Welsh Immigration

Welsh Immigration

In the early nineteenth century Welsh immigrants were mainly engaged in farming or mining. This included the slate quarries and coal mines in Pennsylvania. There were also large numbers in New York state and by 1802 there were Welsh Baptist and Congregational churches in Utica. Within forty years there were 22 Welsh churches in New York.

In 1843 a Welsh Society was formed in New York City in an attempt to protect Welsh immigrants from fraud and exploitation. It also attempted to preserve the Welsh language and to organize the celebration of national holidays. There were also three Welsh-language magazines published in New York in the 1840s.

Along with people from Cornwall in England, the Welsh were numerous in the lead-mining regions of Wisconsin. By 1850 there were over 7,000 Welsh miners were employed in south-western Wisconsin. Two villages in this region were named Wales (Wakesha County) and Cambria (Columbia County).

The Welsh were also involved in the Californian Gold Rush. However, only a minority of miners made much money from gold and it was much more common for people to become wealthy by providing the miners with over-priced food, supplies and services. Failed miners often turned to cattle raising and fruit growing. By 1873 the Welsh were able to establish a Presbyterian church in San Francisco.

In 1857 the Reverend Samuel Roberts, a minister from Montgomery, wrote a series of pamphlets attacking landlords, tithes and church rates. Roberts argued the only solution to this situation was emigration to the United States. Roberts arranged for William Bebb to establish a Welsh colony in Tennessee called Brynffynnon. However, the venture was not a success

Pittsburgh was the main city where the Welsh settled. In 1877 its Welsh citizens organized a colonization society to aid their countrymen to move from the overcrowded industrial areas of the East to the agricultural areas in the West. By 1892 there were 700 Welsh in Osage County and 1,000 in Emporia.

The Census of 1930 revealed there were 60,205 foreign-born Welsh in the United States. Pennsylvania had the largest number, with New York, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan also having having substantial Welsh communities.

Primary Sources

(1) In 1857 Samuel Roberts and William Bebb organised a Welsh colony called Brynffynnon in Tennessee. John Jones, was one of those who went to live in the colony but in a letter he wrote to Roberts he complained about the land that had been purchased.

I wish I had never seen Mr. Bebb and that I had never heard of Tennessee. Undoubtedly we have all been disappointed in our venture. It was terrible indeed of Mr. Bebb to persuade us to buy land in Tennessee without knowing more about it with the titles being so uncertain. When I heard Mr. Bebb in Wales sighing and groaning that we were suffering such oppression, living on hopeless and sunless farms, boasting of the great fortune that he had made for us and the paradise that was to be had on this side of the Atlantic, who would not have expected something from him! I have not seen him proving any of his claims and I judge that he had nothing in view except his own pocket.

(2) A woman from Wales who had been persuaded by Mormon missionaries to go and live in Utah, later had doubts about the wisdom of this decision.

As to polygamy, this has made me so miserable in past times that I almost wished myself at the bottom of the sea instead of in Utah, but so far I have been spared that trial. Oh you cannot conceive what women here have to suffer from a view to obtain some great glory hereafter, which I for one am willing to forgo, if I can escape the purgatory they think necessary.

(3) Ann Ellis from Cardiff wrote about her life with the Mormons in Utah in a letter she sent home to Wales in 1855.

James has no other woman than myself yet; and when we have got more property - that is, when we are in a way to maintain her without injuring ourselves - then it will be my duty to look out for another woman for him - that is my duty, not his.