A Look Back in History: The Americanism ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ still preferred today

Submitted photo
A distinguished and imposing Alliene DeChant with Kutztown University in the background. No one loved the native Pennsylvania Dutch people as much as she, and wrote extensively on her shared heritage in her popular novels and as editor of the Kutztown Patriot newspaper.
Submitted photo A distinguished and imposing Alliene DeChant with Kutztown University in the background. No one loved the native Pennsylvania Dutch people as much as she, and wrote extensively on her shared heritage in her popular novels and as editor of the Kutztown Patriot newspaper.

Since Colonial times our ancestors were referred to as the Americanism, “PA Dutch,” a term widely used to describe these immigrants by suburban Philadelphians, who followed the local Quaker-American colloquialism, as people today. This 18th Century Americanism, “Deitsch” in German, translated to Dutch in English, was used in Colonial times, and including the Swiss (Amish and Mennonite), French Huguenots, and Holland Dutch, in additions to large German numbers, all who left Europe’s Rhineland Valley for the New World. Many of these immigrants sought freedom of religion in Penn’s Holy Experiment. But in particular, the Swiss religious sects like the Old Order Amish and Mennonites were excluded in the connotation of the inaccurate term “Pennsylvania German,” as well as the French Huguenots like Alliene DeChant (aforementioned in previous column), unjustly, than this broader, more inclusive “PA Dutch” idiom.

Alliene DeChant became such a talented Pennsylvania Dutch journalist by becoming very familiar with our Pennsylvania Dutch people: their folkways, traditions, and opinions. Born of French Huguenot PA Dutch lineage and a Christian humanitarian with her father being a Gospel minister, she had a compassion for the Pennsylvania Dutch people. In 1953, she followed up “Of The Dutch I Sing” with the delightful book, “Down Oley Way,” which included historic architectural sketches made by Florence Star Taylor illustrating Pennsylvania Dutch farmsteads. Many of these local structures dated from the 18th Century, and the book has been reprinted with success, at least twice. DeChant then went on to write her last book, “ I Came This Way” (1958), and dedicated it to Fredric Klees, an English professor at Swarthmore College even though she had graduated from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Klees, Born in Reading, PA, taught in the winter months and spent his summers visiting all parts of the Dutch Country to work on his articulate and definitive book, “The Pennsylvania Dutch,” reprinted 16 times, I believe between (1950-1958).

The bulk of these Rhinelanders lived in southeastern Pennsylvania, known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch Country,” followed a number of religious Plain sect theologies and major Church religions, including the Moravian church, known largely for their settlement in Bethlehem. But the Amish and Plain Mennonite pacifist groups stood out as the most active followers of a most merciful God, following their Bible and plow into the New World. However, in this 21st Century, there is no New World frontier for Old World farmers to immigrate to and seek freedom of religion. That’s why the principles of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee of freedom of religion are so cherished in a World that needs desperately to respect the dignity of man and his divine ability to make his own choice.

Dr. Donald Shelley of the Oley Valley certainly gave Americans insight to the colorful Germanic folk art symbols of the PA Dutch people expressing their love of the New World, known as Fraktur. But the sheer number of Germanic people in Pennsylvania, which almost outnumbered the English in frontier days, was always an ethnic ingredient that comprised the cultural makeup of multi-national American civilization. Although the Plain Dutch, such as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, seldom engaged in bold colorful folk art as seen by the Church Pennsylvania Dutch, both groups were known for their religious folk art writings known as Fraktur in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Many of the offspring born in the New World were given colorful folk art dower chests to celebrate the beginnings of that branch of the family in a land of freedom of religion and liberty.

Advertisement