A Review by John
The Amish are a visible part of the rural community in northern Allen County, Indiana, and indeed throughout northeastern Indiana. Because this sect does not keep church records and has little written history, their story has not been told to any great extent. Some time ago, Josiah Beachey discovered in an attic a forgotten trove of historical letters, written in German, from various Amish congregations dating from 1848 to 1925. Many of the letters are connected to Peter Graber (1811-1896), an Old Order Amish bishop who moved from Stark County, Ohio, and established the sect in Allen County in the mid-nineteenth century. In translating these letters and bringing them into print in his book, The Peter Graber Collection
(Hicksville, Ohio: The Author, 2012), GC 977.201 AL5grp, Beachey lifts the veil, at least a little, on the history of the Amish community.
Letters in the book pertain to Amish communities in the following locations: Stark, Fulton and Wayne counties, Ohio; Adams, Lagrange, Daviess, Allen, and Howard counties, Indiana; and Johnson and Henry counties, Iowa. Some of the letters bear the signatures of multiple men, apparently elders in a particular congregation. They contain words of advice and encouragement and include the names of many congregation members, some of whom had committed various infractions. Sometimes the letters offer a glimpse into how the Amish coped with historical events outside of their control. For example, during the Civil War after the establishment of a draft, Peter Graber wrote from Allen County on 5 January 1864: “Precious children, now I want to let you know about the draft up to the present date, and no one knows what is going to happen, for one says they are going to start drafting today, others say they have put it off for 20 days, others say they won’t draft at all. So no one really knows what is going to happen.”
Other letters deal with issues of church governance. Jacob Schwartzentruber of Johnson County, Iowa, wrote to Graber, “How many levels of confession or punishment do you have in your church?” He then outlines the steps for penance, including asking for pardon, standing up and making a public confession, and “the highest confession, on your knees, and taken with a handshake and the kiss of peace.”
This volume makes an interesting addition to our collection of congregational histories and offers insights that deserve closer reading and attention.