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The Amish people in America are an old religious sect, direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth-century Europe. Not to be confused with the term anti-Baptist, these Anabaptist Christians challenged the reforms of Martin Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation, rejecting infant baptism in favor of baptism or re-baptism as believing adults.
They also taught separation of church and state, something unheard of in the 16th century. Later known as the Mennonites, after the Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons 1496-1561, a large group of Anabaptists fled to Switzerland and other remote areas of Europe to escape religious persecution.
During the late 1600s a group of
devout individuals led by Jakob Ammann broke
away from the Swiss Mennonites, primarily over the lack of strict
enforcement of Meidung, or shunning - excommunication of disobedient
or negligent members. They also differed over other matters such as
foot washing and the lack of rigid regulation of costume. This group
became known as the Amish and, to this day, still share most of the
same beliefs as their Mennonite cousins. The distinction between the
Amish and Mennonites is largely one of
dress and manner of worship.
The first sizeable group of Amish arrived in America around 1730 and settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as a result of William Penn's 'holy experiment' in religious tolerance. The Pennsylvania Amish are not the largest group of U.S. Amish as is commonly thought, however. The Amish have settled in as many as twenty-four states, Canada, and Central America, though about 80% are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The greatest concentration of Amish is in Holmes and adjoining counties in northeast Ohio, about 100 miles from Pittsburgh. Next in size is a group of Amish people in Elkhart and surrounding counties in northeastern Indiana. Then comes the Amish settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish population in the U.S. numbers more than 150,000 and growing, due to large family size seven children on average and a church-member retention rate of approximately 80%.
By some estimates, there are as many
as eight different orders within the Amish population, with the
majority affiliated with one of five religious
orders - Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish,
Beachy Amish, and Swartzentruber Amish.
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