The name Mennonite is derived from Menno Simons (c.1496–1561), Dutch reformer and organizer of the early congregations. Menno left the Catholic priesthood in 1536 to help gather together and rehabilitate the Dutch Anabaptists confused by the downfall of the revolutionary Anabaptist theocracy set up at Münster (c.1524–25). He soon became the movement's outstanding leader. The new movement restored the earlier evangelical form of Anabaptism practiced by the pacifistic Swiss Brethren (see Anabaptists).
Persecutions drove many of the Mennonites to Germany, where new congregations were formed. The movement spread also to France, Russia, and the Netherlands, where it became influential. The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, embodying the distinctive features of Mennonite belief, was issued (1632) in Holland. Mennonites in the United States have settled mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio (especially in the Amish Country centered on Lancaster co., Pa.) and the Middle West. The first permanent Mennonite settlement in America was made (1683) at Germantown, Pa., by a group from Krefeld, Germany. Mennonites from Switzerland, Russia, and other parts of Europe also emigrated in numbers to North America.