The first Hutterites were religious refugees who fled from the South Tyrol to Moravia (in what is now Czechoslovakia) and, as followers of Jacob Hutter, chose to hold their material goods in common. Hutter organized them into colonies ( Brüderhöfe ) of married adults and their children to live communally, a pattern of social organization that has remained a basic feature of the Hutterite culture since that time. As Anabaptist refugees flocked to Moravia, the early Hutterites managed to survive persecution and flourish, growing to over twenty thousand adherents by the early 1600s. Since 1590, however, the Hutterites have been a regular target of religious persecution, which precipitated a series of relocations first to Slovakia, then Hungary, then Romania, and finally to Russia in 1770. In the 1870s the group left Russia and settled in Dakota Territory, or what is now South Dakota. Their final mass relocation ocurred during World War I when the men were persecuted for refusing military induction and all but one Colony fled to Canada (during World War II Hutterite men performed alternative service). After the war, some colonies moved back, but the bulk of the population has remained in the plains provinces of Canada.
As suggested by their frequent forced relocations, Hutterite relations with mainstream society have often been less than friendly and the Hutterites have often been the target of violence. Their residential isolation, communal social and economic organization, Anabaptist beliefs, and economic success combined with the economic necessity of routinely interacting with outsiders have produced tense, distant Hutterite/non-Hutterite relations, which continue today. The desire of outsiders to develop Hutterite land and the issue of compulsory education are two recent sources of conflict.