An Amish farmer works along Route 24 in southern York County. (York Daily Record file)
Why are there so few Amish in York County compared to Lancaster County?
You see the dark buggies, the hitching posts for horses outside Rutters and signs to watch for horse-drawn conveyances around southeastern York County.
The Amish, indeed, are a growing presence in the region around the Norman Wood Bridge, and, really throughout the county.
This leads to the question: Why did it take so long for the Amish to cross to the Susquehanna River’s west bank in such noticeable numbers.
Putting it another way, why are there so many more Amish, Mennonite and Church of the Brethren adherents, sometimes grouped as Anabaptists, in Lancaster County than in York County?
This is a difficult one to answer because it’s hard to find an authority who directly addresses this.
It’s possible that I missed this discussion in the works of Dr. Charles H. Glatfelter and Abdel Ross Wentz, who wrote much about early York County settlers and their faith groups.
Here’s the short possible answer, based on pulling together pieces of history about the Anabaptists, so named because they adhere to believers baptism rather than baptism of infants:
The Amish and other Anabaptist groups came to Lancaster County early, in the 1720s. So they were settled there for 10 years before most settlers started moving into York County in numbers and 20 years before the village of York was founded.
The early settlers of York County were Lutheran and German Reformed church members. For example, their first churches in the village of York and were erected in the 1740s. Meanwhile, these members of Lutheran and German Reformed congregations were settling on prime York-area farmland in the Codorus Creek valley.
An early Church of Brethren congregation formed in the York area in 1758, and that church gathered in remote Dunkard Valley, near today’s Loganville.
So evidence suggests that the Lutheran, Reformed and then Presbyterian congregations – known as Magisterial Reformers or Church People – arrived early west of the Susquehanna and then like attracted like from Europe. The same grouping of a Anabaptist faith groups was happening among the Amish, Mennonites and Brethren in Lancaster County.
Now, for a longer possible answer.
What happened in Europe didn’t stay in Europe.
These magisterial Reformation congregations, the Church People, differed from the Anabaptists, part of the Radical Reformation in Europe, in their belief in infant baptism v. the adult baptism of the Anabaptists.
Lutherans and German Reformed congregations in Europe – and in American – also interacted with government and the military and created their own church hierarchies, e.g, bishops or regional grouping of churches. The Radical Reformers – the Anabaptists – thought that setup resembled the Catholic Church, from which both sets of these Protestants – Radical and Magisterial Reformers – had separated.
These types of disagreement sometimes caused conflict in Europe.
Some of these differences might have translated into separation between York and Lancaster counties. Those Anabaptists who made it across the Susquehanna in York County, who were also pacifists, formed their own settlements.
This is not to say that Anabaptists were sparse in York County. Even today – in 2010 – there are 14 Church of the Brethren congregations, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. But there were 65 Lutheran congregations and 37 German Reformed (now United Church of Christ) in 2010.
Amish have been moving into southeastern York County in the past two decades, settling in Peach Bottom, Chanceford and other southeastern townships. One 2010 estimate placed the number of Amish at between 450 and 720 families in York County.
One other point people miss about the Amish that is often misunderstood. The Amish emerged from the Mennonites rather than vice versa.