The Amish were some of the first white settlers in Washington and Johnson Counties in the 1840s. They were a highly religious and distinctive community, characterized by “belief in superiority of agrarian life and desire to be isolated from influences outside their own group,” wrote historians Elmer Schwieder and Dorothy Schwieder.
A persecuted religious minority, they were descended from sixteenth century European Mennonites and their life had changed little in 300 years. The first Amish in the American colonies settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s and moved west into Iowa and Missouri in the mid-nineteenth century.
Most avoided the use of modern farm machinery. The Old Order Amish of Iowa stressed plain clothing and agriculture, living in compact communities where they could enjoy religious freedom. Their homes had plain furniture and homemade rugs. They refused military service and any oath of loyalty. The Amish had a high level of mutual assistance and stressed frugality and self-sufficiency. They usually farmed 100 acres or less, rotating corn, oats, and hay. Most used horses for fieldwork, even in the twentieth century, and applied animal manure to their fields rather than any artificial fertilizer.