The Amish community in the United States is one of the most intensely private and distinct religious groups. It’s known for its simple lifestyle, plain dress, and Christian pacifism—as well as a tendency to shun many modern conveniences.
They see this as preserving family life and face-to-face conversations and ensuring everyone is self-sufficient enough to live without relying on technology or the outside world whenever possible.
The Amish people are descended from a breakaway group of Anabaptists in Europe that Jakob Amman founded in the 17th century. His name is the source of the word “Amish,” which describes a religious group that rejects modern technology and adheres strictly to Christian teachings.
You might wonder when did the Amish come to America. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at the history of the Amish and how their culture has survived for centuries—and is still thriving today.
Amish roots can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation in seventeenth-century Europe. The Anabaptists (rebaptizers) were so named because they believed it was wrong to baptize infants; only adults should make such an important decision about their spiritual lives.
The Anabaptist demand for a voluntary church independent of government oversight enraged religious leaders and city officials and resulted in severe persecution.
The Amish’s religious ancestors were part of the Anabaptist movement from 1525 until 1693, when the Amish, led by Jakob Ammann, split from other Anabaptists in Switzerland and the Alsatian region of modern-day France. He and his followers wanted to return to the original teachings of their faith and become more isolated from society.
The Amish were a part of a broader migration from the Palatinate and nearby regions that began in the early 18th century and settled mainly in Pennsylvania, which was at the time seen favourably due to the lack of religious persecution and reasonable property offers. About 500 Amish arrived in North America between 1717 and 1750, settling initially in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
However, they eventually relocated due to disputes over property ownership and fears for their safety during the French and Indian War. Lancaster County became home to many people over time.
About 1,500 more people arrived in the middle of the nineteenth century and primarily settled in Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and southern Ontario. Most of these late arrivals did not join the Old Order Amish but rather other, more progressive communities.
The Ordnung is the set of rules by which Amish adhere to govern their daily lives. These rules vary slightly from community to community and even from district to district within a community.
The norms of one society may differ significantly from those of another. All baptized members decide upon the rules that govern the congregation before Communion, which occurs twice a year.
The Amish do not engage in evangelism—they welcome visitors, but few outsiders are willing to make the necessary adjustments required by communal living. Communities often grow at a rate of 100 per cent every 20 years; they follow biblical precepts which hold that families should be large and fruitful.
The Amish community permits marriage only within its faith, and each family has an average of seven children. Their population is overgrowing. Their defection rate varies by settlement—in most cases, it’s less than 20 percent. This means that, on average, six out of every seven offspring will continue the Amish faith.
The Amish have succeeded in the contemporary world through means other than simple reproduction: they have adopted a policy of resistance and compromise. They’ve built up social barriers to keep outsiders out to prevent assimilation.
Symbols of identity are outward manifestations of underlying principles. Cultural markers such as the use of horses and buggies, lanterns, a distinctive language and dress style, and a general rejection of technology help set the Amish apart from the present world.
The Amish, however, have taken steps to resist modernity’s encroachment into their communities. Dialect use and intermarriage help keep dialects alive; rejection of mass media preserves the group’s specific language; banning formal schooling limits exposure to worldly influences on children’s minds, and reduced social engagement with outsiders keeps them from being corrupted by the non-Amish culture.
The Amish are wary of exposing their children to influences from outside the community, so they often send them to private religious schools. Ethnic schools tend not to expose students to potentially harmful concepts such as sex, drugs, or alcohol. The cultural ties that bind the Amish from birth to death help bolster their identity and keep them separate from modern society.
Currently, the Amish can be found in 32 US states, the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and the South American countries of Argentina and Bolivia.
The Amish population in North America is estimated to be 373,620. This is an increase of about 12,150 from 2021. The largest group of the population—approximately 62%—lives in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana and will likely continue growing there as well.
The Amish move to new areas for a variety of reasons, including the desire for:
- Employment outside the farm in specialist jobs,
- Rural remoteness, which supports their traditional, family-centred way of life,
- reasonably priced fertile farmland,
- favourable social and physical settings for their way of life,
- proximity to family or other Amish church groups, and
- a method for resolving church or leadership conflicts.
The Amish are a tightly-knit community with strong ties to their church, which is vital in maintaining their traditional way of life. The Amish believe God has chosen them for a particular purpose and has been set apart from the rest of society.
They do not consider themselves separatists since they interact with non-Amish people daily. However, they maintain some distance from mainstream culture because they want to preserve their unique way of life.
To this day, visitors to the area of Pennsylvania where the first Amish settled can see signage for Amish-owned businesses and tourist attractions wherever they walk.
The Amish are gaining a name for themselves not only by opening their doors to tourists but also by creating cutting-edge pieces of furniture and starting successful businesses. The Amish community is expanding its horizons, and so are its ideas.