Amish History

Amish People and their history before and after coming to America

Who are the Amish? The Amish are a Christian religious group that stresses humility, family, community and separation from the rest of the world. How did they end up in America? Amish immigrants began coming to the American colonies in the early eighteenth century, settling in Pennsylvania as a result of William Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. Today, more than 250,000 Amish live in the U.S. with settlements in as many as 28 states.

Why don’t they use modern technology?
The Amish church controls both the personal and religious lives of their people. This includes deciding what language they speak, what clothes they wear, what hairstyles they sport, and what kind of transportation and technology they may use. How are the Amish Organized? Unlike most Christian denominations, the Amish are organized on a local level. Each church is independent of the others and practices vary from group to group. For example, riding a bike is acceptable to some, unacceptable to others. This is because some Amish communities are stricter and more conservative, the largest and most conservative group being the Old Order Amish. In keeping with the belief that they should remain separate from the rest of society, the Amish forbid the use of electricity and other modern inventions such as the automobile. Although they can ride in a car as a passenger, the Amish are not allowed to drive or own any motorized vehicles.

What is Rumspringa? Rumspringa is a Pennsylvania Dutch term that means “running around.” The word also refers to the Amish rite of passage in which many Amish teens aged 16 and older are given the freedom to explore the outside “English” world before deciding whether to get baptized and join the Amish church or to continue living life in modern society. The Amish in America live a mostly peaceful, idyllic life. but it wasn’t always like that. The early years were often filled with persecution and turmoil. The Amish trace their origins back to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s. In 1525, a group of Christians decided that Martin Luther’s attempts to reform the Catholic Church didn’t go far enough. They didn’t want a reformation, they wanted to make a brand-new start based on their interpretation of the Bible. A key symbol of this change was to believe in adult baptism rather than the infant baptism practice by most Christians of the time. Since most of them had already been baptized as infants, this group became known as the Anabaptists a term meaning “re-baptizers” Other basic beliefs of the group included separation of church and state, that congregations can choose their own pastors, a rejection of military service, no swearing of oath’s or loyalties into shunning of excommunicated church members. Because this new way of thinking was so radical neither Catholics or Protestants approved. Anabaptist who didn’t recant Lees were often jailed, tortured and even killed. The group might have died out quickly if not for Menno Simons, who began leading the group in 1536 under his guidance, Anabaptists organize and began to grow. As a result the largest group of Anabaptists became known by his name the Mennonites. Persecution continued, leading the Mennonites to settle in the palitinate area of Germany, Switzerland and eventually Holland.

One of the friends of the Dutch Mennonites was the great Renaissance artist, Rembrandt. In 1693 Mennonite name Jacob Ammann caused controversy when he accused fellow Mennonites of having allowed themselves to become too much like non-believers in their attempt to avoid persecution. He also felt they had strayed from biblical teachings outlined by Menno Simons, such as communal footwashing and shunning of ex believers. Ammon and a group of people who agreed with him split from the Mennonites to follow those typical teachings. They added a strict dress code that would distinguish them from non-believers. Not much is known about Ammon excepted he held strong convictions and was a charismatic leader. The people who joined him became known by a derivative of his last name, the Amish. It was at about this same time that the Anabaptists heard about an experimental colony in the New World, run by William Penn, where people of all faiths could follow their beliefs without fear of persecution.

The first Anabaptists sailed for the New World in 1683 the first Amish arrived in Pennsylvania in 1707. Most of the Amish who settled in Pennsylvania arrived between 1707 and 1756 a second wave of Amish immigrants settled in Kansas from 1815 to 1860. From Pennsylvania, the Amish moved to Ohio and eventually Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Since moving to America, the Amish have had several disagreements that led to splits. In 1854, a disagreement over rules and regulations led a group the form the new order Amish, or Amish Mennonites those who follow the original rules became known as the old order Amish. In 1880 the Amish Mennonites split, forming the conservative Mennonites. In 1928, the old order Amish split over the question of the evening evangelism and modern conveniences, leading to the formation of the Beachy Amish.

Meanwhile back in Europe after nearly 200 years of separation, the Amish Mennonites once again joined under the named Mennonites. Amish families have lived in Indiana for more than 160 years. The first four Amish families to settle in Indiana arrived on June 29, 1841. Those families, a total of 24 people, came from Somerset Pennsylvania the families were those of Joseph Bontreger, Joseph Miller and Daniel Miller. To avoid swampy areas in northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana, day detoured through Michigan and arrived in Indiana from the North. Two families settled near Middlebury, and two near Goshen. By that fall, four more families arrived and the Amish continued to migrate to Indiana over the next several years.

The first Amish church service in Indiana was held on Easter Sunday, 1842. The Amish population in Northern Indiana is estimated at nearly 35,000. Most of those about 26,000, live in Lagrange and eastern Elkhart counties. About 5000 live in the Nappanee area. Some people estimate that 30 to 40% of Lagrange County is Amish. In 2001 there were about 134,000 Amish in the United States and that number will probably grow since about 75% of Amish children choose to remain Amish once they’re grown that’s a significant number since Amish families have an average of seven children. Thanks for permission to print from: Diamond Design – Heartland directory of Amish businesses.