An Accidental Amish by Olivia Newport

an-accidental-amishWhen the Amish arrived in Pennsylvania in Colonial times they likely did not look much different than the thousands of other German immigrants who came. They dreamed of leaving religious intolerance behind and carving farms out the Pennsylvania landscape to build self-sustaining lives where their faith could take form in everyday actions. The Amish have never been known to evangelize or seek to draw new people into their way of life, but every now and then a curious path into the Amish turns up. Here’s one of those stories.

Lewis Riehl was about eight years old when he was exploring a European harbor. It’s not difficult to picture his curiosity as he watched the loads go onto the ships bound for the New World. A little boy’s head would have been full of questions. What was the New World like? How long would it take to get there? What was in all the crates going onto the ships? What do the ships look like on the inside?

Perhaps this was the crucial question. Apparently someone persuaded him to board one of the ships. Perhaps Lewis glanced over his shoulder to see if his parents were watching. Or maybe they had sent him to the harbor on an errand and were expecting him home soon. We don’t know.

What we do know is that Lewis did board a ship—and then he was not allowed to get off. The ship launched, and Lewis was on his way to America against his will. Imagine the fear and protest in this little boy.

But even under these circumstances, nobody got a free ride. To pay for the cost of transporting Lewis across the Atlantic, the ship’s captain bound him as a redemptioneer to a family in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In other words, the little boy was now an indentured servant. When he got off the ship, he would belong to the farm family and be obliged to work enough years to pay back the cost of the trip he never meant to take.

The family did not treat Lewis well, and as soon as he had legally worked off his indentured status, he left the farm. He found a new home among the Amish of Chester County. Perhaps his heart was already smitten with Veronica Fisher, whom he married after joining the church. Later, the Rielhs were among a group of families that moved from Chester County to Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, to establish a new settlement.

Some surnames immediately make us suspect Amish connections—Troyer, Yoder, Stutzman, Kaufmann, Byler, and others. These names come from the earliest Amish to immigrate to America. But if you ever see the name Riehl, now you know how it came to be an Amish name.

Olivia Newport’s novels twist through time to find where faith and passions meet. She chases joy in Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is. Her Amish novels include the Valley of Choice series along with Wonderful Lonesome and Meek and Mild.

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