NAFZIGER, CHRISTIAN, colonizer; b. 1776 in Bavaria (Federal Republic of Germany); m. Maria —, and they had three sons and two daughters; d. 13 April 1836 in Wilmot Township, Upper Canada.
The Nafzigers were members of the Amish Mennonite faith, which had its roots in the Anabaptist or radical wing of the Reformation. The Amish, generally considered the most traditional of the different Mennonite groups, took their name from Jacob Ammann, a Swiss Mennonite bishop under whose leadership they became a distinct group around 1700.
In late 1821 Christian Nafziger, a peasant farmer from near Munich, left his family in Bavaria and travelled to Amsterdam. With the help of Mennonite friends in Holland he set sail for Philadelphia in December 1821. Apparently blown off course, his ship reached New Orleans the following March. Travelling by river-boat up the Mississippi to Cincinnati, he made his way to Pennsylvania, the home of a considerable colony of Mennonites. With land there becoming expensive, his friends suggested that he try the Canadas, where cheaper land was presumably available.
Having been supplied with additional funds and a means of conveyance, Nafziger arrived in Upper Canada in August 1822. With the assistance of a few Mennonites in Waterloo County, led by Jacob Erb, application was made to Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland* at York (Toronto) for land in Lincoln County for approximately 70 Amish families. On 4 September the Executive Council approved the request in principle. Nafziger immediately returned to Europe via New York and London, where he supposedly had an audience with King George IV to confirm the grant.
In early 1824, in response to a petition submitted by Erb on Nafziger’s behalf, land was set aside for the new immigrants in present-day Wilmot Township and was surveyed by John Goessman. The “German Block,” as it became known, consisted of 200-acre lots along either side of three parallel roads running west of the main Mennonite settlement. Each family was to receive 50 acres of free land, provided a house was built and land cleared for a roadway fronting the property. The remaining 150 acres of each lot could be purchased later.
The Amish began arriving in 1824. Nafziger did not return until 1826, when he took up residence on lot 6, north of Bleam’s Road. He had brought his wife and children with him. Also accompanying him on the voyage was Bishop Peter Nafziger, who would serve as bishop (elder) of the Amish congregation, the first in Canada, until his emigration to Ohio in 1831.
In 1828 the 150-acre sections of the block were transferred to King’s College, the provincially supported university, which set a high price on the land. Christian Nafziger and the German settlers subsequently complained to the commissioner of crown lands, Peter Robinson, who in January 1830 instructed the surveyor Samuel Street Wilmot to inspect the block and report on land values and the number of inhabitants entitled to consideration. The following month Wilmot reported that 55 “very industrious and peaceable Dutch settlers” from Germany and Pennsylvania had cleared 1,197 acres. He recommended that the 150-sections should be sold at reasonable prices to the original settlers who had fulfilled the conditions of their grants and that speculators should be compelled to give up their land within the settlement. Confusion evidently remained, for in 1832 the issue of the deed to Nafziger’s 150-acre section was complicated by the college’s title.
Little is known of Nafziger’s personal life or character. He was, it is clear, a rather adventurous person, willing to risk leaving his family, indebting himself, and launching on a dangerous journey. Although interested in bettering his lot, he included other members of his faith in his intent. His action opened to others of his native land the door to the possibility of a better life in the New World.
The wave of Amish immigration set off by Nafziger’s explorations was not long contained in the “German Block” but spilt over into Perth, Oxford, and Huron counties. Nor were the new German immigrants all Amish. Roman Catholics and Lutherans hailing from the same areas of Europe as the Amish soon followed them to Upper Canada. Although these early settlers differed in their religious beliefs, they had much in common culturally, and their descendants have lived and worked side by side for generations.
AO, RG 1, A-I–6: 9505–6; C-IV, Wilmot Township, lot 5, North Erb Street. PAC, RG 1, E2, 20; L3, 208a: G15/42; 209: G16/8. Canada Museum, and Allgemeine Zeitung (Berlin [Kitchener, Ont.]), 28 April, 5 May 1836. L. J. Burkholder, A brief history of the Mennonites in Ontario . . . ([Toronto], 1935). Orland Gingerich, The Amish of Canada (Waterloo, Ont., 1972). B. M. Dunham, “Mid-European backgrounds of Waterloo County,” OH, 37 (1945): 59–70.