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The Pennsylvania Dutch

The people now known as the Pennsylvania Dutch originated as Anabaptists in sixteenth-century Switzerland, under the leadership of Menno Simons. His unorthodox advocacy of adult baptism and literal interpretation of the Bible led to the order’s persecution; they were invited by William Penn to settle in Lancaster County in the 1720s. Today the twenty or so orders of Pennsylvania Dutch include the “plain” Old Order Amish (a strict order that originally broke away from Simons in 1693) and freer-living Mennonites, as well as the “fancy” Lutheran groups (distinguished by the colourful circular “hex” signs on their barns). Living by an unwritten set of rules called Amish Ordnung, which includes absolute pacifism, the Amish are the strictest and best known: the men with their wide-brimmed straw hats and beards (but no “military” moustaches), the women in bonnets, plain dresses (with no fripperies like buttons) and aprons. Shunning electricity and any exposure to the corrupting influence of the outside world, the Amish power their farms with generators, and travel (at roughly 10mph) in handmade horse-drawn buggies. For all their insularity, the Amish are very friendly and helpful; resist the temptation to photograph them, however, as the making of “graven images” offends their beliefs.