A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Dunkers
DUNKERS, a denomination which took its rise in the year 1724. It was founded by Conrad Peysel, a German, who, weary of the world, retired to an agreeable solitude within fifty miles of Philadelphia, for the more free exercise of religious contemplation. Curiosity attracted followers, and his simple and engaging manners made them proselytes. They soon settled a little colony, called Euphrata, in allusion to the Hebrews, who used to sing psalms on the border of the river Euphrates. They are said to derive their name from baptizing by immersion, which they perform thrice. And as they presented themselves to the ordinance in a peculiar manner, bowing forward, (perhaps kneeling in the water, as an act of worship,) they were in ridicule called Tumblers. This is the more probable, as it appears their baptism was accompanied with the laying of hands and prayer while in the water.
Their habit seems peculiar to themselves, consisting of a long tunic, or coat, reaching down to their feet, with a sash, or girdle, round the waist, and a cap, or hood, hanging from the shoulders, like the dress of the Dominican friars. The men do not shave the head or beard. The men and women have separate habitations and distinct governments. For these purposes, they have erected two large wooden buildings, one of which is occupied by the brethren, the other by the sisters of the society; and in each of them there is a banqueting-room, and an apartment for public worship; for the brethren and sisters do not meet together. They live chiefly upon roots and other vegetables; the rules of their society not allowing them flesh, except on particular occasions, when they hold what they call a love-feast; at which time the brethren and sisters dine together in a large apartment, and eat mutton, but no other meat. In each of their little cells they have a bench fixed, to serve the purpose of a bed, and a small black of wood for a pillow. The Dunkers allow of no intercourse between the brethren and sisters, not even by marriage.
The principal tenet of the Dunkers appears to be this: that future happiness is only to be attained by penance and outward mortifications in this life; and that as Jesus Christ by his meritorious sufferings became the redeemer of mankind in general, so, -each individual of the human race, by a life of abstinence and restraint, should work out his own salvation. They are charged with holding the doctrine of supererogation; they deny the eternity of future punishments, and believe that the souls of the just are employed to preach the gospel to those who have had no revelation in this life. They suppose the Jewish sabbath, sabbatical year, and year of jubilee, are typical of certain periods after the general judgment, in which the souls of those who are so far humbled as to acknowledge God and Christ, are received to felicity; while those who continue obstinate are reserved in torments until the grand period typified by the jubilee arrives, in which all shall be made eventually happy. They also deny the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity. So that they are general baptists and universalists. But they disclaim violence even in cases of self-defence, and suffer themselves to be defrauded or wronged rather than go to law; on which accounts they have been called the harmless Dunkers.
Their church governments and discipline are the same with those of the English Baptists, except that every brother is allowed to speak in the congregation; and their best speaker is usually ordained to be their minister. They have deacons and deaconesses from among their ancient widows and ex-horters, who are all licensed to use their gifts statedly.
- Caspipina's Lett. p. 70-72. Review of North America, vol. i. p. 225. Adams' 'Religious world displayed,' and Winchester's Dialogues.