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January 19, 2010

The American Diaries of Iorthryn Gwynedd: A Fascinating Discovery in Swansea University Library

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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.

Iorthryn Gwynedd

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?’(!).


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