A look back at history : New Year, New Ideas, New Horizons in the PA Dutch Culture

Mennonite craftsmanship is very fine and often clever with their horse-drawn vehicles, their only link to the outside world.  These young Mennonite men have showed their creatively in their wagons with the one being aluminum clad. Many of the Mennonite families have ponies and pony-carts (as seen in far background right) for the younger children.
Mennonite craftsmanship is very fine and often clever with their horse-drawn vehicles, their only link to the outside world. These young Mennonite men have showed their creatively in their wagons with the one being aluminum clad. Many of the Mennonite families have ponies and pony-carts (as seen in far background right) for the younger children.

Plain groups as the Old Order Mennonites and Amish continue to prosper in our area and expand, protecting our rich and vast farmland. Nearby Plain Brethren, once called “Dunkards,” the sect that founded Pricetown in the Oley Hills, still maintain their 18th Century Brethren Meeting House off the modern Pricetown Road. It is perhaps they, the Brethren, in their religious celebration known the “Love Feast,” that best displays the communal love and most outward expression of the Pennsylvania Dutch peoples’ strong inward feeling of brotherhood and devotion to freedom of religion that can still be seen today. However, to their credit, all the Plain Sects in Pennsylvania are in themselves, unique.

In the 1700’s, though, the heavily traveled Pricetown highway was a major route farmers on the Reading prong of the Appalachian Mountains traversed, including the Brethren, to the city of Reading in buying and selling wares in this thriving market city. Pricetown, itself, had three taverns to serve this busy trade with adjacent general stores and despite being one of the most distant civilized outposts from Reading, became a successful town way beyond the needs of the immediate population. The several Brethren who were shoemakers and saddle-harness tradesmen were in a unique position, together with wheelwrights and blacksmiths, meeting the needs of travelers also going from the Oley Valley bottomlands north to the East Penn Valley over the Oley Hills via Pricetown and Fleetwood.

Today, in Pennsylvania, William Penn’s legacy of Christian love and fellowship is still alive and can be seen with a number of PA Dutch Plain People who, with their Amish cousins in Lancaster County, are a vibrant folklife reminder of Christ¬ianity every time one meets these Horse and Buggy Dutch people, as well as on the roads of the Commonwealth. Their Christian faith can also be seen readily in PA Dutch folk art manuscripts, proclaiming their steadfast love of Christ¬ian folkways in Fraktur birth certificates and dower chests decorated in Germanic motifs that can skyrocket to $100,000 or more at public art auctions.

Since William Penn, the proprietor of Pennsylvania, was himself a member of the Quaker faith in England that was outlawed by the Anglican Church of England, he knew how other Reformation Protestant faiths were disadvantaged where national government forbid their existence. Therefore, Penn traveled to Central Europe and encouraged Quaker and Protestant groups to settle in his Commonwealth, where they were all considered “equal” in the eyes of God; a universal ideal carried out by all these Christian denominations. A unique advantage of Penn’s “Society of Friends” religion and philosophy was one’s inner light was known as one’s “conscious,” in the eyes of an all-knowing God, and he would have you treat everyone as you would treat yourself.

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Thus, Penn’s Holy Experiment founding the Colony of Pennsylvania attracted many Old World peasant farmers to immigrate to America where a utopian Civilization was born out of Freedom of religion and economic oppor¬tunity. One in which man’s love for his fellow mankind has never seen such exuberance. This also, at a time, when the Thirty Years War in Central Europe had both German and French Huguenot followers eager to immigrate to the New World Promise Land. The utopian principles of the Society of Friends religion made William Penn’s Holy Experiment in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania welcomed change for them to farm the New World, void of persecution. Don’t forget to eat your Pork and Sauerkraut for the New Year.

God Bless. — RO