Walk down the streets of Lancaster today and there’s a good chance you will hear Spanish. In fact, 38.3 percent of Lancastrians are Hispanic according to census data from 2019. But if we hopped in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and traveled back almost 200 years you wouldn’t hear any Spanish or much English for that matter. You would have heard German.
According to Jerome H. Wood, Jr. in his 1979 book, Conestoga Crossroads, at Lancaster’s founding, the town was English in name only. It was overwhelmingly a German community. Between 1730 and 1736, sixty percent of lot holders were of German or Swiss background. By 1740 that number had grown to 75 percent.
In fact, when the first newspaper, The Lancaster Gazette, was published in 1752, articles were written in both English and German.
Furthermore, the prevailing German mode of dress during these early days would have led the occasional visitor to imagine oneself in some Rhineland village and not a loyal British colony.
Although the English residents referred to these neighbors as “Dutchmen,” a corruption for the German word “Deutsch,” none of them came from Holland.
Woods went on to state that Lancaster has always been a diverse city. From the very beginning, it had nothing approaching a “New England way” with no universal standard of religious orthodoxy like you would have found at Plymouth. Diversity and pluck best described the social context in which Lancastrians lived.
From the town’s founding, there were Germans and non-Germans, Christians and Jews, traders and craftsmen, freemen and servants, landlords, and tenants.
From this perspective, Lancaster has changed very little. It is still a unique mixture of people from all walks of life.
In short, Woods’ book gave given me a lot to think about concerning Lancaster’s evolving nature. Such as what doe it mean to be a Lancastrian and what does the future hold for the city?
German. English. Spanish. I’m curious what Lancaster’s dominant language will be 200 years in the future. What do you think?