The First Amish Settlement in North America

Where was the first Amish community in North America? Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is home to the oldest Amish settlement still around today. But it’s not the first place Amish settled on this side of the Atlantic.

That distinction belongs to the Northkill settlement that existed in neighboring Berks County*. It was organized by 1740, predating today’s Lancaster settlement by about two decades. This historical marker, placed in 1959, gives a brief history of the community.

Photo by Drums600

The text:

NORTHKILL AMISH

The first organized Amish Mennonite congregation in America. Established by 1740. Disbanded following Indian attack, September 29, 1757, in which a Provincial soldier and three members of the Jacob Hochstetler family were killed near this point. Pennsylvania Historical And Museum Commission

The “established by 1740” line I think allows for the possibility that Amish settlers were here before that date. The Charming Nancy, aka the “Amish Mayflower“, sailed in 1737 with at least a dozen Amish on board.

So perhaps the official date of “establishment” has some wiggle room here (it’s also possible that Amish lived in other areas before this time, as this account references several earlier individual families).

Historic site of Northkill Amish settlement (present-day Berks County). Lancaster County borders Berks on the southwest

The first bishop at Northkill was Jacob Hertzler, who arrived from Switzerland in 1749. The Northkill name came from the name of a local creek and fort.  At its peak, the community may have had up to 200 residents, so about a church district-and-a-half in size, going by today’s terms (see A History of the Amish by Steven Nolt, p. 75).

Hochstetler Massacre

As noted in the marker, Northkill was the scene of the infamous Hochstetler Massacre. Amish know this story today for its powerful lesson of nonresistance.

On a fateful evening in 1757 (there is some disagreement on the exact date), Jacob Hochstetler and his family came under attack by Delaware Indians hired by the French during the French and Indian War.

Jacob famously restrained his boys from firing their rifles on their attackers, but paid a great price. Three members of his family – his wife, a daughter, and a son – were killed.

It’s unclear who the “Provincial soldier” was who also died, as noted on the historical marker. Was he attempting to protect the Hochstetlers? I haven’t been able to find an explanation of this death.

Books about the Jacob Hochstetler story

You can read an account of the story here. The Hochstetler tale has also been retold in at least two historical fiction accounts. The Northkill settlement soon after died out, with the Amish members going on to found several other congregations in the region.

The Reading Eagle recently published an article on the Amish in Berks County and the Hochstetler family lore entwined in this history, which you’ll find here.

Amish Ancestor Nicholas Stoltzfus

Berks County is also known for another noteworthy early Amish resident. Nicholas Stoltzfus came to live in the area of Reading in 1770 or 1771, having resided for several years in Lancaster County. Stoltzfus is an important ancestor for the Amish. He has many descendants – around one million.

Nicholas Stoltzfus house prior to restoration

Since there are only around 380,000 Amish today, obviously most of those are not Amish. But many are descended from this early settler, including 98% of Lancaster Amish.

The Nicholas Stoltzfus House preservation project was begun in 1997 by citizens concerned with preserving the Stoltzfus homestead for its historical value.

They prevented the demolition of the home, and have since helped to fund and accomplish its restoration. There has been significant Amish support and involvement in this project.

You can visit the Stoltzfus house today. The location might surprise you a bit – it is not in a rural setting, but basically in Reading, located off a highway ramp in a wooded area by the Tulpehocken Creek.

Given the city location, it wouldn’t be a place where Amish would like to live today. But the homestead stands preserved, commemorating an important piece of Amish and Anabaptist history.

*At the time of founding of this settlement, Berks County technically did not yet exist. It was created in 1752 from parts of Lancaster, Chester and Philadelphia Counties, becoming the state’s seventh county. Thanks to reader David Swonger for pointing that out. David notes that when Jacob Hertzler arrived here in 1749, the settlement was in Lancaster County as it existed at the time.

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    48 Comments

    1. Connie Cannon

      Ancestry

      Does anyone know any details on The Brethern that settled in this area around this same time?
      I did a search on Ancestry.com and found that my family came from Germany in 1729 on the ship the Allen. The first land parcels they purchased were in Tulpehocken.

      1. the ship Allen in 1729

        I don’t know about Brethren on the Allen, but I know that my German Reformed ancestors, led by Joseph and Cathrina Brunner, came to America on the Allen, landing in Philadelphia on September 11, 1729 after ten weeks at sea. My folks may have been shipmates of your folks.

        1. Connie Cannon

          The same ship

          My family came over on that trip also. I have some copies of paperwork if you are interested. My people are the Klauser and Dieters from the manifest

    2. Scott Lehman

      Northkill

      Great story Erik, one near and dear to my heart. My family immigrated on the Charming Nancy, October 8, 1737. They owned the farm next to Bishop Hertzler. Benedict Lehman and Family are listed on the ships record. We believe, as you stated that they were probably settled here shortly after arriving. Other families from the Charming Nancy settled here as well and later relocated to Bedford County (now Somerset County) around 1773. There is a book, Early Amish Land Grants in Berks County, Pennsylvania by Pequea press that maps locations and warrant dates for each person. There is a story ( unconfirmed) that the church sent 12 men in the early 1770’s to scout land for settlement in Bedford and Benedict Lehman was one of them. This story names the men but so far we cannot find the stories source. Many of these Northkill settlers founded the settlement in Brothersvalley, Bedford County Pennsylvania. Scott

      1. Scott, how neat that you have such a close connection to this important part of Amish history. There’s a photo of another marker commemorating the Hertzler homestead at this link, I imagine you’ve probably seen that before, though I wonder if the marker is still there – the photo looks dated and the marker appears pretty weather-worn: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15614841/jacob-hertzler

        1. Stephanie

          Bishop Jacob Hertzler

          Are the graves on the Hertzler homestead being cared for? I would love to go someday. Bishop Jacob Hertzler was my 7x great-grandfather. Are you a distant cousin? I descend thru his son John > Barbara Hertzler Reichenbach > Sarah Reichenbach Kurtz > Jacob Kurtz > Oscar Kurtz > Walter Kurtz > Ernest Kurtz > my mom

          1. Bobbi Jo Rucker

            Related

            Hi cousin! 🙂
            He is my 7th great grandpa as well.
            By the time my great great grandma
            was born my line of Amish ancestors
            had become Mennonites.
            And then my great great grandma
            married a Dunker.
            Their son was my great grandpa. He was
            raised speaking both English and dutch.
            but he did not carry on the religion/culture
            and was just a regular Christian church
            goer without being Amish, Mennonite or a Dunker.

            My line goes as follows. Each name is the next genetation:

            Jacob Hertzler
            Veronica Hertzler
            Christian Kaufman
            Mary or Maria Kaufman
            Elizabeth Troyer
            Catharine kindle
            Charles Hart

            And then my grandma and dad come next.

            1. Wilbur Mullett

              Also related

              Also a cousin , Catherine Hertzler & John Hochstetler , my mom was a Hochstetler , However being amish & if you trace your roots back by these days most amish probably have some Hertzler my mom & dad both were at least twice related to john & Catherine (hertzler) Hochstetler

            2. Ron Campbell (Mother was Troyer)

              Troyer from Berks County

              Christian Kauffman was my distant grandfather. TROYERS moved to Somerset, PA, and from there to Holmes County, OH. Michael David Troyer Sr married Magdalena Mast.

              We are probably distant cousins.

    3. Amish Mennonite

      I still get confused when a group is referred to as Amish Mennonite. I’ve read how the Amish and the Mennonites were not too excited about going to North America on the same boat together. So, the term Amish Mennonite congregation puzzles me. Thanks!

      1. Al in Ky

        This was an interesting post to read about the first Amish congregation in the U. S. But I’m like Jim, and wonder why the historical marker uses the term “Amish Mennonite” when describing this group. Did this group of people call themselves “Amish Mennonite” or just “Amish”? If they used the term “Amish Mennonite”,was there a time when these people started calling themselves just “Amish”?

        When I see the words “Amish Mennonite” used today, I think of some Beachy Amish churches and some non-Beachy Amish churches that are called “Amish Mennonite”. I don’t think of today’s Old Order (or New Order) Amish when I see the term “Amish Mennonite” used.

        1. "Amish Mennonite" term

          Good questions you bring up, Jim and Al. I think the Amish Mennonite term has been used in a couple different ways. One would be to distinguish the more progressive group from the Amish who were taking the Old Order path in the latter 1800s.

          Secondly I think in some documents you will see “Amish Mennonite” used but to refer to what we would think of as Old Order Amish. I’m not sure if we’d call that erroneous usage or if it was a prevalent term at one time for all Amish. That’s my unofficial take but would like to hear how a historian like Steve Nolt would explain it. I’ll ask him if he could clarify and let you know what I hear back.

          1. "Amish Mennonites" Explained

            For anyone interested in the questions concerning the “Amish Mennonite” term, Steven Nolt has responded with a detailed explanation. We published it as its own post here: https://amishamerica.com/who-are-amish-mennonites/

        2. Stephanie Schroeder

          Amish Mennonites

          It’s my understanding, they were of one group and split sometime after they arrived. Throughout history religious groups would divide over disagreements some follow one and the others follow another. Sort of like when the Catholic church split. The Amish didn’t want change the Mennonites accepted some change.

    4. I'm a Hochstetler descendant

      I was intrigued to see this posting as I am a direct descendant of Jacob Hochstetler. I have a book that describes the massacre in great detail, taking three pages of small type to do it. It gives the date as September 19, 1757.

      If anyone is interested, I can scan the pages and send them by email.

      The book is “Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler, the immigrant of 1736” by Rev. Harvey Hostetler, 1977.

      The attack on the Hochstetlers was one of a series of attacks by Indians on Europeans who were taking Indian land, and of course was encouraged by the French forces trying to defeat the English.

      1. Boyce, I would be interested to see that if you wouldn’t mind scanning and sending it to me (ewesner(at)gmail.com). I find the Jacob Hochstetler story as well as the Lewis Riehl story are two of the most intriguing as far as noteworthy individuals in Amish history.

        1. Sharon Gerstman

          First Amish Settlement in North America

          I would love to have a scanned copy of the attack also. Sharon Gerstman clighthouses@aol.com

        2. Hochstetler massacre

          I’ll scan the pages today and send them to anyone who asks.

          1. Tammy Shrock

            Could I please get a copy also
            tammyshrock1@gmail.com

            1. Scott Lehman

              Tammy Schrock

              Hello Tammy, when I saw your last name I couldn’t help but ask, do you know if a Catherine Schrock 1775-1840 was married to Christian Lehman 1774-1840? This is rumored many places but no confirmation. There were several Schrock families in Bedford in the 1770’s. I believe that a Schrock Family was aboard the Charming Nancy in 1737.

          2. Tom Bender

            I would love to have a scanned copy of the attack also.

            I would love to have a scanned copy of the attack also.

            1. Boyce Rensberger

              no problem

              Send me a copy of your email address.

              boycerensberger@gmail.com

      2. Maureen Reese-Vorp

        The First Amish Settlement in North America

        Hi Bruce,I too would love the scanned copies of the Hochstetler massacre, please.
        I am a descendant of Melchior(the Exile)Brenneman, born in Switzerland in 1631 and one of the first settlers in Lancaster Co.,PA. I have been researching this part of my family for a while now. I am also a descentant of the Burkholder, Greenawalt,Squibb,Ewig,and Evans lines, on my mother’s side. If I have it figured out correctly, I believe Rev. Daniel Brenneman(1834-1919)is my 2nd cousin 5x removed. He was the great-grandson of the first Melchior Brenneman. Daniel was born in Fairfield Co.,Ohio. He later moved to Elkhart,Indiana where he lived until his death. He was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Goshen, Indiana. And the Brenneman Memorial Church(Missionary Church) in Goshen is named after him. I also have Mennonite family in Bedford Co. PA.

      3. Marilyn Dixon

        Copy if Amish book

        I would also like a scanned copy of your book.

        1. email copy of pages

          I can email the relevant pages to you, but I need your e-address. If you prefer, you can send it to me at boycerensberger@gmail.com.

      4. Lisa A Shupp

        I am the secretary at the church down the street from the original homestead, one of our members lives there. I would be interested to see your document. thank you

      5. Digital Version Book on Google Books

        In reply to Boyce Rensberger, if the date of the book is 1912, I believe the book you mention might be this one, which is available on GoogleBooks. The entire book, over 1100 pages, has been scanned. But perhaps you are referring to a later version. I see that there are later corrections and also a book about Christian’s descendants, but not all of those have been digitally scanned like the one with the title you mention but published in 1912.

        But thank you so much for the information! I did not know of this book yet have many relatives who are from generations of Lancaster County Mennonites. I will be delving into it and sharing it!

        Anyway, the book is here:

        https://www.google.com/books/edition/Descendants_of_Jacob_Hochstetler_the_imm/Q_RUAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=descendants+of+Jacob+hostetler&printsec=frontcover

      6. Scott Lehman

        Book copy

        Boyce,
        I realize that I am late to the party but could you send a copy of the scan to me also. Thanks Scott

        1. Boyce Rensberger

          yes

          No problem. What’s your email address?

          1. Scott Lehman
            1. Boyce Rensberger

              on its way

              On its way to you.

              If anybody else want’s a copy, either reply here with your address or email me at mine, boycerensberger@gmail.com.

    5. Scott Lehman

      Northkill

      Erik, yes the Northkill sign is still there and one marking the Bishop Hertzler homestead. Two years ago I visited the Hochstetler house and was able to go inside. It has been added onto but the original is still there . The upper portion may have been rebuilt but it was log construction upper stone lower. The Hertzler homestead has the old Amish Cemetery on the property and we visited that as well as the Stoltzfus house…very cool. It is true that after the attack some moved away but many stayed until the move to Bedford/Somerset in the early 1700’s. The Hochstetler father and two sons escaped the Indians or were later repatriated after the war. There is a book detailing the father’s interview by authorities after his escape, I have read portions of it. Great topic!

      1. Nice to hear that is still there, I would like to visit that cemetery next time. Is the Hochstetler house open to the public or did you have to arrange that privately?

    6. Scott Lehman

      Northkill

      Eric here is a good book on the Hochstetler event. It was written by two decents of the family. Northkill by Bob Hostetler and J.M. Hochstetler.

      1. Scott nice that you mentioned it, we actually had a q-and-a with Bob and Joan on the book here about 5 years back (was thinking it was more like 2 years ago…time flies!): https://amishamerica.com/northkill-jacob-hochstetler/

    7. Tom Bender

      Hochstelers in Somerset county

      I would be interested in the story as well. (tjbender(at)gmail.com)I grew up in a farm in Southern Somerset county where a home stood that was built in the late 1770’s by a Hochsteler who had come from Berks county following the massacre. The building has been moved to Penn Alps village in Grantsville, MD. following a tornado in 1998.

    8. Scott Lehman

      Erik, sorry I need to correct a mistake I made. The post above says many of the Northkill people moved to Bedford in the early 1700’s….it should say they moved to Bedford in the Early 1770’s .

    9. Bob the Quaker

      Boyce
      I would really like a copy of your document if you don’t mind. I have read and studies the Hochstetler’s in the past, and plan to do some more research. I have lots of info on early Quakers, I originally thought some of the first Amish were here at an earlier date…around 1650. The first Quakers were Penn’s friends who he had made commissioners, John Bezer and Nathaniel Allen. Penn wrote a letter to the Indians (dated Oct 18, 1681), and John and Nathaniel left for America in late October to deliver same.

      Anyway, thanking you in advance…and no hurry. k4oce.qrp@gmail.com

    10. Scott Lehman

      Northkill

      Erik, I went on a tour arranged by Masthof bookstore who I am sure you are familiar with. The Hertzler Cemetery is located behind the Hertzler house/barn in a pasture. It is a fairly short walk. I was told that there is a standing arrangement to allow people access to the cemetery. Masthof did contact the owner in advance of our trip. It would probably be appropriate to check in before walking back, especially if you don’t know where to go. The Hochstetler house is really a walk back in time….really moving, at least to me. You can really get a feel for the size of dwellings in that time. The owner gave us a very informative talk.

      1. Scott, this is useful to know. I do know Masthof. I can think of a couple Amish friends that might enjoy this type of visit, so might be our next “field trip” when I’m in PA. Thanks for sharing all this additional info with us.

    11. Lisaheut

      Copy

      Hell I. bob I would love a copy if you would share

      Laheutmaker@gmail.com

      Blessings
      Lisa

    12. Bob the Quaker

      Lisa
      Were you wanting a copy of the document from Boyce about Hochstetler Family or did you want something I have, ie. William Penn’s letter to the Indians?

    13. John Van Ommen

      I am not Amish but a Dutch immigrant from the early 1950 s. Very much interested in the early settlements of the Amish.
      We lived practically the same as the Amish in the 1940’s and early 1950’s back home in Holland.

    14. John VanOmmen

      Please send me a copy of the early settlements of the Amish.

    15. Tom Bender

      Hostettler house

      I grew up in southern Somerset County and there was a house on our farm that was referred to as a Hostetler house and it appears as though it was built in the late 1700s possibly 1774 or 1778 that home was damage during a tornado in 1998 and moved to the Penn Alps Spruce Forest near Grantsville, MD and reconstructed there.

      My Grandfather used it as a wood shop and we played in it as children. We were told that it was the homesteaded house for the farm and that this family was closely related to the Hostetlers from the massacre.

    16. Stoltzfus Genealogy

      I had some Stoltzfus friends living in the Lancaster, PA. area, and decided to use modern technology (the computer) to see if I could find their link back to the original Nicholas Stoltzfus. I didn’t know if it would even be possible. I didn’t find the link to my friends, but I did find a path from Nicholas to a family in the town of Honey Brook near Lancaster.

      One of the contributors to Amish America knew this family & provided me with an address and phone number. I visited the family and obtained the dates and names of the present Stoltzfus family which I had linked all the way back to Nicholas. A fun project. I later sent the family a chart.

      You should visit the Nicholas Stoltzfus house in Reading.

    17. Donna Zoll

      My 7th Great-Grandfaher | Jacob Hochstetler

      Hello Erik-
      Found your wonderful blog looking to lean more about my Amish heritage. I deeply appreciate your documentation of my heritage. I live in Southern California and am told there is a large Amish community in Tijuana, Baja Norte, Mexico.

      Thank you also to all of the folks posting information about our families.

      Jacob Hochstetler is my 7th great-grandfather on my mother’s, mother’s line. I have Amish on my father’s side as well.

      Jacob Hochstetler 7th great-grandfather
      Christian Hochstetler 6th great-grandfather
      Barbara Hostetler 5th great-gandmother
      Elizabeth Whitlatch 4th great-gandmother
      Florence Elizabeth John 3rd great-gandmother
      Cora Jane (June) Willis 2rd great-gandmother
      John Wesley Van Wey great-grandfather
      Helen Elizabeth “Peg” VanWey grand mother
      Mother
      Me – Donna Zoll

      As if I wasn’t already lucky to be alive, I feel even more lucky knowing that Jacob and Christian could have easily met the same fate as my 7th great-grandmother and 6th great-aunt and 6th great-uncle.