← Back to Personal Papers

Friesen, Peter M. (1849–1914)

Proper Title

Peter M. Friesen fonds

Dates of Creation

1897, 1902, 1909, 1912, [191-?], 1974, photocopied [198-?], [ca. 1998]

Physical Description

7 cm of textual records

Biographical Sketch

Peter Martin Friesen—minister, educator, and Mennonite historian of South Russia—was born at Sparrau, Ukraine, on April 20, 1849. After graduating from the Zentralschule in Halbstadt, he studied in Switzerland and later in Odessa and Moscow, where he mastered Russian. At the age of 16, he joined the young Mennonite Brethren Church (1866). As a young man, he lost his faith under the influence of rationalism; but by God's grace, he returned to his faith in Christ and remained faithful to the end.

In 1884, he was ordained as an MB minister. In 1902, he wrote the Confession of Faith of the MB Church. He married Susanna Fast and together they had six children, Susie (1874-), Agatha (1878–1894), Haenschen (1881 or 1882 – as a child), Olga (1885-), Paul (1888–1978), and unknown (died at age three).

From 1873–1886, Friesen taught in the Zentralschule in Halbstadt, and as principal 1880–1886. Thanks to his efforts, the first teacher training institute among the Mennonites of Russia was opened there in 1878. After leaving the teaching profession in 1886, he spent most of his time in Mennonite communities in the Kuban (1886–1888), Odessa, and Moscow.

After a serious illness and long convalescence, he moved to Sevastopol, where, for 13 years, he ministered in a Russian evangelical church and opened his home as a meeting place for Mennonite students. He served here also as a private tutor. On a number of occasions, because of his command of Russian, he acted as Mennonite representative before the Russian Government, fearlessly defending their civil and their religious interests.

Friesen became widely known as a philanthropist and defender of the weak and oppressed, especially during the pogroms against the Jews, and the persecution of the Russian Stundists. His greatest lifework, however, on which he spent 25 years, is the Die Alte-Evangelische Mennonitische Bruderschaft in Russland (1789–1910) im Rahmen der Mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte (Halbstadt, Taurida, 1911). It contains a valuable collection of documents that serves as a source book for much historical research.

Friesen finally moved to Moscow, where his home again became a centre for the young Mennonites studying there. His later years were spent in Tiege on the Molotschna, handicapped by almost total blindness.

He was a gifted and fiery speaker, but not a popular one; his sermons often went over the heads of most of the people. In castigating evil, he could be very sharp; in general, he was courageous and unafraid. At conferences, he occasionally spoke with vigor. As a preacher, he sought to reduce the tensions and bring about co-operation between the Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren, who were often sharply opposed to each other in the second half of the century. He died in 1914.

Custodial History

Very little is known about the history of these records. The most recent accession of this collection, the marketing brochure for Friesen’s new book, came to the Centre in 1998 as a photocopy from the John Horsch collection found in the Mennonite Historical Library of Goshen Indiana. The translation of Friesen’s Ein Mennonitischer Schächer (A Mennonite Criminal) was done by CMBS volunteer Ed Lenzmann.

Scope and Content

While P.M. Friesen was a very prominent Mennonite leader, not much is known about his personal life. What the Centre does have consists of material written by Friesen either as published booklets, pamphlets, or letters. Many of the materials in this collection are photocopies.


  •   Volume 949.
  •   Title based on the contents of the fonds.
  •   Described by Conrad Stoesz, September 23, 1999; updated by Conrad Stoesz,  December 12, 2006.
  •   Accession nos. Unknown, 1998–48.
  •   Related material:
    • Zionsbote, May 14, 1902, p.2–3; December 30, 1914, p.5.
    • Friesen, P.M., Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland 1789–1910, Halbstadt, Taurien: Verlagsgesellschaft Raduga, 1911.
    • Friesen, P.M., translated by J.B. Toews et. al., The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789–1910), Fresno, California: Board of Christian Literature General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978.

File List

Volume 949

  1. Biographical items from various sources. -- [191-?], 1974, [198-?].
  2. Copies of letters from P.M. Friesen published in the Zionsbote. Photocopied [198-?]. Note: Some have been transliterated and translated. -- 1902, [198-?].
  3. Copies of the 1st and 2nd editions of P.M. Friesen’s “Ein Mennonitischer Sächer: Drie briefe von Prediger P.M. Friesen.” Also included is a translation by Ed lenzmann of the book. A portion of the translation was used in the Mennonite Brethren Herald, Nov. 3, 2006. -- 1902, [198-?].
  4. Friesen, P.M., Konfession oder Sekte?, Halbstadt, Russia. Photocopied [198-?]. Note: 2 published copies and three reproductions. -- 1914.
  5. Manuscript “Abscrift und Auszeugegen Material zur Geschichte der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde Gesammelt und mit Anmerkungen geschrieben von P.M. Friesen.” Note: This is a portion of the original handwritten manuscript of Friesen’s Die Alt-Evangelische . -- 1897.
  6. Photocopy of above. -- [198-?].
  7. Nine reviews of P.M. Friesen’s book Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Rußland, 1789–1910, put together as a marketing brochure. Photocopied [1998]. -- 1912.
← Back to Personal Papers