Today, a small New Order Amish settlement is found in western North Carolina, near the town of Union Grove.
Before this settlement came about, (and not counting a short-lived community in the late 50’s), the only other full-fledged attempt to settle in the Tar Heel State occurred in 1918, lasting a full quarter-century before extinction in 1944.
The Amish who originally came here, mainly from Geauga County, Ohio, as well as from Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kansas, settled in Currituck County near the town of Moyock, on land reclaimed from the not-too-invitingly named Dismal Swamp.
The settlement was a slow-grower–Luthy tells us that by its ninth year, it had only 12 families–and seemed to be something of a way station for itinerant Amish in search of better pastures, with one resident commenting ‘some came and others left all the time we were there.’
Despite the settlement’s ‘reluctance to launch’, there was at least a substantial basis for farming in the fairly productive ‘black, muck soil’ of the reclaimed swamp.
Other interesting facts about the settlement:
- It was home to one of the first Amish parochial schools, and probably the only one to be held in a hotel, a temporary setup the Amish used in the year 1925.
- Amish from other settlements nicknamed the Moyock Amish ‘talking machines’, referring to their habit of commenting incessantly on their homes in NC while visiting other settlements, in the hopes of attracting more settlers.
- Corn, soybeans, peas, potatoes, and peanuts were all suitable to be raised here, but the best money-maker turned out to be peppermint.
Mind your butts
Although it seemed quite suitable for farming after being drained, the Dismal Swamp had a peculiar, some would say inconvenient, characteristic– flammability.
The black muck soil would become so dry that it would easily ignite. Hunters from the cities often dropped cigarettes and matches, causing wildfires that ‘would burn until the next rain’.
Another drawback of the area: according to one Norfolk, Virginia resident, ‘it was kind of a mosquito paradise. The natives said the mosquitoes were so big they would sit on the trees and bark–(bark of the trees)’–yuk,yuk.
photo: Hyde slides
But it was neither fiery turf nor beastly skeeters that finally drove the Amish from Moyock–in the end, it came down to a much more commonplace reason.
Only one spiritual leader had ever settled there, and only briefly. ‘Lack of ministry’ is one of the nine cardinal reasons Luthy gives for failure of Amish settlements. No word on why ministers were not enticed to Currituck County, but going out on a limb, the prospect of being eaten alive by bird-sized mosquitoes while their croplands flamed around them might have served as a deterrent.
Luthy closes the Moyock chapter:
‘Today all the buildings which the settlers constructed on the reclaimed swamp land have vanished. A person who visited there in 1975 reported: “All traces of the former Amish settlement that once was at Moyock is completely gone–not one building these folks built is still standing.”‘
(Source: David Luthy’s The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed, 1840-1960.)
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