Facts About Pennsylvania History

Not all of the “Germans” were originally from Germany.
The term Pennsylvania “Dutch” is misleading. The settlers in the eastern part of Pennsylvania in the late 17th century came mostly from central Europe, namely Germany and Switzerland, not from Holland. It was Benjamin Franklin who was probably the first to refer to this group as Pennsylvania Dutch in a piece he wrote in 1751.

The first delineation of Pennsylvania German was traced back to the 19th century when the geographic origins of early migrant groups began to be studied. Both terms are still used and both are correct.


In 1681, William

Penn received a charter from the king of England, Charles II, to colonize an area called Pennsylvania. Penn’s motivation were primarily to establish a place where people could live free of religious persecution, but, unlike others who colonized the New World, he encouraged people of all European nationalities and non-Quakers to join this group. Thus it was that Pennsylvania was settled by not only the English, but the Scotch, Irish, Germans, Swiss, Dutch, French, and Swedes as well.


The first German colonists came to Pennsylvania in 1683 with Daniel Pastorius, a lawyer from Frankfurt, and settled in Germantown, near Philadelphia. Germantown became the center of religious, intellectual, and commercial, life of early Pennsylvania Germans.


Not all of the “Germans” were originally

from Germany. Many of them had moved around Europe several times before emigrating to America. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and later battles along Western European borders threatened the security of tenant farmers and landowners alike. Added to this was constant religious persecution: Moravians from Northern Switzerland, Huguenots from France, Mennonites from Northern Switzerland.


When they finally came to America, this diverse group of German-speaking people lived apart from other settlers. They held steadfastly to their various religious and cultural beliefs, making them less than popular with their English-speaking neighbors. There are evidences that prove that they did co-exist, out of necessity, and that most well-to-do Germans were either bilingual before coming to America or learned English after their arrival.


Most of the early colonists from Germany were educated people who could pay their passage to America. Later, less financially fortunate Germans would have to pay their way by working in voluntary servitude for four to seven years. When their service was completed, they were given 50 acres of farm land and the tools with which to work. These diligent, energetic people established rich farms which were handed down to succeeding generations and are still prospering.



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