Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: The Pennsylvania Dutch

Title: The Pennsylvania Dutch
Author: Fredric Klees
Date: 1950
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon
Length: 444 pages of text, 7 pages of endnotes
Illustrations: maps and half-page line drawings, apparently by the author
Quote: “I use the word Dutch instead of German to describe these people because this is the name by which they have been known for more than two centuries.”
The Pennsylvania Dutch is the sort of book libraries keep until they fall apart. The copy I physically owned when I wrote this review was a discarded library copy. The copyright date had been blacked out up to the final figure 0. My guess that this would be 1950 is based on references to a past war with Germany and a General Eisenhower.

And, according to Amazon, I really ripped myself off by letting somebody snap up even this badly damaged copy for just one dollar. This is a wonderful little book, full of fun facts, songs, recipes, and general explanations of why certain Virginia gentlemen identify more with the Pennsylvania Dutch than with the Old South, or the English, Irish, Cherokee, or any other kinds of ancestors they have.
What’s not to like about this book is that the author’s observations are already passing into history. Much of the culture The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrates is being preserved by scholars and the tour industry. Too bad, because this is a warm, lively, feel-good book. Klees identified himself as a Pennsylvania Dutchman, and celebrates his cultural history with love, pride, and thorough research. Only occasionally do his observations sound quaint.
His pride was not limited to his home in Berks County, Pennsylvania. “”Not everyone living in the Dutch country is Pennsylvania Dutch, nor are all the Dutch confined to Pennsylvania.” His sense of cultural cohesiveness “would add the handful of Moravians...and the French Huguenots who had fled to the Rhineland and who came to Pennsylvania.” Nevertheless, “It is not even necessary to be a Pennsylvanian: Marylanders from Frederick county and Canadians from the neighborhood of Kitchener...Virginians from the upper half of the Valley...some North Carolinians are kin to  the Pennsylvania Dutch. There are plenty of Pennsylvania Dutch in the Middle West, too.” While these groups were united by having ancestors from some German-speaking country or other, Klees also acknowledged those who had acclimated to the majority culture of areas they had settled: “Dutch in heart but not in blood. Whether English Quaker, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, Negro, Gypsy, Holland Dutch, Swede, or Finn, many of them...are fully as Dutch in all their ways as Stolzfus, Spang, or Moyer.”
What originally united the Pennsylvania Dutch and distinguished them from other Western European immigrants, Klees feels, was the cultural influence of the Anabaptist movement. Although Klees details cultural differences preserved by various denominations that were influenced by the movement, they all shared a radical view of Protestant Christianity, a feeling that members of the church ought to be easily recognized as different from non-members. Some groups emphasized frugality and “plain living,” with the Amish being the supreme example. Some practiced communal living; in one long-gone community, young people could choose whom they wanted to marry, but the final decision was made by a religious ritual that involved drawing lots. Some groups identified with mainstream Lutheran or Reformed churches, but took their doctrine very seriously. Most of these churches eventually adopted the English language, accepted many non-German converts, and had enough influence on their communities to produce Klees’ Pennsylvanians who were “Dutch in heart.” 
The cultural influence of the German Protestant churches can be traced throughout the inland “Valley,” foothills, and eastern Appalachian Mountains. It’s based on Klees’ use of the term that one elder in my home town’s Peters family, who has always lived in Virginia, describes himself as a Pennsylvania Dutchman, which often strikes the uninformed as odd. Maryland has a Peters family of Anglo-Catholic origins; Virginia’s Peters family trace their name back to the Rhine Valley in Germany. In the American Civil War, a Colonel William Peters protested vehemently against General John McCausland’s decision to burn the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, “pointing out that the only people left in Chambersburg were women and children. Rather than obey such an order, Peters declared, he would break his sword.” They might not have been close relatives, but in a general way they must have seemed to the Colonel like kinfolk...and in fact several of his living great-great-grandchildren/nephews/nieces have married and/or settled in the “Dutch country.”
Though few Virginians want to be identified as Pennsylvania anything, Klees would undoubtedly recognize many other Gate City names as honorary Pennsylvania Dutch. The majority of the names in our current telephone directory are Scotch or Irish, but many names that look English are in fact German. Popular family names like Brown, Gilbert, Henry, Johnson, King, Martin, Meyer, Miller, Smith, Taylor, Vincent, and Wallace, can be traced to almost any part of Western Europe, but when traced, in our part of the world, they often (not always) turn out to be German. Broadwater, Carlson, Cole, Colson, Craft, Davidson, Dishner, Fultz, Gillenwater, Hartsock, Huff, Mann, Minnich, Nichols/Nickels, Rhoton/Rhoten, Rose/Rosenbaum, Schaffer, Shoemaker/Schumacher, Sluss, Statzer, Vanover, Vanzant, Wallen, Wampler, White/Weiss/Weit, Winegar, and Young/Jung, are also likely to be German names.
The Pennsylvania Dutch is not a genealogical study, although it does contain a list of typically Pennsylvania Dutch family names. Klees devoted over 120 pages to seven chapters discussing the churches, 50 pages to the role of Pennsylvania Dutch people in U.S. history, 30 pages to large-scale industries, 20 to Pennsylvania Dutch towns and farming communities, 70 to their dialect and folkways, and 80 pages to their art, music, and recipes.
Even if our ancestors started speaking English and spelling their names in the English way two or three hundred years ago, even if Klees’ examples of the old “Dutch” dialect seem preposterous and even modern Pennsylvania accents sound pretty funny to most people in Virginia, we might as well admit that Klees’ “Dutch country” is not very far away from Virginia. Part of the appeal this part of Pennsylvania has for us is that the people seem like neighbors, if not relatives.
Consider Klees’ account of his friends’ and relatives’ frugality. “The good life includes leave food on the plate is bad manners. Children’s clothes are bought one size too large. Most of the Dutch pay cash, or do without. At the same time...they help a family that has been burnt out...anyone dropping in at mealtime is likely to be asked to eat with the family.”
Or their relative freedom from snobbery. “People take satisfaction in being descended from good, solid stock, and there is a keen interest in the family and all its connections...There is little kudos to be gained from a great-great-great-grandfather who fought at Brandywine when every Tom, Dick, and Harry in town can produce five or six...Those who have coats of arms...regard them as curiosities and make no attempt to engrave them.”
Or, regrettably, their tolerance for race prejudice: in the country, “The Dutch are likely to judge each man on his own merits rather than by the color...In the cities, however, Negroes are confined to the worst slums.” In 1950, in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, this was accurate and not politically incorrect.
Many passages in The Pennsylvania Dutch describe some parts of Virginia as well as some parts of Pennsylvania. Some, of course, describe specific places in a different country. Pennsylvania had very little Cherokee cultural influence; its natives were “Lenni Lenapes, or Delawares...a tribe of the Algonquin family.” If you’ve ever confused Mohawks with Mohicans, Klees’ discussion of relations between these groups will help. If you are a Native American who’s been told that you’re “awfully tall for an ‘Indian,’” although European ancestors are probably responsible, you may be interested in Klees’ summary of archaeological evidence found in Pennsylvania.
If you’ve been confused about Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, and other radical Protestant denominations, Klees provides a detailed discussion of the history and traditional doctrinal differences among these groups, too. “The Amishman’s hair is bobbed at the top of his ears with bangs across the forehead and a part in the middle. Parting on the side is a matter for church discipline.” Other states have Amish groups, but none so strict as Pennsylvania’s Old Order.
Then there’s the famous dialect. “The dialect is always called Dutch. As Holland Dutch is not spoken in Pennsylvania, there is no confusion...[N]ot even the most it German, since that is a name reserved for High German.” The language used in some of the churches discussed as “the archaic High German of the eighteenth century,” which “seemed to the Pennsylvania Dutch the only language right and fitting for a church service, just as most English-speaking Americans considered the archaic English of the King James Version of the Bible more appropriate than modern English.”
Not being an expert on the history of Pennsylvania, I can judge The Pennsylvania Dutch only on its literary merit...which is considerable. Endnotes show an impressive amount of research, and the text is broken up frequently with quotes, but Klees never lapses into Textbook Mode. There’s a nice mix of dates and statistics, quotes and references, and the kind of anecdotes that will keep even advanced middle school students reading this book for pleasure. It’s a long but enjoyable read. If anything has been left out of this book that ought to be in it, I can’t imagine what it might be.

As noted, the copy of this book I physically owned and displayed for sale sold fast. To buy it online, you'll have to send salolianigodagewi @ $35 for the book plus $5 for shipping...and so far I've found no evidence that Fredric Klees is even in a position to appreciate $4. Buying  The Pennsylvania Dutch here would be a nice way to support this web site. Buying it cheaper from some other site, if you can, would be in the spirit of this book.