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 which is based on 2 Corinthians in the Bible which distinguishes them from other Anabaptists.
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 Russia. In Russia, the Hutterites enjoyed relative prosperity, although their distinctive communal life was suppressed by the influence of the neighboring Mennonites.
In the 19th Century, when the Russian authorities demanded that the Hutterites participate in military service, there occurred the final great migration, as three waves of Hutterite emigrants left for the New World.
Named for the leaders of each wave, the three groupings (the Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut, and Lehrerleut) settled in various parts of the United States (primarily the Dakotas and Montana) and Canada (primarily Manitoba and Saskatchewan). 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.
During the First World War, the pacifist Hutterites suffered persecution in the United States, resulting in the emigration of many of the Schmiedeleut to Canada. With the passage of laws protecting conscientious objectors, however, many ultimately returned.
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 and 4, 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. Each colony consists of a number of families, up to about one hundred 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.
* Some Hutterites converted to Catholicism, and retained a separate ethnic identity in Slovakia as the Habaner through the 19th Century. By the end of the Second World War, this group had become essentially extinct.
Further information on the Hutterites can be found at http://hutterites.org/