New year, new ideas, new hori­zons in the PA Dutch cul­ture

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION - Richard L.T. Orth

Plain groups as the Old Or­der Men­non­ites and Amish con­tinue to pros­per in our area and ex­pand, pro­tect­ing our rich and vast farm­land. Nearby Plain Brethren, once called “Dunkards,” the sect that founded Price­town in the Oley Hills, still main­tain their 18th Cen­tury Brethren Meet­ing House off the mod­ern Price­town Road. It is per­haps they, the Brethren, in their re­li­gious cel­e­bra­tion known the “Love Feast,” that best dis­plays the com­mu­nal love and most out­ward ex­pres­sion of the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch peo­ples’ strong in­ward feel­ing of broth­er­hood and de­vo­tion to free­dom of re­li­gion that can still be seen to­day. How­ever, to their credit, all the Plain Sects in Penn­syl­va­nia are in them­selves, unique.

In the 1700’s, though, the heav­ily trav­eled Price­town high­way was a ma­jor route farm­ers on the Read­ing prong of the Ap­palachian Moun­tains tra­versed, in­clud­ing the Brethren, to the city of Read­ing in buy­ing and sell­ing wares in this thriv­ing mar­ket city. Price­town, it­self, had three tav­erns to serve this busy trade with ad­ja­cent gen­eral stores and de­spite be­ing one of the most dis­tant civ­i­lized out­posts from Read­ing, be­came a suc­cess­ful town way be­yond the needs of the im­me­di­ate pop­u­la­tion. The sev­eral Brethren who were shoe­mak­ers and sad­dle-har­ness trades­men were in a unique po­si­tion, to­gether with wheel­wrights and black­smiths, meet­ing the needs of trav­el­ers also go­ing from the Oley Val­ley bot­tom­lands north to the East Penn Val­ley over the Oley Hills via Price­town and Fleet­wood.

To­day, in Penn­syl­va­nia, Wil­liam Penn’s legacy of Chris­tian love and fel­low­ship is still alive and can be seen with a num­ber of PA Dutch Plain Peo­ple who, with their Amish cousins in Lan­caster County, are a vi­brant folk­life re­minder of Christ¬ian­ity ev­ery time one meets these Horse and Buggy Dutch peo­ple, as well as on the roads of the Com­mon­wealth. Their Chris­tian faith can also be seen read­ily in PA Dutch folk art manuscripts, pro­claim­ing their stead­fast love of Christ¬ian folk­ways in Frak­tur birth cer­tifi­cates and dower chests dec­o­rated in Ger­manic mo­tifs that can sky­rocket to $100,000 or more at public art auc­tions.

Since Wil­liam Penn, the pro­pri­etor of Penn­syl­va­nia, was him­self a mem­ber of the Quaker faith in Eng­land that was out­lawed by the Angli­can Church of Eng­land, he knew how other Re­for­ma­tion Protes­tant faiths were dis­ad­van­taged where na­tional govern­ment for­bid their ex­is­tence. There­fore, Penn trav­eled to Cen­tral Europe and en­cour­aged Quaker and Protes­tant groups to set­tle in his Com­mon­wealth, where they were all con­sid­ered “equal” in the eyes of God; a univer­sal ideal car­ried out by all these Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions. A unique ad­van­tage of Penn’s “So­ci­ety of Friends” re­li­gion and phi­los­o­phy was one’s in­ner light was known as one’s “con­scious,” in the eyes of an all-know­ing God, and he would have you treat ev­ery­one as you would treat your­self.

Thus, Penn’s Holy Ex­per­i­ment found­ing the Colony of Penn­syl­va­nia at­tracted many Old World peas­ant farm­ers to im­mi­grate to Amer­ica where a utopian Civ­i­liza­tion was born out of Free­dom of re­li­gion and eco­nomic op­por¬tu­nity. One in which man’s love for his fel­low mankind has never seen such ex­u­ber­ance. This also, at a time, when the Thirty Years War in Cen­tral Europe had both Ger­man and French Huguenot fol­low­ers ea­ger to im­mi­grate to the New World Prom­ise Land. The utopian prin­ci­ples of the So­ci­ety of Friends re­li­gion made Wil­liam Penn’s Holy Ex­per­i­ment in the Com­mon­wealth of Penn­syl­va­nia wel­comed change for them to farm the New World, void of per­se­cu­tion. Don’t for­get to eat your Pork and Sauerkraut for the New Year.

God Bless. — RO

Men­non­ite crafts­man­ship is very fine and of­ten clever with their horse-drawn ve­hi­cles, their only link to the out­side world. These young Men­non­ite men have showed their cre­atively in their wag­ons with the one be­ing alu­minum clad. Many of the Men­non­ite fam­i­lies have ponies and pony-carts (as seen in far back­ground right) for the younger chil­dren.

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