College of Arts and Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)


Allen York


Civil War, Shenandoah Valley, Dunkers, German Baptist Brethren, Conscientious Objector


History | History of Christianity


The German Baptist Brethren, Dunkers, were a Pietist sect which organized in the Palatinate region of the German lands in central Europe in 1708. The sect was founded upon the structure of the Apostolic, or Primitive, Christian Church. The founder, Alexander Mack, was strongly engaged with the theology of the Pietist movement and taught that the structure of the Christian life must be firmly founded in scripture with Mathew 5 proscribing the elemental principles of the sect. The Brethren practiced adult, believers, baptism and firmly adhered to core peace principles as interpreted from Mathew 5. Increasing persecution forced the two small groups of Brethren from the Palatinate within a couple of years. The Brethren subsequently immigrated to Pennsylvania in two migrations, settling in the vicinity of Germantown during the 1720s. The peace principles of non-violence/ non-resistance became a core element of the theology of the Brethren from the earliest founding. These peace principles prohibited participation in militia drilling, enlistment in the military, or even physical self-defense. These principles created extreme difficulties for the Brethren during the American Revolution, contributed to a stronger dedication to separatism, and a subsequent migration west and south. A large number of German Baptist Brethren settled in the Valley of Virginia, (the Shenandoah Valley), and south throughout Southwest Virginia in the years following the American Revolution. Here they formed close knit farming communities, planted new congregations, and lived semi-separatist lives centered on the core peace church theology. The Brethren were staunchly opposed to slavery and prohibited membership in the church to slaveholders. The American Civil War brought extreme difficulty for a peace principle population who refused to muster into either army. The conscription laws passed by the Confederate government placed the Brethren in the south in a situation where they could either adhere to the laws of man or the laws of God. The Brethren chose the laws of God and refused military service. The Christian mission of the Brethren led them to give aid to any man, regardless of church membership, who chose to not participate in carnal warfare. This Christian mission soon led the German Baptist Brethren to become key figures in the development and organization of the Unionist Underground Railroad. The stalwart of faith, peace church Brethren willingly accepted the potential consequences of aiding deserters and conscription evaders who sought to escape the Confederate army and cross Union lines.