Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pennsylvania Dutch Tuesday-Historical Roots

Many people who hear the term Pennsylvania Dutch immediately jump to a few conclusions. One is that they are actually Dutch who came from the Netherlands. Another is that they are all Amish and Mennonites living without modern conveniences such as electricity. Neither assumption is true. All along there has been a distinction between the 'Plain Dutch' (Old Order Mennonites and Amish) and the 'Fancy Dutch' (Brethren, Moravians, Lutherans, Schwenkfelders, Reform Church). PA Dutch are also more accurately referred to as PA Germans since they actually migrated from the Palatine Region of Germany. The immigrants included German speaking Swiss and German speaking French Huguenots.

There are several theories as to why they were called Dutchmen. Some are related to the German term 'deutsch' being misunderstood by the local English settlers, others are related to links between the Dutch reformed and German reformed churches, others still to the patterns of migration. During the 1930s and 1940s, however, the misnomer was actively perpetuated because of the desire among those of German heritage to not be seen as Nazi sympathizers. In recent years, PA German has become the more preferred term among scholars and those seeking cultural preservation.

The Plain Dutch

Among the Plain Dutch there are 2 main religious sects, the Mennonites and the Amish, although each of those can be further broken down into a myriad of smaller sub-sects. They all share a rejection of formal liturgy and the priesthood. They are all pacifist. They also are all Anabaptists, meaning they reject infant baptism, since infants and children lack the ability to cognizantly participate, and require those being baptized to be adults who have repented of sin and made a confession of faith. They were required to be separated from evil influences. This led to a withdrawing from government and civic affairs, which were seen as having a corrupting influence due to the close ties between state churches and government. Shunning arose as a method of church discipline in obedience to biblical passages exhorting believers to have nothing to do with immoral people within the fellowship. It was also in accord to their non-violent views which were in direct contrast to the violent persecution they faced both from the Roman Catholic Church and the other Lutheran and Calvinist Protestant reformers.

The first official sect of Anabaptists were the Swiss Brethren who agreed on 7 principles known as the Schleitheim Articles in 1527. Various subgroups arose and in 1536 Menno Simmons left the Catholic priesthood in the Netherlands to become an Anabaptist. He was able to unify diverse groups of Anabaptist believers as he preached adult baptism, pacifism, separation of church and state, religious tolerance, refusal to take oaths (one's word is sufficient), and refusal to hold public office. The Netherlands granted religious freedom to all in 1577 and Anabaptists were afforded protection from persecution. In 1632 the followers of Menno Simmons met in Dordrecht and set down their beliefs in a formal confession, thus the formal beginning of the Mennonites.

In 1693 a group of Swiss Mennonites broke away from the main body believing the rest of the group had become too liberal. they were led by Jackob Amman who gave his name to the Amish. the main points of contention were over the frequency of communion, re-instituting foot-washing (which had been introduced as a formal practice by Simmons but had fallen into infrequent use), and the practice of church discipline and shunning, which Amman also felt was being applied in too lax a fashion if at all.

The Fancy Dutch

The Lutherans, Reformed church members, Moravians, Schwenkfelders, the modern Church of the Brethren, and modern Mennonite congregations all make up the rest of the PA Dutch. Some of these groups are Anabaptists, others are not. Some are pacifists, others are not. Aside from the obvious difference of using modern conveniences and dressing in modern clothes these groups were distinguished by a willingness to participate in civil life and a more evangelical and thus less isolating view of faith practices. The Moravians, in particular, established a number of missions to Native Americans in the early years of Pennsylvania. Among the Moravians and Brethren the outreach to other groups was also to be rooted in practical, merciful assistance to those in need rather than solely concerning themselves with conversions.

Why Pennsylvania?

Although New England had been an early destination for settlers seeking religious freedom it was dominated by Puritan thought which had little tolerance for dissenting religious views. William Penn, who had become a Quaker in his native England and suffered imprisonment for his beliefs, petitioned King Charles II for a charter to establish a colony in the New World. His request was granted. Penn's guarantees of religious tolerance and no military conscriptions not only gave his own Quakers the peace they sought but was a welcome haven for a wide variety of persecuted groups, among them the Amish, Mennonites, and other German settlers we know today as the PA Dutch.

I commend anyone who made it to the end of my social studies report and I promise next week will be more lighthearted, mostly likely some fun PA Dutch words. So fear not, my exploration of heritage will not always be so dry. It's just my nerdy side coming out today as I give you all some important background.



G-Man said...

Michelle...How could you possibly come up with a more fun word than 'Schwenkfelder'?
..Hey Heinrich, Kiss my Schwenkfelder!!!

..Ah Liebchkin, please let me put my Schwenkfelder in your strasse..Please?

Thanks Limey, is it time for the bell to ring yet?
I'm HOT for teacher!!

S said...

I learned about Anabaptists in that film documentary Rumspringen....orrrr at least thats what I think it was called....

Looking forward to this series of posts, especially the silly words, and oh, theres just gotta be foods!

Anonymous said...

When my great grandfather who was Dutch came to America he americanized our last name.

Beach Bum said...

I commend anyone who made it to the end of my social studies report and I promise next week will be more lighthearted...

I thought it was very interesting and a great post. I had heard the term Pennsylvania Dutch many times either in books or on some National Geographic-like show and never really got to thebare bones about it.

Lady Roxanne said...

I totally didnt read that...

Ok I read a little but...


way to much for me this morning/afternoon.

Love ya..

p.s. you've been tagged

James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

I didn't find this dry at all it was informative and quite interesting.

Thanks for sharing. :D

lime said...

gman, LOL behavior like that will have you labelled a class clown if not being told you're being a dumkopf. i sill love ya though

s, yes, rumspringa is actually a period of time in a young amish person's life when they are allowed to explore the modern world with impunity. afterwards is when they must decide whether or not to accept baptism.

tc, that was a farily common occurence. my maiden name was amreicanized too.

beach bum, i am really glad to hear you enjoyed it so much. thank you!

lady roxanne, i commend your honesty. lol.

james, bless you, my friend and thank you for taking the time to say so.

lecram said...

When I was teaching I used to tell my kids to watch PBS because it was a fee education. would have to add House of Lime to that list.

I'm a closet history/social studies nerd (Shhh... don't tell...) and really ate that all up. Thanks!

Jeni said...

I knew that the term PA Dutch didn't mean they came from Holland but I had never heard that the Lutherans were considered to be in that grouping before. I live in central PA, am also a Lutheran (but our church is ethnically tied back to Sweden and somewhat to Slovakia too, mainly due to the heavy influx of Swedish and Slovak Lutherans in the late 1800's, early 1900's to work in the wonderful coal mines in this region.) Learn something new everyday and with the blogs I like, I generally learned several new things daily! Great educators my favorite bloggers all are!

lime said...

lecram, thanks, i am flattered. nerds, unite!

jeni, ah good point. i didn't mean to imply that all lutherans in PA were PA dtuch folks, mainly just those that came over from germany and settled at roughly the same time and in the same general area as the other germans. ahhhh, the coal crackers of central and NE PA...that's a whole other side of my heritage. ;)

Palm Springs Savant said...

excellent and informative post. I must admit, I have been somewhat ignorant of the differences and backgrounds. But thanks to you Lime, I amnot informed!!!

SignGurl said...

I'll admit that I might have been a better student had I read this this morning. I'm having a hard time wrapping my poor brain around anything except the thought of putting it down to rest.

barman said...

Thank you so much. When I was a youngin' I was not much of a scoial studies kind of person. I find as I get older I really like this stuff and the history of it all. Most fascinating. Oh and let me echo what GMan said. How can one leave Schwenkfelders alone? Such an interesting word.

Charles said...

Wow, I didn't know that stuff. Of course if it weren't for the movie Witness, I probably wouldn't have known anything of the existence of the Amish. Thanks. RELIGION. If we're Christian, or just about any other religion, why do we try to hurt others? Will we ever get over that stuff? When will church leaders quit telling people they don't believe that any other religion is real? If you teach intolerance, isn't that proving you're not really what you say? Wait. I'm ranting. Sorry. Please excuse me, I'll shut up.

lime said...

savant, glad you stuck around long enough to be informed ;)

signgurl, well thanks for giving it a shot anyway

barman, schwenkfelder is just one of many local words that is fun to say

charles, i didn't even cover the church scisms that occured over beard length and color of buggies!

M said...

Fancy Dutch...I can just imagine how that name came about..."oh, them and their fancy ways!"

I vaguely remember having to do a report in grade school about another state and I think I chose Pennsylvania...Are you guys the Keystone State? I could have used your blog as good source of information!

John-Michael said...

This made my breakfast this morning an absolutely captivating time. Thank you for your willingness to fill so many gaps in my understanding and appreciation of the Pa Dutch (Pa German). Now I am anxious to read the other posts that you have generated on this topic. You are just so COOL!!

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