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Like the two best-known Anabaptist denominations, the Amish and the Mennonites, the Hutterites had their beginnings in the Radical Reformation of the 16th Century. Originating in the Austrian province of Tyrol, the forerunners of the Hutterites migrated to Bohemia to escape persecution. There, under the leadership of Jakob Hutter, they developed the communal form of living based on the Book of Acts, Chapters 2 (especially verse 44), 4, and 5 and 2 Corinthians in the New Testament, which distinguishes them from other Anabaptists.

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In Bohemia, the Hutterites flourished for over a century, until renewed persecution forced them once again to migrate*: first to Transylvania, then in the early 18th century, to Ukraine in the Russian Empire. In Ukraine, the Hutterites enjoyed relative prosperity, although their distinctive communal life was suppressed by the influence of the neighboring Mennonites.

The final great migration occurred as three waves of Hutterite emigrants left for the New World in the 19th Century in response to demands by the Russian authorities that the Hutterites participate in military service.

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Named for the leaders of each wave, all three of the three groupings (the Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut, and Lehrerleut) settled initially in the Dakota Territory and later two Dariusleut colonies were established in central Montana. Here each group re-established the traditional Hutterite communal life style. For a few years in the early 1950s, and from 1974 to 1990, the Arnoldleut (or Bruderhof Communities) were recognized as Hutterites. Although the majority of Hutterites live in the Midwestern United States and Canada, Hutterite colonies have been established in New York State, Nigeria, Great Britain, and Japan (the New York and Nigerian communites are affiliated with the Bruderhof group).

During World War I, the pacifist Hutterites suffered persecution in the United States, resulting in the emigration of 17 of the 18 existing colonies in America to the provinces of Manitoba and Alberta in Canada. With the passage of laws protecting conscientious objectors, however, some of the Schmiedeleut ultimately returned to the Dakotas beginning in the 1930s.

During World War II, the province of Alberta passed the "Communal Properties Act", severely restricting the expansion of the Daruisleut and Lehrerleut colonies. This act resulted in the establishment of a number of new colonies in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Montana, and eastern Washington State in the 1940s and 1950s. Today approximately one-fourth of the Hutterite colonies are located in the United States and nearly three-fourths are in Canada.

The mid-2004 location and number of the Hutterite Colonies:

  • Canada (347):
    • Schmiedeleut (Manitoba 105; Alberta 1)
    • Dariusleut (Alberta 109; Saskatchewan 31; British Columbia 2)
    • Lehrerleut (Alberta 69; Saskatchewan 30)
  • United States (124)
    • Schmiedeleut (South Dakota 53; North Dakota 7; Minnesota 9)
    • Dariusleut (Montana 15; Wasington 5; Oregon 1)
    • Lehrerleut (Montana 34)
  • Japan (1)
    • Dariusleut (1)

(Source: The 2004 Hutterite Phone Book,Canadian Edition. Printed by the James Valley Colony of Hutterian Brethren: Elie, Manitoba)

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The Hutterites practice total community of goods: that is, all property is owned by the church, and individual members and their families are provided for out of the common resources. This practice is based largely on their interpretation of passages in Acts chapters 2, 4 and 5, which speak of the believers "having all things in common."

Hutterite communities, called "colonies", are all rural and depend largely on farming for their income. They often farm large tracts of land and often utilize top-of-the-line farm implements. Some also run state-of-the-art hog, chicken or turkey barns. Each colony consists of a number of families, up to about one hundred and twenty people. When a colony exceeds this number, half the members are chosen by lot to "branch off" and form a new colony, with the financial assistance of the mother colony.

Although Hutterites attempt to remove themselves from the outside world, many Hutterite homes have computers and radios. Traditionally, Hutterite children left school at 16 years of age to fulfill their adult roles in the colony. This practice is still strictly maintained by the Lehrerleut and most of the Dariusleut colonies. However, some young Hutterites, especially among the Schmiedeleut, have graduated from high school and have continued on to attend university. Many become teachers and return back to their colony. Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba, offers a Hutterite Education Program to Hutterite high school graduates for a portion of the Schmiedeleut.

As with the Amish and Mennonites who often use Pennsylvania German, the Hutterites have preserved a distinctive dialect of German known as Hutterite German.

* Some Hutterites converted to Catholicism and retained a separate ethnic identity in Slovakia as the Habaner through the 19th Century. By the end of World War II, this group had become essentially extinct.

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