It is October 1683. In a temporary cave-dwelling on the high banks of the Delaware, a German Mennonite family and several German Quaker families cast lots for parcels of land. The settlement they are founding—Germantown—will play a crucial role in the early history of the American Anabaptists.

The Germans' "other holy experiment"

A wave of German immigrants began landing at the port city of Philadelphia in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. William Penn, the colony's Quaker proprietor, did not intend to establish a Quaker commonwealth in the New World. Rather Pennsylvania—"Penn's Woods"—his "holy experiment," was open to all people of Christian faiths.

Penn's agents combed Germany's Rhine Valley for potential colonists, and German immigrants flocked to Pennsylvania by the thousands. These immigrants were mostly Lutheran and Reformed, and a few were Catholic—these were the legal, state-supported faiths of the German territories. In Penn's vision, however, dissenting and persecuted Anabaptist and Pietist groups were welcome as well. These included German Quakers, Moravians, Schwenkfelders, Mennonites, Brethren (Dunkers), and Amish. English residents soon labeled all of these groups "Pennsylvania Dutch." Gradually the Pennsylvania German settlers developed their own dialect and perpetuated their own folkways and traditions that clearly set them apart from their English-speaking neighbors.

Germantown, the first intentional German-speaking community in America, was laid out in 1683, a mile-long section of an Indian trail some six miles northwest from Philadelphia. The first German settlers—13 families—arrived that October on the ship Concord. They were greeted at the Philadelphia wharf by William Penn and one of his land agents, ...

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