Universal York

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York County People Didn’t Always Speak English

Welsh’s Store in 1902 With Dollar Bible Sign.
I still don’t understand why some people get upset when notices are published or signs posted in English and another language, usually Spanish nowadays. They seem to think that English is the only language all of us should use. If public notices hadn’t been bilingual in Pennsylvania in the past, the ancestors of a great many of the people complaining wouldn’t have known what was going on.
A few months ago I listed the publishers of York newspapers in 1837, with more German than English editions. Click here to read that post.
Below are a few more examples, illustrating the prevalence of the German language in York County for over 150 years.

Since the majority of immigrants to York County were from Germanic lands, they wouldn’t have known land was available for purchase if Pennsylvania hadn’t printed the public notices in both English and German in the 1700s, when many settlers first arrived.
As far as schools–many of York County townships were heavily populated by those with a German heritage, so they were slow to accept the public school law passed in 1834. They did not want to give up their schools, often church affiliated, which taught the children both English and German. According to Gibson’s History of York County, the last township to finally accept the public schools was Manheim Township, but not until 1870.
An 1844 broadside in the files at York County Heritage Trust, printed in both English and German, announced the upcoming appearance in York of Democratic Governor-elect Shunk, “who will speak in both German and English.”
As late as 1902, Welsh’s store, at the corner of Market and Queen Streets, had a large sign outside advertising “Only One Dollar–Large Family Bible–English or German.”
Except for Native Americans, most citizens of the United States descend from immigrants who arrived less than 400 years ago–a very short time in the history of the world. Many didn’t speak English, but their descendants eventually did, just as the children of today’s immigrants will. Here’s hoping we can be as least as accommodating as the Pennsylvanians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Welsh’s Shelves and Counter Full of Books/Bibles