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EBY, BENJAMIN, farmer, Mennonite minister, bishop, educator, and author; b. 2 May 1785 at a homestead on Hammer Creek, Lancaster County, Pa, son of Christian Eby and Catharine Bricker; m. first 25 Feb. 1807 Mary Brubacher (d. 1834), and they had eight sons and three daughters; m. secondly Magdalena Erb, widow of Abraham Erb*; they had no children; d. 28 June 1853 in Berlin (Kitchener), Upper Canada.

Benjamin Eby, the sixth son and eleventh child of German-speaking Mennonites, “received a fair common school education” while working on the farm and in his father’s cooperage. He was among the minority of Mennonites in Pennsylvania who were unhappy at the prospect of remaining under American rule in the aftermath of the revolutionary war, and in 1806 visited Upper Canada to inspect the land in Waterloo Township that fellow Mennonites Daniel Erb and Samuel Bricker had purchased from Richard Beasley* on behalf of the German Company. After claiming lot 2 of the Beasley Tract he went back to Pennsylvania to marry and then, in the company of other settlers, returned to Upper Canada, reaching his homestead on 21 June 1807. The role he played as a founder and leading citizen of the community was reflected in its being named Ebytown, or Ben Eby’s, in his honour.

Although farming was always to be the chief source of Eby’s livelihood, soon after his return to the province he became involved in the affairs of the pioneer settlement. After being ordained first as minister (27 Nov. 1809) and then as bishop (11 Oct. 1812) at ceremonies presided over by his brother Peter, a bishop from Pennsylvania, he was instrumental in erecting in 1813 the village’s first meeting-house for religious worship, and two years later a frame annex to serve as a schoolhouse. Ben Eby’s Church, as it was known during the bishop’s lifetime, began with a membership of some 150. As the years went by he donated some of his own land to expand the church’s holdings, including its first cemetery. As bishop he left his mark not only on the town but on the whole county, where all Mennonite congregations were under his supervision. He was a leader of the church conferences which emerged in the province during his lifetime. When the Niagara and Markham districts were without bishops he presided over the election of new ones and officiated at their ordinations. A family tradition that Benjamin’s parents had decided he should become a teacher seems to have been fulfilled in the winter of 1818–19 when he began a teaching career that, with some interruptions, was to last until the early 1840s.

Eby made a major contribution to the Mennonite church and to the preservation of German-language education in the province through a number of published works. In 1836, in an effort to enrich the church’s worship and congregational life in general while respecting the various traditions of its adherents, he compiled a hymn-book called Die Gemeinschaftliche Liedersammlung. Reprinted several times in both Canada and the United States, it was in use until the end of the century. His first original work was a primer, Neues Buchstabir- und Lesebuch, published in 1839. Other works of a religious and educational nature followed, including his most important book, Kurzgefasste Kirchen Geschichte (1841), a study of the Mennonite church’s history and doctrine.

Apart from his roles as family man and farmer, and as preacher and teacher, Eby was a promoter of the general good. He was frequently called on to offer his counsel and he occasionally adjudicated community disputes. Business involvements included the donation of some of his own land to two men in need of a property on which to establish a furniture factory, generous support of the printer Heinrich Wilhelm Peterson, and the sale of land in 1833 to Friedrich Gaukel for an inn. That sale was among the first on record to refer to the town as Berlin, a change of name traditionally attributed to the bishop.

Eby also found time to look beyond his community by corresponding with church leaders in Europe, as well as in America, and thereby establishing and cultivating international connections. His biggest contribution, however, was in his own community where he raised a large family (his son Christian succeeded him as minister), promoted a diversified economy, established a broadly based religious worship, introduced elementary school education, and inaugurated a literary tradition which served many generations.

Frank H. Epp

[Benjamin Eby’s work as educator and clergyman is reflected in his publications. He wrote Neues Buchstabir- und Lesebuch . . . (1st ed., Berlin [Kitchener, Ont.], 1839); a speller entitled Fibel zu den ersten Lese-Uebungen (Berlin, [1839?]), a second edition of which was published there in 1843; Kurzgefasste Kirchen Geschichte und Glaubenslehre der Taufgesinnten-Christen oder Mennonisten (Berlin, 1841); and a second primer, ABC- Buchstabir- und Lesebuch, zum Gebrauch fuer Deutsche Schulen in Canada (2nd ed., Berlin, 1842). In addition to compiling Die Gemeinschaftliche Liedersammlung . . . (1st ed., Berlin, 1836), he published an edition of a popular German Mennonite catechism, [Gerhard Roosen], Christliches Gemüths Gespräch . . . (Berlin, 1839). He subsequently arranged for the first English edition of this work, which was published under the title Christian spiritual conversation on saving faith . . . (Lancaster, Pa., 1857), and may even have been the translator. His correspondence with churchmen abroad resulted in the publication of some of their letters to him in Briefe an die Mennonisten Gemeine, in Ober Canada, mit einer Zugabe (Berlin, 1840) and Zweyter Brief aus Dänemark an die Mennonisten Gemeine in Canada (Berlin, 1841).  f.h.e.]

AO, RG 22, ser.211, Benjamin Eby. Guelph Advertiser (Guelph, [Ont.]), 7 July 1853. E. E. Eby and J. B. Snyder, A biographical history of early settlers and their descendants in Waterloo Township, with Supplement, ed. E. D. Weber (Kitchener, 1971). The Mennonite encyclopedia: a comprehensive reference work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement (4v., Hillsboro, Kans., 1955–59). F. H. Epp, Mennonites in Canada, 1786–1920: the history of a separate people (Toronto, 1974). J. B. Cressman, “Bishop Benjamin Eby,” Waterloo Hist. Soc., Annual report, 1941: 152–58; “History of the First Mennonite Church of Kitchener, Ontario,” Mennonite Quarterly Rev. (Goshen, Ind.), 13 (1939): 159–86. Daily Telegraph (Berlin), 19 May 1906: 1–2. M. [L]. Gingerich, “Mennonite leaders of North America: Benjamin Eby (1785–1853),” Gospel Herald (Scottsdale, Pa.), 58 (1965): 178. I. D. Landis, “Bishop Peter Eby of Pequea, 1765–1843,” Mennonite Quarterly Rev., 14 (1940): 41–51.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Frank H. Epp, “EBY, BENJAMIN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 27, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/eby_benjamin_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/eby_benjamin_8E.html
Author of Article:   Frank H. Epp
Title of Article:   EBY, BENJAMIN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   May 27, 2024