Religion in Family History – Amish in California?
The Amish had a settlement in Salinas which is near Monterey. The settlement was small having only eleven families, and was only there for a short time. The last family to move away was only there for 18 months.
So when did the Amish settle in California? The Amish moved there in early 1913 and had moved away by the end of 1914.
The majority of the families moved to Salinas from McMinville, Oregon. McMinville was another Amish settlement that failed. Problems in the McMinville settlement caused a split and half of the families made the move to California. They were joined there by several families from Illinois and Kansas.
My Amish ancestors were not involved in the California settlement, but some of them were close cousins to my ancestors or lived together in the same settlements either before or after their time in California.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Amish families moved around quite a bit and started many new settlements. Some of the relocations were prompted by lack of good farmland in existing settlements. Many of those who moved were younger sons who did not inherit the family farm. Problems within a community were also a contributing factor to the founding of new settlements. David Luthy wrote a well researched book about many of these settlements that failed between 1840 and 1960.
Today the Amish are still moving into new areas of the country for these same basic reasons.
The reasons for the failure of the settlement in California are very interesting. In this case there was no disunity in the settlement as they continued to hold communion up to the end of their stay in California. Most of the families either moved back to their original settlements back East or joined other family members in new settlements. The California families ended up moving to Oregon, Michigan, Montana, Illinois, Kansas, Alabama, Virginia, Oklahoma and Delaware. One of the last to leave was David Y. Miller who moved to Delaware. Not only was he among the first Amish families in California, his family was the first to settle in Delaware. I also found that all the Amish families did not leave Salinas. One of the families stayed and joined the Mormons.
There is an interesting story as to why the Amish may have abandoned the California settlement. Below is an excerpt from a letter written by the Granddaughter of one of the settlers.
The Amish were afraid of the Catholics. The summer we were there it thundered one night and that was something Californians were not used to. They were really afraid. Some had the doctor, others took bedding and made a nest on the floor to sleep. They were all badly afraid and blamed the Amish to be the fault of the thundering. Earthquakes they didn’t mind, but the Amish didn’t like that, and there was one earthquake while we were there that I remember. That was enough to make the windows rattle.
For those of you who have not lived in California, thunderstorms are very rare. Especially along the coast. Just imagine how different the landscape of California agriculture could have been if it had not been for a rare thunderstorm in Salinas.
It seems that The earthquakes and the superstitions of their Catholic neighbors were large contributing factors to the demise of the Salinas settlement.
Religion and clashes between religions can have an interesting influence on migration patterns.
p.s. The text of this post was originally written in November 2009. I wanted to find a picture to go along with the post and decided to post this picture of my Great, Great Grandfather John A. Miller, who was an Amish minister. More about him in the future.