A question inspired by the Amish-on-a-plane thread. I have some family history that claims French-speaking Amish people. That they were Francophone Swiss who came to Amish country in Ohio in the 1830s is not in doubt (Wayne / Holmes Co.). I thought, however, that all the US Amish settlements were German-speaking. Were there French-speaking Amish? If so, what happened to them: are they still there? Did they learn German or English instead?
Are you thinking of the Acadians vs. Amish??
French Language - Acadian Culture in Maine
I was under the impression that most horse and buggy Amish communities speak German, and that some more liberal groups such as Beachy Amish may speak English as a community language.
I’ve never heard of French being used in an Amish community, but it’s possible that they gained some Francophone converts over time, who were probably assimilated.
Do you know if your ancestors were actually Amish in the sense of belonging to an Amish church or whether they just moved in to Amish country? I haven’t been to Ohio Amish country but I’ve been to PA Dutch country and there is definitely a mix of Amish and non-Amish there. It’s not like there’s a “Gate to Amish Country” where they ask for your church membership certificate (do those even exist anywhere?) at a checkpoint and if it isn’t Amish they will only let you pass through or visit and you have to be gone in X days with no right to residency or employment.
If your ancestors were Amish, do you know if they were Amish when they were living in Europe or if they converted after arriving in the US?
They were definitely not Acadians: Maine is a long way from Ohio, and Switzerland is even farther from Canada.
All I know about these specific people is that they were Protestant. Oral tradition says Amish, and they were in the right place and of the right national origin for that to make sense—both Anabaptists in general and Amish specifically started in Switzerland. I just don’t know whether there were ever any French-speaking Amish.
Personally, I think it was highly likely that they were Anabaptist (Mennonite) but not Amish.
Yeah, but they started in the German-speaking region of Switzerland.
There were undoubtedly Amish who spoke French as their second language much in the same way that most US Amish speak English in addition to Pennsylvania Dutch.
When the Amish split off from the Anabaptists at the end of the 17th century, they got booted out of Switzerland and mostly ended up in either Alsace in France or the Palatinate in Germany. Alsace at the time would have been mostly German speaking, but by the time the Alsatian Amish started emigrating to the US in large numbers in the 19th century, the region was majority French-speaking. There were probably a fair number who landed speaking German and French but no English. But I don’t think there were any communities where the official language was French.
There is a small but distinct French-speaking Mennonite community, also mostly centered in Alsace, but I don’t know as much about them or if they came to the US in any great numbers.
Do you know what languages were spoken by your more intermediate ancestors? I’d hypothesize that if they were Amish, they would have, in time, assimilated to the German speaking community and spoken German as a primary language. Do you know which generation was primarily English speaking?
I have German ancestry (who were not Amish as far as I can tell) that was speaking English by the 1930’s at least.
Thanks for the replies, all.
I know they were French speaking as a first language but bilingual with English as far back as I’m aware (the children of the immigrants:I didn’t know them personally but they were exceptionally long-lived so I knew people who did). I don’t know whether they also spoke German: they had French names (first and last) and came from the Bernese Jura (not Alsace, and as far as I can tell not via Alsace) from French-speaking villages.
It is possible that they weren’t Amish but came to Amish country because there was already a Swiss community there, but I would have thought French- and German-speaking Swiss would have different immigration patterns. Berne is largely a German-speaking canton so maybe they did speak German as well.
I’ll also add that there were other groups of more-or-less religiously motivated colony-dwelling French speakers who settled in the United States during the 1800’s, like the Icarians who settled into Navoo after the Mormons left. One would have to be fairly mixed-up theologically to confuse them with the Amish, but the time frame and the living in colonies is right, so perhaps some genealogist in your family could have erroneously assumed all people who emigrated to form religious colonies in the 19th century were Amish or Mennonites.