Free­dom of re­li­gion granted to our Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch peo­ple

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - LOCAL NEWS - Richard L.T. Orth A Look Back In His­tory

Our an­ces­tors were work­ing true-Grit in­di­vid­u­als who turned the PA Dutch Coun­try into an agrar­ian cra­dle of Lib­erty fol­low­ing in the ideas of Adam Smith, our founder of the “Free mar­ket pri­vate en­ter­prise sys­tem.”

Few Amer­i­cans were as ded­i­cated to the ideals of the United States Democ­racy as these Colo­nial PA Dutch/ Deitsch peo­ple that in­cluded the Worldly Dutch, such as we are con­sid­ered, and the Plain Dutch also known as the Horse and Buggy Dutch. Of this ru­ral com­mu­nity, many a folk­lorist, his­to­rian, au­thor has cher­ished the area and its peo­ple so much in their lec­tures, writ­ings, and re­search. Prior to the 20th Cen­tury, there had only been one sub­stan­tial mi­gra­tion of Plain Dutch within the Com­mon­wealth since Colo­nial times, and that was to the “Big Val­ley” of Cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia. Re­lo­cat­ing specif­i­cally in Mif­flin County as early as 1791, this group of Plain Peo­ple, specif­i­cally Amish, con­sisted of nine dis­tinct re­li­gious groups.

Since their mi­gra­tion to Penn­syl­va­nia in the 17th and 18th Cen­turies, and be­ing among the first peo­ple to set­tle Penn­syl­va­nia in 1683, the Plain Dutch Swiss in her­itage but as Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch peo­ple as any, built their home­steads on the fer­tile Lan­caster Plain, and our Worldly Dutch (Ger­mans, French Huguenots) in the fer­tile Oley and Penn Val­ley.

The Plain Peo­ple have con­tin­ued to cen­ter around Lan­caster, and us Worldly peo­ple, the width and breadth of the Oley Val­ley and East Penn Val­ley with their cen­ter seem­ingly at Kutztown. An­other but lesser known Plain Dutch group that need to be men­tioned, who also resided in the county and nearby, were the Ger­man Brethren. As many more driv­ers pass through the ob­scure vil­lage of Price­town at a quick­ened pace on route 12, they are un­aware that an 18th Cen­tury “Dunkard” or Brethren com­mu­nity sur­vived there.

Their 1777 Price­town Meet­ing­house is known as “the old­est un­al­tered Church of the Brethren in Amer­ica” is sub­tlety ad­ver­tised by a quaint his­tor­i­cal marker two blocks east of the old Vil­lage ho­tel, now Olyvia’s Res­tau­rant, at their one stop­light in­ter­sec­tion. Aban­doned through­out the year, ex­cept for a rare an­nual con­gre­ga­tional gath­er­ing of mod­ern Brethren who would usu­ally meet the first Sun­day in June for this spe­cial wor­ship, or a his­tor­i­cally-minded in­di­vid­ual, or other Brethren from out of state trac­ing their roots; re­gard­less this his­toric Meet­ing­house sur­vives in pris­tine shape.

The last ac­tive Dunkard mem­ber of this Price­town meet­ing was Elam Fox, Sr., who op­er­ated a nearby farm and cider press busi­ness a quar­ter-mile south of Price­town, but died in 1973. He was sur­vived by four chil­dren at the time, but only one of which (Ben) car­ries on and re­sides in Rus­comb­manor Town­ship at the fam­ily farm and at­tends an ac­tive branch of the Brethren church in Wy­omiss­ing.

In the 1700s, though, this was a heav­ily trav­eled high­way at Price­town for the time, be­cause it was a ma­jor route farm­ers took along the Read­ing prong of the Ap­palachian Moun­tains, in­clud­ing their Brethren, to get to the city of Read­ing in buying and sell­ing wares at a thriv­ing city mar­ket. Price­town, at the time, 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 bulk of these Rhinelanders though that lived in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, known as the “Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch Coun­try,” fol­lowed a num­ber of re­li­gious Plain sect the­olo­gies and ma­jor Church re­li­gions, in­clud­ing the Mo­ra­vian church known largely for their set­tle­ment in Beth­le­hem. But the Amish and Plain Men­non­ite paci­fist groups stood out as the most ac­tive fol­low­ers of a most mer­ci­ful God, fol­low­ing their Bible and plow into the New World. In this 21st Cen­tury, there is no New World fron­tier for Old World farm­ers to im­mi­grate to and seek free­dom of re­li­gion. The prin­ci­ples of the United States Con­sti­tu­tion and Bill of Rights guar­an­tee free­dom of re­li­gion and should be cher­ished in a world to­day that needs des­per­ately to re­spect the dig­nity of man and one’s di­vine abil­ity to make his or her own choice.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO - COUR­TESY OF AMER­I­CAN FOLKLIFE COL­LEC­TION

This Brethren house of wor­ship in Price­town, Oley Val­ley was erected in 1777 on land be­long­ing to Martin Gaube and was later deeded to the Oley Con­gre­ga­tion in 1807. Known as the old­est un­al­tered church in Amer­ica, some of the early Dunkard fam­i­lies were: Kin­sey, Reuble­moyer, Fiant, Price, and Gaube.

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