Here, gathered in our beloved South Dakota, are a few members of our Williamson / Mattson Clan. Charles and Luella are to be blamed (be kind, they didn't know what they were doing). We're generally a happy bunch and somewhat intelligent (notwithstanding our tenuous grasp on reality). I'm also proud to say that most of us still have our teeth.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our 9th Great Grandfather, Hans Landis. A Mennonite Martyr

An Early Mennonite Preacher and his Wife

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Tonight we hold our virtual reunion inside the Fortress. We've got a powerful northwesterly wind blowing outside. There is no rain, just wind - and plenty of it.

Tonight we celebrate the sacrifice made by our 9th Great Grandfather, Hans Landis and introduce you to our ancestors from Switzerland. I'm please to find Swiss blood in my veins. I love Switzerland and wished my travels through Europe would have permitted more time spent in the beautiful Alps.

Hans Landis was a Swiss Brethren, an Anabaptists (Mennonites). He was beheaded for his religious convictions in Switzerland.

Mennonites Today

Let's begin with the Relationship Chart:

9th Great Grandparents.

Hans Landis b. 1578. d. September 29, 1614 married Elizabeth Erzinger b. 1582 in Zurich Switzerland. d. October 16, 1593. Zurich.
Jacob Landis married Barbara Buehler
Johannes Landis married Margaretha Nassen
Elizabeth Landis married Heinrich Henry Mohler
Salome Mohler married Martin Keller
Susanna Keller married Abraham Fiddler
Henry Fiddler married Frances George
Eldora Elizabeth Fiddler married Edwin Sherman Pierce
Walter Edwin Pierce married Vesta Althea Dennis
Violet Mae Pierce married Walter Albert Mattson
Luella Mae Mattson married Charles Williamson

And now, the life of this true Christian Martyr.


Hans Landis, our 9th Great Grandfather was a Swiss Brethren martyr, a preacher from Wadenswil in the canton of Zürich, Switzerland, was imprisoned in the Wellenberg in 1608. After a few months his fellow prisoners managed to release him from the chains, and all escaped. The others were soon captured, but Hans reached his native village. The Swiss government made another attempt to indoctrinate the Anabaptists (Mennonites) to win them to the state church. On 21 January 1613 the first meeting of the government with them took place at Wadenswil. It was fruitless, as was also the second one, held on 23 February. Thereupon Hans Landis was arrested and put in prison with five other Brethren. In early August negotiations were begun. Landis remained "stiff-necked." He refused to emigrate, saying that the earth was the Lord's; no one had authority to send them away out of the country; they were going to stay in Switzerland.

On 25 August 1613 all six Brethren were condemned to galley service and were to be delivered to the French minister at Solothurn on the next day. Once more they were given permission to emigrate, with a week's time to decide. Three wavered and consented; the others encouraged Landis to be faithful. These three (Hans Landis, Galli Fuchs, and Stephan Zehender) were taken to Solothurn and lodged in prison to await transport. In three days they escaped.

In December 1613 Hans Landis, having returned to minister to his flock, was again seized. In prison he wrote to his church and his friends. He asked his wife for the Doms-büchli (the Confessio of the martyr Thomas von Imbroich). He was questioned on the rack. On 29 September 1614 he was sentenced to death and was beheaded the next day. This was the last Anabaptist execution in Zürich.

Hans Landis had a stately figure, "a long black beard mixed with gray and a manly voice." The executioner asked his pardon for what he was about to do; Landis replied that "he had already forgiven him; may God also forgive him; he knew very well that he must carry out the government's orders." When his wife and children came to the place of execution with "sorrowful crying and mourning, to bid him at the end an eternal good night," he asked that they leave him, so that "his good resolution and his good courage for the death facing him might not be moved or hindered." In the Ausbund, No. 132, is a song of 46 stanzas commemorating his death. It begins "Ich hab ein schön neu Lied gemacht."

A letter written by a preacher of Zurich, dated July 19-29, 1659, describes the person and character of Hans Landis and the manner of his execution.
"Havavier Salr, was present at the decapitation of Hans Landis, which circumstance is still fresh in my memory, having witnessed it at the Wolfs-statt, and the whole transaction seems as vivid to me now as though it had transpired but a few weeks ago." In the sequel he describes his person and the manner of his death as follows: "Hans Landis was tall of stature, had a long black beard, a little gray, and a masculine voice. Being led out cheerfully with a rope, to Wolfs-statt the place of decollation, the executioner, Mr. Paul Volmar, let the rope fall, raised both hands to heaven, and said: O! God of mercy, to thee be it complained, that you, Hans have fallen into my hands: for God's sake forgive me for what I must do to you. Hans consoled the executioner, saying: I have already forgiven you, may God forgive you also: I am well aware that you must execute the sentence of the magistracy, be undismayed and see that nothing hinders you in this matter. Whereupon he was beheaded. The people were of the opinion that when the executioner let the rope go he wanted to give Hans an opportunity to escape; and moreover , it was a common saying that if he had run off no one would have pursued him."
The following, from credible witnesses may be added, namely;
that when the oft-mentioned Hans Landis was awaiting his doom at the place of execution, his wife and child came to him with tears and lamentation, to bid him a last farewell. But when he saw them he entreated them to depart, so that his resolution to meet his impending fate might not be shaken, and his tranquiltiy of mind disturbed by tears and sorrowing. This done, and having commended his soul to God, a stroke of the sword put a speedy termination to his life."
Although Hans Landis was the last person in that vicinity to be beheaded for religious convictions, persecutions did not cease with his death.

The Anabaptists were followers of Menno Simon and are commonly called Mennonites. Their tenets include the eschewing of infant baptism, refusal to take oaths, bear arms, or to fill civil offices, and the practice of humility. This constituted a challenge to the thinking of church-dominated governments and naturally called for suppression, in the exercise of which thousands lost their lives and liberty.

The farmers on the isolated hillsides along the western shore of Lake Zurich, including our Landis ancestors, were long a thorn in the side of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. They resisted the Reformed Church, the state Church of Switzerland. Finally when the residents refused to honor a property tax increase to pay for strengthening military forces in the canton, a massive military sweep was conducted in the mid 1640s. Residents were fined and imprisoned. The state also confiscated many of the farms. The revenue from these farms was held in trust to pay costs of imprisonment. Any residue was to be given back to heirs if they agreed to join the state church.

By mid-century most of the resources of the Anabaptists had been seized. Their leaders were either dead or imprisoned and emigration seemed the only recourse. It soon began on a massive scale and it is estimated that nearly 1700 Anabaptists fled Zurich after 1649.

Most of the descendants of Hans Landis, the martyr, died in prison or from harrassment by the authorities. Several of his grandchildren managed to immigrate from Switzerland and went to Alsace, paralleling the Rhine River, and at that time a part of Germany. Today Alsace is a part of France and that is why you sometimes see their heritage given erroneously as French.

This is a Anabaptist, Mennonite Hymn honoring our Great Grandfather and other martyrs.