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.
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.