The Amish are one of the few immigrant peoples to maintain their distinctive identity over more than three or four generations after migration to North America. Their identity is based largely on two factors: the Anabaptist religious beliefs that led to persecution in their German and Swiss homelands and a simple, agricultural lifestyle that rejects most modern technological innovations. There are more than 150,000 practicing Amish in North America living in 22 U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada. About three-quarters of them live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but there are also large settlements in New York and Ontario. As farmland became scarce in southeastern Pennsylvania and other traditional areas of Amish settlement, new communities were established in rural areas of other states.
The Amish were followers of Jacob Amman, an Anabaptist Mennonite who in the 1690s introduced ritual foot washing and the shunning of those who failed to adhere to the rules of the community. These practices distinguished his followers from other Protestant groups that also believed in adult baptism, separation of church and state, pacifism, non-swearing of oaths, and communal accountability. The Amish, like all Anabaptist groups, were persecuted in an age when state religions were the rule and military service was expected. They were often forbidden to own land and encouraged to emigrate. During the 18th century, about 500 Amish immigrated to Pennsylvania from Switzerland and the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany. The first families arrived in 1727, with the majority following between 1737 and 1754. All remained in Pennsylvania. The greatest period of immigration was between 1804 and 1860, when 3,000 Amish emigrated from Alsace, Lorraine, Montbeliard, Bavaria, Hesse, Waldeck, and the Palatinate. Many settled in Pennsylvania, but 15 additional settlements were founded throughout the United States.
As good land became more expensive in the United States, a few Amish families purchased land in Canada, mainly in Waterloo County, Ontario. Christian Nafziger obtained permission from the government to settle in Wilmot Township, just west of an already-established Mennonite settlement (see Mennonite immigration). Between 1825 and 1850, some 1,000 Amish were living in the province, with most coming directly from France and Germany. Though few Amish came to the United States after the Civil War (1861–65) and many became acculturated, a high fertility rate led to a small but steady growth of the Amish community in the United States and Canada. In 1900, there were only 5,000 Amish; by 1980, their number had risen to about 80,000.