The Amish Come to America

William Penn had promised religious freedom in his new Province. It was a part of his “Holy Experiment.”

There had been positive reports about the potential of the local soils and the friendliness of the people, which encouraged the Amish to immigrate to Pennsylvania. The lure of inexpensive, fertile land made the treacherous travel of the day worth the deadly risk.

The vast new lands were part of the charter William Penn had received from King Charles II in 1681. Named by the king in honor of Penn’s father, the new proprietor advertised for settlers or as he called them, “adventurers.” Penn sought “farmers, day laborers, carpenters, masons, smiths, weavers, tailors, tanners, shoemakers, shipwrights, and in addition, merchants who understood commerce, and men of administrative capacity to set the new community on its feet.” Penn had hoped to profit from selling tracts of lands to these adventurers. There was an abundance of cheap land available for those hearty enough to endure the challenges of getting to and living in the New World.

By 1735, word had spread to the Palinate about the New World. Although the trans-Atlantic journey could be an extreme hardship at that time, and the living conditions in colonial Pennsylvania were tough at best, the Amish were attracted to a new, bountiful landscape and tolerant governmental authorities offering religious freedom in a land that would be their new home.

In 1736, a small group of Amish bought an isolated tract located deep in the dangerous and unforgiving edge of the frontier in the British Colonies. It was located along the remote Northkill Creek, which is in present-day northwest Berks County, Pennsylvania. At that time, the area was considered a part of Lancaster County. Located close to the picturesque eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the new settlement was positioned near a strategic gap that led directly into the lands of the native Lenape people. Over the following years, more Amish arrived in Northkill with several large groups settling in 1742 and 1749.

By 1749, Northkill soon was a thriving settlement of more than 150 residents in the Pennsylvania Province. Amish Bishop Jacob Hartzler moved to the community in 1749. It was the first and now the largest of the original Amish settlements in Pennsylvania. Some of the family names included Burkeys, Glicks, Hershbergers, Hostetlers, Jotters, Kauffmans, Hetzlers, Millers, Troyers, Yoders, and Zugs.

The German-speaking pacifists constructed sturdy stone houses. They cleared the woods, chopping trees, removing stumps, and creating fields. They planted orchards that produced abundant supplies of apples and peaches. They produced plentiful harvests of hay, wheat, and rye from rich, horse-plowed fields made even more fertile by the German practice of tilling manure into the soil.

### Special Note: Amish Wisdom is an ongoing feature of various entries about the Amish on George Sheldon's website and blog. Written and produced by George, it is intended to provide information about those of the Amish faith.