Pennsylvania German

Pennsylvania German

"Pennsylvania German" redirects here. For the language, see Pennsylvania German language.
Pennsylvania Dutch
Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch

Pennsylvania German flag.
Regions with significant populations
United States, especially Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia; Canada, especially Ontario
English, Pennsylvania German
Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, Moravian, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Amish, Schwenkfelder, River Brethren, Yorker Brethren, Urglaawe, Catholic
Related ethnic groups
Palatine German, Alsatian, Swiss German, Hessian, Württemberger,

Pennsylvania Dutch refers to a cultural group formed by early German-Speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania, and their descendants. This early wave of settlers, which would eventually coalesce to form the Pennsylvania Dutch, began in the late 17th century and concluded in the late 18th century. The majority of these immigrants originated in what is today southwestern Germany, i.e. Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg; other prominent groups were Alsatians, Swiss, and French Protestants. Historically they have spoken the dialect of German known as Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German.

The first major emigration of Germans to America resulted in the founding of the Borough of Germantown in northwest Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1683.[1] Mass emigration of Palatines began out of Germany in the early 18th century.

The Pennsylvania Dutch maintained numerous religious affiliations, with the greatest number being Lutheran or Reformed, but many Anabaptists as well. The Anabaptist religions promoted a simple lifestyle and their adherents were known as Plain people or Plain Dutch, as opposed to the Fancy Dutch who tended to assimilate more easily into the American mainstream.

Over time, the various dialects spoken by these immigrants fused into a unique dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German. At one time, over a third of Pennsylvania's population spoke this language, which also had an impact on the local dialect of English.

After the Second World War, use of Pennsylvania German died out in favor of English, except among the more insular and tradition-bound Anabaptists, such as the Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish. However, a number of German cultural practices continue to this day, and German-Americans remain the largest ancestry group in Pennsylvania.[2]


The origins of the word Dutch ultimately go back to Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of all Germanic languages, *theudo (meaning "national/popular"); akin to Old Dutch dietsc, Old High German diutsch, Old English þeodisc and Gothic þiuda all meaning "(of) the common (Germanic) people". As the tribes among the Germanic peoples began to differentiate its meaning began to change. The Anglo-Saxons of England for example gradually stopped referring to themselves as þeodisc and instead started to use Englisc, after their tribe. On the continent *theudo evolved into two meanings: Diets (meaning "Dutch (people)" (archaic/poetic)[3] and Deutsch (German, meaning "German (people)"). At first the English language used (the contemporary form of) Dutch to refer to any or all of the Germanic speakers on the European mainland (e.g., the Dutch, the Frisians and the various Germans). Gradually its meaning shifted to the Germanic people they had most contact with, both because of their geographical proximity, but also because of the rivalry in trade and overseas territories: the modern Dutch of the Netherlands.[4]

The word Dutch is also sometimes interpreted as a corruption of the Pennsylvania Dutch endonym Deitsch, which is itself a local variant of the modern German endonym Deutsch, meaning German. This folk etymology is however not supported by the historical record.[5]


The Pennsylvania Dutch live primarily in Southeastern and South Central Pennsylvania in the area stretching in an arc from Bethlehem and Allentown through Reading, Lebanon, and Lancaster to York and Chambersburg. They can also be found down throughout the Shenandoah Valley (the modern Interstate 81 corridor) in the adjacent states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and in the large Amish and Mennonite communities in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, in Ohio north and south of Youngstown and in Indiana around Elkhart.

After the American Revolution, John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, invited pacifists from the former American Colonies, including Mennonites and German Baptist Brethren to settle in British North American territory on the promise of exception from military service and the swearing of judicial oaths.[6] This has resulted in small communities of Pennsylvania Dutch speakers emigrating to Canada. Today, the language is mostly spoken in the Waterloo Region.

Pennsylvania Dutch from the Palatinate of the Rhine

Many Pennsylvania Dutch are descendants of refugees from the Palatinate of the German Rhine. For example, some Amish and Mennonites came to the Palatinate and surrounding areas from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, where, as Anabaptists, they were persecuted, and so their stay in the Palatinate was of limited duration.[7] However, for the majority of the Pennsylvania Dutch, their roots go much further back in the Palatinate. During the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–97), French troops pillaged the Palatinate, forcing many Germans to flee. The War of the Palatinate (as it was called in Germany), also called the War of the League of Augsburg, began in 1688 as Louis XIV took claim of the Electorate of the Palatinate, and all major cities of region, including Cologne, were devastated. By 1697 the war came to a close with the Treaty of Ryswick, now Rijswijk in the Netherlands, and the Palatinate remained free of French control. However, by 1702, the War of Spanish Succession began, lasting until 1713. French expansionism forced many Palatines to flee as refugees.[8]

Migration and settlement

The first major emigration of Germans to America resulted in the founding of the Borough of Germantown in northwest Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 1683, by a group of settlers organized by Francis Daniel Pastorius, an agent for a land purchasing company based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and was composed largely of Quakers and Mennonites from the Rhineland.[1]

Mass emigration of Palatines began out of Germany in the early 18th century. In the spring of 1709, Queen Anne granted refuge to about 7,000 Palatines who had sailed the Rhine to Rotterdam. From there, about 3,000 were sent to America either directly or through England, bound for William Penn's colony. The remaining refugees were sent to Ireland to strengthen the Protestant presence in that country.

By 1710, large groups of Palatines had sailed from London, the last group of which was bound for New York. There were 3,200 Palatines on 12 ships that sailed for New York and approximately 470 died en route to America. In New York, under the new Governor, Robert Hunter, Palatines lived in camps and worked for British authorities to produce tar and pitch for the Royal Navy in return for their safe passage. They also served as a buffer on the frontier separating the French and Native Americans from the English colonies. In 1723, some 33 Palatine families, dissatisfied under Governor Hunter's rule, migrated from Schoharie, New York, along the Susquehanna River to Tulpehocken, Berks County, Pennsylvania, where other Palatines had settled. They became farmers and used intensive German farming techniques that proved highly productive.[9]

18th century

The Pennsylvania Dutch composed nearly half the population of Pennsylvania and generally supported the American Revolution. Henry Miller, an immigrant from Germany of Swiss ancestry, published an early German translation of the Declaration of Independence in his newspaper Philadelphische Staatsbote. Miller often wrote about Swiss history and myth, such as the William Tell legend, to provide a context for patriot support in the conflict with Britain.[10]

Frederick Muhlenberg (1750–1801), a Lutheran pastor, became a major patriot and politician, rising to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.


The Pennsylvania Dutch are people of various religious affiliations, most of them Lutheran or Reformed, but many Anabaptists as well. Henry Muhlenberg (1711–1787) founded the Lutheran Church in America. He organized the Ministerium of Pennsylvania in 1748, set out the a standard organizational format for new churches, and helped shape Lutheran liturgy.[11]

Muhlenberg had been sent by the Lutheran bishops in Germany and he always insisted on strict conformity to Lutheran dogma. Muhlenberg's view of church unity was in direct opposition to Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf's Moravian approach with its goal of uniting various Pennsylvania German religious groups under a less rigid "Congregation of God in the Spirit." The differences between the two approaches led to permanent impasse between Lutherans and Moravians, especially after a December 1742 meeting in Philadelphia.[12]

See also



  • Grubb, Farley. "German Immigration to Pennsylvania, 1709 to 1820," Journal of Interdisciplinary History Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter, 1990), pp. 417–436 in JSTOR
  • McMurry, Sally, and Nancy Van Dolsen, eds. Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720-1920 (University of Pennsylvania Press; 2011) 250 studies their houses, churches, barns, outbuildings, commercial buildings, and landscapes
  • Nolt, Steven, Foreigners in Their Own Land: Pennsylvania Germans in the Early American Republic, Penn State U. Press, 2002 ISBN 0-271-02199-3
  • Roeber, A. G. Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America (1998)
  • Roeber, A. G. "In German Ways? Problems and Potentials of Eighteenth-Century German Social and Emigration History," William & Mary Quarterly, Oct 1987, Vol. 44 Issue 4, pp 750–774 in JSTOR

External links

  • The Pennsylvania German Society
  • Hiwwe wie Driwwe - the Pennsylvania German Newspaper
  • Lancaster County tourism website
  • Overview of Pennsylvania German Culture
  • German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA in Washington, DC
  • "Why the Pennsylvania German still prevails in the eastern section of the State", by George Mays, M.D.. Reading, Pa., Printed by Daniel Miller, 1904
  • The Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center
  • FamilyHart Pennsylvania Dutch Genealogy Family Pages and Database
  • Pennsylvania Dutch Family History, Genealogy, Culture, and Life

In Pennsylvania German

  • — Fer der Deitsch Wandel
  • Hiwwe wie Driwwe — The Pennsylvania German Newspaper
  • Pennsylvania German Encyclopedia