Category Archives: Amish

Pennsylvania Amish Communities That Failed (Maurice A. Mook, 1954)

In an earlier essay in which the ten present Old Order Amish communities in Pennsylvania were identified and located, it was stated that “No one knows how many times the Amish have unsuccessfully attempted to establish new communities … in the history of the Commonwealth.” Recent research at the Mennonite Publishing House Library at Scottdale has revealed evidence of more than a dozen now-extinct Amish communities in the state. These unsuccessful attempts of the Amish to establish colonies in Pennsylvania range from the early eighteenth century to the present year.

There are records of five Amish attempts to establish sectarian community life in southeastern Pennsylvania during he earliest years of their settlement in America. Only one of these communities survives to the present day. One of their first colonies was the “Northkill” settlement, established in the late 1730s near the present town of Hamburg, in northern Berks County. This frontier community, located some distance north of other settlements in southeastern Pennsylvania, was near a gap in the Blue Mountain range. The geographical isolation of its location and its proximity to the break in the mountain barrier exposed it to the Indian raids of the frontier fringe during the French and Indian War. Also the non-resistant faith of its Amish inhabitants made it an easy victim of such attacks. Had it not been for the Indian raids it might be quite confidently assumed that the colony would have been a successful venture. It was the largest southeastern Pennsylvania Amish settlement at the time of the Indian Massacre of 1757, which is usually regarded as having softened its success and prepared it for ultimate failure as a living community. Some of the Northkill families surviving these depredations are known to have receded southward to locations nearer the older, less isolated, and less exposed English and German settlements in the southeastern corner of the state.

There were several other small Amish local geographical groups south of Northkill during the middle years of the eighteenth century. I call them “geographical groups,” for there seems to be little evidence, other than tradition (unacceptable as historical evidence without corroborating proof) that two or three of these were ever organized as congregations, and it is uncertain as to whether these were sufficiently large or long-lasting to deserve the name “community.” There were, however, during these early years, small groups of Amish families in the Oley area, in Tulpehocken Valley, and on Maiden Creek in Berks County. There was also a larger group, formally organized as a congregation, near present Malvern, in eastern Chester County. The members of this community have the distinction of being the first Amish in America to build a “meeting house” for worship services, and its members also in other respects accepted “English” (non-Amish) ways. Today the group would be known as “Church” Amish, or “New Order,” to distinguish it from the more conservative congregations now commonly referred to as “House” or “Old Order” Amish. Characteristic Amish surnames are still decipherable on old tombstones in a cemetery near Malvern, and the foundations of the meeting house were still discernible in the late 1930s.

In addition to these unsuccessful community ventures, in the middle years of the eighteenth century the Conestoga congregation was established on the edge of the area the Amish still occupy in this portion of the state. This group grew in size and strength and developed into the thriving present Lancaster County Amish community. From the time of its origin and throughout the history of the Commonwealth, it has been the largest, strongest, and most vital of all Pennsylvania Amish settlements. It is, indirectly at least, the “mother colony” of all other historic and present-day Amish communities in the state, and it has been, moreover, the source of settlement of many Amish communities in other states of the United States. It is no longer the largest Amish settlement in the United States, as many articles still claim, but it remains one of the three largest local groups, the other two being the community in Holmes County and vicinity in east-central Ohio, and the settlement centering in Elkhart County, in northern Indiana.

Subsequent to the earliest southeastern settlements, the next congregations to be founded were three in present Somerset County, two of which are now extinct. The Amish joined the trans-Alleghenian westward movement, which resulted in a settlement in Somerset County which was started in 1767, and within approximately a decade three geographically distinct Amish communities were in existence in this area. These were the Conemaugh congregation in the northernmost section of the county, the “Glades” congregation farther south, and the Casselman River community still farther south, near the Pennsylvania-Maryland line. Of these three the latter group, now known as the “Meyersdale church,” is the only one to survive. It is currently a single congregation of some 200 members, which would indicate a community of from 500 to 600 inhabitants. It is the second oldest and third largest Old Order community in the state at the present time.

All three of these early Somerset settlements generously contributed members to newly established Amish communities in Ohio and the Middle West. The northern Somerset community included an individual who is perhaps the only Amishman to have his name embodied in the cultural geography of Pennsylvania. The city of Johnstown was in a sense founded by Joseph Schantz (later Yahns, Jahns and Johns), an Amishman who owned land where a part of Johnstown now stands, and who deposited a charter with county officers in which a town was laid out with land donated by him for streets and public buildings. Thus a man belonging to a religious sect strictly committed to a rural way of life chose the site of and provided for and stimulated the early development of one of our state’s larger cities.

Amish settlement in Mifflin County began in the early 1790s. This group grew steadily in size and also contributed heavily by emigration to Amish communities elsewhere. The pressure of population in this beautiful but limited valley led to the settlement of some Amish families on the Juniata River near present McVeytown, across Jacks Mountain marking the southern boundary of “Big Valley” (Kishacoquillas). The Amish congregation here was known as the “River Church.” Though only a few miles distant from the main body of Amish people in Kishacoquillas Valley, the trip over the mountain with team and buggy or wagon was difficult and time-consuming. This impediment to inter-community communication and visitation must have contributed to the failure of the river group as a separate community. Its church had an estimated membership of 29 in 1850; it had 79 members in 1900, according to a local resident; but it is now extinct as an Old Order community. Meanwhile the Big Valley group has increased from one church to eight church districts, which have a total reported membership of 606 for the current year. It is now and for some years has been the second largest Amish settlement in the Commonwealth.

The date of origin of the nineteenth century Amish community in Juniata County is unknown to the writer, but it may have been as early as the first decade of the century. In 1850 there were two organized churches, one in Lost Creek Valley, and one in Tuscarora (Creek) Valley, respectively north and south of the Juniata River in the vicinity of Mifflintown. In an Amish census for 1850, taken in 1900 and based upon the memory of Amish old-timers who claimed ability to remember back to 1850, it was estimated that there were 85 members in these two churches at mid-century. In 1900 one member of the church was listed for Tuscarora Valley and none for Lost Creek Valley. In 1950 the writer found several former farmer-neighbors of the Amish who could vaguely remember this Amish colony which apparently was abandoned in the late 1880s or early 1890s. It became extinct by deaths and by the removal of Amish families to adjoining Mifflin County and elsewhere. Several small old cemeteries north and east of Mifflintown have many weathered tombstones on which characteristic Amish first names and surnames can be distinguished. Joseph W. Yoder has given us an interesting picture of Amish life in Lost Creek Valley during the later years of the community’s existence (Rosanna of the Amish, chs. 3-6). It was the Lost Creek Valley community to which Rosanna and her mother moved from Halfmoon Valley in Centre County, and from which she and her parents later removed to Big Valley in Mifflin County.

Another Amish community that also failed in the late nineteenth century was the Buffalo Valley congregation, located in Union County a few miles northeast of Mifflinburg and northwest of Lewisburg. This congregation-community began in the 1830s and survived for some five decades, becoming extinct in the 1880s. Of all former but now extinct Amish communities in the history of Amish settlement in the United States, this is the best documented one in the literature of Mennonitism. Its church history, as well as the life and customs of its inhabitants, have been discussed in detail by Prof. John Umble of Goshen College, Indiana (Mennonite Quarterly Review, Vol. VII, 1933, pp. 71-96 and 162-190). Professor Umble’s forbears were members of this community.

Some sixty miles west of the Union County group and several decades earlier in time there existed during approximately the first forty years of the last century a small Amish community in Halfmoon Valley, twelve miles northwest of State College in Centre County. The Amish farms were near the present village of Stormstown. A small Amish cemetery (on the farm of Mr. Clarence Beck, R.D., Warriors Mark, Pa.) survives as one of the two material marks of the former community’s existence. On Mr. Beck’s farm there is also an old house with removable partitions between the rooms. It is reasonable to assume that it was occupied, and possibly built, by an Amish family, for this was an Amish practice by which the downstairs rooms of a house were connected with each other to facilitate worship services in the home. Dr. John A. Hostetler, himself of Amish derivation, has found well-known Amish surnames in the Centre County Court House records at Bellefonte which pertain to this group and which extend fro 1804 to 1840. These dates of deeds, sales of property, etc., probably approximately limit the period of Amish occupancy of Halfmoon Valley. Readers of Rosanna of the Amish may recall that Rosanna was born in this valley and that she and her foster mother moved from it to Lost Creek Valley toward the middle years of the past century.

In this another area of the state memory of two other now-extinct Amish communities has been brought to light by recent field work among surviving non-Amish residents of the region. During the depression years of the 1930s an Old Order Amish community of from 20 to perhaps 30 or even 40 families was located near Spartansburg in northeastern Crawford County. The community began in the early 1930s by families migrating from Ohio, and it ended in the late 1930s by the families returning to their areas of origin. This community, according to present non-Amish residents of the area (visited by the writer in the summer of 1951), expired largely as a victim of the Depression. It is possible also that certain personality conflicts among its residents contributed to its failure as a functioning group (cf. Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, March, 1954, pp. 33-46).

There was also during the same decade a short-lived small Amish community of five families and one adult, consisting of 24 persons in all, only 12 of whom were adult members of the church, located at Bear Lake in northwestern Warren County. All but one of the members of this community were relatives, which illustrates the kinship principle that has been so important as a factor in the genesis and growth of new Amish communities in the United States. A bishop (interviewed by the writer in Mercer County in 1952) led this group, which was a worship congregation throughout the difficult months of its existence. The small group was troubled by physical illness, as well as lonesomeness and homesickness, and after two winters and an intervening summer they abandoned their farms and returned to Ohio form which they had come in the first place. It is probably one of the smallest and most temporary colonies in the 250 years of Amish settlement in America. In addition to the psychological factors, inability to market crops and to pay for their farms during and due to the Depression caused the failure of this venture. (I have reported on the Bear Lake colony as a case-study in Amish community failure in the July, 1953 issue of the Mennonite Historical Bulletin.)

The final instance of failure to successfully maintain Amish community life known to the writer is a small group that abandoned its attempt in April of the present year. In August, 1949, a group of three families, two of whose heads were Old Order Amish church officials in the Enon Valley congregation in Lawrence County, moved to Brush Valley in Centre County, several miles northeast of Centre Hall. The colony never thrived and to my knowledge was never joined by additional families. Three families are not enough, of course, to successfully maintain congregational life. In April, 1954, two of these families left the area, thus terminating to date the historic series of unsuccessful attempts at new community colonization by the Amish people in Pennsylvania.

All recent attempts of the Amish to start new communities have not failed, however. Contrary to the experience of the recent Centre County group, two other Amish communities, started in the state within the past five years, are growing and seem to be firmly established, at least prospectively, as functioning groups. These are the Amish community in Snyder County, four miles west of Selinsgrove, and a new group which recently located in Juniata County, north of Mifflintown—in the very area where the nineteenth-century Lost Creek Valley community met defeat some 60 or 70 years ago.

Three of the ten Amish communities now in existence in Pennsylvania (those in Lancaster, Somerset, and Mifflin counties) have had a continuous history from the eighteenth century. These three are the largest and most solidly established Amish communities in the Commonwealth at the present time. Two more were established in the nineteenth century (New Wilmington and Enon Valley, both in Lawrence County), one of which has been a steadily growing group. The remaining five have come into existence since 1924. Seven of the ten have been established since 1800, which would contradict the assertion found in a recent article that “Not many Amish communities have been established since 1800.” Seven may not be “many,” but it is more than half of the total surviving group.

It is thus seen that there are more extinct Amish communities in the history of the state than there are successfully surviving ones. The extinct ones were, with two exceptions, small groups which lasted less than half a century. We thus see that in Amish community life the larger the group and the longer it lasts, the stronger and less susceptible to failure it comes to be. Size and age of the community present themselves as a kind of insurance against community decline and death. In Pennsylvania, at least, if an Amish community can survive its first half-century, it seems to develop a degree of immunity to failure. However, insurance is not assurance, of course, that a community may not ultimately fail.

In spite of the fourteen failures of the Amish to successfully colonize in Pennsylvania, one should resist entertaining an impression that the Amish type of Pennsylvania German culture is marked by debility and carries the germs of its own decay and death. As has been previously pointed out, there are more Amish communities, more Amish churches, and more individual members of Amish churches and communities now than ever before in the history of the sect in this state. The same is true of all other states in which the Amish are represented in appreciable numbers. The Old Order Amish way of life may be changing, perhaps with increasing rapidity, but their numbers are also steadily increasing, and there are currently certainly no signs of decrease in the rate of increase of this group.

Transcribed in 2022 by Richard Mammana from a 1954 typescript. Another version of this article appeared in The Morning Call (Allentown), on August 21, 1954. American Quaker professor Maurice Allison Mook (1904-1973) was a scholar of the Walapai tribe in Arizona, and wrote widely on American Indian history, Amish history, Quaker society, and Pennsylvania folklore. He retired from Penn State in 1968.

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The Number of Amish in Pennsylvania, by Maurice A. Mook (1954)

It is a curious fact that no one seems to have given serious consideration to the number of Amish people in Pennsylvania. There are several published estimates of their number in Lancaster County and vicinity, and there are a few references to the “Big Valley” or Mifflin County group, but I have never seen estimates of their number elsewhere in the state. In fact, several authors write as though the Lancaster County Amish were the only community of this sect in the Commonwealth. Few students seem to be aware of the existence of, let alone the location and size of, more than one or two other Pennsylvania Amish communities.

There are, however, at present ten Old Order Amish communities in the state, and there are 47 separate Amish church districts or congregations. Of the latter there are 28 in Lancaster County, eight in Mifflin, four in Lawrence, two in Mercer, and one each in five other counties. Three new Old Order Amish communities have been established in Pennsylvania within the past five years, two of which seem to be growing, the other one apparently already nearly extinct. No one knows how many times the Amish have unsuccessfully attempted to establish new congregations in the history of the Commonwealth.

An Amish congregation and an Amish community should be clearly distinguished. An Amish community is a local geographical group all of whose members share the same basic religious beliefs and also similar customs based upon these beliefs. Faith, Family, and Farming subsume most aspects of Amish life, and of these three the most important is Faith, for it underlies the other two. The underlying basis of Amish group life is clearly their religion; they are, in fact, one of the best examples of a sectarian society to be found in modern America. Amish people try to practice what they preach and their religious principles thus pervasively permeate their everyday life and folkways. It is impossible to understand Amish lifeways without a knowledge of the fundamental tenets of their faith. Fortunately there is now available an inexpensive and accurate account of both of these aspects of Amish Life, in John A. Hostetler’s recently published pamphlet by that title (Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 1952). Even many Amish people say that this pamphlet “tells the truth”—an assertion which cannot be applied, unfortunately, to most accounts of this interesting people.

An Amish community may be divided into several separate churches, church districts, or congregations. The congregation may be a single church, or it may be a district division of a church. All Amish churches are organized independently of each other, for the Amish have no interchurch government of any kind. They are in this respect the most “congregational” group among American Protestants, with each local church having its own officials who are unaffiliated with officials of other Amish churches in any way. Occasionally Amish bishops confer with each other for an exchange of opinion on some current “problem” in an Amish area. Also some Amish churches are in “fellowship” with each other. Churches in fellowship may invite visiting ministers from another congregation in fellowship to preach, or may invite a bishop from another district to officiate at special services, such as weddings, funerals, or ordinations. But this is about as far as interchurch cooperation goes among them. Moreover, some Amish churches are not in fellowship with each other. The Amish are much opposed to the “Conference” type of interchurch organization, characteristic of some Mennonite and other Protestant bodies.

A full complement of ministers in an Amish church is a bishop (volle diener), two or three preachers (diener zum buch), and a deacon (armen diener). The respective functions of these ministers are clearly distinguished in C. G. Bachman’s detailed description of The Old Order Amish of Lancaster County (1942). When a church gets so large that all of its adult members can not conveniently assemble in the combined rooms of the first floor of an Amish home, the church is divided on a geographical basis into two “districts” or congregations. The members of each district then select their preachers by lot, and in the same way they usually also select a deacon. Two districts, however, may have the same bishop, as it is possible for him to oversee the worship services of both districts, fro the Amish worship every other Sunday and two districts may arrange to have their respective services on alternate Sundays.

It is thus possible for ten Pennsylvania Amish communities to be divided into 47 congregations, as they are at the present time. These Pennsylvania congregations had at the beginning of the present year 31 bishops, 37 deacons and 107 preachers, a total of 175 ordained church officials. A bishop, who is selected by lot from the ordained preachers of a local church, must officiate at the ordination services of preachers and deacons. Preachers and deacons are selected by lot from candidates nominated by all full members of a local church. Both men and women nominate, but only men are eligible for the ministerial offices. All Old Order Amish church officials serve ordinarily for life and always without pay.

As stated in the first paragraph, popular knowledge of the Amish in Pennsylvania seems largely confined to those of Lancaster and Mifflin counties, and knowledge of Amish communities and numbers elsewhere in the state is conspicuous by its absence. The paragraphs to follow will attempt to remedy this situation. The ten present Old Order Amish communities in Pennsylvania are located in nine counties, as follows: in Lancaster County, with the Amish community east of Lancaster city; Lebanon County, near Schaefferstown; Juniata County, north of Mifflintown; Snyder County, west of Selinsgrove; Mifflin County, in the Kishacoquillas Valley (“Big Valley”), around Belleville; southern Somerset County, south of Meyersdale; Mercer County, west of Jackson Center; Crawford County, surrounding the town of Atlantic, and there are two communities in Lawrence County, one near New Wilmington and one in Enon Valley.

The Lancaster County group, which extends into southernmost Berks and northwesternmost Chester counties, is the earliest, oldest, and largest Old Order Amish community in Pennsylvania. It is directly or indirectly the “mother colony” of all other Pennsylvania Amish communities, and it was likewise the source of many other communities located elsewhere in the United States. It was not the first Amish colony to be established in Pennsylvania, but it is the historically oldest surviving community with continuous Amish occupancy of its area.

The southern Somerset County community is the second oldest (established in the 1760s), and its church district today is the largest in the state (with c. 180 members). This is made possible by the fact that the Old Order Amish here worship in a “church house,” rather than in individual homes. This is said to be the only Old Order Amish group in the country to do so at the present time.

The “Big Valley” group in Mifflin County is the second largest and the third oldest in Pennsylvania. It was established in the early 1790s by migrants from Lancaster County. The Old Order Amish here are divided into five churches, one of which is subdivided into two districts and another into three. There are thus eight Old Order Amish church districts or congregations in the Valley, and there are, in addition, three Amish-Mennonite churches here. This Old Order community shows the widest range of differences in customs between its respective churches. The Old Order Amish churches here vary in such things as the length of men’s hair, the color of men’s shirts, the color of their “Dearborn” buggy tops, the number of suspenders men wear, the types of bonnets women wear, and the strictness with which the churches apply the practice of avoiding or shunning errant members.

The two Lawrence County groups are next oldest in life-history, the group near New Wilmington having been begun in the 1840s with the Enon Valley community forming later, partly as an offshoot from the former. The New Wilmington community has some 200 or more members, with its church divided into three districts; the Enon Valley community is less than one fourth as large and has had a somewhat troubled recent history.

The Crawford County Old Order Amish church was begun in 1924 by migration of families from Geauga County, Ohio, whose forebears in turn had come from Pennsylvania. The Mercer County church began in 1942 as a removal of some dozen families from Crawford County. It grew rapidly and soon divided into two church districts. The Lebanon County community began in 1940 as a small group of families from Lancaster County, and both the Snyder County and Juniata County communities began in 1949-50 with families migrating from Big Valley.

Although apparently unknown to most students of Pennsylvania German culture and also largely unknown to social scientists interested in sectarian community life, we are not entirely in the dark with respect to the number of Old Order Amish people in Pennsylvania and in the United States. The Mennonite Publishing House at Scottdale, Pennsylvania, since 1913 has annually published a Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. This annual volume has a valuable statistical section in which membership data for the recognized Mennonite bodies are recorded by countries, conferences, local churches, and certain other church-related organizations and institutions. The “Old Order Amish (Mennonites)” are regarded by Mennonite authorities as together constituting one of the main “bodies” of American Mennonitism. For this group I have excerpted the Yearbook membership data for all recorded Old Order Amish churches and communities in Pennsylvania from 1913 to 1954. This, to my knowledge, has never been done before, and part of it is herewith presented for the current year as the only quantitative data we have. The Yearbook data are here rearranged by communities, with this geographical classification being based upon personal knowledge of these communities deriving from visits paid to most of them during the past five years. The communities are listed in the following table in the order of their founding.

Four thousand adult members would be a conservative estimate for the Old Order Amish churches of Pennsylvania. The Yearbook does not include the Juniata County group as a congregation in its “Church Directory” (pp. 87-93), where each local church is listed with its reported number of members. However, three Old Order Amish preachers with Mifflintown (Juniata County) post office addresses are named in the “Ministerial Directory” (pp. 111-112). The present writer visited this area in 1950 before a church was organized and when there were only a few families in residence. It has grown since, but how many families and members are there at the present time is unknown. Also the Yearbook lists only 19 members for the Snyder County church in 1954, but there were 14 families in residence when the community was visited by the writer two years ago. This would normally indicate from 30 to 35 members of the church. One of the three church districts at New Wilmington goes unreported as to membership in the Yearbook, although its district ministers are listed. The Mennonite Yearbook conducts a voluntary census based on correspondence with local informants, and Old Order Amish Church representatives have never fully cooperated with either official (governmental) or unofficial voluntary religious censuses. It seems therefore safe to say that the figures offered add up to an over-all under-enumeration, and that the number of Old Order Amish church members in Pennsylvania may even reach a figure approaching 5,000.

Membership in Old Order Amish churches is restricted to adults. One joins by being baptized into the church and baptism is based upon the believer’s confession of faith, which thus limits it to adults. Also the Amish insist that infant baptism is non-scriptural. The question thus arises as to how many Amish individuals there are in their communities, including children and young people who have not yet been baptized and joined the church. In this connection most students seem to multiply the recorded church membership by two in order to estimate the total population of a community. My field work in Amish areas and perusal of Old Order Amish family genealogies (some forty of which have been published, mostly privately printed) leads me to conclude that the number of adult members of this church should be multiplied by at least three to arrive at an estimate of the total population of Amish communities. This ration of one to three would give us an estimate of from 12,000 to 15,000 Old Order Amish individuals in the State of Pennsylvania t the present time. Ten to twelve thousand would be a conservative and probably stingy estimate.

A version of this article was printed in The Morning Call (Allentown) newspaper on June 26, 1954. It was transcribed by Richard Mammana in 2021 from a photocopy. American Quaker professor Maurice Allison Mook (1904-1973) was a scholar of the Walapai tribe in Arizona, and wrote widely on American Indian history, Amish history, Quaker society, and Pennsylvania folklore. He retired from Penn State in 1968.

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An Early Amish Colony in Chester County, by Maurice A. Mook (1955)

One of the most interesting communities in the early history of Amish settlement in Pennsylvania is the “Society of Amists Brothers,” as it is called in a Chester County deed of 1787 (Deed Book C-2, 265; all legal records here cited are at the Chester County Courthouse at West Chester, Pa.). According to Amish tradition and family history, the settlement of this group in eastern Chester County began in the 1770s. It was much reduced in size by 1827, when a deed of that date informs us that the “Great (Chester) Valley Ominist Society” had become nearly extinct (Deed Book E-4, 310). The last Amish family is reported to have moved from the area in the early 1830s.

This community, which survived some sixty years, is of special interest for two reasons: local records clearly indicate the community’s early acceptance of non-Amish ways, and the group is unique in being the first Amish congregation in America to build a meetinghouse. The latter was a departure from the already century-old Amish tradition of worshiping in private homes. A “church house” is, in fact, a-typical of Amish practice throughout the 250 years of their New World history. Member of the Chester County meetinghouse still persists through tradition among the present-day Amish residents of neighboring Lancaster County. The stone-wall foundations of the building are also still discernible. Evidence for the acceptance of non-Amish practices by the members of the community consists largely of the records of Amish young people marrying non-Amish mates and joining other churches in the vicinity. The meetinghouse itself is also an example of the acceptance of a non-Amish institution. It has even been claimed that the structure of the building was pattered after the plain Quaker meetinghouses, three of which existed in the near vicinity of the Amish community in Chester Valley.

It is hoped that the present attempt to briefly record the history of the group may be of interest, not only because of the importance of the community from the standpoint of culture history, but also because such materials pertaining to the group as have been published have appeared in local and fugitive sources, most of which are difficult of access to the average reader. These consist of a privately printed local history, now out of print; two privately printed family histories, both out of print; an article in a church paper more than 50 years ago; two more recent articles in a local historical series since discontinued, and a recent graduate thesis in history at the University of Pittsburgh. The bulk of the material for the complete history of the community remains unused in the Court House at West Chester, Pa., and in sources collected, classified, and catalogued at the Chester County Historical Society Library, also at West Chester. The present essay will deal particularly with the family names found in the written records and with the material cultural marks of this community—specifically its meetinghouse and the graveyard associated with it. The acculturational aspect of the community life, as evidenced in the still largely unused sources just mentioned, will have to await future study.

The Chester County “Society of Amists,” or “Ominist Minist (Amish Mennonite) Society,” as it is called in a later deed (Deed Book M-C, 331; deed dated Dec. 28, 1816) did not exist as an organized “society” in the usual sense of the word. It was merely a local group of Amish families who lived and worshiped together as a congregational community. Their meetinghouse was used both as a place of worship and as a sectarian school for the Pennsylvania German-speaking young people of the community. This building, with its cemetery across the road from it, was located in northern East Whiteland Township in eastern Chester County. A local newspaper in 1928 described the ruins of the former meetinghouse as located “in the heart of the beautiful Chester Valley, about four miles north of the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.” It is elsewhere described as “a short distance west of the Cedar Hollow Lime Quarries on Moore road.”

With these descriptions in mind the writer spent several hours attempting to locate the site in December 1954. The road leading west of the lime quarries is now cut off by the Pennsylvania Turnpike. No “Moore road” is marked by either maps or road signs in this vicinity. However there is a Morehall Road which extends northward from Malvern toward Devault. One-half mile south of Devault a narrow unpaved road leads westward from Morehall Road. The site of the meetinghouse is near the north side of this road one mile west of Morehall Road. The small site, now overgrown with bushes and small trees, is surrounded on three sides by a cultivated field. Directly across the road from the ruins of the church is the wall-enclosed cemetery. The wall still stands, as do several dozen gravestones. The ruins of the meetinghouse were razed in the 1930s and what stones remain are now somewhat scattered. However, the foundations of the walls are still vaguely discernible. Probably some tombstones in the cemetery lie now buried in topsoil. The site is one that deserves at least superficial archaeological excavation, if such a thing could be negotiated.

A photograph of the meetinghouse “as it appeared in 1899” was published in 1911. However there are published reports of the building having been destroyed by fire in 1895. Photographs of the ruins of the building, with its four walls partly standing, were taken in 1937 and are on file at the Chester County Historical Society. These photographs and the still discernible foundation stones indicate a building of modest proportions. It was perhaps 18 feet wide by 35 feet long, or 20 x 40 feet at the most generous estimate. The photographs clearly indicate a one-story building. There may have been a chimney and fireplace at the east end of the structure. The length of the building paralleled the road and the earliest known photograph shows a door and a window in the east gable end, with two doors and three windows on the south side of the structure which faced the road. When used as an Amish meetinghouse it would have been furnished with backless benches and with no rostrum or pulpit. Men and women still sit separately in all Amish meeting places, and it is probable that the two front doors were for the separate entrance of male and female worshippers.

The size of the graveyard and the number of burials in it, as well as the dates on the gravestones, clearly indicate that the cemetery was used longer than the meetinghouse served as a place of Amish worship. The former was visited in the 1930s by staff-members of the Chester County Historical Society, who were able to decipher inscriptions on 39 stones. It was then described as in a state of neglect and deterioration—a fair statement of its condition when viewed by the writer in December, 1954. It has had some care, however, for the wall is in repair and the burial area is not as overgrown as is the meetinghouse site. The enclosing wall is approximately 50 x 100 feet in width and length, with the longer side of the rectangular enclosure facing the road. Several dozen gravestone inscriptions are still decipherable; many more graves, however, are marked by small, irregularly shaped, flat fieldstones which carry no inscriptions. There are also undoubtedly numerous unmarked graves. Unmarked graves, gravestones without inscriptions, and general neglect are still characteristic of small Amish community cemeteries in Pennsylvania. The Amish meetinghouse was sold in 1827, and the last Amish family, as earlier stated, removed from Chester Valley in the early 1830s. The death dates on many of the inscribed tombstones in this cemetery are later. The cemetery is referred to in nineteenth-century sources as the “Union Grave Yard,” indicating that it was used by families of non-Amish affiliation (as was also the meetinghouse). Accordingly there are burials of individuals with such non-Amish and non-Geran names as Davis, Hall, Harley, Meconkey and Ruth.

The site of the cemetery and meetinghouse is 1 1/2 miles west by south of Devault and four miles north by west of Malvern. It is on the Phoenixville Quadrangle of the United States Geological Survey maps for this part of southeastern Pennsylvania. It is less than one mile south of the modern Pennsylvania Turnpike, the hurried traffic over which can be seen from the century and a half old site of the meetinghouse. The early Amish farms were scattered in the area, north, east, and southwest of the meetinghouse. The westernmost farm that can be identified as Amish was located near present Exton, the easternmost in Tredyffrin Township, and the northernmost in Charleston Township. Most of the farms were in East Whiteland Township, with a few in West Whiteland. The Amish community was thus located on and north of the present Lincoln Highway (U.S. Route 30), largely between the towns of Exton and Malvern. The settlement is referred to in Mennonite literature as the “Chester Valley,” “Whiteland,” or “Malvern” community or congregation.


Amish tradition has it that this community was established by Moritz Zug, who with his brothers John and Christian, their families, and perhaps a few other Amish people, moved to Chester County in the early 1770s. They came from the earlier “Northkill” Amish congregation in northern Berks County, which had been disrupted by a series of Indian raids during the French and Indian War. Moritz and Christian remained and died in Chester County, while John (Johannes) Zug removed to Honebrook Township in northwestern Chester County where he died in 1790. Christian Zug, Sr. had a son, also named Christian, who became a minister and leader of the Valley community. His name, and that of his cousin, Moritz Zug’s son Jacob, occur most frequently in contemporary references to the Amish in this area. Preacher Christian Zug’s twelfth child and last-born son, Henry Zoon, married to Christiana Kurtz, was with his children the last family of Amish connection to reside in Chester Valley. The family removed to Lancaster County in 1834. Moritz Zug’s son Jacob Zook is repeated mentioned in contemporary records as “Trusee” for the “Society of Amist Brothers.” He died at Exton in 1829. He and his wife, Gertrude Kenege, had a family of thirteen children, all born in West Whiteland Township. There are other Amish family names, such as Coffman, Lapp, and Rickabaugh, to be found in sources pertaining to this community. However its terminal dates, as well as its dominant personalities, are in the record of the first three generations of the Zug family in America. The dates c. 1770 and c. 1834 mark the period during which entire families of definitely Amish religious conviction occupied the area.

As is well known, there are relatively few characteristically Amish family names to the present day, and there were still fewer in the years of early Amish settlement in America. These names are a helpful, although not infallible, guide to the identification of persons of Amish connection. Deeds, wills, and other records indicate the presence of persons with Amish surnames in this area from c. 1770 to the present time. However, later individuals and families—subsequent to the 1830s—are clearly non-Amish in their religious affiliation. One student has examined recorded wills for the period of Amish occupancy of Chester Valley and found five of them pertaining to members of this community. A preliminary inventory recently made by the present writer revealed more than five such wills, but the reported five range in time from 1786 to 1826 and refer to 18 individuals representing four Amish families, as follows: Coffman (2 individuals), Kurtz (2), Lapp (5), and Zug (9). There are also three wills by Rickabaughs recorded from 1805 to 1848. Of the foregoing names that of Rickabaugh is th eleast familiar as an Amish eponym. However, in a quit-claim of 1792 Adam Rickabaugh is listed among the names of eight “persons of the said Society of Amists” (Deed Book G-2, 200) and his own will also bequeaths money to Jacob Zoon who is named as a trustee of “our religious society” (Will Book L-11, 88). The name Zug is also spelled Zook in local records dating from 1787, and Coffman is spelled Kauffman in the earliest sources for the community. German names were thus soon Anglicized.

It is possible also to identify persons of Amish connection in recorded County deeds to property. Miss Dorothy B. Lapp, on the staff of the Chester County Historical Society and a descendant of early southeastern Pennsylvania Amish ancestors, reports seven deeds ranging in time from 1787 to 1827, in which there are references to 13 representatives of four Amish family names, including four Coffmans, five Zooks, three Lapps, and one Rickabaugh. Miss Lapp advises me that her survey of deeds is incomplete, having been made from time to time incident to other duties. It is thus possible that additional deeds will reveal a few more family names. Some names in the deeds repeat those in the wills, but allowing for probable duplications in the twelve documents there are references to 24 individuals who by their first and family names may be identified as members of the Amish community. They all occur in documents dating from 1786 to 1827, both of which years are well within the terminal dates marking the duration of the local Amish group as a living community.

Miss Lapp is the Historical Society representative mentioned earlier as the transcriber of the 39 gravestone inscriptions still decipherable in the East Whiteland Township Union Grave Yard. Among these there are seven Zooks, seven Coffmans, five Lapps, and two Rickabaughs. Not all individuals of these surnames were Amish, however, as is clearly indicated by their non-Amish first names and by their dates of death. Among the seven Coffmans, for example, are the wife and two daughters of one “Isaac Z. Coffman, M.D.,” who as a professional man could not have been Amish. Several of the individuals are clearly Amish, however, for their names are also recorded in legal documents related to the “Amist Society.” There are, in addition, the graves of several Amish women whose names are lacking in the legal records, but whose husbands’ names occur in these sources.

It is thus possible to rescue five family names of members of the community from wills, deeds, and gravestone inscriptions. However, it is impossible from these to offer an estimate of the size of the community, for it is improbable that all family names became a matter of record and moreover here, as elsewhere in Amish communities, the number of family names is no indication of the size of the total community. There were here, as in most Amish communities, several resident families representative of each family name, and there were also in this small community several individuals with the same given as well as family name. Thus two Adam Rickabaughs are buried in the cemetery, one who died in 1804, and the other in 1825. There were also at least two Christian Zugs, father and son, one having made his will in 1786 and the other in 1836. The presence of identically named individuals in the same local community is commonly met with in Amish history.

From genealogies, deeds, wills, and Mennonite historians,” Miss Lapp has compiled a list of 15 local Amish families. Her list is undoubtedly incomplete, for she tells me that she made her compilation without access to the Mast Family History which lists a number of Chester Valley Amish families related by marriage to the Lancaster County Amish Mast family. The Hertzler family history is also valuable in this connection, for the Hertzlers were related to the Zugs by marriage. Some of these Chester County families were large, with as many as from nine to 14 children. Thus John Coffman and his wife Mary Mast (a daughter of Amish Bishop Jacob Mast of Lancaster County) had 14 children, as did one of the Adam Rickabaughs and his wife. Jacob and Gertrude (Kenege) Zug had 13 children; Christian and Magdalene (Blank) Zug had 10; John Zug and his wife Elizabeth (Mast) had nine; another John Zug and his wife Catherine also had nine; Henry Zug and his wife Christiana (Kurtz) had eight; etc. That the typical Amish family has always been large is immediately apparent from perusal of the numerous privately published Amish genealogies, over forty of which have been printed to date.

A feature of interest and importance, which will be developed in a separate paper, is that family records indicate that many of the children of Chester County Amish families married non-Amish mates. Those who married out of their faith did not all move from the area, however. One the other hand, the Chester County Amish young people who married Amish mates chose them largely from other Amish communities and then moved to those communities. The Chester County community thus lost members by out-marriage and also by geographical removal. The younger members of this community either married out and joined other faiths, or married within the faith and moved away. Meanwhile, older members of course died, and the community thus gradually also expired.

Although it is obviously impossible to estimate the size of the community from the size of the family when the number of resident families is unknown, we are not entirely in the dark with respect to the size of this community. The first census of the United States, taken in 1790, which enumerated by named heads of families as well as by size of household, listed 10 family heads with Amish surnames in four townships of eastern Chester County. These ten families had a total of 106 individual members, an average of 10.6 persons per family. Published family histories show that this census was decidedly incomplete for this community, and that the overall under-enumeration for the group may have been as high as half of the total number. Past experience has proved that the Amish people have never fully cooperated with voluntary religious censuses, and it is also known that they unenthusiastically comply with laws requiring official enumerations. It is also well known that our first federal census was the least accurate one ever taken by our government. It seems therefore reasonable to surmise that there may have been from 15 to 20 resident families, with from 175 to 200 individual members, in the Amish community at this time. It was apparently largest in the late 1790s, toward the turn of the century.

Population decline soon set in, however. The “Big Valley” Amish colony in Mifflin County was established in the early 1790s and Chester Valley Amish families are known to have contributed to the early growth of this new settlement in central Pennsylvania. Some Chester County young people found their marital mates among the Amish of Lancaster County and removed to that area, as we have seen. The original Chester County Amish settlers died in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By 1816 the Amish group was also so adjusted to non-Amish neighbors that the “Ominist Minist and German Baptists Societies” were sharing the meeting house both as a “House of Worship and school for the use of the said societies” (Deed Book M-3, 331). In 1817 a member of a small group of Bernese Anabaptists who were journeying from Philadelphia to Ohio reported that “On the 16th of October we went 23 miles from Philadelphia to a settlement of five Amish families” and that “On the 17th we then went (on) to the Pequa. Here we stayed a week.” Pequa refers to the Lancaster County Amish colony, of course, and the reference to the “five families” 23 miles from Philadelphia clearly locates them in Chester County. Ten years after the date of this visit Jacob Zook, “Trustee of the Great Valley Ominist Society in Chester County,” petitioned the Pennsylvania Legislature to sell the land and buildings thereon held by him as trustee for the group, the reason given being that “the Great Valley Ominist Society by death and removals had become nearly extinct” (Deed Book E-4, 310). In March 1827 the property was sold to John Malin, who in turn deeded it to five non-Amish “Trustees of the Valley Creek School.” The building was thereafter used as a school, Baptist church, and place of public assembly for the non-Amish inhabitants of the region. Finally, the last Amish family moved from Chester Valley to join co-religionists in Lancaster County in 1834.

The Chester County Amish congregational-community thus declined and finally became extinct as the result of the deaths of its older members, the geographical removal of those who remained Amish, and the outmarriage and acceptance of a non-Amish religion and way of life by those who remained in the Valley. Here, as elsewhere in the history of religiously centered communities, we find that small groups who accept secular beliefs and customs can not survive as sectarian societies.

This article was serialized in The Morning Call (Allentown) newspaper on February 26, 1955 and March 5, 1955. It was transcribed by Richard Mammana in 2008 from photocopies. American Quaker professor Maurice Allison Mook (1904-1973) was a scholar of the Walapai tribe in Arizona, and wrote widely on American Indian history, Amish history, Quaker society, and Pennsylvania folklore. He retired from Penn State in 1968.

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