Benjamin Eby was a great-great-grandson of Jacob Eby, who was ordained bishop of the Mennonites at Zurich, Switzerland in 1663. Jacob’s son, Theodor us Eby, left Switzerland in 1704 to escape the persecution of the Mennonites that was going on there. This Eby family settled in Lancaster County Pennsylvania in 1715. Benjamin Eby’s older brother, Peter, served as bishop of the Mennonites in Lancaster County from 1800 ro 1843.
There is a family tradition that the Ebys, and many other Swiss Mennonite families, had originally been Waldensians Christians from the area of the Po valley in Italy and were of Celtic origin. They came to Switzerland in the 13th century to escape the persecution of the Waldenses.
On February 25, 1807, Benjamin Eby married Mary Brubacher and that same year they left Pennsylvania to make their home in Waterloo County, Ontario where some other Lancaster County Mennonites had begun settling around 1800. Benjamin was ordained minister of the Waterloo county Mennonites in 1809 and bishop in 1812. In both instances, his brother Peter came to perform the ordination.
Besides being a spiritual leader, Benjamin Eby was a farmer, school teacher, writer and historian. Whatever it would take to establish the families of his congregation and to serve their neighbours, he undertook to do. A town soon grew up around his farm, known at first as Ebytown. In 1833 it was renamed Berlin and in 1914 it became Kitchener.
He organized the first school in Waterloo county and taught in that school for many years. He compiled two German schoolbooks, combination grammar and readers. He compiled a German hymnal. He was also concerned that his English-speaking neighbours should have a clear explanation of the history and faith of the Mennonites, so his booklet entitled Origin and Doctrine of the Mennonites was made available in both German and English.
Benjamin Eby has been described as an effective preacher, having a profound knowledge of the Bible, an equally profound grasp of the spiritual needs of ordinarily people and the ability to bring the two together in a manner that touched the hearts of those who heard him. He was a meek and gentle man, a friend to all, yet a staunch defender of the faith.
He was sometimes called upon to help resolve difficulties and disputes in other Mennonite congregations in Ontario, in the Markham and Niagara areas. He always worked to establish and maintain peace among the brethren, yet never at the cost of compromising the faith that he loved and had promised to uphold.
Benjamin Eby, like Menno Simons, did not like the term Anabaptist, as it means re-baptisers. The Mennonite faith recognizes only one baptism, a baptism performed upon the confession of faith of one who has truly been born again. Benjamin Eby was not referring to the denominations now known as Baptist when he used that name, as those churches were virtually unknown in Ontario in his day.
Today, most of us accept the designation of Anabaptist to avoid confusion and because of the long history of the use of that name to describe people of our faith.