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By Sally Treadwell, Published 01/05/2016

Vol. 2, No. 1

In a word, yes, but so are many other people. I am also Pennsylvania Dutch, but you wouldn’t be able to distinguish me from any other typical American.

Classic Pennsylvania Dutch heart motif
The term Pennsylvania Dutch is not exactly accurate. The word Dutch is a corrupted form of the actual German word for German, which is, in fact, Deutsch. Scholars have argued whether the usage of the word Deutsch to describe these people meant the language or the people who spoke the language. I don’t think it matters--- what’s important is that the name Pennsylvania Dutch has come to refer to a group of German-speaking immigrants from the Palatinate region and some other areas of Germany, many of whom were caught in the snare of the Protestant Reformation. Some of these folks were first on the run from persecution in Switzerland, only to find more persecution in Germany.

Religious persecution in Europe in the latter part of the 1600’s was so rampant that Englishman William Penn invited Protestants and others to a new region featuring religious freedom in North America. This area became Pennsylvania, and the ancestors of those German-speaking peoples are all known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. That includes groups that have modernized along with the rest of the country, such as Lutherans, Reformed, Church of the Brethren and modern Mennonites. Collectively, we are known as the Fancy Dutch. The Plain groups are peoples that have sought to maintain an identity apart from the modern world, like the Old Order Amish, Beachy Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Amish Mennonite, and River Brethren. Pennsylvania Dutch remains their first language. To one another, their plain dress signals their collective identity; to the world, it sets them as a culture apart.
Pennsylvania Dutch Blanket Chest
Some years ago I was taking a tour of a prestigious museum that is known for its antiques. I noticed a blanket chest in one of the rooms and asked my guide if it were a Pennsylvania Dutch piece. She answered in the haughtiest manner possible, “No, we prefer to call it a Pennsylvania GER-man piece.” Then she started to explain the linguistic error that started the misunderstood terminology of “Dutch” in the first place. I just smiled and said, “That’s okay….I’m Pennsylvania DUTCH myself…and it’s good enough for me!” And that’s just what it is- good enough for me. Whether Plain or Fancy, we Pennsylvania Dutch are plenty proud of our common heritage.

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