Amish

Amish convicted in beard-cutting attacks

16 members of a dissident Amish group in Ohio are convicted of federal hate crimes and conspiracy for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of fellow Amish with whom they had religious differences. The government classified the ruthless attacks as hate crimes because beards and ...read more


The Amish: history, beliefs, practices, conflicts, etc.

There is no consensus on exactly where the Amish fit within Christianity:

The Amish movement was founded in Europe by Jacob Amman (

1720 CE), from whom their name is derived. In many ways, it started as a reform group within the Mennonite movement -- an attempt to restore some of the early practices of the Mennonites.

The beliefs and practices of the Amish were based on the writings of the founder of the Mennonite faith, Menno Simons (1496-1561), and on the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. The Amish who split from Mennonites generally lived in Switzerland and in the southern Rhine river region. During the late 17th century, they separated because of what they perceived as a lack of discipline among the Mennonites.

Some Amish migrated to the United States, starting in the early 18th century. They initially settled in Pennsylvania. Other waves of immigrants became established in New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri Ohio, and other states.

The faith group has attempted to preserve the elements of late 17th century European rural culture. They try to avoid many of the features of modern society, by developing practices and behaviors which isolate themselves from American culture.

James Hoorman writes about the current status of the Amish movement:

"In America, the Amish hold major doctrines in common, but as the years went by, their practices differed. Today, there are a number of different groups of Amish with the majority affiliated with four orders: Swartzengruber, Old Order, Andy Weaver, and New Order Amish. Old Order Amish are the most common. All the groups operate independently from each other with variations in how they practice their religion and religion dictates how they conduct their daily lives. The Swartzengruber Amish are the most conservative followed by the Old Order Amish. The Andy Weaver are more progressive and the New Order Amish are the most progressive." 2

Membership in the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church and other Amish denominations is not freely available. They may total about 180,000 adults spread across 22 states, including about 45,000 in Ohio and smaller numbers in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, etc. About 1,500 live in south-western Ontario, in Canada.

Almost all members are born into and raised in the faith. Converts from outside of the Amish communities are rare. Some Amish groups have a very restricted gene pool and are experiencing several inherited disorders.


Amish Origins

Amish roots stretch back to the time of the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe. Their religious ancestors were called Anabaptists (rebaptizers) because they baptized adults who had previously been baptized as infants in a Catholic or Protestant church.

Civil and religious authorities were threatened by the rapid spread of Anabaptist groups. Over several decades, nearly 2,500 Anabaptists burned at the stake, drowned in rivers, starved in prisons, or lost their heads to the executioner’s sword. The harsh persecution pushed many Anabaptists underground and into rural hideaways.

About 160 years after the beginning of the Anabaptist movement, Jakob Ammann converted to Anabaptism and became a leader in the Swiss Anabaptist church. He eventually moved to the Alsatian region of present-day France as part of a wave of Anabaptist emigration to avoid Swiss persecution.

In 1693, Ammann sought to revitalize the Anabaptist movement. He proposed holding communion twice a year rather than once, as was the typical Swiss practice. He also suggested that Christians, in obedience to Christ, should wash one another’s feet in the communion service. To promote doctrinal purity and spiritual discipline, Ammann forbade the trimming of beards and the wearing of fashionable dress. He administered a strict discipline in his congregations. Appealing to New Testament teaching and the practice of Dutch Anabaptists, Ammann also advocated shunning excommunicated members. This issue drove a divisive wedge between his followers and other Anabaptists living in Switzerland and Alsace.

Ammann’s followers, eventually known as Amish, became a distinctive group in the Anabaptist family. As religious cousins, the Amish and Mennonites share a common Anabaptist heritage. Since the division in 1693, however, they have remained distinctive communities. When Amish and Mennonites arrived in North America in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, they often settled in similar geographical areas.

Additional information

  • Steven M. Nolt, A History of the Amish. 3rd ed. (New York: Good Books, 2015).
  • John D. Roth, trans. and ed., Letters of the Amish Division: A Sourcebook (Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1993).

About the site

The Amish population statistics are updated annually in the summer. Other information is updated periodically.

For more in-depth discussion about the Amish:

Authors: Donald Kraybill, Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steven Nolt (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013 paperback, 2018)

Recent books


American Experience

Although the first Amish arrived in America in the mid 1700s, the European Anabaptist movement began well before that, in 1525, as a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation. Anabaptists differed from other Christians most significantly in two things: they practiced adult baptism, which went against the beliefs of Catholics and other Protestants at the time, and they insisted on a "free Church" separate from state interference. In the late 1600s, Anabaptist leader Jacob Ammann and his followers promoted "shunning" and other religious innovations, which ultimately led to a split among the Swiss Anabaptists into Mennonite and Amish branches in 1693.

William Penn confers with colonists, courtesy: Library of Congress

The population of North American Amish grew slowly in the 18th- and 19th-centuries. They began thriving after the middle of the 20th century, and today their population has swelled to more than a quarter of a million people in nearly 2,000 church districts. While each church community follows its own unique lifestyle guidelines, all Amish groups have an Ordnung -- a set of unwritten behavioral regulations that members must follow. These rules vary by church district but they usually limit and ban certain technologies, and restrict interaction with the outside world. Baptism into the Amish church is not only a commitment to the faith but also a commitment to uphold the Ordnung.

1682
William Penn arrives in America on the ship Welcome and founds Pennsylvania. A Quaker, Penn promotes religious freedom in the colony that he creates as his "holy experiment." Pennsylvania will become a refuge for both Native Americans and people of various religious denominations who are being persecuted elsewhere.

1683
Thirteen German Mennonite families arrive in Pennsylvania seeking religious freedom. They found Germantown six miles north of Philadelphia.

1737
The Charming Nancy sets sail for North America from the Netherlands with 21 Amish families. Over the next three decades, about 100 families will make the crossing.

1749
Jacob Hertzler, the first well-known Amish bishop in North America settles in Northkill Creek, in Berks County north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1807
Over the next 50 years, 3,000 Amish will immigrate to North America from Europe.

1809
Amish begin settling in eastern Ohio, farming side by side with the Native Americans already there. Twenty five years later, this community will consist of approximately 250 Amish families.

1844
Communities in Pennsylvania and around the country establish one-room public schools, which typically run through the eighth grade with one teacher for all students. In many areas, Amish and English children attend the same schools and leave around age 14 to work on their family farms.

June 1862
Amid Amish settlements, various churches debate over dress code, separation from society, and use of technology such as photography. The intensifying debates culminate in the first all-church Amish ministers' conference in Wayne County, Ohio (Diener-Versammlung), which will occur almost annually until 1878.

1865
The more conservative Amish depart this year's Diener-Versammlung dissatisfied and trigger a gradual but major division within Amish communities in North America. For the first time, the more conservative flank becomes known as "Old Order" Amish because they cling to the Old Ordnung. The more progressive Amish become Amish-Mennonites, and slowly over several decades become assimilated into Mennonite churches.

1865-1866
The Egly Amish form under Bishop Henry Egly from Adams County, Indiana. Egly mixes evangelical sentiments with the beliefs of the Amish, promoting personal conversion, and takes a more personal authority over the congregation.

1872-1878
The Stuckey Amish form under bishop Joseph Stuckey from McLean County, Illinois. They allow excommunicated members from other communities to join, are more relaxed in their restrictions, and believe God will save all of humanity regardless of religious affiliation.

1876
The telephone is invented by Alexander Graham Bell. The Bell Telephone Company will be founded a year later.

A 1909 headline in Utah's Ogden Standard, courtesy: Library of Congress

Early 1900s
About 1.4 million telephones are in service across the country, including some in Amish homes. "Party lines" are shared by multiple families, and several Amish groups begin debating the dangers that home telephones present to the community.

At this time, the Amish population in America numbers around 6,000 and over the next 30 years it will more than double. While still concentrated in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, new Amish settlements are growing in Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma and Delaware.

1908
Henry Ford's Model T car debuts, and will rapidly gain popularity in the coming years.

1909-1910
About 20 percent of the Old Order church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania break away and form a new Peachey group, which will later join the Beachy Amish. The new Amish group does not agree with the Old Order's ban on telephones in the home and the strict shunning policy.

1910s
Old Order Amish communities across North America decide, over several years, to forbid telephones in their homes, although using a public telephone is permitted.

They also gradually begin to ban the ownership of automobiles, citing the risk that car ownership would encourage urban contacts and pull their community apart. Most Amish can still ride in a car as passengers under certain circumstances, but they may not own or drive one.

April 6, 1917
The United States enters World War I.

A 1918 headline, courtesy: America's Historical Newspapers

Late Spring, 1917
The U.S. begins a national conscription service some Amish boys receive exemptions for farm deferments as conscientious objectors, but others are required to report to Army camps. Drafted Amish who refuse to enter armed service are sent to the Army camps for non-combatant service and are often subjected to abuse.

Some members of the Amish community express concern over Amish boys being pulled away from the church and not returning to their home communities following their service.

November 11, 1918
World War I ends. There is no record of any Amish casualty.

1920
Over the next 10 years Amish communities ban connection to the electrical grid. However, they continue to use electricity from batteries, which was never forbidden.

By this time, the Old Order Amish population in North America is nearly 10,000.

1921
Ohio's Bing Act mandates that children through age 18 attend school. Old Order Amish resist this new law because they believe children only need basic scholastic knowledge, reading, writing, and math, and should learn their values and morals at home. Several Amish parents keep their older children out of school, prompting arrests, fines and jail sentences.

January 1922
Five Amish fathers are arrested in Holmes and Wayne counties of Ohio for disregarding the Bing Act by keeping their teenagers at home.

1923
Over the next 20 years, Old Order Amish communities ban the use of tractors and other self-propelled farm equipment in fields. New technology and equipment may be used in the field if it is pulled by horses or mules.

Class photo, C 1927, courtesy: Landis Valley Museum

Mid-Late 1920s
The state of Pennsylvania begins to consolidate its public school system, closing down many one-room Amish schoolhouses.

1928
Around this time, the Beachy Amish begin buying and driving their own automobiles. Crossing this cultural boundary excludes them from the horse-and-buggy driving Amish.

This division will soon solidify the use of horse-drawn transportation as a key aspect of Amish identity.

1930s
Amish leaders in some groups begin allowing telephone shanties in community areas for emergencies.

Several Amish communities establish local private schools so their children will not have to attend public school.

1935
The Social Security Act passes to help limit the risks of modern life for Americans in retirement or illness. At this time the act does not include farmers, and the Amish community remains largely unaffected.

1937
The Pennsylvania State legislature's plan to close 10 one-room schools and replace them with a consolidated elementary building sparks outrage among the Amish community in the East Lampeter Township near Lancaster.

This same year, the legislature lengthens the school year by one month (to nine months) and raises the age of compulsory attendance by a year (to 15.) Amish students typically left school at age 14 to do farm work.

September 14, 1937
Sixteen Amish delegates, preachers and laymen form the Delegation for Common Sense Schooling and write a petition to regain control over the education of their children. They collect more than 3,000 signatures from mostly "English" people in surrounding communities who support their cause.

May 1939
Pennsylvania State Legislators pass a measure allowing 14-year-olds to leave school for farm and domestic work. Around this time, the Amish open their first two private schools in this state.

September 1939
World War II begins in Europe.

Early 1940
Several Old Order households move from Lancaster County to a new settlement in Saint Mary's County, Maryland because of conflicts over Pennsylvania's school attendance laws.

1941
There are about 21,000 Amish living in North America.

February 1941
The U.S. and Canadian governments accept alternative service options for conscientious objectors (CO's): the American Civilian Public Service (CPS) and the Canadian Alternative Service Work (ASW) allow Amish draftees to work non-military assignments and stay in special CO camps. They will provide free labor in forestry projects, hospitals, social work and on farms. Many also receive farm deferments and may work at home because agricultural production supports the national interest during war.

December 7, 1941
The U.S. enters World War II after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and begins military conscription. About 772 Old Order Amish men are drafted, and all of them declare themselves CO's.

May 8, 1945
The war in Europe ends.

August 15, 1945
The war in the Pacific ends.

1948
With the beginning of the Cold War, President Truman reinstates the military draft, with the goal of establishing a large peacetime standing army. The draft completely exempts CO's.

1950
The Korean War begins. With the U.S. military entering combat, the draft system no longer exempts Conscientious Objectors. Amish men can enter some type of alternative service as part of the I-W program where CO's spend two years working in government or non-profit organizations that benefit society most of these organizations exist outside of the men's home communities.

1954
A renewed version of the Social Security Act protects every working American, including Amish self-employed farmers and other workers. The Amish view Social Security as a form of insurance, and decide they will not receive the benefits they send a petition with 14,000 signatures asking to be released from the tax. In 1958, after some Amish refuse to pay Social Security, the IRS begins to confiscate property.

1955
Because hundreds of Amish fathers are imprisoned for refusing to send their children to high school, Pennsylvania agrees to a new "vocational school" option for the Amish. Children attend school through eighth grade, after which they can work at home and go to an Amish vocational class once a week until they are 15. This plan will be copied in other Amish regions across the country.

November 1955
The Vietnam War begins. The U.S. will be involved primarily as advisors until 1964.

January 1956
The Amish open their first vocational class in an Amish home. Attendance records are still reported to the state, but students are under the vocational guidance of their parents for most of the week.

Fall 1962
In Buchanan County, Iowa, an Amish community reopens its one-room schoolhouses and hires its own Amish teachers. Locals promise to take action against these schools.

August 1964
President Lyndon B. Johnson commits American combat troops to the War in Vietnam.

1965
The U.S. Congress exempts the Amish from participating in Social Security. The Amish believe they do not need Social Security because it is the duty of church members to care for each other's material needs. Today, Amish families fill out IRS Form 4029 after a child is born to exempt them from Social Security they do not pay into it or receive payments from it.

Courtesy: Rich Reinhold

November 1965
Authorities attempt to close Buchanan County, Iowa's Amish schoolhouses by force. The operation gains national attention and public sympathy grows for the Amish cause. Governor Harold E. Hughes asks the state legislature to address this situation.

1967
As schooling conflicts erupt in more states around the U.S., non-Amish lawyers, academics, and religious leaders form the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom. The group advocates on behalf of the Amish to defend and preserve their religious freedom.

In Iowa, the General Assembly agrees to exempt any Amish who have been in the state for at least 10 years from certain public school requirements. The Amish can manage their own schools with their own teachers.

January 1967
The Old Order Amish Steering Committee emerges in response to concerns over the negative impact of Selective Service policies on draft-age Amish boys. The Korean War's I-W program is still in place, but the Amish are worried because it regularly places young Amish men in the outside world for two years, and some never return home. The Committee lobbies government officials for changes in alternative service policies for Amish CO's.

1969
The Steering Committee and the Selective Service (military draft) finalize an agreement to let young men serve their I-W alternative service on Amish-owned farms instead of outside non-profit organizations when drafted. Amish CO's may now serve two years on farms leased by the Amish church, thereby keeping them within the church fold and removing the temptations of the modern world.

1971
The North American Amish population surpasses 50,000 and will hereafter double every 19 to 20 years.

Amish men at the Supreme Court in 197, Courtesy: AP Images

1972
The National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom opens a lawsuit, Wisconsin v. Yoder, demanding that the Amish be exempted from the state's schooling codes. The case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately sides with the Amish, allowing them to withdraw their children from schools (private or public) after the 8th grade.

1982
Ten years after the Wisconsin v. Yoder decision, Nebraska will still not allow the Amish to use uncertified (Amish) teachers for their children. Deciding against taking further court action, many Amish leave the state for Ohio and Pennsylvania.

1991
There are about 123,000 Amish living in North America.

October 2, 2006
An Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania receives international attention when Charles Carl Roberts IV shoots 10 Amish schoolgirls, killing five of them before taking his own life. Reaching out to the assailant's widow and parents a few hours after the incident, Amish people forgive Roberts and extend grace to his family, earning widespread recognition as a forgiving community.

2011
Amish settlements are now scattered as far west as Colorado, south to Texas and northeast into Maine. At this time, 28 states as well as the Canadian providence of Ontario have Amish communities. Most migrating Amish are searching for inexpensive land and/or fleeing encroaching urban sprawls.

Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana still host almost two thirds of America's Amish population, which now totals around 261,000.


Amish History

The Amish can trace their origin back to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. There was an emphasis on returning to the purity of the New Testament. One group of reformers became known as the Anabaptist. They were the earliest Amish. They challenged the unity of the church. The Anabaptist groups were persecuted throughout Europe. They were imprisoned and fined. In addition, they faced fierce opposition from both the Catholic and Protestant authority.

Menno Simons had privately been an Anabaptist sympathizer. He was a Dutch Catholic priest. In 1536 he publicly joined the Anabaptist movement. He worked to nurture Anabaptist churches across Europe. The name Mennonites actually came from Menno Simons.

There was in Amish history, a Mennonite by the name of Jakob Ammann. He had controversial teachings which caused a division among coreligionist in large areas. As a result, Amish settlements sprang up in Switzerland, Alsace, Russia and Holland. Ammann split with the Mennonites in 1693. In 1701 he won approval for an Amish family to raise several orphans.

William Penn played a important role in Amish history. He had a policy of religious tolerance. Many Amish accepted his offer of religious freedom and set sail for America. There were two main groups of Amish who came to America. The first wave of Amish arrived in America in the mid 1700s. The second wave took place in the early-to-mid-1800s. The first Amish settlement was in what became Berks County, Pennsylvania. Although Lancaster County became one of America’s largest Amish population centers, during the colonial period most Amish lived outside of its boundaries. During the American Revolution, the Amish got caught up in political and military turmoil.


Jakob Ammann & The Amish

As the Anabaptist movement grew, internal conflict appeared due to disparate views among the Swiss faction. Anabaptist leader and convert to the faith Jakob Ammann was a hard-liner who emphasized the need for a few key practices: twice-yearly Communion rather than just once per year (to strengthen the church, as the congregation undergoes a period of self-reflection previous to communion) and the practice of social shunning of the openly sinful.

Jakob Ammann was responsible for twice-yearly baptisms and teh shunning of sinners.

Ammann felt that both of these practices would lead to a stronger church, though other leaders were not in agreement with Ammann’s reforms. In particular, Ammann came into conflict with a Swiss elder named Hans Reist over these issues, leading to a schism in 1693. Ammann’s harder line followers came to be known as Amish, and Anabaptists in other regions aligned on either side of the divide.


Media

PRINT

Arthur Graphic Clarion.

Newspaper of the Illinois Amish country.

Contact: Allen Mann, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 19, Arthur, Illinois 61911.

Telephone: (217) 543-2151.

Die Botschaft.

Weekly English newspaper with correspondents from many states that serves Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities.

Contact: Brookshire Publications, Inc.

Address: 200 Hazel Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17608-0807.

Weekly Amish/Mennonite community newspaper.

Contact: George R. Smith, National Editor.

Address: Sugarcreek Budget Publishers, Inc., 134 North Factory Street, P.O. Box 249, Sugarcreek, Ohio 44681-0249.

Telephone: (216) 852-4634.

Monthly publication that lists migrations, marriages, births, and deaths. It also carries news and feature articles.

Contact: Pequea Publishers.

Address: P.O. Box 98, Gordonville, Pennsylvania 17529.

The Mennonite: A Magazine to Inform and Challenge the Christian Fellowship in the Mennonite Context.

Contact: J. Lorne Peachey, Editor.

Address: 616 Walnut Avenue, Scottdale, Pennsylvania 15683.

Telephone: (800) 790-2493.

E-mail: [email protected]

Mennonite Quarterly Review.

Scholarly journal covering Mennonite, Amish, Hutterian Brethren, Anabaptist, Radical Reformation, and related history and religious thought.

Contact: John D. Roth, Editor.

Address: Mennonite Historical Society, 1700 South Main Street, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana 46526.

Telephone: (219) 535-7111.

Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage.

Founded in January of 1978. Quarterly historical journal covering Mennonite culture and religion.

Contact: David J. Rempel Smucker, Editor.

Address: Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602-1499.

Telephone: (717) 393-9745.


Experience the history of the Amish & Mennonites

A different kind of attraction. A 10 foot by 265 foot circular mural, called Behalt.

Since the beginning of the Reformation in the early 1500s, the people who later came to be known as Amish and Mennonites have been a puzzle to the rest of the world.

Who were these people who upset the European religious community, both Catholic and Protestant, by teaching about adult baptism? Why, in the face of trials and persecution, did they choose non-violence as a response?

A unique educational experience awaits you at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center. Witness the history of the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites on Behalt - one of four cycloramas in North America.

Behalt is a 10 foot by 265 foot circular mural. The painted oil-on-canvas cyclorama uses unique artistic techniques of line and color to illustrate multiple stories within a vast time-line.
The name Behalt, means "to keep, hold, remember."

Experience the martyrs' final moments. It is astonishing to find that the history of the Amish and Mennonites - known as "the gentle people" and "the quiet in the land" - is laced with persecution and martyrdom. Struggling to live out their beliefs in a peaceful manner, they were forced to migrate across Europe, some into Russia, and across the Atlantic to North America. Through the mural you will come to a deeper understanding of the precepts that formed their beliefs and led to a quest for a simple, peaceful lifestyle.

We are a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization and appreciate your donations.
They help further the ministry of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center.


Unique Amish Last Names

Here we have listed some of the unique and beautiful Amish last names. Any one of these could be perfect for your character.

27. Albrecht (Amish and German origin) means "bright or famous".

28. Bawell, a common Amish and German origin surname used by families living in Canada.

29. Brandenberger (German origin) means "someone from a place called Brandenburg".

30. Gascho, such Amish surnames ideal for people who represent the true Amish culture.

31. Jantzi (Amish and German origin) means "a pet form of Jantzen".

32. Lee (Amish and German origin) means "clearing meadow".

33. Neuenschwander (German origin) means "land cleared of the forest".

34. Ropp (German origin) means "renown".


Amish Activities

Amish buggy rides, attractions, tours, crafts & food throughout PA Dutch Country.

When you visit Lancaster County be sure to take a tour of the Pennsylvania Amish countryside –you can even do it in an Amish horse and buggy. Afterwards, explore the many Amish-themed attractions, and events, shop for hand-made Amish crafts, and chow down on some authentic PA Dutch cooking.

Learn more about all there is to do in Amish Country by using the links below.