Carmarthen and some Welsh Emigrants

In the late eighteenth century there was, not for the first time, a large scale movement of Welsh people to America. They were partly pushed by a series of poor harvests reducing many upland farmers to starvation level and partly drawn by the belief that America was now the home of political freedom, just as it had been the home of religious freedom a century before when Quakers & Baptists had flooded across. This was the time when America itself was expanding as settlers began to push westwards across the Allegheny Mountains. With much contact between Welsh colonies and the homeland, knowledge of the rich grasslands to be had almost for the asking was a potent factor in fuelling the movement.

A Baptist minister, Morgan John Rhys, founded the Cambrian Company which bought land in Pennsylvania (then still the far west) and a new settlement called Cambria was formed there. Among its first settlers was a party of six men and four women from Llanbrynmair in Montgomeryshire. Their leader was Ezeckiel Hughes, a clock maker. On Saturday July 11th 1795 they started to walk to Carmarthen, arriving there on Tuesday night. Their goods arrived by cart next day. They were to be picked up by theMaria, registered in Bristol, but she was too large to come up the Towy, so they arranged for a small ship to take them to Bristol. However, they found that the press gang had anchored in the river, making it impossible for the men to take this route. They set off to walk to Bristol, leaving the women to bring their possessions on the small ship. The men reached Bristol on the following Tuesday night, but the women, having made their way to Llansteffan, had to wait there for three weeks for a suitable wind. Growing anxious, they decided to walk to Bristol but in the meantime the Maria sailed, meeting the small ship in the Channel, only to find the women were not on board. The Maria had to return to Bristol and it was August 6th before they were reunited.

There were 50 emigrants on the Maria, all but three of whom were Welsh. Three weeks out they were intercepted by two ships of war which fired across their bows. The ships were flying the French flag, so they thought they would be made prisoners of war. However, the ships were English, but then it was feared that the men would be pressed into the navy. Fortunately they were allowed to go on, only to run into a storm which nearly sank the ship. Then, twelve weeks after leaving Bristol, they docked in Philadelphia. Most of the party settled in Cambria but a few went further west to Ohio, where in Paddy's Run they began the most flourishing of all the Welsh rural communities in the USA.

This little party was just one of very many which over the centuries trekked to and across America. Their loss is one which Wales could ill afford. At the end of the nineteenth century there were some hundred thousand natives of Wales in America. It has been estimated that by now, if those who have at least one Welsh parent or grandparent are counted, there are a quarter of a million Welsh-Americans. Their hiraeth led them to cling to their language and customs for a long time - even today there are Welsh societies and Welsh churches all over the States. But most of them were proud to become citizens of their new country: censuses of 1920 and 1930 showed that 73% of Welsh emigrants had become citizens, while the average for all countries was only 47%.

Jill Davies

Reproduced from THE FRIEND July 1998

Jill Davies

served as Chairman of the Friends for three years until May 2000 when she was succeeded by Diana Pazienti

She is a long-standing member of the volunteer cataloguing group.

To see another article by Jill click here


David Williams Cymru ac America/Wales and America

Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales Press 2nd edition 1962.