The OMHGS Newsletter is published biannually by the Oregon Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society. General Correspondence to Margaret Shetler, 5326 Briar Knob Loop NE, Scotts Mills, OR, 97375

Part 1 Amish Roots in Pennsylvania and Illinois by James Grant Yoder

Pt. 1- Amish Roots in Pennsylvania and Illinois Pt. 2- Bishop Jonathan Yoder Family - The Prairie Years Pt. 3- Growing up with Yoder and the Yoders


My first taste of family history as a child in Canada was hearing my father tell Yoder, Lantz and Swartz stories from Yoder, Oregon. My father, Grant Yoder (1886-1972), was brought to Oregon from Missouri in 1888. He attended the Evergreen School here. In 1909 he went to Alberta to homestead. My grandfather, Levi David "Lee" Yoder, lived in Yoder until his death in 1941.

In 1942, we received a copy of "Mahala's Journal," diaries kept in the 1870's by a great-aunt in Illinois. Copied and mimeographed by Roberta Daniels of Canby, they listed all my grandfather's siblings. For the 1976 Yoder Reunion, Joel Daniels transcribed a number of older articles about Bishop Jonathan Yoder and other ancestors back to the widow Barbara, along with articles about Oregon by his great-uncle Perry Yoder. These materials stirred my interest in our history and in 1995 my family, and I drove through Pennsylvania on a trip from Toronto to New Brunswick. We drove through Stormstown where Bishop Jonathan had lived. At nearby State College a white-haired librarian on the Penn State campus told me that "Hugh Gingerich had compiled a genealogy of all the Amish of Big Valley." We were directed to Belleville in Big Valley --- in the heart of the Amish and Amish Mennonite country of Mifflin County.

In Belleville, friendly Amish Mennonites helped us find Harvey Yoder's gospel bookstore at the entrance to his dairy farm. Besides many Christian books, we found racks loaded with family history books, including Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies by Hugh Gingerich and Rachel Kreider as described by the librarian. I bought an armload of Amish and Mennonite histories including the Gingerich book. A new world of family history had opened.


You will know that the majority of the Amish and Amish Mennonite Yoders in America are descended from two brothers who brought their families to Philadelphia on the same ship in 1742. First names are unknown for both the father [YR] who died in Europe and of his son [YR1], who died at sea on that voyage. His widow -- the famed "Barbara" -- arrived in Pennsylvania with her nine children, all of whom married in that state. The second brother, Christian [YR2] and his wife, Barbara [?], arrived with eight children, at least six of whom are known to have married in the New World. Less known Amish Yoder immigrants included Yost Yoder [YRB] and Samuel Yoder [YRC]. Yoder descendants of these original families often married Yoders from the other lines to keep the gene pool a bit larger.

The first Yoder to arrive in America was Hans Yoder [OH] who came to settle in Oley Valley of Berks County, PA, about 1709. He was a Lutheran who joined a Reformed church in the Oley Valley. His brother Yost Yoder [OY] came by 1720. The Conrad Yoder family who settled in North Carolina about 1755 were also Lutherans. Other Yoder family heads included Melchior Yoder, Jost Yetter, Christian Yotty and Samuel Yetter. A great many non-Amish Mennonites are descended from immigrant Hans Yoder [YB] and his wife, Anna, of Great Swamp through their sons, John Jr. [YB1] and Casper [YB2].


The Yoders of Yoder, Oregon are descendants of Jonathan Yoder (1795-1869) and Magdalena Wagner (1798-1866).

Our first ancestor born in the New World about 1763 was David Yoder [YR12a]. He was among the first generation of Amish Yoders born in Pennsylvania, the 10th of the 11 children of European-born Christian Yoder [YR12]. David married Jacobina Eash [ES2], who arrived in Philadelphia from Hesse, Germany, in 1776, with her parents, Christian Eash and Esther Miller.

Jonathan Yoder was born in Berks County, PA., on Sept. 2, 1795. Jonathan [YR12a3] was the third of eight children of David and Jacobina, the youngest of which, Leah, married Yost Yoder [YR2576]. Two of Leah's sisters married brothers of Yost. About 1811, the David Yoder family moved from Berks County to Mifflin County.

Jonathan joined the Amish church in Mifflin County by 1815, and married Magdalena Wagner about 1816. Her father was a Hessian brought to America as a mercenary soldier during the War for Independence. Jonathan was a carpenter and farmer and was said to be "a man of great physical strength and more than average intelligence." Though largely self-educated he became a teacher in "subscription" schools. He began to preach among the Amish and was elected to be an Amish minister in Mifflin County in 1827. There, his first six children were born - including his son, Elias.

About 1830 Jonathan moved to Center County's Halfmoon valley near Stormstown where other Amish families had lived since 1813 among peaceful English Quakers and Presbyterians. Jonathan again served as a minister there. His four children born there included Asa, Catherine and two who died as small children. All the Amish families moved away by 1840. Jonathan moved to Juniata county in 1836 and joined the Tuscarora Valley church that later ordained him as bishop. His eleventh child, Anna, was born there in 1840. His son Elias married Lydia Plank there about 1843. The three sons of Elias and Lydia born in Juniata County grew up in Illinois and spent their last years here in Oregon: Jonathan Samuel "J.S.", John Plank "J.P.", and Levi David "Lee".


Pennsylvania Amish families moved west to McLean County, Illinois in 1848 and 1849 including Jonathan's sons Elias and Amos, his brother Joseph Joder [YR12a4], his sister Leah with her husband, Yost Yoder, as well as Lantz, Zook, Kaufman and Stutzman families. Moving in 1850 were Solomon Stutzman, Yost Zook, and Jonathan's daughter Leah with her husband John Sharp.

John Ritter in Illinois urged his friend, Bishop Jonathan, to move to Illinois. So in 1851 along with Isaac Schmucker, Jonas Troyer, Jonathan Lantz and Levi Lantz, Jonathan and Magdalena and their younger children moved to Illinois along with Samuel S. and Joel Yoder, Jonathan's cousins from the YR127 line. [John Ritter soon moved on to Shelby County, MO., and in 1855 went to Needy, OR. For safety he traveled from Missouri as far as Walla Walla with the first of William Keil's great wagon trains which went on to Fort Willapa. WA. The next year Keil led his group to Oregon to establish a colony at Aurora. We wonder if Ritter later helped lure the Yoders to Oregon.]

Jonathan helped form the Rock Creek Amish congregation in McLean County in 1851 and was minister and bishop there until his death in 1869. The Rock Creek church was often referred to as the "Yoder church" in the community.


In Illinois in 1851, winds of change were touching the eighteenth century Amish who came from Pennsylvania and Ohio. The 100,000 of so of eighteenth century Amish had a strong commitment to retaining traditional customs. They had kept German in worship services and used both German and English in their homes for over 100 years as Old Order Amish have continued to do into the twenty-first century. They required plain clothing and excluded buttons in favor of hooks and eyes. They worshipped biweekly in homes and did not favor building meetinghouses. Those from Pennsylvania were not the first Amish to settle in Illinois. Between 1817 and 1865 a second if smaller wave of Amish came from Europe, from the province of Alsace and Lorraine in France and from Hesse and other places in Germany. They came to Ohio, Ontario, Louisiana, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. Besides the Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal and Mormon churches already established in Illinois, "Mainline Mennonites" formed their first church in 1833. The Amish from Europe who came to Illinois via Ohio or Ontario also formed their first church in the state in 1833. The Hessian Amish arrived in Illinois in 1837. They had a more relaxed dress code including the use of buttons. They permitted musical instruments in their homes, could grow mustaches and had less severe discipline. Gradual changes had accumulated among the European Amish over the hundred years since the eighteenth century Amish came to Pennsylvania. In the New World, the earlier Amish diligently avoided changes to their traditions. In a similar dynamic, Christian immigrants from Hong Kong, Korea and El Salvador in the last twenty years commonly display unwieldy church structures, more conservative dress codes and other non-doctrinal traditions. Missionaries from North America fifty to a hundred years ago had taught them all these traditions. Like the Hessian Amish in Europe, the missionary-sending churches in North America had meanwhile gradually modified customs and practices through the twentieth century.

When the Rock Creek congregation grew to have a hundred members and could not meet in the small homes of the members, Jonathan in 1853 led the church to build a meetinghouse. Amish tradition was to subdivide a growing church into two congregations as often as necessary. This was only the fourth meetinghouse built by Amish congregations in America. When Jonathan Yoder founded the Rock Creek Amish church, there was a Hessian Amish congregation nearby. The Hessians began to meet with the Rock Creek church after the meetinghouse was built. Despite differing customs they worshipped together peacefully from 1853-1859. Jonathan was strict in the disciplining of members. He even barred from communion the Hessian Amish preacher, John Michael Kistler, who would not accept the tradition of the "Yoder church" on the issue of wearing hooks and eyes. Because of the conflict between the preacher Michael Kistler and Bishop Jonathan, the Hessians resumed meeting separately. Only after Jonathan Yoder's death in 1859 did the two congregation merge to become the present North Danvers Mennonite Church.

Mennonite historian Henry F. Weber described Jonathan Yoder in the following quotation: "He was a man of great physical strength and endurance. He was able to earn a living for a large family and in addition perform the ministerial duties that devolved upon him. He was a man of more than ordinary intelligence, of reason and excellent judgment. He was of a generous and peaceful nature and yet very firm in his convictions. Although he was rather reserved, yet he had a kind and jovial disposition which made him beloved by all who became acquainted with him."

"He was a typical Amishman from Pennsylvania and was conservative in his views. He believed in the conventional form of Amish dress, bonnets and veils for women, hooks and eyes and long hair for men. Yet, he was progressive when compared with the other Amish bishops of his day. He very often showed a liberal attitude toward new things that came up. The story is told that he met with a number of Amish bishops in Central Illinois to discuss the question of allowing young men to wear neckties. After the bishops had assembled one of them brought the pipes and tobacco and gave a pipe to Yoder. He held it a while and then threw it down and said to the other bishops: We have met to consider whether the young men can wear neckties and yet we ourselves engage in this filthy habit of smoking. It is said that the meeting adjourned without discussing the question of neckties."

About 1866 Jonathan Yoder retired from active farming and with his wife, Magdalena, went to live with their son Amos in Dry Grove township. He remained active in ministry with his Amish congregation and was present when the first of sixteen meeting of Amish ministers in the United States was convened in Ohio in 1862. It met in the barn of Sam and Lydia Schrock. While Jonathan was not named among those arranging the meeting, his involvement in the planning is suggested by the fact that he presided in opening the meeting and calling for the election of a chairman. When another minister was nominated who declined, Bishop Jonathan was unanimously elected chairman. A variety of questions had been sent to the meeting from various congregations. Some disputes were referred to committees, and other questions were discussed, including discipline, the use of musical instruments and the administration of baptism. Some ministers wished to perform baptism by pouring upon candidates kneeling in an outdoor running stream, while the general practice was to perform the baptism in the house or barn where a congregation worshipped. The proceedings of the meeting record that Jonathan Yoder frequently appealed to the ministers for tolerance and peace when agreement was lacking on various topics.

Jonathan Yoder was present and was elected assistant to the chairman at the second meeting of Amish ministers in 1863 in Mifflin County, PA. Jonathan raised a question about dealing with Amish members who married non-Amish spouses. In another discussion where the building of meetinghouses was challenged as a break in tradition, Jonathan briskly defended his own building of a meetinghouse at Rock Creek ten years earlier. On other topics, there was agreement that members should avoid public office, and avoid service in police and military agencies, and that photographs should not be taken because they disobeyed the commandment against graven images. Jonathan had spoken against the use of musical instruments as the ministers confirmed that position. Jonathan's wife, Magdalena, died February 8, 1866. They had been married for about fifty years. Her life was described briefly in the 1889 biography of her oldest son, Joash Yoder: "She... Became a member of the Amish Mennonite Church, and lived and died in the faith of that communion. She was a kind and benevolent woman, and her chief aim was to rear her children in the love and fear of God. She was very industrious and frugal, and a good helpmate to her husband, and always managed to make things in and around the house look neat and comfortable. She spun all the cloth the family wore, from shirts to overcoats, and made nearly all the clothes with her own hands. Sewing machines were not then in use, but the children were always clean and well dressed. She was a mother in the true sense of the word." After the death of his wife, Magdalena, in 1866, Jonathan had moved to John and Leah Sharp's home near Congerville in Montgomery Township, Woodford County.

Jonathan Yoder died at the John Sharp home on January 28, 1869. As Henry F. Weber recounted the event: "A ministers' meeting was held at the home of his daughter, Mrs. John Sharp... At the noon hour when Mrs. Sharp invited the ministers to the dining room, Rev. Yoder said he did not care to eat and would rather lie down and rest. The other ministers went to the table and after dinner when they came back into the room they found that he was passing away." Steven Estes continued the story: "Yoder... called them over, laid his crossed arms on his chest, and said, 'Come and see how a Christian dies.'"

Mennonite historian Steven Estes wrote that "Jonathan Yoder... was said to have been the best-known Amishman in the United States of his day." Steven M. Nolt referred to Jonathan Yoder as one of the "well-known Amish progressives." Jonathan died an Amishman and probably did not foresee that his church would ever cease to be Amish.

Joseph Stuckey had arrived from Alsace in France in 1851 and was a deacon in the Rock Creek church when the meetinghouse was built in 1853. In 1860 after the death of ministers in the congregation, Stuckey was ordained as a minister by Jonathan Yoder. Stuckey was a very evangelical young man, who studied the New Testament constantly, was a gifted and effective preacher, and often traveled to help other Amish churches. After Jonathan's death Stuckey became the bishop. By 1872 a problem arose around Joseph Joder, the brother of Jonathan Yoder. Joder in his writings embraced "universalism" - the teaching that "All men are saved and none shall suffer eternal hell or punishment." He was probably overreacting to the harshness and gloominess of Amish discipline. Stuckey argued strongly against Joder's teaching, yet wavered at excommunicating him. Many other Amish ministers were outraged by Stuckey's wavering and unfairly accused him of teaching universalism. The outcome was a division among Amish churches called the "Stuckey division." Stuckey had gradually become less strict in maintaining old Amish traditions and at that point Rock Creek and other Illinois churches became part of a new group of Mennonite churches. The Rock Creek "Yoder church" and the nearby Hessian Amish church soon merged to become the present North Danvers Mennonite Church.


All but one of Jonathan Yoder's children remained Mennonites throughout their lives including Joash in Ohio, and Leah, Sarah, Elias, Amos and Elizabeth in Illinois. Descendants of Leah Sharp and Sarah Stutzman are still to be found in the North Danvers Mennonite Church or among Mennonites in nearby states in the midwest. Catherine and her husband, Gideon Lantz were the first of the clan to come to Oregon, perhaps as early as 1873. They were considered the first Amish family in the Needy, OR., area, but settled in with local Mennonites by the time the Amish settlement failed. They had both Amish and Mennonites among their descendants. Anna, the youngest daughter, was the last of Jonathan's children to move to Oregon. She was an active Mennonite in Illinois, and then at Garden City, MO., after 1889. After she came to Oregon in 1909 she joined a Mennonite church at Hubbard, continuing until her death there in 1914. Her Oregon descendants included both Congregationalists and Baptists.The one exception among Jonathan Yoder's children was Asa Yoder who became a Congregationalist in Oregon.

The second son of Elias, John P. Yoder, was a teacher who loved books and read with great interest English literary magazines from New York and Boston. He was fascinated by the world of ideas and culture far beyond the Amish community of his childhood. A gracious and winsome young man much beloved by his family, he has been quoted as telling his family that he considered the Congregational denomination the best one. His siblings, Mary B. Schwartz (entruber) and Levi David Yoder, along with their uncle Asa - helped organize both a Sunday School and the Smyrna Congregational Church here soon after coming to Oregon in 1888 and 1889. Jonathan S. Yoder first declared himself an Amishman after arriving in Oregon, but later joined the Smyrna church as did John P. Yoder when he moved to Oregon in 1893.

Many descendants of these families have continued to be active in Congregational churches. In one departure from this pattern, many of the daughters of Mary Swartz as well as a daughter and granddaughters of Levi Yoder became Christian Scientists. In Canada, my parents and our family became Pentecostals first and later became Baptists. Others of our clan in Oregon became members of Lutheran, Free Methodist and other churches.


According to The Yoder Newsletter, the 1900 Census listed 35 Yoder households. Of the fifteen Yoder households in Clackamas county, seven were Jonathan Yoder descendants. Two more descendant families in Oregon included Rebecca Yoder (widow of John Plank Yoder) in Washington County, and Thomas M. Yoder in Multnomah County. Among the rest of the Yoder families in 1900, James was of the YR121? line, Joseph S. of YR127, Abraham and Jonathan of YR125, Daniel J., Jacob and William M. of YR233, and Tobias T. of YR134. The grandfather of a friend in Canada was Daniel David Yoder [of the YR125 line]. He was part of Amish settlements in Fort Dodge, KS. and Palm, TX. and moved to McMinnville in 1914. He worshipped with Mennonites and one or two of his now-aged children are still in Mennonite churches in Albany. We recently met two Yoder brothers from Sheridan who had been Amish in Michigan until coming to Oregon about 1945. They were of the YR233 line. All these and other Oregon Yoders were cousins of the Jonathan Yoder descendants. We inherit important values from our Amish ancestors, including belief in Christ, confidence in the Bible, valuing family relationships, and valuing real community based local church life. I am not comfortable with the Amish rejection of missions. And although I would not choose to be Amish, I view with considerable respect the Amish achievement of maintaining for 250 years an impressive simplicity of lifestyle in a changing and increasing fast-paced world.

James G. Yoder is a retired Baptist minister who lives at 10060 Aintree Crescent, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada V7A 3T8.

NOTE: The designations YR-- after names is that person's identification used in the book Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies, by Hugh F. Gingerich and Rachel W. Kreider, c 1986, published by Pequea Publishers, Gordonville, PA. 17529

Sources:(these were not provided to the OMHGS earlier)

Compilations on the Yoder Newsletter website about the early Yoder immigrants.

S. Duane Kauffman, "Mifflin County Amish and Mennonite Story 1791-1991", Belleville, PA, 1991.

Steven R. Estes, "A Goodly Heritage", Danvers, IL, 1982.

Steven M. Nolt, "A History of the Amish", Intercourse, PA, 1992.

Paton Yoder Steven Estes, "Proceedings of the Amish Ministers' Meetings, 1862-1878", Goshen, IL, 1999.

Jack M. Fosmark [retired newspaper reporter, Salem, OR], Email letters to Jim Yoder, Sept. 29 and Oct. 9, 2000."