Pennsylvania Dutch

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"Pennsylvania German" redirects here. For the language, see Pennsylvania German language.
Pennsylvania Dutch
Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch
Regions with significant populations
United States, especially Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia; Canada, especially Ontario (Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Markham, Stouffville and Pickering)
English, Pennsylvania German
Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, Moravian, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Amish, Schwenkfelder, River Brethren, Yorker Brethren
Related ethnic groups
Palatine German, Alsatian, Swiss German, Hessian, Württemberger, German American, Swiss American

The Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch) are 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 Huguenots (French Protestants). Historically they have spoken the dialect of German known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch. In this context, the word "Dutch" does not refer to the Dutch people or their descendants, but to Deutsch (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 from areas along the Rhine River.

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. This was in contrast 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 German or Pennsylvania "Dutch" (Deutsch). At one time, more than one-third of Pennsylvania's population spoke this language, which also had an effect 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. A number of German cultural practices continue to this day, and German Americans remain the largest ancestry group claimed in Pennsylvania by people in the census.[2]


Further information: Theodiscus

Pennsylvania Dutch is most likely a corruption of the endonym Deitsch, which is a local variant of the modern German endonym Deutsch, meaning German. The word "Dutch" and "Deutsch" share the same origin and similar pronunciation.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

During the Middle Ages the use of "Dutch" in English referred to West Germanic speakers of continental Europe in general. From c. 1600 onward it was mainly restricted to the inhabitants of the Low Countries.[9][10][11]


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 exemption from military service and the swearing of judicial oaths.[12] 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[edit]

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.[13] The majority of the Pennsylvania Dutch have roots going 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. French forces devastated all major cities of the region, including Cologne. 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.[14]

Migration and settlement[edit]

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 along the Hudson River and worked for British authorities to produce tar and pitch for the Royal Navy in return for their safe passage. In 1723 one hundred heads of families were granted land in the Mohawk Valley west of what is now Little Falls, in what was called the Burnetsfield Patent, where they served as a buffer on the frontier separating the French and Native Americans from the English colonies. Most were farmers.

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.[15]

Census Bureau 2000, Pennsylvania Dutch in the United States.png
Pictures from Old-Germantown. Shown here is the first log cabin of Pastorius about 1683, Pastorius' later house about 1715, print shop and house of Saurs about 1735, and the market square about 1820.

18th century[edit]

The Pennsylvania Dutch composed nearly half the population of Pennsylvania and generally supported the Patriot cause in the American Revolution.[16] Henry Miller, an immigrant from Germany of Swiss ancestry, published an early German translation of the Declaration of Independence (1776) 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.[17]

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

Migration to Canada[edit]

From 1800 to the 1830s some Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania moved north to Canada. They settled in two main areas in Ontario:

Reesor, Ontario (Reesor Siding) was a short-lived Mennonite settlement in Cochrane District in Northeastern Ontario from 1920s to 1940s; most settlers eventually settled back to Southern Ontario


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 standard organizational format for new churches and helped shape Lutheran liturgy.[18]

Muhlenberg was 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. [19] The Moravians settled Bethlehem and nearby areas and established schools for Native Americans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "First German-Americans". Retrieved 2006-10-05 
  2. ^ American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau. "American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates". Retrieved 2010-07-31. 
  3. ^ The Pennsylvania Dutch Country, by I. Richman, 2004: "Taking the name Pennsylvania Dutch from a corruption of their own word for themselves, "Deutsch," the first German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683. By the time of the American Revolution, their influence was such that Benjamin Franklin, among others, worried that German would become the commonwealth's official language."
  4. ^ Moon Spotlight Pennsylvania Dutch Country, by A. Dubrovsk, 2004.
  5. ^ Pennsylvania Dutch Alphabet, by C. Williamson.
  6. ^ Pennsylvania Dutch: A Dialect of South German with an Infusion of English, by S. Stehman, 1872.
  7. ^ Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, by David W. Kriebe, 2007.
  8. ^ The Pennsylvania Journey, by J.A. Davis, 2005.
  9. ^ Etymology of Pennsylvania Dutch
  10. ^ (English) and Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands (Dutch) entries "Dutch" and "Diets".
  11. ^ Fogleman, Aaron Spencer (1996). Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-0812215489. The term "Dutch," often considered a corruption of "Deutsch", which means German, was actually not a corruption at all. It was a legitimate, well-known term used by the English in the early modern period to describe the people who lived along the Rhine. The "Low Dutch" came from the area of the present Netherlands, while the "High Dutch" came from the area of the middle and upper Rhine. 
  12. ^ "Ontario's Mennonite Heritage". Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  13. ^ Newman, George F., Newman, Dieter E. (2003) The Aebi-Eby Families of Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and North America, 1550-1850. Pennsylvania: NMN Enterprises
  14. ^ Roeber 1988
  15. ^ Farley Grubb, "German Immigration to Pennsylvania, 1709 to 1820," Journal of Interdisciplinary History Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter, 1990), pp. 417-436 in JSTOR
  16. ^ John B. Stoudt "The German Press in Pennsylvania and the American Revolution." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 59 (1938): 74-90 online
  17. ^ A. G.. Roeber, "Henry Miller's Staatsbote: A Revolutionary Journalist's Use of the Swiss Past," Yearbook of German-American Studies, 1990, Vol. 25, pp 57-76
  18. ^ Leonard R. Riforgiato, Missionary of moderation: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and the Lutheran Church in America (1980)
  19. ^ Samuel R. Zeiser, "Moravians and Lutherans: Getting beyond the Zinzendorf-Muhlenberg Impasse," Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society, 1994, Vol. 28, pp 15-29


  • 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[edit]

In Pennsylvania German