Amish & English


The Appalachian region has been defined geographically since the earliest non-native settlers began to move beyond the Atlantic coastal plains in the late 18th century. The culture of northern Appalachia has been observed for just about as long. This culture has more similarities than differences from that of our Holmes County Amish community today for a myriad of reasons.

The geographical dividing line between the Atlantic eastern seaboard and the Midwest region of the United States is considered the Eastern Continental Divide which follows the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

The Appalachian plateau area is extremely rugged terrain without actually being called mountains. In Holmes County Ohio, the plateau has been glaciated, rounding off the sharp ridges and filling in the valleys to some degree.

Hill country is the label often given to this glaciated region with elevation ranges from 650 to 1,000 ft (200 to 300 m). It is characterized by rounded hills, ridges, and broad valleys. Glacial features include valley scour, ground moraines, kames, eskers, and kettled outwash plains. Excellent examples of these features exist all across Ohio’s Amish Country. Our broad glaciated valleys have provided the soils and geographic disposition sought by our Germanic settlers of Christian faith in the early 18th century and beyond.

The values of the Appalachian people are less modern than the customs of some bigger cities in America. Loyal Jones, scholar and co-founder of the Berea College Appalachian Center, identifies ten values common among Appalachians:

1. Individualism, Self-Reliance
2. Religion
3. Neighborliness and Hospitality
4. Family Solidarity or Familism
5. Personalism
6. Love of Place
7. Modesty and Being Oneself
8. Sense of Beauty
9. Sense of Humor
10. Patriotism

The Amish, frontier people like other European immigrants after the War of 1812, moved beyond the Atlantic coastal plains seeking inexpensive land. Settling into the hill country of northern Appalachia, the Amish set out to practice farming much the same way they had in the old country. Individualism and self-reliance were necessary skills for early frontiersman. Their land stewardship practices are evidence of self-reliance and respect for what they have been blessed with the responsibility to care for. Just short of exhibiting pride, the Amish do things for themselves so they are not beholden to others. They want to make-do in their personal and community life style, thus the label of ‘plain and simple.’

The Ohio Amish are deeply religious both historically and culturally. Meaning about life springs from religious sources, such as the belief that outside sources control one’s life and that things happen for a reason and will work out for the best under God’s plan. These deeply held beliefs help people in hard times.

Neighborliness and hospitality are exhibited by Ohio’s Amish and their Appalachian neighbors hour by hour. Never unwilling to help a neighbor out, it is this community spirit that allows the Amish to live without worry that if something would happen to them or another family member, the entire community would support their needs. Although suspicious of strangers, once you are known to them, you will always be offered rest or something to eat or drink when you visit.

The family centered life is what sets the Amish community apart from its Hutterite ancestor cousins, also living a plain and simple live albeit communally. This family centered life has the characteristics of northern Appalachian settlers, one where “blood is thicker than water.” Loyalties run deep with responsibilities to take care of family extending far beyond the immediate family. Locally, many Amish families will care for an unmarried Aunt or sister, as well as visit and care for all the geriatric members of their church community. With their chosen lifestyle, it is common for many families to have great and great-great grandchildren living in the same area alongside their respected grandparents.

Practically speaking, the church values families more than individuals by counting number of families (households) rather than number of baptized persons when the church district is measured. It is the families that take turns hosting the church service. Parents do not stress their own individual rights, but their responsibilities and obligations for the nurturing of their children. They consider themselves responsible to God for the spiritual welfare of their children.

One’s social relationship with others or personalism is stressed throughout childhood in both cultures. Most people will go to great lengths to keep from offending others. Getting along is viewed as more important that letting one’s feelings be known. A person is viewed more for their personal talents, such as their workmanship or nurturing skills, than by the certificates or training that one has received.

Love of place is expressed by the signature newspaper ‘The Budget’ as well as other publications in which Amish correspondents share the news of what is happening by simply signing their name and home location; ie: Erma Miller, Baltic, Ohio. Home is the place where family members are buried. Immediate family members who have moved away from their birth location often see relatives during long weekends and as a family vacation which is most often referred to as visiting.

Being oneself, not a phony, is another shared value by both Appalachians and Amish. A person should not put on airs, pretend to be something that you are not or be boastful in any way. The clothing of the Amish, no different from the early frontier clothing of other European settlers at the time, paid no attention to fashion or to dressing above oneself. Amish clothing, like school uniforms in the Midwest, are used to create a sense of equity among persons in the community and from the outside.

The sense of beauty Amish value above all else is the beauty of nature. They use nature to express themselves in relation to their surroundings in many ways. Colorful gardens, well-kept farms and houses, canned goods, quilts and skilled woodcrafts all share the beauty found in nature.

Although dour, both Appalachian and Amish folks have a quiet sense of humor, which is often expressed by laughing at oneself. Neither appreciate being laughed at, but will make fun of their own kind or of their own situation readily.

Going back to times before the Civil War, patriotism has been strong, but has been expressed in different ways. Out of need for family members to stay on the farm and respect for deep seated religious beliefs, the Amish have been conscientious objectors to participation in war conflicts. Appalachian families have worn their war efforts and support on their sleeves as part of their family heritage over the decades. Although one might likely find a flag displayed in the home of their Appalachian neighbors, you might just as likely find a picture of current or past Presidents of the United States displayed on a side cupboard or bulletin board in an Amish home or in an Amish schoolhouse.

Among hill country folks, it seems that both native Appalachians and their Amish neighbors are embarrassed by outward signs of social recognition. The accumulation of wealth by both cultures is seen not as a sign of social standing, but as a way to enhance the well-being of the community. The Christian base for both cultures supports the premise that material success is not a sign of assurance for salvation. The limitations on consumption, combined with the compulsion to save, has made possible an economic base for both to be “in the world, but not of it.”