Category Archives: Dunkers

Excommunicated Dunkers in the Family

When I began writing about my husband’s Hendricks ancestors, I mentioned that they are relatively easy to trace because they had a tightly knit FAN club and migrated in a way that I described as mob travel because so many moved at once and together.

There was a reason why they went to two destinations p Montgomery County, Kentucky and Warren County, Kentucky and there was a reason why they left North Carolina – religion.

The Hendricks, Rolands, Hons, Keithleys and others had been members of the Church of the Brethren, often called the Dunkers. The history of the Brethren Church began in 1708 when five men and three women with strong religious beliefs baptized each other in the Eder River in Germany. They were not in accord with mainstream Lutheran practices and formed their own church. In the Brethren faith, baptism is not performed until the age of reason has been reached. During a time when infant baptism was a social and religious requirement, the idea of delaying baptism until the teen or adult years was horrifying to many. Fully dunking believers in water, or baptizing in this way, gave Dunkers their name. This group was named the Schwarzenau Brethren.

By 1723, Brethren congregations and churches had been established in the American colonies. Dunkers, part of a collective groups called Anabaptists (those against infant baptism), were driven out of many European towns and persecuted for their beliefs. The Dunkers weren’t any more popular than the Quakers, who suffered the same persecution. One of my New England ancestors, William Knapp, was charged with and fined for the crime of harboring a Quaker in his home. Many who left Europe for a new life in the colonies settled in Pennsylvania because of William Penn’s policy of tolerance towards all religions.

The Rolands and their FAN club had settled in the colonies well before the American Revolution, appearing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania by the 1740s. Gaspar Roland arrived in the ship Friendship in 1741.

Johan Gaspar Roland was one of the strongest proponents and leaders in the local Brethren church. He was the minister of the Big Conewago congregation in 1760, but removed to Maryland about 1762 and then to North Carolina about 1771. In each place, he served as a minister to the Brethren.

However, Gaspar Roland’s religious beliefs evolved with time and became too radical, even for the Dunkers. He adopted the belief of the Universalists that God would not create a person knowing that that person would be destined for eternal damnation AND therefore, all people must be destined for salvation.

This was too much for many of his fellow Brethren and at the 1798 Annual Conference held by the church, John Hendricks, Gaspar Roland and perhaps other Carolina leaders were excommunicated.

From the Classified Minutes of the Annual Meetings of the Brethren, 1886:

It is clear that the beliefs of the Carolinian Brethren had strayed too far from that of the official church.

That was the impetus that led to the FAN club deciding to leave North Carolina for Kentucky. I haven’t found the reason why Warren and Montgomery Counties in Kentucky were the main destinations chosen by this group. Warren County is about 450 miles from Rowan County, no easy trip at the turn of the 19th century,  but that is where most of them ended up.  Undoubtedly, someone knew someone in the extended FAN club who touted the benefits of life in those two counties.

Rowan County, NC to Warren (southern road) and Montgomery (northern road) Counties, KY
Source: Google Maps

Some of the North Carolina clan apparently left for Kentucky not long after the 1798 Annual Meeting as they appeared on the 1800 tax list in Bourbon County. Others likely followed after the 1800 clarification.

If you have ancestors who were early members of the Church of the Brethren, here are some online resources for your research:

Brethren Historical Library and Archives

Brethren Digital Archives

Classified Minutes of the Annual Meetings of the Brethren, 1886 – Google free eBook

The Brethren in the Carolinas: the History of the Church of the Brethren in the District of North and South Carolina

Church of the Brethren

Church of the Brethren (Dunkers)

The German Baptist Brethren or Dunkers