Mississippi is home to a single Amish community
The Randolph group is the only existing Amish settlement in Mississippi, and in the entire Deep South region.
Randolph, Pontotoc County Amish settlement
The Randolph Amish settlement, in Pontotoc County in northeastern Mississippi, was founded in 1995 mainly by settlers from the Ethridge, Tennessee Amish community. The Randolph settlement is a very conservative Swartzentruber Amish affiliation.
Swartzentruber Amish are noted for their restricted use of technology, lack of SMV triangle emblems on buggies, and particularly plain lifestyle. As is common for Swartzentruber Amish, those in the Randolph community permit only metal rims on buggies, and do not allow propane or gas lights.
The Randolph community is a single church district in size. A recent report by a local scribe to the Sugarcreek Budget newspaper estimated around two-dozen households in this community. In addition to the Ethridge settlement, the Randolph community also has ties to a Kentucky Amish settlement. A spin-off settlement of the Randolph community was recently founded in Tennessee.
Amish in the Randolph community make a living in a variety of ways. As the only Amish community in the region, the Amish here receive a fair share of non-Amish visitors and tourist traffic, as evidenced by the plentiful signs advertising home businesses throughout the community.
Some operate furniture companies or other small enterprises, such as produce and food sales. Foods common in this community include cheese, butter, boiled peanuts, jellies, jams, baked goods, and sorghum molasses.
Handicrafts such as rugs, candles, handmade baskets, and leather goods are also common. Other Amish farm or work in local non-Amish lumber mills, or operate their own mills.
Historic Amish settlements in Mississippi
Of all the states of the Deep South, Amish have most frequently settled in Mississippi. A number of settlements existed in Mississippi in the first half of the 20th century.
As David Luthy describes in The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed 1840-1960, Mississippi’s first Amish community was actually founded in 1896, not far from today’s Pontotoc County settlement, in nearby Monroe County, near the town of Gibson. Amish who founded this settlement came from states including Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and Virginia.
Amish in this former plantation region first began with typical northern crops such as oats, but soon learned to farm cotton. In addition to farming, a few small enterprises were founded in this community, which arose to serve both the needs of the Amish community and their non-Amish neighbors. These included Amish-run well-drilling and brick and tile-making companies.
An alternating wet and dry climate challenged the Amish settlers, and the often-thick Mississippi mud made travel difficult at times, with “roads which were so muddy it was almost impossible to use them” (Luthy p. 222). Despite the generally warm and sunny climate, settlers were also hard struck by disease, including typhoid fever and malaria. The community suffered 15 deaths over 8 years, including numerous young girls and pregnant women.
Additionally, the sharecropper system remained in place in this part of the South, and Amish found it difficult to work within the system. Since Amish do not sue in court, Luthy explains that this left them exposed to being taken advantage of by their tenants.
The Amish certainly must have seemed exotic to the local population, most of whom were black farmers. Of the locals, one Amishman wrote that, regarding cursing, “it seems in that respect the colored race is not as bad as our own; they strictly observe the Sabbath day; no ball playing or worldly amusements are seen amongst them on Sunday.” (Luthy p. 227).
Eventually due to challenges caused by the sharecropping system and the unhealthy climate, Amish began to move away. The daughter of one of the settlers recalled leaving the community: “This was a real sad disturbance to most of us. The black people seemed to hate to have us leave, and we had many sad partings. Among us many tears were shed.” (Luthy p. 228). The last Amish family left Monroe County in 1907.
Later settlement by Amish concentrated in the extreme southern end of the state near the Gulf Coast. Four more Amish settlements arose in the 1920s and 30s. A small community, never larger than a few families, existed near the town of Wiggins in Stone County from 1928-1932.
The area of Kiln in Hancock County was home to 2 separate settlements in the 1930s. One community was founded primarily by Amish from Indiana, attracted to the area by a local land agent. This community was also short-lived, lasting from 1929-1936.
Amish in this settlement farmed cheaply-acquired former pine-logging land, and raised a wide range of crops, including strawberries, sweet potatoes, cabbage, peanuts, oranges, and watermelons. They also survived on the abundant seafood available in the local waters, including fish, shrimp, and oysters.
Not far from this community there also existed a “Nebraska Amish” settlement, originating from the Big Valley region of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Little is known of this settlement.
Finally, the longest-lived settlement to date in Mississippi was found near Lumberton, Mississippi in Lamar County, also in the Gulf Coast region. This very conservative community consisted of settlers from Ohio, Buchanan County, Iowa, as well as at least one household from the Moyock, North Carolina Amish settlement. The Lumberton settlement existed from 1929-1948 (see David Luthy, The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed 1840-1960, pp. 220-238).
Only Amish settlement in the Deep South
No other Amish settlements besides the Randolph, Mississippi community are found in the Deep South today. In addition to the extinct Mississippi settlements mentioned above, a few communities have been founded in other states in the region. These include settlements in Georgia and Alabama in the early decades of the 20th century. In more recent decades, an Amish community existed in Georgia, but has since disbanded (see Young Center, “Amish Population Trends 1991-2010″).
For whatever reason, perhaps because of climate or simply due to historical patterns, the Deep South has not attracted much Amish settlement. Thus, the small settlement in Pontotoc County remains the sole Amish presence in the region.
For further information, see:
The New American Almanac 2010, Raber’s Bookstore (Baltic, Ohio), Ben J. Raber
Amish Settlements Across America: 2008, David Luthy
The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960, David Luthy
“Amish Population Change 1991‐2010”, Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College (http://www2.etown.edu/amishstudies/PDF/Statistics/Population_Change_1991_2010.pdf)
Photo credits: All photographs courtesy of Erin Tracy Photography; erintracy.com