The Amish people in America are an old religious sect, direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth-century Europe. Not to be confused with the term anti-Baptist, these Anabaptist Christians challenged the reforms of Martin Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation, rejecting infant baptism in favor of baptism (or re-baptism) as believing adults. They also taught separation of church and state, something unheard of in the 16th century.
Later known as the Mennonites, after the Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons (1496-1561), a large group of Anabaptists fled to Switzerland and other remote areas of Europe to escape religious persecution.
During the late 1600s, a group of devout individuals led by Jakob Ammann broke away from the Swiss Mennonites, primarily over the lack of strict enforcement of Meidung, or shunning - excommunication of disobedient or negligent members. They also differed over other matters such as foot washing and the lack of rigid regulation of costume. This group became known as the Amish and, to this day, still share most of the same beliefs as their Mennonite cousins. The distinction between the Amish and Mennonites is largely one of dress and manner of worship.
The first sizable group of Amish arrived in America around 1730 and settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as a result of William Penn's 'holy experiment' in religious tolerance.
The Pennsylvania Amish are not the largest group of U.S. Amish as is commonly thought, however. The Amish have settled in as many as twenty-four states, Canada, and Central America, though about 80% are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. The greatest concentration of Amish is in Holmes and adjoining counties in northeast Ohio, about 100 miles from Pittsburgh.
Next in size is a group of Amish people in Elkhart and surrounding counties in northeastern Indiana. Then comes the Amish settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish population in the U.S. numbers more than 150,000 and growing, due to large family size (seven children on average) and a church-member retention rate of approximately 80%.
By some estimates, there are as many as eight different orders within the Amish population, with the majority affiliated with one of five religious orders - Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish, Beachy Amish, and Swartzentruber Amish. These churches operate independently from each other with differences in how they practice their religion and conduct their daily lives. The Old Order Amish are the largest group and the Swartzentruber Amish, an offshoot of the Old Order, are the most conservative.
History of the Amish in America
All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which outlines the basics of the Amish faith and helps to define what it means to be Amish. For an Amish person, the Ordnung may dictate almost every aspect of one's lifestyle, from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques.
The Ordnung varies from community to community and order to order, which explains why you will see some Amish riding in automobiles, while others don't even accept the use of battery-powered lights.