Klassen Story (1874 delegate)

The David K. Klassen Story (1874 delegate)

Copyright Lorilee Scharfenberg 2000

Early Years in Prussia 1813-1833

On August 31, 1813, David Klassen was born to Maria W. Klassen of Tiegerweide, Prussia. Maria's husband Abraham had passed away on January 10 of the same year so she was left alone to raise her children. Little David was the youngest of a family of five children but at least one brother, Dirk, had died in infancy. Maria remarried to a Jakob Bergmann of Mierau, Prussia. Through that marriage David gained two younger half-sisters. His oldest brother Abraham died in 1827 when David was only fourteen. According to his own writings David spent his boyhood in Susewald, Prussia attending school and helping out on the family farm. At the age of sixteen he began to work as a hired farm hand for a Jacob Bergen and served him for three years. During that time he was baptized and joined the Tiegenhagener Gemeinde. According to oral tradition David Klassen learned to skate on the Vistula River in his youth with bob-skates.

Life on Molotschna Colony, Russia 1833-1866

David Klassen left Prussia for Russia on August 5, 1833, just before he turned twenty. It was an adventure for he travelled with a friend, Abram Rempel, and each rode a spirited stallion. Although his destination was Gnadenfeld, immigration records indicate that the two young men arrived in Schonsee, Molotschna Colony at the home of Aron Rempels., Within two years David met a young lady by the name of Aganetha S. Brandt(1816-1904). She was a petite young woman of scarcely 5 feet and David in striking contrast was more than 6 feet tall. Aganetha's family had moved to the village of Tiege in 1818, just a year before her father Peter Brandt (1770-1819) passed away. She, like David, never got to know her natural father. Her mother Elizabeth (1788/89- nee Siemens) remarried to a Heinrich Wiebe (1794-1838)shortly after. On October 31, 1835, David and Aganetha S. Brandt were married(1816-1904).

When David Klassen migrated to Russia, he was, no doubt, drawn by kinship ties in the Molotschna Colony. In 1833, his maternal uncle, Peter Klassen, (1789-1862), settled in the village of Rueckenau with his family. It is not definite where David and Aganetha set up their first home; however their oldest daughter Elizabeth was born in Rueckenau on June 13, 1837 and it appears they spent the early part of their married lives in that village. On June 10, 1847, an Aeltester election was held at their home in Rueckenau. According to Del Plett this shows that Klassen had a large farm and outbuildings in order to accommodate such a large gathering. It is interesting that the man elected then was Johann F. Friesen who would later become David's first son-in-law. The time span of at least ten years would show that David and Aganetha's first four surviving children were all born in that village.

David Klassen purchased property and moved his family to Margenau near the village of Rueckenau somewhere between the years 1847 and 1850. David and Aganetha's son Abraham was born in this village on July 30, 1850 and educated there for seven years. On June 10, 1851, the ministers met at David Klassen's home in Margenau for a discussion. Records show that while David was in Margenau he became a very successful farmer and owned a full Vollwirt (175 acres). In 1856, the Klassen' s oldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Aeltester Johann Friesen and the following year their second oldest daughter, Maria, married Jacob M. Kroeker. In 1860 David and his wife welcomed their 15th child, Helena, into the world. She was the 10th to survive to adulthood. On February 13, 1861, David had eight votes for him during deacon election. He still fellowshipped in Margenau.

In 1866 a split took place in the Kleine Gemeinde and David Klassen sided with his son-in-law, Aeltester Friesen. This same year 120 families moved to the Borosenko Colony including David Klassen who sold his Wirtshaft in Margenau and moved to the newly established village of Heuboden. A church was established and David was a member there in 1868. The land on the Borosenko Colony was ideal for farming and David went to work immediately gardening and laying out a fine orchard. David Klassen's name came up again in deacon elections in 1869. He received four votes.

In March of 1871 the Klassen family experienced a real blow when their daughter Elizabeth died after a sleigh she was in overturned. She was expecting her fifth child at the time. This left the Aelt. Johann Friesen widowed for the third time. He remarried in a short time, however, within the year he passed away and left four children orphaned. The Klassens took Johann, Aganetha and Maria into their home, while David lived with his aunt Katherina and her husband Cornelius Eidse.

In March of 1873, shortly before David was to leave for America, daughter Aganetha Jantzen was left widowed with a 11/2 month old daughter to care for. Her husband Cornelius, a teacher, was ill for two weeks' previous. In July of the same year, while Klassen was in Canada, she married twice widowed Gerhard Siemens.

Delegation to America 1873

As early as January of 1873, David Klassen was pursuing the idea of immigration to America. On the 21st of that month he attended a meeting in Pordenau, Molotschna with Aeltester Peter Toews (Blumenhof) and Rev. Loewen from Hochfeld. David Klassen and Cornelius Toews (Gruenthal) were chosen as delegates to America on February 4, 1873 at a large brotherhood meeting in Blumenhof with the cost of travel being estimated at 1500 rubles. David represented the Heubodner group in the search for new land and freedoms in America. According to the Abraham F. Reimer diaries on the 15th of the same month the two delegates left for America and "it was a sad farewell." On the 21st they returned from their trip. They had a false start. David received one vote in the deacon election on April 10, 1873. The Blumenhof Gemeinde gave Cornelius Toews, the other KG delegate, a list of seven religious questions and four secular ones to ask of both the American and Canadian governments. A note was added that the delegates were to first keep the United States in mind. The delegates finally departed on April 15 to search for a new home in America. They left on the Steamship Nacmorka from Nikopol and then traveled by rail through Austria (border on the 18), spent the 21- 22 in Berlin and finally arrived in Hamburg. There they set sail on the Steamship Celisia (April 23) and travelled to New York. Apparently David had a strong stomach and never got seasick. After their arrival in New York they travelled by train throughout Pennsylvania and Indiana and had many adventures visiting different churches. Funk was a host to them. Later they gathered in Fargo and headed into Manitoba. They investigated two main tracts of land in the U.S. One tract lay near Glyndon and the other was the James River region about 100 miles from Fargo.

The delegates were greeted warmly upon their arrival in Winnipeg, Manitoba. William Hespeler made Winnipeg their base and they took three excursions to land areas that were open for settlement. On these trips, David Klassen, who was almost sixty, would have experienced the stings of famished mosquitoes, the threats of hostile Metis and long hikes around many boggy swamps. He saw beyond the difficulties and noticed the rich soils that produced acres of wild roses, open prairies ready for the plow and many rivers to provide irrigation. Abram F. Reimer's diary notes that Klassen wrote three letters to Cornelius Toews during the journey. Sadly those letters have never been found. Royden Loewen writes, "The debate about the economic viability of the East Reserve began the moment the delegates saw it in 1873. Even the four Mennonite delegates who chose it as their home were not completely satisfied. In a letter to the Department of Agriculture in July 1873 they asked about the possibility of ‘another location than the present one which you have reserved for us (which might) suit us better.' That same month, while they were in Ottawa, the government gave them the much sought after "Privilegium." It was an article with fifteen statements that gave them all the privileges that they sought: reserved land, freedom from the military and a right to direct their own schools. Four of the delegates, including David Klassen, received the letter guaranteeing the agreement dated July 25, 1873.

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Last Updated March 12, 2000 by Lorilee Scharfenberg