Birth and death
Jakob Ammann was born in 1644, in Erlenbach im Simmental, Canton of Berne, Switzerland, but later moved to Alsace as part of a wave of Anabaptist emigration from the Canton of Berne. His exact date of birth is unknown. Some believe[who?] he is the Jakob Ammann who was born on 12 February 1644, to Michael and Anna Rupp Ammann of Erlenbach. Ammann lived in the region of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Upper Alsace, in 1696. On February 27 of that year, he signed a petition against compulsory military service. He was probably leader of that congregation until his death. Ammann's date of death is also unknown, though records indicate it occurred after 1708 and before 1730. Ammann's name is found on a 1708 list that Mennonites were required to sign by Alsace authorities. An Erlenbach record of his daughter's baptism in 1730 mentions that he had died prior to the event.
In 1693, Jakob Ammann took issue with Swiss Mennonite leaders Hans Reist and Benedict Schneider over what he saw as a lack of overall discipline in the Mennonite congregations. This lack of discipline was exemplified by the lapse of the ban (or meidung) against those who left the church after being baptized into it. In 1693 disagreements over the implementation of the ban would come to a head between Hans Reist and Jakob Ammann and this would result in the Jakob Ammann faction splitting from the Mennonites. Ammann was highly influenced by Dutch Mennonite beliefs, and instituted the practice of feet washing in connection with communion, which was not practiced by the Swiss Mennonites. He also increased communion to twice a year, instead of the Swiss practice of annual communion services. Later in life, Jakob Ammann came to regret his actions, and made attempts to reunify the Amish with the Mennonites, even apparently offering to ban himself from his own congregation in order to show his regret for the disunity that he believed he had helped cause. Despite admissions of being rash and overzealous, the Amish would not give up the belief of practicing the ban. Because of this, the main body of Amish and the Swiss Mennonites were never able to reconcile.
Most of the Amish remaining in Europe after the American migration reunited with the Mennonites. Some joined other bodies. The Amish no longer exist as a European body.
It may not be enough to say that Ammann's faction split with the Mennonites. For one, Hans Reist's faction would not have called themselves Mennonites. They would most likely have referred to their group as the Swiss Brethren. The factions were both sizable, and had different geographic makeups. Therefore, Ammann's group did not simply break off from a main body; it was a fairly even split. Also, there are many other issues and factors that contributed to the split.