Hutterites are a communal branch of Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Originating in the Austrian province of Tyrol, the forerunners of the Hutterites migrated to Moravia to escape persecution. There, under the leadership of Jakob Hutter, they developed the communal form of living—based on the New Testament books of the 'Acts of the Apostles' (Chapters 2 (especially Verse 44), 4, and 5) and '2 Corinthians', distinguishing them from other Anabaptists. The Anabaptists tend to base their lives more on the first three gospels in the New Testament.

In Bohemia, the Hutterites flourished for over a century, until renewed persecution forced them once again to migrate, first to Transylvania, and, then, in the early 18th century, to the Ukraine, in the Russian Empire. 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. In the 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.

Named for the leaders of each wave, all three of the three groupings (the Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut, and Lehrerleut, leut being based on the German German word for people) settled initially in the Dakota Territory; later, two Dariusleut colonies were established in central Montana. Here, each group reëstablished the traditional Hutterite communal lifestyle. For a few years in the early 1950s, and in 1974 – 1990, the Arnoldleut (or Bruderhof Communities) were recognized as Hutterites. Although most Hutterites live in the Midwestern United States and in Canada, Hutterite colonies have been established in Nigeria and Japan.

During World War I, the pacifist Hutterites suffered persecution in the United States, resulting in the emigration of 17 of the 18 existing American colonies to the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. In one notable incident, four Hutterite men were imprisoned and, ultimately, two died from mistreatment. 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 Dariusleut and Lehrerleut colonies. This act resulted in the establishment of a number of new colonies in British Columbia, Montana, Saskatchewan, and eastern Washington in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, approximately one of every four Hutterite colonies is in the United States, with almost all of the remainder in Canada.

The Japanese Hutterite community does not consist of Hutterites of European descent, but ethnic Japanese who have adopted the same way of life and are recognized as an official colony. The inhabitants of this colony speak neither English nor German.

The Hutterites practise total community of goods: all property is owned by the church, and provisions for individual members and their families come from the common resources. This practice is based largely on Hutterite interpretation of passages in chapters 2, 4, and 5 of 'Acts of the Apostles', which speak of the believers "having all things in common".

Hutterite communities, called "colonies", are all rural; many depend largely on farming for their income. Often, they own large tracts of land and use top-of-the-line farm implements. Some also run state-of-the-art hog, chicken, or turkey barns. Hutterites are also venturing into the manufacturing sector.

Each colony consists of ten to twenty families, with a population of 60–150. Approximately half of a colony's members are chosen (usually by lot) to "branch off" and form a new colony, when the colony's leadership determines that branching off is economically and spiritually viable.

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