THE VOLGA GERMANS AND THE PETERS FAMILY

Luke and I have been doing research on the Peters’ family tree.  I have been seeking God on what to share as I am well aware of what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1st Timothy 1:3-4, “…that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,  Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do”.  That said, I believe that I have the mind of God to share what our ancestors went through to get to the United States and how they were spared the ravages that overtook Europe for the last 2½ centuries.

The Migration from Germany to Russia and then to the United States
The Peters family descended primarily from German Catholics who spent a 100 year sojourn in Russia prior to settling in Ellis County, Kansas in 1876. At the conclusion of the Seven Years' War (a global conflict between the years 1756-1763), Europe was basically in shambles.  Beginning with the war of Austrian Succession which ended in 1748 through the 1760’s, the continent had been at war on and off almost constantly.  (In an interesting side note, the American theatre in this war was called the French and Indian War).

In 1762, Catherine II of Russia (later Catherine the Great) declared herself empress of Russia after overthrowing her husband Peter III.  Catherine (who was of German descent) wanted to populate the eastern frontier with hard working immigrants of German decent to set an example for the native Russians whom she considered to be slovenly peasants.

In line with this plan, she issued her First Manifesto on December 4, 1762, inviting people of all nationalities (excluding Jewish) to come to Russia and settle the eastern steppes.  This first call received little response most likely due to the fact that it was issued while the Seven Years’ War was still being waged.  Catherine then refined her invitation, (during which time the war ended), and on July 22, 1763, issued her Second Manifesto which included the following, but was not solely limited to the following concepts:

•The right to pursue their old occupation or profession
•Freedom of religion including the right to build churches and schools and to have priests to minister
•Exemption from taxes for 30 years for those who settled in the Volga River region (10 years for those who settled elsewhere)
•The right to self-govern for those who settled in the lower Volga, with the caveat that they submit to the prevailing form of Civil Law
•Those that had money would not be taxed if they used the money to establish themselves or others and provide for their basic needs
•Exemption from military service for all males for an indefinite period of time
•They would be free to leave at any time provided that they pay a tax on all of their effects when they chose to do so.

The Manifesto also included provisions to pay for the travel and establishment of those who were willing to come but did not have the means pay for it themselves as well as some additional conditions to appeal to the immigrant to develop industry and commerce.  Due to the desolation, despair, and state of destruction of Western Europe at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, the manifesto received an incredible response.  The respondents to the offer came from every walk of life including nobles, farmers, craftsmen, soldiers, doctors and even vagabonds and criminals.

After the war, conditions among the German people were very unstable. At that time, the area that is now Germany was a conglomeration of more than 300 principalities and dukedoms which frequently changed hands, and therefore religions, as well. Many Germans, seeking a way to practice their chosen religion and to improve their social standing, accepted the offer to settle in Russia.

In all, between 1763 and 1767 approximately 27,000 settlers immigrated to Russia from Western Europe.  A vast majority of these settlers were German, with some German speaking Alsatians from the Alsace Lorraine region of France and even fewer French, Italians, Dutch etc.  The settlers sold all of their belongings, settled their debts, and set off on their journey towards their new home.

Almost all of the promises included in the manifesto were just that, promises that Catherine and her subordinates had no intention of keeping.  After traveling from their homes all over Germany to Lubeck (many if not all by foot), they were shipped to Kronstadt, then to Oranienbaum, and finally down past the confluence of the Neva and Volkov Rivers to Novgorod where they disembarked and traveled by land to their final destinations.  The trip took a year and a half, sometimes much longer. 

Upon arrival at Oranienbaum, the settlers took their oath of fealty to the Crown of Imperial Russia at the Summer Palace and were summarily informed that they would all be required to become farmers, despite the promises made in the manifesto that the settlers could retain their occupations.  Some protested, but most accepted the situation and did their best to make the most of it.

Once the settlers arrived at their destinations in the Volga Valley there was little time for building homes prior to the arrival of winter so they constructed dugouts, holes in the ground with straw and mud roofs, and were forced to live in them with their livestock (a custom that most Germans found distasteful) so that they would not freeze during the winter.

The following spring they began to build their homesteads and towns.  By 1771, most of the colonies had been established and little by little they began to prosper, when they were struck by a reign of terror lasting approximately 3 years by Pugachev’s rebellion (an internal rebellion against the Crown) and raids on their villages by the Kirghiz (Islamic nomads whom the settlers called Mohammedans or as we know them today, Muslims).

By 1774, Pugachev’s rebellion had been suppressed and the Crown finally sent enough troops to the region to dissuade the Kirghiz from continuing their raids.  The Germans then lived in relative peace and prosperity for the next 100 years. 

In 1871, Alexander II of Russia repealed the Manifestoes of Catherine and her successors and ended the freedom from military service that settlers had been granted.  By 1874, the colonists were successful in negotiating a 10 year grace period from military conscription and this allowed the exodus of the Volga Germans who eventually settled in Kansas.  In all, only about 300 Catholic families (I am unsure of the number of protestant families) left Russia to come to America.

They once again sold all their belongings and embarked on a long journey towards a new home, this time for good. The remainder of the settlers (by this time estimated to be in excess of 600,000 souls) remained.  It should be noted that these Germans never forsook their faith or their heritage and never assimilated into the Russian culture save a few colloquialisms.  In fact, when they came to America they spoke German and still maintained almost all of the traditions that they took with them to Russia. 

The settlers that stayed behind endured much persecution from the Russian government.  Shortly after the Bolshevik Rebellion in 1917, the Russian colonies were stricken with a famine which claimed approximately 1/3 of the population.  Under Stalin the persecution of the Germans increased until finally in 1941, upon the German invasion of Russia, the entire population was deported to Siberia.  They were eventually freed in 1955 and declared rehabilitated in 1964. 

It is certainly the mercy of God on the descendants of these people who came to the United States when they did, so that those of us whom God has chosen could receive and preach the Gospel.  Our ancestors left Germany in the late 1800’s and were therefore not in the German sphere of influence when the mass slaughter of the Jewish people took place before and during WWII.

We are currently able to track the family tree back to 1820.  We are continuing the European research as we want to be able to get the family tree back to Germany before they left for Russia.  The following is a listing of my earthly father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc.:

Nicolaus Peters, b~1820, Samara, Russia
     Michael Peter (no “s”), b1840, Louis, Russia
        Michael Peters, b1875, Louis, Russia
            John Peters, b1897, Hays, Kansas, USA
                Alfred Peters, b1930, Rinn, Colorado, USA
                     Michael Peters (me), b1951, Denver, Colorado, USA
                          Luke Peters (son), b1978, Loveland, Colorado, USA    
                          Paul Peters (son), b1993, Plano, Texas, USA

                               Luke has 5 sons, all born in Plano, TX
                                  Levi Peters
                                  Joshua Peters
                                  Michael Peters
                                  Samuel Peters
                                  James Peters

My grandfather, John Peters married Mary Wasinger from Kansas, whose family also came to the United States from Germany via Russia.  My dad married Genevieve Varga from Denver whose dad, George, was from Prague, Czech Republic and her mother, Anna Hassoldt, was from Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  I have 3 younger sisters, Marianne, Maggie and Susan.

Plano, Texas
I left home in Denver when I was 18 to join the US Navy.  After the Navy, I worked awhile before attending Colorado State University.  In 1983, the company I was working for relocated me to the Dallas area.  In 1988, I began attending Water of Life Church in Plano where I became born again, baptized in water by emersion and eventually baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. I was able to attend the two years of the Water of Life Christian Training School and was trained by Water of Life Ministries as a volunteer chaplain at the Dallas County jails.

Luke 
My sons Luke and Paul are obviously brothers, but from different mothers.  Luke's mom is also a descendant of the Volga Germans. We got divorced after I moved to Texas.  I don’t have a lot of understanding about some of this other than…God wanted Luke for His purposes.

As Luke got older, he would come down to Texas by himself and spend the summer with Pam and me.  I recall one time when Pam and I were at work that Luke would ride a bicycle to Water of Life church each day to join the other saints in worship and prayer.  God instructed him to do this and for his obedience, he was able to receive Jesus and was born again.

This is when he really began to get a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of the Gospel that was ministered to him.  He eventually married Sadie (mother of their five sons) in Colorado and after several years, they moved to Plano in obedience to God with a new job in hand.  You can read Sadie’s testimonies about how she has the official documentation to trace her ancestry back to the Mayflower through her mother.  On her dad’s side, she is also related to the Volga Germans.

Luke is a minister of the gospel and will preach and minister the power of God to young people.  He was called by God for this purpose and is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling to bring this to fruition.  He will post testimonies about this as God directs on his Facebook page.

Paul 
Pam (Paul’s mom) moved to Texas from Wisconsin in March of 1983 which is the same month and year that I arrived from Colorado, even though we did not know each other at the time. Her family name is Frenz and both her dad and mom’s families came to North America directly from Germany in the late 1800's.

We were married in 1986 and as stated above, I started attending Water of Life Church in 1988.  Pam started attending with me a few years later.  Paul was born in 1993 and as with most of the other Water of Life Boys, has never been exposed to religious denominations.  He heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and experienced the power of God when he was yet in his mother’s womb.

The Water of Life Boys are all young men at the church who minister faith and the power of God through worship.  Paul is the lead singer and was called by God to minister faith and power with song.  They minister with piano accompaniment as well as singing along with anointed recordings led by Terry Mai. You can visit the "Water of Life Boys" page on Facebook.

As a side note, Terry Mai’s family, who were Lutheran, were also part of the Volga Germans who left Germany in the late 1700s’, lived in Russia for 100 years and ended up in Kansas in the late 1800’s.  Our two families lived in neighboring counties in Kansas.  However, we did not meet the Mai's until we were in Plano.

This writing is a testimony to give glory to God who saved a few thousand Germans from the destruction in Europe and planted their seed in North Texas to be ministers of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unless otherwise noted, all information was taken from the book "Conquering the Wind", by Amy Brungardt Toepfer and Agnes Dreiling and from the American Historical Society of  Germans from Russia at http://www.ahsgr.org. (Hold down the CTRL key to open this link in a separate window in your browser).

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