The Amish in the U.S. and Canada: before 1900
Migration from Europe:
In 1681, William Penn, an English Quaker, received
ownership of the land that would eventually become the state of Pennsylvania. He
decided to try a "holy experiment:" to establish a colony that
would allow religious toleration. This was a
concept at the time. Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, Moravians, Schwenkfelders and
others in Europe responded to the opportunity by moving to the area.
The Amish movement was founded in Europe during 1693.
High taxes, high rents, inflation, wars and rumors of wars, the military draft, and
religious persecution encouraged believers to leave Europe. "In many
places, both Catholics and Protestants -- if they were minority
members of their home territories -- often felt unwelcome." 1 Accurate records of the
first emigrations to the New World were not kept. The first Amish immigrants
for whom records are available -- the Detweiler
and Sieber families settled in Berks County, PA in 1736. The bulk of the this first
wave of immigration had ceased by
The Amish initially settled in three areas of Pennsylvania:
||Eight settlements in what are now Berks, Chester, Lancaster and Lebanon
counties, to the west of Philadelphia.
||One settlement in Mifflin county in the center of Pennsylvania.
||Three settlements in Somerset county in south-west Pennsylvania.
Back in Europe, some Amish families moved to the Hesse region of Germany,
Bavaria, Poland and Russia. None of the settlements were ultimately successful, as there is no organized Amish presence in Europe at this time.
The last Amish congregation was in Ixheim, Germany. On 1937-JAN-17, it merged
with their local Mennonite group.
Surviving external conflicts during the 18th century:
During the first century of Amish settlement in the American colonies,
believers survived a
number of external conflicts:
||Settlements in Pennsylvania were attacked during the French and Indian
Wars during the mid 18th century.
Starting in the mid 18th century, a religious revival spread across the
American colonies. The Amish were targeted by Baptist, Methodist, United
Brethren. and German Baptist Brethren itinerant pastors and evangelists. The
"revivalists" took a heavy toll on the Amish membership.
The War of Independence put a heavy strain on the Amish principle of
pacifism and neutrality. The colonies were divided into Patriots and "Tories" -- those
loyal to Britain. The Amish attempted to remain non-violent and neutral, but
were attacked by both sides. For some of them, their situation was
complicated by oaths of loyalty to Britain that they had taken when they
were admitted to the colonies.
Author Steven Nolt estimates that about 500 Amish had migrated to
Pennsylvania during the 18th century. Most had large families. However, the
attrition rate was so high that by the year 1800, there were fewer than
1,000 Amish in America. 1
Surviving internal conflicts during the 19th century:
A second wave of immigration from Europe lasted from 1817 to 1860. About
3,000 Amish relocated to the U.S. They were motivated to leave by
religious oppression in Europe, financial problems, crop failures, continuing wars,
the military draft, and high taxes. Most settled in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri,
New York, Ohio, and Ontario in Canada. A few went to Pennsylvania. 2
Immigrants from Europe during the 19th century tended to be more progressive than
those who were already established in the U.S. Some newcomers had partly abandoned
traditions of Amish life. Deviations included wearing buttons on their coats;
owning a piano, dishes with decorations, decorated carriages, and fancy
furniture; dressing their children in fancy clothes. Perhaps even more serious,
many were more flexible on matters of doctrine and belief.
The church remained united for the first half of the 19th century, in spite
of growing friction between liberals and conservatives. In 1849, a conservative
congregation in Mifflin County, PA, broke with most of the rest of the Amish
church for reasons which are not clear.
A series of Diener-Versammlungens -- national meetings for Amish
leaders were held in various settlements in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Ohio, and Pennsylvania between 1862 and 1878. The intent was
to strengthen church life and commitment. They were attended by a few dozen
leaders and up to 1,500 lay persons. These meetings settled some important
||Mennonites who wanted to join the Amish church would have to
undergo a second baptism.
||Amish who joined another religion or Christian denomination were to be excommunicated and
||Photography, joining a state militia, and belonging to secret societies were
Unfortunately, in spite of initial optimism that the meetings would bring
harmony, the end result was to emphasize the differences between the liberal and
conservative factions within the Amish church. Thus, the meetings actually increased
When separation came, it was not a single dramatic event. Rather, it was spread
over decades as individual families and congregations gradually sorted themselves out into
the traditionalist and change-minded camps. The latter wanted change but could
not reach a consensus on the details. By 1880, there were four Amish groups: one
conservative and four liberal:
The conservative wing called themselves the Old Order Amish. They
opted out of attending the later Diener-Versammlungens, and continued to
follow the historical Amish beliefs and practices. They constituted only
about one third of the Amish membership, and numbered only about 5,000 by
the end of the 19th century.|
||The liberals became the Amish Mennonites. Most congregations
merged with the "Old Mennonites" by 1930, although some formed the
Conservative Amish Mennonite Conference in 1910 and the Ontario Amish
Mennonite Conference in 1925.|
The Egly Amish split away from the Amish Mennonites
between 1865 and 1866. They were named after their founder, Bishop Henry
Egly from Indiana. He had an intense personal experience of
salvation and felt that Amish should only be
baptized if they had first undergone a similar incident. The group was
renamed the Defenseless Mennonite Church in the mid 1890s, and
became a Fundamentalist denomination, the Evangelical Mennonite
Church in 1948.
The Stuckey Amish broke away in 1871 and 1872. They were
named after Bishop Joseph Stuckey of Illinois. He represented a faction
within the Old Order Amish church which favored a relaxation of behavioral
standards: using buttons, styling their hair, wearing neckties, using an
organ in Sunday School, etc. The issue that ultimately caused a break with the Amish
Mennonites was a matter of doctrine and discipline. Stuckey had refused
to excommunicate a school teacher in his congregation, Joseph Yoder, who
believed in the concept of universalism. [This is the belief that unsaved
people would not be tortured in Hell for all
eternity. Rather, everyone's eventual destination will be Heaven.]
The Stuckey Amish lasted until after World War II. They merged with the
General Conference Mennonites in 1946.
The Sleeping Preachers Amish were a sub-group among the Amish
Mennonites. During the late 1870s, in reaction to the rapid liberal shift of
the movement, a few preachers developed an unusual method of delivering sermons,
called "spirit preaching." They would appear to fall asleep in the early
evening, rise a few hours later in a trance and preach "on the themes of
repentance, spiritual renewal or the return to simpler lifestyles." 3
They were called "sleeping
preachers." The phenomenon was also observed among Native Americans and
other Christian groups at this time. John D. Kauffman, one of the leading
sleeping preachers, formed an independent congregation in Illinois during 1907.
The movement spread. However, the practice of spirit preaching has long since
been abandoned. As of 1992, Sleeping Preachers Amish had congregations in
Arkansas (3), Illinois (4), Missouri (1), and Wisconsin (1).
See the next essay for developments since the year 1900
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Steven Nolt, "A history of the Amish," Good Books, (1992).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
D.R. Elder, " 'Es Sind Zween
Weg': Singing Amish children into the Faith Community," Page 2 at:
http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/ You may need software to read these PDF
files. It can be obtained free from:
- Op Cit, Nolt, Page 161.
Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2012-AUG-24
Author: B.A. Robinson