charming-nancy-sailing-shipThe Amish have been around for over 300 years, with a history spanning both Europe and North America. Here are 5 important events in the story of the Amish.

Source: Steven Nolt’s A History of the Amish.


Five Landmark Events in Amish History

1. 1693 – Founding of the Amish by Schism

Disagreements over issues including the practice of shunning and frequency of communion led to a schism among Swiss Anabaptists in 1693.

Tensions culminated in elder Jakob Amman excommunicating Hans Reist and other elders who he viewed as too lenient. Despite attempts at reconciliation, the two sides remained separate, with Amman’s followers becoming known as Amish.

Various schisms would occur among the Amish into the 20th century. This has both depleted the overall numbers of Amish, and also led to much diversity within the Amish.

2. 1737 – The Charming Nancy Sails to America

The first known significant group of Amish, 21 families in total, emigrated to North America in 1737 aboard the Charming Nancy.  More followed, with the bulk of the Amish coming in two large waves, in the mid-1700s and the early-to-mid-1800s.

Pennsylvania was the destination for those in the first wave, while those in the second group settled mainly outside the state, including in the Midwest and Ontario.

3. 1865 – Traditional and Change-minded Groups Separate

The mid-to-late 1800s was a turbulent period for the Amish. Steven Nolt notes that “the third quarter of the nineteenth century was a time of remarkable disagreement, dissension, and schism among the Amish. While the church was still nominally united in 1850, 25 years later the controversies had produced permanent divisions”  (p. 158).

At the time, Amish from both traditional and change-minded factions attempted to resolve differences, including issues related to church Ordnung. One way they did this was by holding  Diener-Versammlungen–annual Ministers’ Meetings, with representatives from both sides in attendance. The first was held in 1862, and had some success.

However, Nolt suggests that 1865 can be considered a symbolic year in this division. The meeting that year had its highest attendance, though the conservative side was apparently not received well, and few conservatives attended any further meetings.

4. January 17, 1937 – The End of the Amish in Europe

After around 1850, the Amish population in Europe gradually decreased, due to emigration and assimilation with more progressive Mennonite churches. By the turn of the 20th century, only a handful of European Amish churches remained.

The final congregation of Amish in Europe, at the village of Ixheim in Germany, merged with a Mennonite congregation in 1937, marking the end of the Amish in Europe. However, today there are Beachy Amish groups on the continent.

5. May 15, 1972 – Wisconsin v. Yoder Decision

The Wisconsin v. Yoder Supreme Court case is the highest-profile conflict involving the Amish. In this decision, the Amish were effectively granted the right to remove their children from schooling after the eighth grade, and to operate their own parochial schools.

Wisconsin v. Yoder turned out to be important not only to the Amish and related groups like Old Order Mennonites. The case has also been cited widely in many other religious freedom rulings.


What other noteworthy events could be added to this list?

ship image- Terry F.J. Rogers