dance

Although there are no Amish residing in Berks County to date, just Horse and Buggy Old Order Mennonites, Richard H. Shaner (far left) is pictured in a traditional Plain Dutch "Amish Barn Dance" in the late 1960s in Lancaster.

Among the 13 original Colonies in the United States, there is no state that practiced religious toleration more than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which I've stated numerous times over the years.

Although the Quaker sect and Oley Mennonite church have shared the pioneer harvests of the Oley Valley in the late 17th-19th centuries, not until recent years (2012) have the Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy sect from Kutztown, Berks County, acquired additional farmland into Oley, thereby, developing our successful ethnicity in farming and religious principles that they have long done in and around Kutztown since 1950 with the purchase of two separate farms by two young separate Mennonite families.

Not many think of modern Pennsylvania without first thinking of William Penn’s diverse religious pilgrims who bonded together in brotherly love forging an environment in which freedom was nurtured from their grass roots spirit.

When thousands of European immigrants arrived in the New World, they naturally believed in freedom of religion even before the Pilgrims and Puritans came to America to escape a National Church established by the British government of England. This was the ultimate alternative for people who did not want to be forced under the control of a National religion endorsed by countries in Europe who were part of the Roman Catholic Empire.

The people who immigrated here to Pennsylvania from the Rhine Valley- be it followers of Martin Luther or Calvinists from Switzerland, as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, believed whole heartedly in the principles of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 — “That all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Hence, each newly American family could worship or choose not to worship the benevolent Creator from whom they wish to seek eternal benevolence.

Thus, in Pennsylvania, Rhinelanders of different religious denominations celebrated the deity of their family’s choice, including a non-traditional Roman Catholic Church called the Blessed Sacrament founded at Bally, Pa., as early as 1743.

Ultimately, the folk religion one and one’s family practiced was of personal preference and no one else’s! Although individual religious baptism certificates may artistically be symbolic of one’s individual religious faith, folk artists of the PA Dutch people refrained from using religious symbols in their individual folk art drawings to distinguish one family from another who might not be of the same denomination as to not putting one's belief as more important than thy neighbor.

Rarely, were Christian crosses incorporated in folk art drawings on PA Deitsch furniture that might cause an early visitor to inquire about the family’s religious affiliation.

Therefore, New World folk art used by early American pioneers consisted of imaginative good luck unicorns, North American (Carolina) parrots, and colorful Distelfinks. On occasionally, there were Adam and Eve drawings where they stood by an apple tree, guarded by a snake or serpent, and the occasional drawing of a fish, the primitive symbol of Christianity.

But, by and large, the formal Fraktur illuminations used on PA Dutch Holy Bibles were not used on the household furniture of the PA Dutch who were of a variety of religious denominations. Thus, one’s personal religious faith was not offended by the colorful interpretations of the PA Dutch; be their neighbors: Hebrew, Catholic, or the Ephrata Cloisters fraternity.

Community-oriented pioneers in early America, frontier immigrants were more interested in the skills and talents of their neighbors than of learning about their personal religion. In short, a man’s private religious practice was not as important as his skills and knowledge to perform community services as a carpenter or furniture maker.

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