A Look Back in History: Colonial American religion and today's dynamic PA Deitsch people

Recently, I have become displeased with historians in their infinite logic have discovered that the local Amish and Old Order Mennonites, known as “Plain Pennsylvania Dutch,” are only a fraction of the PA Germans who comprise the nation’s vast PA Deitsch people. Whose early Americana culture has become the backbone of United States humanitarian Civilization for 300 plus years, following a devout Christian philosophy of wholesome living in rural America.

These amateur historians would separate our Plain Sect PA Dutch people (Pacifists) from the broader “Church Dutch,” such as Lutherans, Huguenots, and German Roman Catholics, etc. But in their rush to make judgement between these Christian sect followers and our more conventional churches, these historians overlooked the important fact that PA Dutch immigrants came to America in order to worship Jesus Christ, not to establish a German colony!

Victims of the Thirty Years War in the Rhine Valley of Europe coupled with other religious persecution, these Rhinelanders shared a German heritage and were a unified religious communal group who observed the teachings of Jesus Christ, which was evident in their German dialect sayings and a number of their early American PA Dutch Fraktur and folk art documents.

A sort of secret linguistic society of Palatine speaking Germans who did not always share their farming expertise with English speaking neighbors. But they did share their German biblical writings and religious tracts and hyms up to today’s 21st century, celebrating their most popular Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. These PA Deitsch are a close-knit farming cult that is distinguished for the culinary food and folk practices, and like the Quakers in Colonial Pennsylvania, the reason the PA Dutch descendants are so humble and fraternal to one another is not because they are Germans, but because of being thankful to the Lord for enabling their forefathers to find a home in the New World. One that allows them to lead a Christian life.


The congenial Christian attitude of our heartwarming Pennsylvania Dutch farming people is the result of their forefather’s traumatic inhumane experiences of cruelty in the Old World, whereby these Christian farmers were determined never to allow anti-Christian behavior to become part of the American civilization. With abundant New World resources to solve the needs of humanity, charitable lessons were recorded in PA Dutch religious books passed on by their ancestors to this very day.

Thus, New World opportunities and resources allowed our skilled PA Dutch to succeed, with the help of God, and make the PA Dutch Country one of the world’s greatest “bread baskets” to achieve world peace.

Originally, PA Dutch who are a large agrarian population in Pennsylvania and nearby states and Canada, sociologists realize their stick-to-it-tiveness is the result of a Palatine German dialect language, which was brought to America in Colonial times and has served their ethnocentric Americana culture for many decades up to the 21st century.

A humble Rhineland people that include German Bretheran Sect members as well as Swiss Calvinist sects and French Huguenot Protestants, they even had a German Roman Catholic Church at Bally, Berks County. But it is evident that besides their German ethnic language there is a very strong belief in the philosophy of Jesus Christ, which permeates into all their Church holidays, Americana folk art, and architecture.

Ode to National Guard defender, Jarrett Yoder...

While writing this current article for the Kutztown Patriot on our Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, I, as well as other Oley Valley citizens, I was dismayed at the death of 27-year-old Jarrett Yoder who graduated from Oley Valley High School in 2005. A patriotic hero who sacrificed his life with fellow Apache helicopter pilot, Matthew Ruffner of Harrisburg in the pursuit of liberating Afghanistan.

An all American youth who grew up in the Oley Valley where the Yoder descendants had immigrated to enjoy freedom of religion in Colonial times, Jarrett Yoder is a 21st century hero who lost his life going back to the Old World to assist these highly oppressed people. American Folklife Institute salutes Mrs. Heather (Garay) Yoder’s courageous husband.

Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.