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Pennsylvania Dutch

Pennsylvania Dutch [Ger. Deutsch = German], people of E Pennsylvania of German descent who migrated to the area in the 18th cent., particularly those in Northampton, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, Lebanon, York, and adjacent counties. The colony of Pennsylvania, established by William Penn as a refuge for Quakers, offered other groups the prospect of religious freedom. In 1683 the village of Germantown was established by a group of Mennonites led by Francis Daniel Pastorius, and in succeeding years other groups, such as the Dunkards and the Moravians, settled in Pennsylvania. However, the bulk of immigration occurred after 1710, when the Germans from the Palatinate first arrived. Many of these people had sought economic and religious freedom in England; from there a number were sent to the Hudson valley to engage in the production of naval stores, but with the failure of that project many Palatines moved to Pennsylvania. Enthusiastic reports brought other settlers from Germany, until by the time of the American Revolution the population of Pennsylvania, according to Benjamin Franklin, was one-third German.

At first the large influx of German settlers antagonized the English, but they were gradually accepted, and during the Revolution they provided valuable assistance. Most of the settlers engaged in farming, at which they were extremely successful. For the most part they maintained their own language and customs; the family became the principal economic and social unit, and the church was next in importance.

The aim of the various religious denominations was to establish a Christian, democratic society; for many years they opposed public schooling, preferring to retain their own standards and manners, and they strongly resisted signs of progress and worldly living. Several of the churches are completely pacifistic, such as the Amish and the Mennonites. The Amish are particularly strict in the matter of dress, maintaining a simple but distinctive garb, and also have a strong aversion to automobiles, electric lights, and telephones. The Amish have continued to oppose public schooling, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that the Amish were exempt from state compulsory education laws. The Church of the Brethren, incorrectly but popularly known as the Dunkards or Dunkers from their manner of baptism, and the Schwenkfelders are two other denominations.

The Pennsylvania Dutch, or Pennsylvania German, language is a blend of several dialects, essentially Palatinate, with some admixture of standard German and English. A substantial Pennsylvania German literature, art, and architecture exists. Many written records were adorned with illuminated writing, and such articles as pottery, furniture, needlework, and barns made use of decorative motifs, often of a highly artistic nature. Their buildings are usually of heavy stone and timber construction, with steep roofs and small, irregular windows. Pennsylvania Germans have contributed much to the culture of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania German Society, organized in 1891, has published much material relative to the history and folklore of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Bibliography

See J. F. Sachse, The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania, 1708–1800 (2 vol., 1889; repr. 1971); W. Beidelman, The Story of the Pennsylvania Germans (1898, repr. 1969), L. O. Kuhns, The German and Swiss Settlements of Colonial Pennsylvania (1901, repr. 1971); A. Long, The Pennsylvania German Family Farm (1972); J. J. Stoudt, Pennsylvania German Folk Art (rev. ed. 1966) and Sunbonnets and Shoofly Pies: Pennsylvania Dutch Cultural History (1973); E. C. Haag, A Pennsylvania German Anthology (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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