Dunkers, Or Tunkers, a religious denomination founded in 1708, at Schwarzenau, Germany, by Alexander Mack and seven others, who, without any knowledge of the existence of other Baptists, were led by reading the Bible to the rejection of paedobaptism. The name Dunker or Tunker (from the German tunken, to dip) was originally given them as a nickname to distinguish them from the Men-nonites. They are also called Tumblers from their mode of baptism, which is by putting the person while kneeling head first under water. They are also called German Baptists, while they themselves take the name of Brethren. In Germany they established two societies in addition to the original congregation, but these were soon driven by persecution to Crefeld and Holland, while the congregation removed voluntarily to Friesland. Between 1719 and 1729 they all emigrated to America, to which the denomination has since been confined. They are most numerous in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. In 1859 they had 52 churches and about 8,000 members, since which there has been little change. Their church government is nearly the same as that of other Baptists, except that every brother is allowed to exhort.
When they find a man apt to teach, they choose him to be their minister, and ordain him by the laying on of hands, attended with fasting and prayer and giving the right hand of fellowship. They also have deacons and deaconesses. From among the teachers who have been tried they choose bishops. An elder among them is, in general, the first or oldest chosen teacher in a congregation which has no bishop. Their annual meeting in May is attended by the bishops, teachers, and other representatives chosen by the congregations. Important cases brought before these meetings are in general decided by a committee of five of the oldest bishops. They use great plainness of dress and language, like the society of Friends; and, like them, they neither take oaths nor fight. They will not go to law, and until lately the taking of interest on money was not allowed among them. They celebrate the Lord's supper, with accompanying usages of love feasts, the washing of feet, the kiss of charity, and the right hand of fellowship. They anoint the sick with oil for recovery, and use trine immersion, with laying on of hands and prayer, even while the person baptized is in the water.
They believe in general redemption, though it is with them not an article of faith. - From the Dunkers, as a sect, must be distinguished the Seventh Day Dunkers, also called the German Seventh Day Baptists. They were established by Conrad Beissel, a native of Germany, who had been educated for the ministry at Halle. When a member of the Dunker society at Muhl-bach (Mill Creek), Lancaster co., Pa., he published (1725) a tract to prove that the seventh day, and not the first day, was established by Jehovah for ever as the sabbath. This created some disturbance in the society, and he retired to a hermitage on the banks of the Cocalico. He was discovered and joined by many of the society at Mill Creek, who settled around him in isolated cottages, establishing the first community of Seventh Day Dunkers in 1728. In 1733 a monastic society was established, constituting, with the buildings subsequently erected by the community, the irregular enclosed village of Ephrata. The habit of the Capuchins or white friars was adopted by both the brethren and sisters. Monastic names were given to all who entered the cloister.
In 1740 there were 36 single brethren in the cloister and 35 sisters, and at one time the society, including the members living in the neighborhood, numbered nearly 300. The property which belonged to the society by donation, and the labor of the single brethren and sisters, were common stock; but none were obliged to throw in their own property or give up any of their possessions. They considered celibacy a virtue, but never required it, nor did they take any vows in reference to it. When two wished to be joined in wedlock, they were aided by the society. In the earlier days the idea of a universal restoration existed among them; but it has never been taught as an article of faith. About 1740, 40 years before the present general system of Sunday school instruction was introduced by Robert Raikes, Ludwig Hoecker (Brother Obed) established a Sunday school, which was maintained for upward of 30 years. After 1777 the society at Ephrata began to decline, and of the peculiar features of the early Seventh Day Dunkers few traces are now to be found there. A branch of the society was established in 1758 at the Bermudian creek, in York co., Pa., of which likewise but little is left. Another branch established in 1763 at Bedford still flourishes.
Their principal settlement is now at Snowhill, on the Antietam creek, in Franklin co., Pa.