Brethren Historical Library and Archives

Hidden gems: The First Brethren Preacher in North America – Peter Becker

by Keith S. Morphew

Peter Becker's house
Photo by Jeff Bach
Peter Becker House in Dudelsheim, Germany.

Alexander Mack was the founder of the Brethren faith, but Peter Becker was the first Brethren preacher to minister in America. His story begins in Dudelsheim, Germany where he and his wife, Anna were baptized as adults by Johannes Naas. Brethren refugees had been tolerated in the area previously, but as subjects of the local authority the Beckers’ baptism was much less tolerable, and soon all religious dissenters were ordered to leave the region. The Beckers then moved to Krefeld, where Peter became a leader in the recently formed Brethren congregation.

The Brethren community at Krefeld enjoyed a close relationship with the already established Mennonite community, and benefited greatly from the religious tolerance they had already engendered. However, internal disagreements soon led to many members leaving for Pennsylvania, Becker included. Upon arrival, Becker continued in his lay profession as a weaver for a few years before taking the lead in an effort to revive the stagnating congregation.

Becker’s efforts were successful, and the 20 Brethren families spent the next year or so taking turns holding meetings in their houses until 1723, when a group of six persons requested to be baptized into the faith; this posed something of a problem as the Germantown group had not yet fully organized as a congregation. Their response was to call Peter to be their minister, a call he graciously accepted and fulfilled by baptizing all six on Christmas Day, 1723. Immediately following this, the congregation held their first Love Feast together (also the first Brethren Love Feast in North America)

Peter Becker's tombstone
Courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives
Peter Becker memorial and tombstone

Under Peter Becker’s direction the Germantown congregation flourished, although there were disagreements and even a schism within the recently created Conestoga congregation (which would later become the Ephrata Cloister), there remained a strong Brethren presence by the time that Alexander Mack arrived in 1729. Becker deferred to Mack, who tried to reunite the Germantown and the breakaway Conestoga Brethren, but ultimately failed. Becker resumed the responsibilities of leadership following Mack’s death in 1735 and continued to be active until his death in 1758. A humble man, he did not want his gravesite to be marked, but acquiesced to his family’s wishes by allowing a fieldstone with his name and date of death to be placed over his resting place. In time, the stone sunk into the field, but it was later found when the foundations for a memorial marker for him commissioned by Abraham H. Cassel (the last living person to remember where he was buried) were dug.