The Birthplace of Mennonites in America
GMHT supports the Black Lives Matter movement
The Board of The Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust, which oversees the historic 1770 Meetinghouse at 6133 Germantown Avenue, would like to proclaim its support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and for the ending of systematic racism and police brutality. From the 1688 Protest Against Slavery all the way up to GMHT’s support, collaboration, and participation in the Johnson House-led Juneteenth Celebrations over the past several decades, the Mennonites of Germantown have consistently stood for social justice and in allyship with its Black and Brown members and neighbors.
The original 1688 protest, written by German and Dutch Quakers who had emigrated from the Palatinate in Europe, was written from the perspective of Anabaptists who were both pacifists and anti-slavery advocates, and whose theological underpinnings pushed them to challenge the hypocrisy of the American institution of slavery and a violation of the Golden Rule. The Protest argued that blacks were the social and spiritual equals of whites. In that protest, Derick op den Graeff, Abraham op den Graeff, Francis Daniel Pastorious and Garret Hendericks all appealed to the Quaker local and annual meetings because they saw that even many Quakers had owned slaves, a practice which in fact would continue until at least 1758 when the Annual Quaker Meeting first started censuring its slave-holding members. Within this protest, the signers asked a number of pointed questions such as, “Is there any that would be done or handled in this manner? viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful and faint-hearted are many on sea when they see a strange vessel…. And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not alike?" They answered these by stating "Here is liberty of conscience wch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body, except of evil-doers, wch is an other case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against. In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppossd who are of a black colour.”
By the late twentieth century, and well into the twenty-first, the Germantown Mennonites have worked together with the surrounding African-American community in commemorating, memorializing and telling the story of both the founding of Germantown and also helping to educate the public as to the dual stories of the institution of slavery and its anti-slavery counterpart. We have marched in solidarity with the African-American led and organized community Juneteenth festivals and have sponsored a community garden whose mission it is to increase access to locally grown affordable nutrition, provide educational opportunities in organic vegetable and fruit production, and create a green space where our neighborhood may come together to share their stories, recipes, and seeds.
But we also know that in spite of our social justice theology and activism, we can still do a better job by learning from the sins of the past (and the present) and strive to be even more engaged as community partners, more ethical in telling the story from an African-American perspective, and more activist-oriented in our support for causes that affect the African-American community both locally and nationally.
About Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse
Mennonites, along with many religious minorities, came to colonial Pennsylvania from the Rhine lands of Europe to participate in William Penn’s “holy experiment” and escape over a century of persecution. In 1683, thirteen Dutch-speaking Mennonite and Quaker families settled in what is now known as Germantown, becoming the first Europeans to colonize that area and the first Germans to settle in the New World.
William Rittenhouse, who built America’s first mill for the manufacture of linen based paper, served as this group’s first minister. The community is the site of the first Mennonite burial ground (1704), the first Mennonite Meetinghouse (1708), and the first Mennonite baptisms and communion in America (1708). In addition, Mennonite theology and conscience contributed to America’s first written petition against slavery, penned in 1688 and sent to the Quaker monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings.
Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust is the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that cares for the historic 1770 Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse, a significant symbol of the first permanent Mennonite settlement in North America. We interpret and share the history, faith and witness of Mennonites in Germantown from 1683 to the present by preserving the historic Meetinghouse & cemetery; maintaining the nearby buildings and grounds; preparing and implementing tours, exhibits, curricula and public programs; and working with Mennonite and Anabaptist churches, conferences and organizations, the Germantown community, and other partners.
You can find more information about us here, including the rich history and heritage of Mennonites in Germantown, as well as who we are now. If you are ready to see the Meetinghouse for yourself, we have important information to help plan your visit. You can also support our work by donating or volunteering.
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Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust - 6133 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19144 - (215) 843-0943 - firstname.lastname@example.org