833, New Russia experienced
a total crop failure followed by a poor harvest in 1834. Following
harvests, however, were good and their economy recovered.24
From then on, Russian wheat was in constant demand on the West European
market, and the German peasants turned more and more their meadows
land into grain fields. In the Liebental colonies for example, the
proportion of grain fields increased from 30% in 1848 to 38% ten
years later. This was made possible by the availability of improved
plows and harrows.25
In the first half of the 19th century, however, sheep-farming played
an important role, especially in those colonies located far from
any seaport. The colonial administration had distributed merino
sheep among the villages in order to further the production of fine
wool. The number of sheep, however, decreased when the colonists
needed the land for the more profitable wheat in the 1860s.26
In the 1880s, the German peasants were using about 2/3rds of their
shares for field crops and only 1/3rd for pasture and hay, most
of which was for their horses and cows. Two years before the war,
German peasants in Kherson province were reaping about 500 kg of
wheat and other peasants about 270 kg from one desiatina.27
The Extension of the German Real Estate
At the time of the liberation of the Russian peasantry, the colonists
were "the only rural group whose economy was in good shape."
They did not run model farms but worked fast and rationally.28
With the law of June 4, 1871, the reforms of Alexander II were introduced
into the colonies too. The "Welfare Committee for the Foreign
Settlers in Southern Russia," which had hitherto exempted them
from the general administration, was disbanded. Their privileges,
exemption from military service, for example, were abolished, though
the government took great care to preserve some of the colonists'
time-tested voluntary institutions. The strict prohibition against
subdividing the 60 to 65 desiatiny shares among the heirs,
or selling or mortgaging them, was lifted, although such activities
were subject to the agreement of the community. With a majority
of two thirds, a village assembly could now change the communal
landholding system. It could allot the shares permanently to the
individual peasants who would have to pay land taxes according to
the size of their holdings. However, in that case the landowners
would have been permitted to sell their land to anyone, even externals.
For the German colonies, that possibility was the main argument
against any privatization.29
Due to that agrarian order on the one hand and also because of
the large number of their children on the other, a class of landless
families emerged and increased, especially after the 1860s, when
the last reserve land allotted to the old colonies had been distributed
among new families. That landless class brought forward its demands
so boisterously that the government intervened on its behalf. The
law of 1871 gave the landless the right to vote in the village assemblies
where they would press their luckier brothers to help them acquire
their own real estate.30
In January, 1865, the Minister of State Domains placed the "liquor
rent capital" at the disposal of the colonists to help finance
land purchases. During the first ten tax-free years the state had
leased the right to sell liquor within the Lutheran and Catholic
colonies to outsiders. These revenues were to be spent for the maintenance
of churches and schools and salaries of the priests. When the tax-free
period expired, the colonies had to cover these expenses by themselves.
Some of the original capital remained and grew by interest returns
during the following years. That sum was used to grant a total of
40 loans for the purchase of real estate, which covered up to half
of the land price at a low interest rate of 6%. With the liquidation
of the colonial administration in 1871 this financial source disappeared.31
When a colonist died leaving only minor children, they were placed
under the care of a guardian. The land share of the deceased was
leased and his movable property put up for public sale. To increase
the profit of the auction the bidders were granted the possibility
to pay the price in small instalments. For the control of the guardians
and the administration of the orphans' property an "orphans'
elder" was elected. The elder would lend out the money or,
in most cases, promissory notes with 6% interest. Although most
elders administered the entrusted capital in an orderly and honest
way, they had difficulties collecting the money from the debtor,
when the orphan had come of age. For this reason, the colonies of
the Liebental district near Odessa created an "Orphans' and
Savings Bank" in 1830. The bank dealt with the debtors and
paid the capital to the adult orphans with 5% interest.32
In 1866 the representatives of the colonists advocated the creation
of a bank in each German volost', in which the communal as
well as the orphans' capital should be deposited. The volost'
banks were to grant loans for the purchase of land to communes,
associations of settlers or individuals up to the amount of 2/3rds
of the fire-insurance value of the farmsteads of the buyers or their
guarantors. In 1869 the Ministry agreed to the establishment of
such "Orphans', Loan, and Savings Banks" in all German
The Mennonites founded two such banks, one in Ekaterinoslav province
and the other one in Tavrida. As the Mennonites put up for public
sale not only the movable property but also the orphan's title to
a land share, large sums were deposited in their banks. In 1890
the capital of the Khortica bank amounted to 1,2 million and the
capital of the Molochna bank to 800,000 rubles.34 Since the
Orphans' Banks of the Lutheran and Catholic colonies sold only the
movable property of the deceased, they received less money than
their Mennonite counterparts. Their seven banks in Kherson province
worked with about 1 million rubles of orphans' capital while the
corresponding banks in Tavrida and Bessarabia controlled about 1/2
million rubles each.35
In 1867, the Ministry of State Domains agreed also to the petition
of the Kuchurgan [Kutschurgan] and Liebental district offices in
Kherson province and the mixed landowner-landless commission of
the Khortica and Mariupol' Mennonites to devote the revenues of
the hitherto existing communal sheep farms to land purchases. Usually
the colonial districts leased the land of these former farms to
interested colonists in plots of 4 to 5 desiatiny. The "sheep
farm capital" of the German colonies in Kherson provinces amounted
to about 400,000 rubles in 1890. The Lutheran-Catholic colonial
district on the west bank of the Molochna river also converted the
6,500 desiatiny of its communal sheep-breeding enterprise
into a source of revenues for the settlement of their landless class.
The annual income of 50-60,000 rubles enabled them to buy 38,000
desiatiny for 1.3 million rubles by 1890.36 The Mennonites
on the other side of the river had to find another source of income,
since they had parcelled out their "sheep land" to landless
families in 1866. A survey revealed that the landowners had hitherto
used more than the shares of 65 desiatiny, to which they
were entitled. That "surplus" land and the strips gained,
when the salt roads leading through Mennonite territory from the
Crimean salt fields to the North were narrowed, was leased to interested
peasants. The revenues were spent mainly for the resettlement of
the landless parishioners. New, "daughter" colonial districts
reserved part of their land for the same purpose. Under the influence
of their German neighbors even the villages of the Molokan sect
set aside part of their land for the purchase of land for their
rising generation. However, the rest of the Russian, Ukrainian,
and Moldavian villages had no such source of regular revenues.37
The Germans could rely on an "extreme solidarity in their
social and economic life." They were ready to vouch for each
other vis-a-vis the banks. Such guarantees were unknown in Ukrainian
or Russian villages, where the peasants could not obtain large loans,
as the value of their buildings was small. In addition, German colonists
were able to get private credit with an interest rate of 10-12%
from their wealthier countrymen, while outsiders demanded 24% or
more. Ukrainian peasants usually could not turn to richer fellow
villagers, as those tended to leave the mir, the redistribution
commune, when they had acquired some wealth.38
When "mother" colonies bought land, the resettlers had
to procure part of the purchase sum themselves and to repay the
credit in annual instalments which then could be used for further
transactions. The Mennonite volost' Nikolaifeld, for example,
had cleared off its debt within 18 years. For 2/3rds of their purchases
the German mother colonies of Kherson province had received credit
covering half of the price by mortgaging the land to the zemstvo
bank of the province. To sum up, in most cases the resettlement
of the landless was financed by bank credit, a communal loan from
the orphans' or sheep capital and a contribution by the individual
The first few private estates were granted to those colonists who
promised to raise merino sheep. As a result of the Crimean War part
of the Tatars and Nogays left Tavrida for Anatolia. After the liberation
of Bulgaria from Turkish rule many Bulgars returned to their former
homeland. German individual colonists, associations of settlers
and communes took the opportunity to purchase the abandoned auls
and villages cheaply. But in most cases the colonists bought the
land from noble landowners who had been deprived of their cheap
labor by the abolition of serfdom, who did not live on their estates
and who entrusted the economic management to employees who did not
make strong efforts to further the interests of their masters.40
The number of Germans had grown from 68,000 in 1834, when the mass
immigration ended, to 277,000 in 1890. A map of the distribution
of colonies in 1848 would show agglomerations of German colonies
in southern Bessarabia, the hinterland of Odessa, along the Dnepr,
on both sides of the Molochna, north of Mariupol' and some single
colonies on the Crimea, while a map from 1914 would illustrate the
spread of the colonies into almost all counties of the New Russian
provinces, and the emergence of new colonial districts, especially
on the Crimea.
By 1890 the German colonists had added 362 villages on purchased
property and 237 hamlets on rented land to the original 220 colonies
founded on crown land. Nevertheless about 2/3rds of the former colonists
lived in the so-called mother colonies. The Germans had received
a total of about 656,000 desiatiny of crown land and established
new colonies on almost the same amount of purchased land by 1890.
But there were big differences between the four provinces. In Ekaterinoslav
province the land held by colonies had tripled, in Kherson and Tavrida
province the holdings had doubled while they rose only about one
third in Bessarabia. While the former German colonists constituted
only 3.5% of the peasant population, their colonies owned more than
12% of the overall peasant land in Ekaterinoslav province, whether
nadel or private. On average, each German male census person
disposed of 15 desiatiny, while each Ukrainian/ Russian census
person disposed of 4 desiatiny. But the distribution among
the colonists was very uneven. Despite the big resettlements during
the last two decades in 1890, more than 39% of the German families
in the Kherson province had neither crown nor private land. And
it made a great difference to the peasants, whether they cultivated
crown, private or rented land. In order to dispose of crown land,
whether by selling or mortgaging, the colonists first had to redeem
the nadel, i.e. to pay the 20-fold land tax. Tenants could
lose their land to more solvent tenants or purchasers. Therefore
most of their buildings had a provisional character. Their appearance
differed markedly from the farms of the landowners.
More than 1 million desiatiny were acquired on an individual
basis especially in Tavrida province. 89% of the German private
landowners were "settler-possessors," as the former colonists
were officially called since the reform of 1871. In 1890, colonies,
associations of settlers and individual colonists had leased 1/2
million desiatiny from neighboring landowners. Most of the
private estates of Tavrida and Ekaterinoslav province were situated
in the home districts of the colonists and the areas deserted by
the Tatars and Nogays after the end of the Crimean War. Since the
land had always been cheaper in Tavrida than in Ekaterinoslav province,
the colonists had also acquired bigger estates in the former province.
Among the landowners in Ekaterinoslav and Tavrida provinces and
especially among those with large estates, the Mennonites were over-proportionally
represented, with 220 estates. For only about 1/4th of the colonists
were Mennonites, while the Lutherans formed about half and the Catholics
the remaining fourth of the former colonists. Therefore even the
Lutheran absolute majority of 257 estates was not commensurate with
their share in the population. Catholics had acquired only 37 private
The increase in the German land-holdings in New Russia slowed down
in the 1890s, since the colonists had begun to buy cheaper real
estate in the Land of the Don Cossacks, the Caucasus and Sibiria.
But the expansion gained new momentum in the following decade, when
the funds of the colonies had recovered from the large purchases
of the previous decades.
Crafts and Industry
Lots of weavers, tailors, dyers, and shoemakers had immigrated
to New Russia and Bessarabia, but only few blacksmiths, carpenters,
joiners and turners had settled in the colonies. Their number, however,
grew steadily, as the villagers demanded more and improved agricultural
tools and carriages. After the 1850s the German artisans sold their
tools and agricultural machines not only to their countrymen, but
also to other nationalities. Russians, Tatars, and Bulgarians were
particularly interested in the big and solid carriages with iron
axels, and in the superior plows the Germans and especially the
Mennonites produced and used themselves.41
The German colonists established factories which produced woolen
cloth, beer and vinegar, bricks and roofing tiles. For some years
the starch factory of a Molochna Mennonite was the biggest in the
Empire. The most important enterprises of the colonists, however,
were mills and plants for agricultural tools and machines. During
and after the Crimean War, Mennonites and Lutherans built steam
mills within the colonies, the capitals of the New Russian provinces,
and the centers of the counties. In Ekaterinoslav province more
than half of the steam mills belonged to Mennonites.42
In 1879, the share of the province Ekaterinoslav in the overall
Russian production of agricultural tools and machines amounted to
10.5%, to which the tiny Mennonite colony Khortica contributed three
quarters. When the government imposed customs on the import of ironware,
domestic production increased rapidly. New Russia took the lead
over the Western and Baltic provinces, and raised its share to almost
50% in 1911. In Odessa the enterprise of the former blacksmith Höhn
developed into the country's biggest producer of plows with 1,200
workers in 1912.43
Most of the other factories were located in German colonies or
near-by towns like Aleksandrovsk and Ekaterinoslav and were owned
by Mennonite and Lutheran entrepreneurs. A Mennonite clock-maker
established the first factory and two of his apprentices the next
factories in Khortica, Einlage and other German villages. Several
colonies lost their rural character. "That's not a village,
that's a whole town," the governor of Tavrida exclaimed, when
he visited Khortica in 1898.44 The Khortica entrepreneurs
built a church, school and hospital for and granted loans to their
Orthodox workers for the building of houses. In 1914, less than
a quarter of the inhabitants of Halbstadt and less than 10% of those
of Neu-Halbstadt were Mennonites. Works producing agricultural machinery,
however, were situated in Lutheran colonies too, especially in Hoffental
and Neu-Nassau on the other side of the Molochna.45
Main Reasons for the Success of the German Colonists
The financial support and the privileges granted by the government
helped the colonists to overcome the initial difficulties and to
make quicker progress than the state peasants. No German family
lost its young workers by military recruiting. When general military
service was introduced in Russia in 1874, the Mennonites were allowed
to serve in forestry units administered by their own representatives.46
The taxes of the Mennonites had been fixed permanently at 15 copecks.
Between 1812 and 1840 a Mennonite census person paid 1/3rd and between
1841 and 1869 only 1/11th of the taxes a Lutheran or Catholic colonist
or a state peasant was charged. Therefore, the Mennonite colonies
were able to invest more capital in their private and communal economy
and institutions like schools, plantations, and sheep-breeding stations.47
At the time of foundation, the colonies were to receive enough
land to provide each family with 60 to 65 desiatiny for hereditary
use. In practice, the communes assigned only the farmstead to the
peasants for permanent use. The plow-lands and meadows were divided
into fields commensurate with the quality of the soil and the distance
from the settlement. In these fields each peasant received a share,
and had to plant the crop determined by the community. Therefore
each peasant had about 20-30 plots distributed over the whole area
of the communal land. The pastures were used jointly. The German
colonies did not practice the redistribution (peredel') among
the male revision or actually present souls like Russian villages.
But the plots were periodically--usually every three or four years--
distributed by lots between the entitled families (pereverstka).
The number of the entitled families did not increase, since according
to the "colonial law" one son inherited the whole share
and had to pay off his brothers and sisters.48
When the colonial laws were brought into line with the post-emancipation
rules for the other peasants, the commune could still veto any excessive
subdivision. Therefore the German peasants could use their own and
their families working capacity and their draft animals, tools and
machines more economically than the former state and noble peasants,
the size of whose plots decreased steadily. A colonist with 60 desiatiny
could devote more land to market production than a peasant with
a smaller plot and could invest the gains in advanced machinery,
and in the rent or purchase of additional land.49
Because of the land-holding system, social and professional differentiation
in the German villages progressed much faster than in the Russian
villages. Usually the colonists had many children. The majority
of male children had either to rent and, if possible, to buy land,
or to take up a craft, while even Ukrainian and Russian artisans
had a legal title to a land share. Therefore they did not have to
make a final decision between farming and crafts. German peasants
and artisans were informed about the technological progress in other
countries. Some of them, like the clock-maker and founder of the
first factory in Khortica, had been trained in Western Prussia.
All German colonists had attended elementary and some of them also
secondary village schools.
While the land surveyors usually legalized the situation created
spontaneously by the Russian state peasants, the villages of the
foreigners were marked before or shortly after their arrival. The
government put aside reserve and surplus land and apportioned it
to the colonists when the next generations needed more space. The
administration took care that the houses were built at a sufficient
and regular distance from one another. Thus fires could not spread
as easily as in Russian villages. The average colony in Berdiansk
county, for example, consisted of 50 [farms]; the average village
of state peasants of 231 farms (1893). The peasants had to cover
long distances to reach their fields, and in many cases they had
to leave the farmstead for more than one day, while the colonists
could return home every night, take care of their families and livestock,
and transport the sheaves from the field to the barn in fewer days.50
With the help of the village mayors the colonial administration
controlled every detail of the colonists' life. It endowed the village
elders with great power over their countrymen. They could even threaten
a negligent colonist to deprive him of his farm and implement the
threat, if the peasant did not improve his ways. The mayor of Kleinliebental,
for example, inspected the farms and found that 35 colonists had
not repaired their fences or chimneys. He did not hesitate to punish
them with forced labor for the commune.51
In the Mennonite colonies no pubs or taverns invited the peasants
to spend their time and money drinking alcohol. One visitor remarked:
"The acquired good cannot be squandered, and serves as a means
for extended business".52 Russian and Ukrainian peasants
got tight on Sundays, and other festive days. While the Protestants
celebrated only 12, the Orthodox peasants enjoyed three times as
many church holidays a year: June alone had seven. Since they had
to sleep off their intoxication, they could only work for four to
five days a week, while the Protestants worked six days a week.
The Protestants celebrated weddings for only one day: the Russians
often celebrated for ten days. No Russian communal meeting got along
without alcohol, while Protestant christenings, funerals, and communal
meetings were no reason to drink.53 In 1827, however, the
Governing Senate overruled the opposition of the colonial administration
and introduced the liqueur rent system to the colonies. Lutheran
pastors, Russian assessors and other visitors deplored the ruinous
influence of the pubs on the economic situation of the colonists.
The pastors and sexton-teachers preached against excessive drinking,
the village elders punished alcohol addicts with fines, lashes,
and as a last resort, with the expropriation of the addicts' property.
Two decades later the local authorities had won the battle.54
Catholics drank more than Mennonites and Lutherans. The thousand
inhabitants of the Catholic village Selz, for example, had the choice
between three vodka-pubs and twenty wine-taverns. The Catholic ministers
had little influence on the peasants, since in many cases they were
Poles with little knowledge of German and the colonists' problems,
especially during the first decades, and literacy was not a precondition
to become a member of the Catholic parish.55
The first generation's success depended on its previous experience.
The rural and urban proletarians, who had left their native country
in order to improve their economic situation, fared worse than the
religiously motivated emigrants. The Mennonites of the second and
following waves sold their farms in Prussia and brought money, German
horses, cattle, carriages, and tools to the Molochna. The Russian
government gave preference to the immigration of all kinds of sectarians,
since the Moravian Brethren at Sarepta had won recognition as skilled
artisans, and the Mennonites as model farmers.
The government restrained the colonists from dividing their shares.
That rule corresponded to Mennonite traditions. The Germans coming
from areas with the tradition of property division among heirs had
to submit to the law. When the last reserve lands were distributed
among the growing population in the 1850s, the colonists tried to
earn enough money to help their sons to establish themselves as
independent farmers. No colonist could be content with passing his
father's heritage on to the next generation--a problem the Russian
peasants were spared due to the communal land-holding system.
After the first years of adjustment, the German colonists were
always some years ahead of the Russian peasants. While the latter
still concentrated on stock-farming, the Germans were already plowing
the greater part of their shares and had reduced their pastures
radically. Earlier than their neighbors, they put butter and cheese
on the markets of the New Russian towns. When the demand for agricultural
tools increased, German artisans took up that lucrative business.
A visitor to the Liebental colonies "felt strongly that he
lived among Germans who want to reproduce here their former native
country."56 The Germans had immigrated with Western
property conceptions. According to the principles of Roman law the
soil should, as far as possible, belong to somebody. The colonists
could not understand that Russian peasants regarded the soil as
a gift of God belonging to everybody like air, sunlight, and water.
In his historical-statistical survey of Kherson province, an officer
of the Russian general staff wrote in the early sixties: The colonists
"are our Americans who change our wild desert into marvellous
villages with gardens and leas, our capitalist farmers who become
richer and richer from year to year, occupy more and more land,
attribute value to the land, and raise the price for labor by their
extraordinary demand." Their main features were, he added,
"the full understanding for the necessity of hard work, the
simplicity of life coming near to stoicism, the understanding of
the social advantage of mutual help, and of the duties toward the
After sawing and harvesting, the German colonist put his tools
in order and stored them in a dry place, a Russian observer remarked.
Just in case a tool broke, the German had a reserve piece. Thus
he did not lose time and his farm-hands were never idle. Having
finished his work, the Russian neighbor left his tools lying around,
exposed to the weather, and only thought about cleaning or repairing
them just before he wanted to use them once more. Since the workshop
of the blacksmith was humming with activity then, he had to wait
several days and was not able to finish the field work in time.
The German plowed the field in the autumn to enable it to absorb
more moisture and harrowed the field several times in the spring
pulling the weeds in time. The Russian peasant however, neglected
to do so believing that the harvest depended solely on the weather.58
When the German peasant complained about his fate, the Mennonite
entrepreneur Hildebrand liked to quote the favorite poem of his
"O man take care of all your time!
Of all the hours that time hath lent,
That e'ev now are lost from view,
Not e'en a single brief moment
Will e'er return to comfort you."59
In the same spirit the elder of the Mennonite parish in Ohrloff
on the Molochna appealed to his fellow-believers:
"The time is short. O Man: be wise!
Of all your moments make the most.
In blink of eye they're gone, you'll find.
You sail one voyage on this coast --
Leave a good reckoning behind."60
1 Pisarevskii, Grigorii Grigorevich, Iz istorii inostrannoi
kolonizacii v Rossii XVIII v. (po neizdannym arkhivnym dokumentam)
(Moscow, 1909), pp. 221ff.
2 Kontenius to Ekspediciia Gosudarstvennogo Khoziaistva,
14 October 1798--Centralnyi
Gosudarstvennyi Istoricheskii Arkhiv (further CGIA, Fond 383/29/161.
3 Bartlett, Roger P. Human Capital: The Settlement of Foreigners
in Russa.1762-1804 (Cambridge, 1979).
4 Protocol Ekspediciia Gosudarstvennogo Khoziaistva, 27 October
1799, resolution of the Pravitel' stvennyi Senat, 1 February and
21 March, and of the Tsar, 6 April 1800-CGIA, Fond 383/29/161.
5 Kozodavlev to Barclay de Tolly, 11 and 20 July 1813-CGIA,
Fond 383/29/388, pp.3f., 23ff.
6 Leibbrandt, Georg. Die Auswanderung der Schwaben nach Rußland
1816-1823. Ein schwäbisches Zeit-und Charakterbild (Stuttgart,
7 CGIA, Fond 383/29/471.
8 Malinowsky, Josef Aloys. Die Planerkolonien am Azowschen
Meer (Stuttgart, 1928).
9 Hafa, Herwig. Die Brüdergemeinde Sarepta. Ein Beitrag
zur Geschichte des Wolgadeutschtums (Breslau, 1936).
10 Dr. Evstarii Zverak to Kochubei, 18 September 1803-CGIA,
Fond 383/29/191, 4f.; report Kontenius, 24 March, and Richelieu,
28 March 1805, both to Kochubei-CGIA, Fond 383/29/251.
11 See e.g. Kontenius to Ministerstva Vnutrennykh Del, 4
February 1805-CGIA, Fond 383/29/251.
12 Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov Rossiiskoj Imperii XVI 11879ff.
and XXVIII 21163; Polons'ka-
Vasylenko, Natalija Dmytrivna. The Settlement of the Southern Ukraine
(1750-1775) (New York 1855), pp. 201ff.
13 Goerz, H. Die Molotschnaer Ansiedlung. Entstehung, Entwicklung
Steinbach/Manitoba 1950, p. 19. "Opisanie kolonii Iuzhnoi Rossii."
Severnyi Arkhiv 1824, No. 9, p. 147.
14 Mukhanov, Petr Aleksandrnvich. "Obozraenie inostrannykh
kolonii v Novo-Rossiskom krae." Severnyi Arkniv, No. 8, 1823,
15 Isaac, Franz. Die Molotschnaer Mennoniten. Ein Beitrag
zur Geschichte derselben. Aus Akten älterer und neuerer Zeit,
wie auch auf Grund eigener Erlebnisse und Erfahrungen dargestellt.
Halbstadt/Taurien 1908, pp. 16ff.; Epp, David H. Johann Cornies.
Züge aus seinem Leben und Wirken. Ekaterinoslav and Berdiansk
1909, pp. 58-78. Shtakh, Jacob. Ocherki iz istorii i sovremennoi
zhizni iuzhno-russkikh kolonistov (Moscow, 1916), 152.
16 Malinovskii, Lev V. "Ekonomicheskoe i social'noe
razvitie kolonistskoi derevni v iuzhnoi Rossii v pervoi polovine
XIX v." Istoricheskie zapiski 109 (1983), p. 194. Unterhaltungsblatt
für die Ansiedler im südlichen Rußland 12 (1857),
No. 1, 19.
17 Vibbe (Wiebe), I. "Kratkoe obozrenie sostoianiia
sel'skogo khoziaistva v okruge Molochnykh kolonistov za 1851 g."
Zhurnal Sel'skogo Khoziaistva i Ovcevodstva 1853, No. 3, pp. 284-298.
"Statisticheskie svedeniia o inostrannykh poselencev v Rossii."
Zhurnal Ministerstva Vnutrennykh Del No. 4, (1838), p. 66.
18 Rempel, David G. The Mennonite Colonies in New Russia.
A Study of their Settlement and Economic Development from 1789 to
1914. PhD. diss. Stanford, Ca. 1933, p 242.
19 Oleksenko, S. "Berdianskii uezd v sel'sko-khoziaistvennoi
otnoshenii." Izvestiia Petrovskoi Sel'sko- Khoziaisvennoi Akademii
1889 goda. Vypusk 1, 56.
20 Goerz, pp. 177f.
21 Richelieu to Kochubei, 17 October 1804-CGIA, Fond 383/29/251.
22 Note (Ministerstva Vnutrennykh Del), confirmed by the
Tsar, 11 May 1811-CGIA, Fond 383/29/367, pp. 1ff.
23 Lashkarev's, Lifanov's and Kontenius' reports of 1812-14
in CGIA, Fonds 383/29/381 and /362.
24 Leibbrandt, Georg, ed. Die deutschen Kolonien in Cherson
und Bessarabien. Berichte der Gemeindeämter über Entstehung
und Entwicklung der lutherischen Kolonien in der ersten Hälfte
des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart, 1926).
25 Hamm, Wilhelm. Südöstliche Steppen und Städte.
Nach eigener Anschauung geschildert (Frankfurt a.M. 1862), p. 240.
Leibbrandt, Deutsche Kolonien, pp. 42, 58, 63.
26 Unterhaltungsblatt 12 (1857), No. 1, 20.Leibbrandt, Deutsche
Kolonien, pp. 81, 84, 158. Shtakh, Ocherk 171. Postnikov, V.E. Iuzhno-russkoe
krest'ianskoe khoziaistvo. (Moscow, 1891), p. 167.
27 Postnikov, pp. 176f.; Statistiko-ekonomicheskii obzor
Khersonskoi gubernii za 1912 god. Sost. Statist, Otdeleniem pri
Khersonskoi Gubernskoi Zemskoi Upravoi (Kherson, 1914), pp. 16ff.
28 Memorandum Gubernskii Predvoditel' Dvorianstva to Ekaterinoslavkoe
Gubernskoe Ocherednoe Sobranie, 15 January 1893-CGIA, Fond 1291/70/320-1892
29 Kludt, Samuel. Die Verfassung der ausländischen Kronsländereien
in Rußland nach dem Gesetz vom 4./16. Juni 1871. Odessa 1873.
Report Moiseenko -Velikii, 5 November 1890 CGIA, Fond 1291/70/ 354-1890
god, p. 18. Report Arcimovich, 30 November 1890-Fond 1291/70/325a-1890
g., p. 40. Report Charushin, 25 October 1890-Fond 1291/70/353-1890
g., p. 47
30 Klaus, A. Nashi kolonii. Opyty i materialy po istorii
i statistike inostrannoi kolonizacii v Rossii (St. Petersburg, 1869),
31 Klaus, p. 187.
32 Report Islavin, 26 October 1865-CGIA, Fond 381/8/3727,
pp. 121ff.; Hamm, pp. 247f.
33 Klaus, pp. 261f.; Mammel, Arnold. Beiträge zur Geschichte
der Kolonie Klöstitz in Bessarabien (1965), pp. 28f.
34 Report Arcimovich, pp. 50ff.; report Moiseenko-Velikii,
35 Report Charushin, p. 20; report Moiseenko-Velikii, p.
76, report Kign, pp. 28ff.
36 Report Arcimovich, pp. 57ff.; report Moiseenko-Velikii,
pp. 28ff.; report Charushin, p. 20.
37 Report Moiseenko-Velikii, pp. 5f., 28, 77.
38 Report Charushin, p. 17; report Moiseenko-Velikii, p.
77. Isaev, A. "Zametka o nemeckikh koloniiakh v Rossii (na
Iuge)." Russkaia mysl' 15 (1894), kniga, p. 104.
39 Report Charushin, pp. 22, 33f.; report Arcimovich, p.
40 The data for the following survey are taken from the above
mentioned reports of Arcimovich, Moiseenko-Velikii, Charushin and
41 "Opisanie kolonii Iuzhnoi Rossii." Severnyi
Arkhiv 1824, No. 10, pp. 125ff.; report Islavin, 26 Oktober 1865-CGIA,
Fond 381/8/3727, pp. 121ff.; Shtakh, Ocherk, pp. 182ff.
42 Vsia Rossiia. Russkaia kniga promyshlennosti, torgovli,
sel'skogo khoziaistva i administracii. Torgovopromyshlennyi kalendar'
Rossiiskoi Imperii (St. Petersburg, 1895), pp. 326ff.
43 Chernaev, V.V. "Sel'sko-khoziaistvennoe mashinostroenie."
promyshlennosti Rossii. Tom 1. (St. Petersburg, 1883), pp. 144f.;
Glavnoe Upravlenie Zemleustroistva i Zemledeliia Sel'skoi Ekonomii
i Sel'sko-khoziaistvennoi Statistiki/Departament Zemledeliia. Vnutrennoe
proizvodstvo sel'sko-khoziastvennykh mashin i orudii v 1911 godu
i privoz ikh v Rossii (St. Petersburg, 1913), pp. 6ff.
44 Odessaer Zeitung, 18 September 1898; Epp, David H. "The
Emergence of German Industry in the South Russian Colonies."
Mennonite Quarterly Review 55 (1981), pp. 289-371.
45 Report Moiseenko-Velikii, p. 80. Statisticheskoe Biuro
Tavricheskogo Gubernskogo Zemstva. Statisticheskii spravochnik Tavricheskoi
gubernii. Sost. F.N. Andrievskii. Simferopol' 1915.
46 Isaac, pp. 295ff.
47 Klaus, p. 140.
48 See Note 38.
49 Postnikov, pp. 113ff.
50 Postnikov, pp. 68ff.
51 Keller, Conrad. The German Colonies in South Russia, 1804
to 1904. Translated by A. Becker, Vol. 1 (Saskatoon/Sask. 1968),
52 Bode, A. Notizen, gesammelt auf einer Forstreise durch
einen Theil des europäischen Rußlands. St. Petersburg.
Reprint (Osnabrück, 1969), pp. 298f.
53 Gavel, G.L. "Sravnitel'nie ocherki sel'skogo khoziaistva
i agrarnogo polozheniia poselian v nekotorykh mestnostiakh Rossii."
Sel'skoe Khoziaistvo i Lesovodstvo 1874/10, pp 321ff.; T. "Iz
zapisnoi knizhki proezzhogo lesnichego." S.K.i L., (October,
1865), p. 250; Umissa, A.I. Sovremmennoe polozhenie zemledeliia
na iuge Rossii (Kherson, 1874), p. 85.
54 Report Koeppen to Ministerstva Vnutrennych Del, 21 October
1838, comment Direktor 1. Departamenta, 1839-CGIA, Fond 383/29/609,
pp. 16ff.; Schrenk, Martin Friedrich. Aus der Geschichte der Entstehung
und Entwicklung der evangelisch-lutherischen Kolonien in den Gouvernements
Bessarabien und Cherson, speziell in kirchlicher Beziehung (Odessa,
1902), p. 19.
55 Otchet Popechitel'nogo Komiteta za 1866 god-CGIA, Fond
381/8/3696, p. 257.
56 Stach, Jakob. Die deutschen Kolonien in Südrußland.
Kulturgeschichtliche Studien und Bilder über das erste Jahrhunderts
ihres Bestehens (Prischib/Tavrida, 1904), p. 45.
57 Materialy dlia geografii i statistiki Rossii. Khersonskaia
guberniia. Sostavil gen. sht. podpolkovnik A. Shmidt (St. Petersburg,
1863), Vol. 2, p. 623.
58 "Khoziaistvo i zhizn' u nemcev kolonistov i russkikh."
Saratovskie gubernskie vedomosti, (1895), No. 84f.
59 Epp, Industry, p. 302.
60 Epp, Georg K. "Russian Patriotism Among the Nineteenth-Century
Russian Mennonites." Journal of Mennonite Studies, vol. 4,
(1986), p. 125.