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Brief History of the Amish

Updated on October 2, 2015

The Amish people hold a fascination for most Americans. In our modern society they seem oddly out of place with their dress, hairstyles and simple way of life. They wear clothes fastened with old fashioned hooks and eyes. The men wear beards and women have their hair in buns since it is against their Protestant religion to cut it. The idea is to dress plainly and not draw attention to ones’ self.

They drive horse and buggies and don’t use electricity, also because of their religion. They live much the same as their ancestors did without modern day conveniences. It is their belief, living apart from the world, will keep them from the corruption afflicting the rest of society.

But, they don’t entirely shun all as they don’t view technology, in itself, as evil. A petition for acceptance of a particular technology can be submitted and then decided by the order leaders. For example, electricity may used when it can be generated without access to outside power lines. Electric generators have been used for recharging batteries, and powering implements for farm chores in some communities.The only exception allowed is for home medical equipment. Some disabled people may need to use an electric wheelchair.

Curiosity seekers flock to their communities, cameras in hand, to photograph these people seemingly frozen in time. Many are surprised when some Amish try to avoid being photographed. As far as they are concerned, cameras make pictures, which they view as graven images, something prohibited by their religious beliefs. The Amish take biblical scripture literally and steadfastly adhere to it.

The Amish, called "The Plain People" or Old Order Amish, originated in Switzerland about l525 and were a religious sect known at the time as Anabaptists (not anti-Baptists). They were later known as Mennonites, after the Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons. Many Anabaptists were being persecuted for their stance against Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, so many fled to Switzerland and other parts of Europe.Those remaining in Europe eventually merged with the Mennonites.

In the late 1600s, Jakob Ammann and a large number of followers, split from the Swiss Mennonites who in their opinion, had become lax in upholding their strict disciplinary requirements. This group, led by Jakob Ammann, became known as the Amish we are familiar with today. They and the Mennonites still share most of the same beliefs.

The Amish began arriving in America around 1730 with most settling near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. However, the Pennsylvania Amish, sometimes called the Pennsylvanian Dutch, are not the largest group. They can be found in as many as 24 states, Canada, and Central America. But, about 80% are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Perhaps the most well known Amish settlement is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which numbers more than 150,000.

Individual Amish are members of Orders. It is estimated there are about 8 within the Amish population, but most belong to one of five which are: Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish, Beachy Amish, and the Swartzentruber Amish. These churches operate independently from each other and have slight variations in their manner of worship. The Old Order Amish are the largest group and are said to be the most conservative.

Amish people believe in having large families since they are considered a blessing from God. However, unlike non-Amish families, parents will exercise authority over their children throughout life. A person is seen more as a part of a family rather than an individual. Another reason for large families is when elder family members become old and frailthe younger ones will take care of them.

The Amish speak several languages, English, Pennsylvanian Dutch, and German. Children speak English while attending school, and the latter at home. Schools for their offspring are one-room affairs which they will attend until they are 16 or graduate from the 8th grade.

Religious services are held in private homes and church districts are measured by the number of households, rather than the number of baptized persons…which are only done when one becomes an adult. Marriage to those not of Amish faith is forbidden as is marrying a 1st cousin. Second cousin relationships are also frowned upon.

For the most part they won’t participate in civil affairs. They do, however, celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost and Thanksgiving.

Amish lifestyle is dictated by individual orders. What is acceptable in one may not be in another.


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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      JamaGenee, there are orders which are becoming much more liberal, but others still stick to the old order. But I really appreciate your comments and humorous tales.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      My first long-term exposure to the Amish and their lifestyle was while a daughter lived in Elkhart in northern Indiana. Traffic signs like the one pictured at the beginning of the hub were common. The Wal-Mart had a shed to shelter six (if memory serves) Amish buggies and the horses that pulled them.

      But I had to laugh at that particular group's interpretation of "plain-ness". Women and girls in long, homemade dresses fastened with straight pins were wearing lime green and hot pink Crocs or $100 Nikes with bright purple insets. And if the line at the 1-Hour Photo counter was any indication, they weren't much worried about snapping roll after roll of "graven images" either!

      The scene that made me laugh the most, however, was an Amish farm where two buggies for sale were in the grass next to the highway. They were propping up a piece of plywood on which was painted "Low mileage". Alas, I didn't have time to stop to snap a pix, but the memory still makes me chuckle! ;D

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      I lived near the Ammish in southern michigan and northern Idiana. A remarkable people that always seemd to have a wad of money in their pockets, only the men that is. What the Ammish threw away as worn out and useless the rest of the folks would scarf up and sell as antique Americana. Good Article, thanks,


    • stayingalivemoma profile image

      Valerie Washington 

      7 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

      This was very informative. You don't really hear a lot of history on Amish people like you do with some of the more "popular" religions. Thanks for sharing this!


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