A Drive Through Pennsylvania Dutch Country
January 30, 2014
On a fall trip to Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania, my son took us on a drive through the back roads of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, also known as Amish country. It is a beautifully serene land, full of perfectly-kept farms, gently rolling hills, the occasional buggy, and covered bridges that capture the imagination. The bridge pictured here, Weaver’s Bridge, was built over the Conestoga River in 1878 and is still in use today. Cat’s Back Road was one of the more memorable roads we traveled. True to its name, just after we crossed the bridge, the road curved as sharply as a cat’s back and we came upon a barn that had at least a dozen cats lounging in the afternoon sun.
With Amish country fresh in my mind, I started thinking about the term Pennsylvania Dutch and how today’s Amish and Mennonite people fit into that category. I discovered that Pennsylvania Dutch doesn’t refer to people from the Netherlands, but to very early emigrants from the German-speaking regions. “Dutch” in the name derived from “Deutsch,” meaning German. Many settled into the south central farm country of Pennsylvania. They incorporated several religious affiliations, including Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptists. The Anabaptists, also called "plain people," rejected the practice of infant baptism, requiring that a person make their own confession of faith. They believed in a simple lifestyle and pacifism. Persecuted in Europe, they made their way to America from the late 1600s through the late 1700s. Over time, the language of the various groups fused into a dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German.
Today’s Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren denominations would be considered successors of the Anabaptist movement. These peaceful people have made their mark in many parts of America, but nowhere so much as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And by the way, if you find yourself in Pennsylvania Dutch country, be sure to stop in at the Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl for lunch.
Midwest Genealogy Center