(Year 3) Days 135 & 136 – Two Days With the Amish

October 31, 2012 – 10:13 pm 5 Comments

What a really wonderful part of the United States, Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is. Beautiful rolling hills and plenty of trees, which, at this time of the year, have really gorgeous Autumnal colours; reminds us very much of the UK.  We’ve driven around the county “Amish spotting” and we’ve passed through a variety of villages – Bird in Hand, Paradise, Ronks and Intercourse, most of the driving being done on small, narrow lanes – again very reminiscent of the UK.

The Protestant Revolution in Europe in the 16th Century gave birth to the Mennonites; they are Anabaptists, which means that they don’t agree with infant baptism and therefore were opposed to the Protestants.  The leader of this group was Menno Simons, and his followers soon became known as Mennonites; these groups of Anabaptists and Mennonites would later migrate to America to escape persecution and seek religious freedom, as well as fleeing to Germany, in the Alsace-Lorraine area.  It was in Germany, that a Swiss-Mennonite Bishop (Jacob Ammann), became the leader of one particular group, who held slightly different beliefs yet again.  This group soon became known as Amish Mennonites – this  very soon became abbreviated to Amish.

Something that had always puzzled me was why the groups who had migrated to America were known as Pennsylvania Dutch and how they had been encouraged here.  Apparently William Penn (who had received the territory, now called Pennsylvania, from King Charles II), believed that agriculture was the basis for economic success for the new colony. He knew that the Mennonites were excellent farmers and so he encouraged groups to come to America, to receive cheap land to farm and to be able to practice their religion without interference.  In 1727 a large group settled in Southern Pennsylvania, they were descendants from the German Rhineland and the German part of Switzerland and they were called the Pennsylvania Dutch.  It would seem this is because of a mispronunciation of the word “Deutsch” meaning German, so that explains that one!!  The current Amish population in America and Canada is now about 150,000.

The Amish believe in separatism – that one must reject affairs of the World and all the trappings it brings in order to best love God.  Luxuries must be shunned and to seek wealth or to alter one’s position above another through education, fashion, or profession etc. etc. must be avoided.  Any exercising of power or self-exaltation is regarded as sinful and their choice is to follow the simple life of their ancestors.  They don’t own cars, telephones or electrical appliances as they believe they are a threat to their Society – there are however deviations on some of these rules!!  Along the edge of many properties you will see small sheds, which look like outhouses!!   These contain a telephone and are used by the members of the Amish Community for business purposes.  The separatism from the World regarding the utility’s line, they believe is being upheld, because the line doesn’t actually enter the house and they have not installed a telephone in their home!!   What’s been recognised is that many Amish folk today are running farming businesses and businesses in tourism and more and more frequently they need to have the ability to communicate with business partners and the English (the name given to non-Amish persons).  So, what about mobiles?!  Well, they appear to be acceptable (for business men and purposes) because they are able to communicate outside the home, however, in other stricter Districts this may not be the case – the situation does appear to vary slightly from group to group.    It seems that technology should not be an intrusion into the home, but rather serve the social purposes and goals of the group.

The Amish use water wheels and windmills to pump water and to power generators.  Also, they use diesel engines to run a vacuum pump for the milking machines and to drive the compressor for the refrigerated tanks on the dairy farms.  The diesel engines have been improvised in that electric motors have been replaced by hydraulic pumps or air pumps. These air and hydraulic oil pumps are used to power tools in their woodworking and cabinet making. Many kitchen appliances are adapted to run off compressed air – Amish women use power blenders and food mixers in this way.  Stoves and refrigerators use propane gas, which is also used to heat the water in the kitchen and bathroom.   Car batteries are used to power cash registers in shops and also electric typewriters!  On the farm, they may use any mechanical equipment so long as a horse (or mule), pulls it or pushes it. Also, they use tractors, but without rubber tyres, only tractors with steel rims are allowed!   The main crops grown are hay, wheat, barley, corn, soybeans, oats and tobacco.



And what do I know on the subject of photographing the Amish?   Well, the Amish believe that photographs in which they can be recognised violate the Biblical Commandment which is “Thou Shalt not make unto thyself a graven image”.  They therefore find it quite offensive to have their photograph taken, particularly if they can be recognised from it.  They highly value humility and believe photography can accentuate one’s individuality.  They are a little more relaxed about children being photographed because, until they are of age, they have not been baptised into the Church.  I have taken all of my photos from a moving van and, yes, it’s been quite tricky!!   In many countries though we’ve had to be careful taking photographs – the telephoto lens is wonderful for these situations.  I remember when we were in Tobago on Honeymoon, the locals were very unhappy about being photographed – particularly older people, as they believe that photography “captures one’s soul” ………..


Another area of much interest to us, is the lack of bicycles here amongst the Amish in Lancaster County.  You see plenty of them on scooters but not on bicycles.  Apparently, in other Amish communities it is common to see them on bicycles – in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois for example.  However, here in Lancaster County, it is considered by this group to be too ‘worldy’, they want to keep the children close to home and so they substitute the bicycle for the scooter.


We’ve really enjoyed our 1 ½ days here in Pennsylvania Dutch, although it’s not been long enough to explore as much as we’d have liked.




This evening we’ve headed out of Pennsylvania into New Jersey to head towards Newark.   The traffic was terrible – very heavy, but luckily the roads were dry.  Plenty of trees down along our drive and as we got nearer to Newark it got more chaotic.  We weren’t able to get a hotel and so we spent the night in the back of our van, which we parked in a large retail complex car park!


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5 Responses to “(Year 3) Days 135 & 136 – Two Days With the Amish”

  1. Judy Werner Says:

    wow, thank you for all the Amish information. I now know more than I ever have, and I even lived near them in Ohio 35 years ago. Sorry about the chaos in NJ – how terribly sad all of this has been. I hope you find a hotel tonight! ox Judy

  2. Andrea Says:

    Hi you two, well done for the photography…I’ve studied these people a lot, they are very resilient and a very closed society. Women have very few rights and are abused as they are in other societies,but they have no recourse,and don’t seek it because they would be abandoned….not much difference between them and the Taliban to be frank!
    Gosh did i say that !

  3. Rog & Dee Says:

    Hi Andrea, yes, agreed. Much like many religious and social groups, it’s strictly patriarchal. This has been very much the case in so many countries that we’ve travelled through over the last 2 years …….. A few days’ ago I researched to see why it is the case with the Amish and apparently it is because of the passage in Corinthians 11:3 “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” – aah, that’s Ok then ……!!!!

    Also spent some time researching contraception in the Amish community – traditionally, they reject all forms of birth control and follow the doctrine of “go forth and mutliply” and a child is seen as a Gift from God. However a slight drop in family size, definitely points to a use of birth control and some now say that they may use it, even if they have a conscience against it. Then, of course, depending on what type of birth control, it creates all sorts of juggling with one’s conscience it seems …..!!!

    Margaret Sanger must be turning in her grave, wondering why she ever bothered ………..!!! Now, she’s a woman I think is amazing!

  4. Rog & Dee Says:

    Hi Judy, yes, I enjoyed reading all about them as well – fascinating stuff! We’re loving the countryside here – such a shame we can’t get up to see you in Vermont, but we are sure we’ll be back in the US some time in the future and will be sure to look you up then! x

  5. Alan and Marie Lewis Says:

    Fascinating. Wow. Beautiful pictures. A strange dichotomy the Amish. You have to respect the commitment and faith, but, but, but.

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