The Amish are one of the most widespread examples of religious communities that separate themselves from the rest of the modern world.
They go to great lengths to deny themselves the conveniences of electricity, automobiles, and more, all in the name of maintaining spiritual purity and following the doctrine that was established by their founder many centuries ago.
But who was that founder? And where did he come from? More to the point, where did the Amish themselves originate?
To answer those questions, we’ll give a quick bulleted list.
Where Did the Amish Come From?
Here’s the bare-bones information about where the Amish originated:
- The Amish were founded by Jakob Ammann
- Ammann came from Switzerland
- Ammann and his followers caused a divide in the Swiss Brethren
- Ammann and his followers fled to Alsace-Lorraine (modern France)
- Ammann died prior to his followers being exiled
- The exiled Amish departed for the new world
But these are just the footnotes of a much larger story.
To tell it, we’ll need to go into more detail. In fact, we’ll have to go much further back than the Amish themselves — we’ll have to start with the Protestant Reformation.
Amish Origins Part I: The Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a massive religious movement in Western Europe. During this movement, Martin Luther famously nailed a list of grievances he held against the Catholic Church to the door of a local cathedral.
This document was called the 95 Thesis, and it offered a compelling story of the corruptions of the Catholic Church at the time, all from the perspective of the layperson.
To summarize, Luther’s document ignited a wildfire of ideas and pushback against the Catholic Church. He even earned his own followers who still persist today, called Lutherans.
Other leaders, such as John Calvin, followed suit with Luther and founded their own denominations, each of which carried its own views on the Bible and Christian practices.
This fragmentation of the Catholic Church is easily one of the most pivotal events in the history of Western Europe. It’s best known for creating the Protestant denominations, which are groups of Christians who refused Catholic traditions in lieu of inventing their own.
Around the same time, King Henry VIII of England would found Anglicanism, also called the Church of England, to separate English Christianity from the power of Catholicism.
Altogether, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans would be grouped together as Protestants.
However, the Protestants weren’t the only group of new Christians to come from the Protestant Reformation.
Another one emerged that found itself at odds with not just the Catholic Church, but also the newly-founded Protestants themselves.
This group was called the Anabaptists.
Amish Origins Part II: The Anabaptists
The founding of Anabaptism is surprisingly murky to the point where it’s not 100% accurate to say any one person (or group of people) started the movement.
Anabaptism had its roots far in the past, and some would argue that the idea of Anabaptism has been around since the 400s.
Here’s why: Anabaptism, as the name implies, has a different view of baptism from Protestants and Catholics.
Both Protestants and Catholics baptize children shortly after their births in a tradition that is intended to purify their souls and allow them entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Instead, Anabaptists ask that their followers don’t get baptized until they’re adults, when they’re able to make the decision to follow the tenets of Christianity without having someone make that choice for them.
Their reasoning essentially breaks down to this: If you know what you’re getting into as an adult, you’re more likely to understand, support, and stick with the faith.
On top of that, Anabaptists take the mantle of Christianity — that is, being followers of Jesus Christ — very seriously. Their doctrine emphasizes the New Testament, as opposed to the stories of the Old Testament, and the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to the stories of the Hebrew Bible.
They believe that any one person who’s baptized should be making the same earnest and sincere commitment as Jesus’ own disciples.
However, baptism is not something that’s easily argued. Catholics and Protestants didn’t split from one another over baptism — in fact, it’s one of the only areas of the faith that they agreed.
But Anabaptists didn’t stay unified among themselves, either. Soon after their founding, a multitude of leaders took up ideological fellowships, any one of which could have turned into a full-fledged movement.
One of these leaders was Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonites.
Amish Origins Part III: Menno Simons & the Mennonites
Menno Simons was a Roman Catholic priest from Friesland, historically a part of the Netherlands. He was born in 1496 to a war-torn Holland that had grown disillusioned with everything from the Catholic Church to conventional government.
Life was hard, but Simons found himself among the company of local priests, who helped teach him Latin and Greek. As his education persisted, he was drawn further and further into the priesthood.
Eventually, around 1515, he was made a full priest, and he became the chaplain of his father’s village.
About 10 years later, Simons started thinking on the Christian concept of transubstantiation, which is the literal or metaphorical (depending on who you ask) change of common bread into the flesh of Jesus Christ during communion after the blessing.
Simons read more into this by reading the Bible, and he made a surprising discovery. While transubstantiation was a question on his mind, the phenomenon of infant baptism compelled him far more.
He discussed this with his superiors in the Church, and he was eventually transferred to a new jurisdiction called Witmarsum. There, he first encountered others who believed the same about baptism — and they called themselves Anabaptists.
Simons largely ignored the Anabaptists he encountered, at least from an ideological perspective. However, he is said to have respected their zeal and passion on an issue that he may have secretly agreed.
Another 10 years later, Simons receives grim news. His brother, Pietr, was killed with a group of radical Anabaptists.
These Anabaptists had stormed a Catholic monastery and taken it by force. The Catholics retaliated, and the ensuing fight was said to brutally one-sided.
Pietr lost his life, and Simons began questioning his faith.
In 1536, Simons left the priesthood and joined the Anabaptists.
Simons made a name for himself among the Anabaptists as a convert from the Roman Catholic priesthood (which was a huge deal) and an educated statesman. After joining them, he soon found himself with a group of followers.
They, like other Anabaptists, were compelled by7 the idea of rejecting infant baptism.
Unlike other Anabaptists, they also supported an idea that was unique to Simons — nonviolence.
Simons was arguably the first Anabaptist leader to reject violence in all of its forms, even in terms of self-defense. After marrying and fathering several children, Simons died in 1561, leaving behind a legacy that persists to this day.
Amish Origins Part IV: Jakob Ammann, the Swiss Brethren, & the Schism
About 80 years after the death of Menno Simons, Jakob Ammann was born in the canton of Bern, Switzerland.
Ammann is recorded as being the third of six children, and he followed in the footsteps of his fathers by becoming a tailor. He was illiterate for most of his life — possibly all of it — though he initialed and “made his mark” on many documents still existing to this day.
Despite being born a relative commoner, Ammann and his family is said to be quite wealthier than the others of his day. This is important, as it gave Ammann a life of relative comfort compared to the harsh realities of 1600s Europe.
This also allowed him to spend a healthy portion of his life discussing matters of faith, eventually becoming a senior leader in the Swiss Brethren, who were effectively Swiss Mennonites.
Ammann became known for his hardline approach to deviation from Swiss Brethren doctrine. He is recalled as being harsh, often unfairly harsh, and supporting the idea of excommunication for even mild offenses.
This attitude made him a polarizing subject of the time. It earned him a group of followers, and he vehemently stated he was not looking to start a “new faith.”
However, it also brought him at odds with the established leadership of the Swiss Brethren.
Eventually, this conflict came to a head during a council of Swiss Brethren elders in the late 1600s. In a nutshell, the council got heated, members took sides, and Ammann pronounced the excommunication of his opponents.
But Ammann’s opponents also excommunicated him.
With a minority of support on Ammann’s side, he left the Swiss Brethren with his followers. They, in turn, left Switzerland and traveled to Alsace-Lorraine, a region between France and Germany, in an effort to separate themselves and safely worship without persecution.
Though Ammann is reported at having made some effort toward reconciliation with the Brethren, a true moment of forgiveness never occurred.
As a result, this became known as The Schism in Anabaptist history.
Ammann passed away some time later, potentially as late as 1730.
His people, however, would persist as the Amish.
Amish Origins Part V: Ammann’s Legacy
Ammann’s legacy is best summarized in the Amish belief system.
It’s also accurate to say that the resulting “homelessness” of the Amish and their eventual landing in the New World can be attributed to Ammann himself.
After being kicked out of Alsace-Lorraine by King Louis of France, the Amish were once again in need of a home after the death of their leader.
Many sought refuge and home throughout Europe.
But others made for across the Atlantic.
Some of the earliest records of Amish coming to the Americas date back to the mid- or late-1700s, only a few decades after Ammann’s death.
Some landed in ports in what would be Pennsylvania, moving gradually inalnd to begin farming and cultivating the land.
The Amish became self-sufficient communities over time, and their relative isolaton from most of the rest of the Americas meant they could truly embrace their non-violent doctrine, even by avoiding the draft for the Revolutionary War.
The Amish would go on to become one of the few social groups recognized as conscientious objectors by the United States federal government, and they would continue to use the punishment of excommunication for egregious offenses (called meidung).
Now, about 400 years after they were founded, the Amish continue their way of life among the modern world in places like Lancaster, PA.
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The Amish originated in Europe after splitting from Mennonite Swiss Brethren in 1692 over the treatment of members who had been found guilty of breaches of doctrine. The first Amish arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1730s to escape persecution in Europe.Where did the Amish name come from? ›
The sect arose from a late-17th century schism in the Anabaptist church by followers of Jakob Amman, a Swiss minister who believed that adherents should "conform to the teachings of Christ and His apostles" and "forsake the world" in their daily lives. The word "Amish" derives from his name.What state did the Amish originally settle in? ›
The Amish and Mennonites both settled in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn's "holy experiment" of religious tolerance. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720s or 1730s.Where did Amish culture originate and how did Amish culture diffuse to the United States? ›
Amish culture originated in Bern, Switzerland, Alsace in northeastern France, and the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany. It diffused to the United States by migration. In the 1700s, the Amish migrated to other portions of the U.S. , primarily for religious freedom.Are the Amish originally from Germany? ›
While most Amish and Old Order Mennonites are of Swiss ancestry, nearly all speak Pennsylvania Dutch, an American language that developed in rural areas of southeastern and central Pennsylvania during the 18th century.Where did the Amish come from to the US and when? ›
A mostly Amish population settles in the Netherlands and, within several decades, the group assimilates into Dutch culture. 1736- Detweiler and Sieber families arrive in North America, start Amish settlements in Northkill Creek and Irish Creek areas of Berks County.Is Amish a religion or race? ›
They are a distinctive Christian subculture that traces its roots to the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Scholars define the Old Order Amish by two distinctive features: 1) the use of horse-and-buggy transportation, and 2) the use of Pennsylvania German dialect in church services and daily conversation.What is an Amish woman's name? ›
And some of the most common Amish girl names are Mary, Anna or Annie, Priscilla, Rachel, Sarah, Malinda, Miriam, Martha, Sadie, Ruth, Hannah, Naomi, Lydia, Susie, Lena, Amanda, Barbara, Betty, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Esther, Lavina, Edna, Clara, and Fannie.What language do Amish speak? ›
Pennsylvania Dutch is the language used by the Amish population here in Lancaster County. It is considered to be their first and native language. The Amish learn to read, write and speak in English, allowing them to communicate with the 'outside world'.What state has the largest Amish population? ›
In most cases, the only time you see an Amish woman wearing a white bonnet is after she is married. It's essentially a symbol that she is a lifelong relation and “off the market” so to speak. If a man sees an Amish woman wearing a white bonnet, he will know that she's already married.
Holmes County, formed in 1824 by the union of Coshocton, Tuscarawas, and Wayne counties, is another unique Ohio region. The county draws many visitors since it has the world's highest population of Amish.When did the first Amish arrive in America? ›
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.Does Amish believe in God? ›
Their belief is that God has a personal and abiding interest in their lives, families and communities. Faith-based Amish traditions include wearing plain clothing, living in a simple manner and helping a neighbor in need.Can Amish drink alcohol? ›
They didn't want anything to do with alcohol or tobacco, and both of these are strictly forbidden in the New Order Amish groups. And the same is true for the Beachy Amish/conservative Mennonites as well. They also have rules against alcohol and tobacco use.What three languages do the Amish speak? ›
Generally speaking, the Amish know the following languages: Pennsylvania Dutch (or “Dietsch”) Swiss-derived German. Modern English.What language do Amish speak German? ›
You may know that Pennsylvania German, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch (PD), is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today.Why do Amish speak German? ›
Their ancestors emigrated from a German-speaking region in Europe and they've continued to soeak German aming themselves and their worship services are conducted in German. Do the Amish still speak German between themselves?Are there any Amish outside the US? ›
Amish settlements also exist outside the United States. You'll find Amish communities in in Canada, Bolivia, and Argentina and more.What religion is Amish closest to? ›
The customs of Old Order Mennonites, the Amish communities and Old Colony Mennonites have a number of similarities, but the cultural differences are significant enough so that members of one group would not feel comfortable moving to another group.
They are known for their strict rules involving dress. Old Order Amish communities often prohibit the use of buttons and zippers, for example. They also wear dark colors, mostly black. The communities regulate hair length, men must grow beards an acceptable length, and women are not allowed to get haircuts.Do Amish have guns? ›
Most Amish families own a long gun, Nolt said, and their interest in hunting goes back centuries. That interest, however, has grown beyond sustenance. ”Hunting has also become a recreational sport for them,” he said. “They own hunting cabins up north.Do Amish have flush toilets? ›
More often than not, Amish houses did have indoor plumbing and regular bathrooms. Although there was that one place in the middle of nowhere with one outhouse and many children. Most of my experiences with the Amish I will treasure.Do Amish girls have phones? ›
Many Amish, particularly those who run businesses, use voicemail service. The Amish will also use trusted "English" neighbors as contact points for passing on family emergency messages. Some New Order Amish will use cellphones and pagers, but most Old Order Amish will not.What is the most common Amish last name? ›
For example, considering the three states with the largest Amish populations, in Pennsylvania, the most common Amish surnames are Stoltzfus, King, Fisher, Beiler, and Lapp; in Ohio, they are Miller, Yoder, Troyer, Raber, and Hershberger; and in Indiana, the names are Miller, Yoder, Bontrager, Hochstetler, and Mast ( ...How do Amish say hello? ›
Amish speak High German in their worship services, English when they're dealing with English speakers, and Pennsylvania Dutch among themselves. If they're speaking English, they can say Hello If they're speaking high German: Wie geht's. If they're speaking Pennsylvania Dutch: Wie bischt or guta Dag.Do Amish have toothbrushes? ›
In general, the Amish in this settlement don't get dental care. And they don't tend to dental hygiene, either. A toothbrush is a rare find in these households.Are Amish allowed to talk to non Amish? ›
Most Amish people enjoy talking with outsiders, if they don't feel like they are regarded as animals in the zoo. In some Amish communities shops and attractions may not be open on Sundays, so be sure to call ahead and plan accordingly.What is the average lifespan of an Amish person? ›
People with the mutation live to be 85 on average, significantly longer than their predicted average lifespan of 71 for Amish in general, which hasn't changed much over the last century. The age range of Amish in the study was 18 to 85 with the average age of carriers 44 and the unaffected 46 years old.Do Amish have longer lifespans? ›
In a study released last November, researchers at Northwestern University announced the discovery of a gene in an Amish community that seemed to be associated with an average life span 10% longer than that of people without the gene.
- Mose Gingerich, documentary filmmaker.
- Kate Stoltzfus, actress and model.
- Verne Troyer, actor.
Can Amish men have more than one wife? No. Polygamy has never been accepted by Amish or a part of Amish practice.What age do Amish girls marry? ›
The Amish Community and Dating
Dating among the Amish typically begins around age 16 with most Amish couples marrying between the ages of 20 and 22. To find a prospective date, the young adults socialize at functions such as frolics, church, or home visits.
curtains. Much speculation exists as to why some Amish homes have blue doors, with rumors claiming that it means a daughter is available to be wed. Amish representatives unanimously deny this and say instead that it merely relates to tradition and customs.Do Amish have mirrors? ›
While the Amish do not take pictures of themselves, they do use mirrors. The use of a mirror is allowed because unlike a picture, it is not a graven image. Women use mirrors to do their hair and men use mirrors to shave.What is the strictest Amish group? ›
Swartzentrubers are the most restrictive concerning the use of technologies among all Amish affiliations, see table below. Their style of dress tends to be heavier and plainer, especially in the case of women; only the Nebraska Amish dress in a more conservative style.Where is the best Amish country? ›
Pennsylvania: So Much to See and Do. In Pennsylvania, you'll see America's oldest — and perhaps best known — Amish settlement in Lancaster County. There are additional settlements in the state besides Lancaster if authentic Amish settlements are your destinations of choice.Where did the Amish migrate from? ›
Oppressed by king and countrymen, the Amish migrated from Switzerland, Alsace, and southern Germany to North America. In 1730, they scouted for land along the frontier in the forests of Berks County, Pennsylvania. They settled there, and for the next twenty years the settlement grew to one hundred Amish families.Who Came First Mennonite or Amish? ›
Mennonites are significantly older than Amish by about 136 years. The first use of the term “Mennonite” was around 1544, and the first use of the term “Amish” was around 1680.Do the Amish know Jesus? ›
The Amish believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and would be a part of the protestant stream of theology. They emerged from the Anabaptists who began in the early 1500's. The Anabaptists, meaning re-baptizers, broke from the Catholic Church over infant baptism among other things.
Many Amish women wear handmade nightgowns to bed. During the 18th century, the shifts women wore under day dresses doubled as their nightwear. Today, nightgowns are often made from cotton, though they may also be flannel for more warmth. There is less on what Amish men wear to sleep.Do the Amish celebrate Christmas? ›
Do the Amish celebrate Christmas? Yes, they do, although their customs are much simpler than our “English” customs. They are oriented toward the family and the religious meaning of the holiday.Do Amish people sleep together? ›
Unmarried Amish Young People Sleep Together
Pre-marital sex is strictly forbidden. The idea is that they can lie beside each other all night, talking but not touching, and that develops self-discipline.
The most conservative Amish do not have hot running water in the home. So obviously baths are going to be less common (weekly) events. Generally speaking farmers are probably less likely to shower, or let's just put it this way: they are going to “feel dirty” less often than I am.Do Amish have inside toilets? ›
The core of the legal showdown: What the Amish do with their poop. Instead of indoor plumbing and toilets, they use outhouses. They then dip out their waste by bucket, treat it with lime, mix it with animal manure and spread on their farm.What is the race of the Amish? ›
The Amish are a rapidly growing, social group in rural North America, part of the broader Anabaptist religious tradition and ethnically of Swiss-German ancestry (Enninger 1986).What language do the Amish speak? ›
Pennsylvania Dutch is the language used by the Amish population here in Lancaster County. It is considered to be their first and native language. The Amish learn to read, write and speak in English, allowing them to communicate with the 'outside world'.Do Amish people drink alcohol? ›
They didn't want anything to do with alcohol or tobacco, and both of these are strictly forbidden in the New Order Amish groups. And the same is true for the Beachy Amish/conservative Mennonites as well. They also have rules against alcohol and tobacco use.What are the Amish forbidden to own? ›
As part of their Ordnung, Old Order Amish forbid owning automobiles; tapping electricity from public utility lines; owning televisions, radios, or personal computers; attending high school or college; joining the military; and initiating divorce. All Amish groups expect men and women to wear prescribed clothing.What are Amish bedroom rules? ›
Unmarried Amish Young People Sleep Together
Pre-marital sex is strictly forbidden. The idea is that they can lie beside each other all night, talking but not touching, and that develops self-discipline. To discourage unseemly activity, one or both of them are wrapped sausage-style in a blanket.
Differences and remarriage
In addition, members of the Amish community are allowed to remarry after their spouse passes. Widows sometimes garner financial assistance from their families or the church and may even find work outside of the home, according to Amish America.
Their belief is that God has a personal and abiding interest in their lives, families and communities. Faith-based Amish traditions include wearing plain clothing, living in a simple manner and helping a neighbor in need.What is hello in Amish? ›
Amish speak High German in their worship services, English when they're dealing with English speakers, and Pennsylvania Dutch among themselves. If they're speaking English, they can say Hello If they're speaking high German: Wie geht's. If they're speaking Pennsylvania Dutch: Wie bischt or guta Dag.Why do Amish call everyone English? ›
The Amish call outsiders English because they speak the English language, while the Amish speak a dialect of German called Pennsylvania German, or Pennsylvania Dutch. Amish have called outsiders English since colonial times.Do Amish girls shave their legs? ›
According to the Schwartzentruber Amish Ordinance Letter, Amish women are not permitted to shave their legs or underarms. Amish ordinances also forbid women from cutting their hair.