David Luthy shares the history of Nathan Smiley, born in Ireland to a British mother in 1797.
At age four, Nathan arrived in America with his mother, and for reasons unexplained was placed in a foster home in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. That home happened to belong to an Amish family. On coming of age, Nathan chose to join the Amish church, and later married. Nathan Smiley had two sons by his first wife, and two daughters and a son by his second.
Later, a group of Amish set out west in search of a suitable location for a new settlement. It’s unclear, but either Nathan or his son John, eighteen at the time, was among the four Amish who left in search of cheaper land in 1840.
Traveling by flatboat and steamboat, the men made their way to Iowa, where the timber impressed the men, but not the soil, nor the apparent malaria outbreaks in the region. Next stop was Chicago, which Luthy notes at the time was but a town of just 4,000 souls.
Via Lake Michigan and next the St. Joseph River, the band made their way into northern Indiana, and to the area near Goshen in Elkhart County. The land turned out to be suitable, and it was decided that this place would become their new home.
In 1841 Nathan Smiley moved to Elkhart County, among the first families to settle in what would become the third-largest Amish community today. Settlers from Pennsylvania and Ohio contributed to the growth of the fledgling community.
Later, church issues arose in this area as they did in other Amish communities. In the mid-19th century, the Amish began to forge separate paths which led to their ultimate division into two groups: the progressive Amish-Mennonite group, which gradually assimilated to a greater and greater degree with society, and the Old Order Amish.
Alas, “Smiley” is among the monikers Luthy lists as “Names Which Came and Went Again”.
At some point, Nathan Smiley’s son John, chosen a minister in 1849,decided to join the more progressive group. Luthy writes that it is believed his father did as well. No mention is made in Luthy’s account of what happened with Nathan Smiley’s two other sons, but one would assume that at some point they opted not to be a part of the Amish church.
And when John Smiley passed away of heart failure in 1878, the fact that he had joined the Amish-Mennonites made little difference to his name surviving among Amish, as he had had seven daughters, and not a single son.
Had “Smiley” survived, it would be the second-cheeriest last name among the Amish, after “Peachey”, of course.
(Source: David Luthy, “New Names Among the Amish Part 5: Names Which Came and Went Again”, Family Life, June 1973)
Histories of other Amish names:
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