Feb. 3, 2006
The Ropp family is descended from Rupps who were among the
original Amish Mennonites. Jacob Amman's mother was Anna
Several male Rupps brought their families out of the Lake
Thun region of Bern (now a canton in Switzerland, the a
city-state in the Swiss Confederation) after 1692. This was
the result of the religious division between Jacob Amman and
more lenient Anabaptists. They went to the mining town of
Ste. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace. The French government
halted the increase in their numbers in 1712, and they
spread out to other locations. Most of the Ropps went to the
Principality of Salm, an enclave within Alsace. A minister
named Johannes Rupp (about 1740-1788) died in Alsace,
leaving his children orphans. One of them was Andreas Ropp
(a French variation of the spelling) 1776-1868.
Now this may not all seem relevant, but it is.
Andreas and the other children lost possession of their only
inheritance -- part ownership of a grist mill. He was force
to "work for strangers" (i.e. take work outside the Amish
Mennonite community) until his marriage in 1805 brought
land. But far from being prosperous, he suffered through the
Napoleonic Wars, the French occupation of Switzerland, the
'Little Ice Age' winters of 1814-1817, periodic epidemics,
In 1826 Andreas took his family to Philadelphia, with little
or no savings. He worked a year in Lancaster County, just
long enough to be paid for the working as a laborer on the
From there he moved on to the German Block of Wilmot
Township, Ontario. This was the 'low income housing' of the
day; the English government let settlers occupy lots for no
down payment, and promised later ownership if they would
build a house, cultivate, and clear a portion of road.
The settlers expected to buy adjoining lots at a low price,
and eventually own reasonably-sized farms. But the
government gave the back lots to a university, which raised
the asking price. In 1831-32 the Ropps and others moved
south to the Amish Mennonite communities in Butler County,
The Ropps lived in Ohio one year, where Andreas's wife died.
Presumably they cleared a farm, then sold it to buy land for
$1.25 an acre in Central Illinois.
They cleared a number of small areas above Morton, Illinois
before eventually settling in Elm Grove and Pekin. The sons
cleared timber and worked as teamsters hauling freight
during the construction of the railroad east of Pekin
To make a long story short, land in Illinois proved to be
incredibly fertile, and the Ropps prospered. Their fortunes
increased with the invention of the Deere plow that could
cut through hardbaked prairie topsoil -- making inexpensive
land suddenly valuable.
Two of the sons became Amish Mennonite elders (also called
bishops). One was Christian Ropp (1812-1896). He purchased
land for as little as 25 cents an acre and as much as $15 an
acre between 1837 and 1864. He was one of the first local
farmers to move out from the creeks and timberlands and onto
the prairie. He first farmed prairie land at White Oak
Township near Carlock, using a 10-oxen hitch and a plowshare
that he had smithed himself.
Although the use of labor-saving tools was hotly debated
among Illinois Amish Mennonites, the Ropps had already gone
through the adversities of clearing at least four
homesteads/farms with primitive hand tools. They never
objected to their use.
Christian's oldest son Christian Ropp Jr. (1837-1929) devised
the Commercial Calculator, which became a million-seller. He
moved to Chicago to be closer to his publishing interests,
and is buried there in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
I guess the point is, you could not find a pioneer family
that went through more hardships than the Ropps. It is not
surprising that an instrument that could make life easier
for farmers came out of their experiences.
They are such a good example of adversity and success that in
July the Ropps will be the first family chosen for what will
be an annual series on Illinois pioneers. Presentations are
to be given at the University of Illinois. It will coincide
with the annual reunion at the Mennonite Heritage Center in
Metamora, which brings 1,000-2,000 people each year.