Glimpse of Yesteryear
Geauga has been home to Amish people for just about as long as there was a place called Geauga. Like all except the Native peoples…
Geauga has been home to Amish people for just about as long as there was a place called Geauga. Like all except the Native peoples (called Indians by the settlers), the Amish people came from another place to settle here. (Come to think of it, the Native people came from another place, also … much longer ago … over a prehistoric land-bridge from (some say) the land we now call Korea. But that is a story for a different day.)
So, who were these people called Amish and where did they come from?
Well, they are an old religious sect, direct descendants of the Anabaptists of 16th-century Europe. The Anabaptist Christians challenged the reforms of Martin Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation, rejecting infant baptism in favor of baptism as believing adults. Among other things, they also taught separation of church and state, passivism and keeping themselves apart from the world.
A Dutch Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons (1496-1561), led a large group of Anabaptists to Switzerland to escape religious persecution. They became known as Mennonites, or, sometimes, as Swiss Mennonites.
During the late 1600s, a group of devout individuals led by Jacob (sometimes spelled 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 clothing style. This group became known as the Amish.
And how (and why) did they get to America?
As persecution of the Amish grew in Europe, William Penns Holy Experiment drew their attention. You see, in the early 1600s, when Penn, a Quaker, founded Pennsylvania, he promoted religious freedom in that colony. Pennsylvania became a refuge for both Native Americans and people of various religious denominations who were being persecuted elsewhere.
In 1683, 13 German Mennonite families arrived in Pennsylvania seeking religious freedom. They found Germantown six miles north of Philadelphia. About 50 years later, the Charming Nancy set sail for North America from the Netherlands carrying 21 Amish families who also were seeking religious freedom. (Over the next 30 years, about 100 more Amish families would make the crossing.)
Only 16 years later, Jacob Hertzler, the first Amish bishop to become well known in North America, settled in North Kill Creek, in Bergs County north of Philadelphia, Pa. Over the next 50 years, 3,000 Amish immigrated to North America from Europe. In 1809, some Amish came to eastern Ohio, farming side by side with the Native Americans already there. Twenty-five years later, this community would consist of approximately 250 Amish families.
The Amish became well known for their work ethic, their desire to keep themselves apart from the main culture and their great charity not only to others of their sect, but to outsiders as well.
For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit www.geauga historical.org.
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