All entries for January 2010
January 19, 2010
Back in Wales over Christmas, I had a brief opportunity to have a look in Swansea University Library. I was searching for books on the Welsh in the United States and what I found that was of particular interest was a set of diaries written up by typewriter. The first page explains that they were completed on the ship ‘New World’ on the Atlantic Ocean , June 10th 1852.
An introduction by Clare Taylor explains the significance of the diaries: ‘“Iorthryn Gwynedd”, the Rev R.D. Thomas, was to make other visits to America and to settle there, but this little diary of his first visit to America from 1851 to 1852, still remains a vivid travel account of a tour of Welsh settlements in the mid nineteenth century’ (1973: 1) Discovered among the papers of Samuel and John Roberts, the diary was translated from Cymraeg (Welsh) by a Mrs T.I. Ellis and typed by a Mrs. Gillian Glover.The diary itself is very factual and includes all kinds of interesting material such as:
- the wages of Welsh-American labourers,
- the distances and fares of rail road journeys,
- the exchange rates presented to immigrants at the New York exchange offices,
- the value of American money in other currencies,
- maps of towns and villages,
- details of land “bought” from the Native Americans in Oregon for settlers (some among them Welsh),
- a newspaper clipping about lows in temperature across the Eastern United States,
- a note about tragic deaths in Brooklyn when a frozen river collapsed (1852),
- and a letter from home included in the diary, a friend asks Iorthryn, ‘Why did you leave Wales to come to this barren country?’(!).
January 14, 2010
I didn’t really have a sense of the connection between the United States and Wales, until 2008 when I was visiting Philadelphia and I took a photograph of a plaque put there by the Welsh Society of Philadelphia (erected March 1st (St David’s Day) 1968). The plaque is inscribed with the following words:
COMMEMORATING THE WELSH CONTRIBUTION TO THE FOUNDING OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A number of famous Americans are commemorated on the plaque including:
*William Penn 1644-1718 – described as ‘proclaimer of the free religion and founder of New Wales, later named Pennsylvania’;
*Robert Morris 1734-1806 – ‘foremost financier of the American Revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence’;
*and Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, – ‘Third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence’.
What I didn’t realise then was that the Welsh heritage of colonialists who came to the US was in fact deeply valued and emphasised. As E.T. Ashton writes, Welsh immigrants ‘were able to maintain their Welshness because of certain identified characteristics such as a sense of nationality, a distinctive culture and identifiable standards of respectable behaviour’ (1984: xv). Ashton goes on to define the factors that stimulated Welsh immigration in the US as being ‘religious (such as the Quakers who fled from religious persecution in the late seventeenth century), economic, political, cultural and even what might be termed nationalistic, those attempts to establish a new Wales on American soil (such as the setting up of the Brynffynnon colony in Tennesse by Samuel Roberts in the 1850s’ (xvi). William D. Jones puts it simply: ‘they moved in search of a better life’ (1997: xviii).
Welsh immigrants largely came to the US between 1820 and 1950, and there were only about 90,000, which is paltry compared to the Irish immigration figures, but it is the closest Wales came to mass immigration (Ashton 1984; xvii). Jones points out that most of the immigrants ‘headed for industrial areas’, mainly because the types of workers moving into the US from Wales were not farmers or rural labourers by the end of the nineteenth century (1997: xx). Instead they were ‘Welsh miners, iron and steel workers and tinplate workers, together with slate quarrymen from North Wales’ (xviii). Jones even claims that ‘Welsh expertise in puddling iron, cutting coal or rolling tin-plate was highly prized and in great demand in industrializing America, and it commanded higher wages’ (xix). Along with this though came the risks of such industrial work. So ‘By the end of the nineteenth century Welsh gold miners could be found in California, lead miners in the Rockies, copper miners in Montana and coalminers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California. Utah, Illinois, West Virginia and Tennessee’ (xx).
References (Books accessed at Swansea University Library)
Ashton, E.T. (1984) The Welsh in the United States, Hove: Caldra House.
Jones, William D. (1997) Wales in America : Scranton and the Welsh, 1860-1920, Cardiff: University of Wales Press; Scranton, Pa: University of Scranton Press.