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Cornies, Johann (1789–1848)

Proper Title

Johann Cornies fonds

Dates of Creation

[183-?], [ca. 1974], [1985?]

Physical Description

1 cm of textual records

Biographical Sketch

Johann Cornies was born at Baerwalde near Danzig, Prussia on June 20, 1789 to Johann and Aganetha Cornies. The family migrated to Russia with in 1804. After a two-year sojourn at Chortitza, the Cornies family joined the new colony on the banks of the Molotschna, where they took over a homestead of 175 acres in the newly settled village of Ohrloff. Young Cornies began work as a labourer for a miller at Ohrloff for a year, and then three years he marketed farm produce from the settlement in the near-by cities of Simferopol, Feodosiya , and Sevastopol.

In 1811 Cornies married Agnes Klassen and the following year bought a homestead at Ohrloff and erected buildings. He soon recognized the favourable opportunities which the steppes presented for all kinds of agriculture, and began to breed sheep, renting the fallow-lying government lands for grazing.

Cornies eventually raised cattle and horses and cultivated both grain and trees. By 1847 his own livestock consisted of 500 horses, 8,000 sheep, and 200 head of cattle of Dutch stock.

Besides a 1350 acre estate (with 9000 acres leased from the government) on the Yushanlee River given him by the Czar for his contributions to agriculture, Cornies purchased Taschenak, an estate of 9450 acres near Melitopol; and ten years later another estate, Verigin, bordering on it, so that he was finally cultivating about 25,000 acres.

The government soon took note of Cornies’ large-scale achievements. By 1817 it had made the 28-year-old Cornies lifelong chairman of the Society for the Effective Promotion of Afforestation, Horticulture, Silk-Industry and Vine-Culture. The settlers of Chortitza also founded an agricultural society in which Cornies became influential by virtue of his position as authorized (governmental) agent over all the Mennonites.

Cornies worked at establishing industry, agriculture and forestry in the area. Cornies also trained Russians in agriculture, through the government. He invited Hutterites to the area and helped the government settle the nomadic Nogais people.

Cornies particularly insisted that the educational system of the Mennonites was in need of reform. In 1818 he founded the Society for Christian Education, which built its first secondary school in Ohrloff in 1820. He also began a library and created a reading circle. Until 1843 the schools of the Mennonites in Russia were controlled by the Church. As there were no trained teachers, farmer-teachers instructed the children. That year the schools were placed under the Society for Christian Education which was to co-operate with the church leaders. Cornies divided the Molotschna settlement into six school districts, planned for the improvement of the school buildings, dismissed a number of the most incompetent teachers, and insisted upon regular school attendance.

Cornies achieved more than any of his contemporaries in the realm of cultural and economic advancement among the Mennonites in Russia. In dealing with the opposition of religious leaders, ignorant farmers, or personal opponents he could be ruthless.

That he was able to carry through his mighty reforms in spite of opposition was due to the fact that as a representative of the authorities, he was endowed with almost unlimited powers and that he was self-sacrificing and upright in his dealings. A warm feeling of good will and a superb calmness marked his relationships with people. In spite of his great wealth and influence Cornies remained a plain Mennonite farmer. He died at the age of 59 on March 13, 1848.

Excerpts from the Mennonite Encyclopedia.

Custodial History

The history of the records in this collection is unavailable.

Scope and Content

The material in this collection consist of two items. The first item is an article on Cornies entitled “Biographie von Joannes Kornis”. Following the article are responses to it from various people found in Echo Viewpoints, May 8, 1974. The second item is of special interest. It is a copy of a handwritten document by Cornies entitled “Die Molotschner Mennoniten Kolonien werden Verwaltet”. Following is a letter from James Urry in 1985 to Harry Loewen regarding the transliteration of this document by Mrs. Voth, which is also included in this file. The document outlines the administrative orgainzation of the Molotschna Mennonite colony during the 1830s and 1840s. Much of the material is in German.


  • Volume 921.
  • Tile based on contents of the fonds.
  • Described by Conrad Stoesz September 23, 1999.
  • Accession nos: Unknown.
  • Location: Personal Collections – “C” – Johann Conies.
  • Related material:
  • The Peter J. Braun Russian Mennonite Archive 1803–1920, on microfilm at the Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg.

File List

Volume 921

1. “Vorbemerkung zur Biographie von Johannes Kornis”. – [ca. 1974].

  • “Johann Cornies Defended”, Responses to above by Peter B. Paetkau as found in Echo Viewpoints, May 18, 1974. – [ca. 1974].

2. “Die Molotschner Mennoniten Kolonien werden Verwaltet”. – [183-?], photocopied [ca. 1985].

  • Letter from James Urry to Harry Loewen 7/5/85. – 1985, photocopied [1985?].
  • Transliteration of “Die Molotschner Mennoniten Kolonien werden Verwaltet”, by Voth.
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