The last thing most Americans expect to come upon when they’re driving their car is a horse and buggy on the road. However, for those of us who live in Amish country, it is nearly a daily occurrence. Who are the Amish people and why do they drive horses and buggies?

The Amish are descendants of the Swiss Anabaptists who arose in the sixteenth century during the Reformation. Unlike the principal Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, the Anabaptists believed in the separation of church and state, and they were opposed to infant baptism. Because of those beliefs, they were persecuted by both the Catholics and the Reformers. Many of them found refuge in the remote mountain valleys of Switzerland.

Amish People: How They Got Their Name

For a century or two, the people we know as the Amish were simply called Anabaptists or the Swiss Brethren. Sometimes they were called Mennonites, after Menno Simons, the leader of a group of Anabaptists in the Netherlands. However, in the late 1600s, there was a division among the Anabaptists or Mennonites. The division occurred in Switzerland over the issue of shunning people who had been excommunicated from the church. A sizeable minority of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, led by Jacob Amman, believed that excommunicated members should be totally shunned. Those who supported this position came to be known as the Amish.

How the Amish People Came to America

Even in the 1700s, the Amish were still being persecuted by the religious authorities in Switzerland. As a result, the majority of them emigrated to Pennsylvania, where they were welcomed by William Penn and granted freedom of religion. One of the first places the Amish settled was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania–which is still where thousands of Amish live today. Over time, the Amish spread westward and southward from Lancaster County. Today the region with the most Amish families is Holmes County, Ohio, where over 30,000 Amish people live.

Holmes County, Ohio, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are often known as “Amish country” today. There, the traveler will encounter numerous horses and buggies and see horse-drawn farm equipment in operation. Amish communities can also be found in many other areas of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, and much of the Midwest.

The Amish Way of Life

The Amish do not use cars, tractors, electricity, and many other modern conveniences. However, contrary to what many people think, the Amish do not view such things as sinful in themselves. They eschew such things because they want to avoid the fast-paced life of modern society that separates families and often leaves little time for God. Most Amish families either farm or own some type of business in which the whole family participates, including the children.

David Bercot is the editor of The Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs and an author who writes primarily about church history and Christian discipleship. You can read more about the Amish at http://pathway-publishers.com and even get some free Amish recipes there. The author of this article, David Bercot, invites you to visit his website at http://davidbercot.com.

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By David Bercot