GENUKI Home page up Wales (NLW Journals)Contents Contents

 

 

Letters from Welsh Settlers in New York State, 1816-44

A H Dodd. National Library of Wales journal Vol IX/I, Summer 1955

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article by Gareth Hicks [August 2002].


Welsh migration to upstate New York owes its inception to the tireless propaganda of the Montgomeryshire radical William Jones of Llangadfan, who during the last five years of his life (1791-5) devoted all his energies to schemes for an organised Welsh settlement there. On the one hand he approached the American government and the Pulteney interest in New York state, on the other he tried to rouse the fervour of his fellow countrymen by presenting to them at eisteddfodau and similar gatherings the attractions of the United States as a land where feudal and religious tyranny were unknown. Like so many of their kind, his more ambitious dreams failed to materialise, but from the beginning of his campaign a trickle of emigrants began from the regions where his advocacy had been most effective especially from rural Merioneth and the neighbouring parts of Denbighshire and Caernarvonshire. The rural distress occasioned by the outbreak of war with France in 1793, reaching a climax in 1797, quickened the movement, and the post war depression of 1816 turned the trickle into something more like a deluge; for the first time Wales experienced mass emigration in which economic motives began to prevail over the hitherto dominant religious promptings A great deal of the flood, especially from industrial South Wales and from Montgomeryshire (with its long connections with Pennsylvania), was absorbed by the Cambria settlement organised in the latter state by the South Walian Morgan John Rhees; but it was the uncleared or newly cleared lands of the Mohawk flats that chiefly attracted settlers from the northern counties during these years. Some went as lumbermen or labourers, and from 1817 work on the Erie canal absorbed a few of these. A newly settled Bala immigrant, employed in wholesale business in New York, went into partnership with a Caernarvonshire quarryman in 1794 to start slate quarrying 'if ye Rocks will do'. There was a sprinkling of ministers, teachers, surveyors and shopkeepers, and some practised their crafts as joiners, stonemasons and the like in the rapidly developing towns of the area. Utica, laid out in 1797, had already enough Welsh settlers by 1802 to establish a Welsh Independent congregation of thirteen members (soon swelling to 250), followed by a Baptist church in the following year; Steuben, Remsen and other settlements followed suit. For most of the Welsh settlers were men of strong religious convictions who had been profoundly influenced by the Methodist revival, now at its height in Merioneth and quickening into new life some of the older denominations before the secession of 1811 turned the Methodists themselves into a new denomination. The bulk of the Welsh immigrants, however, came from the class of small dairy farmers, and found a living in their new home by buying small plots of land and paying for them out of sales of 'Welsh butter' not only locally, but to the hungry market of New York itself. 1

1  B. W. Chidlaw, Story of My Life (Philadelphia, 1890), pp. 16-17, and Yr America (Llanrwst, 1840, trans. Rev. M. O. Evans in Quart. Pub. Hist. and Phil. Soc. of Ohio, vi. 28-30); C. G. Sommers, Memoir of Rev. J. Stamford (New York, 1835), pp. 349-50;  D. E. Jenkins, Thomas Charles (Denbigh, 1908), iii. 139-41; A. H. Dodd, The Character of Early Welsh Emigration to the U.S. (Cardiff, 1953), pp. 21-4.

Two bundles of letters from these Welsh settlers, preserved in the National Library, give us some enlightening glimpses of their life during the pioneering days. They all date from the period following the close of the Napoleonic wars, and introduce us therefore to settlers who were able from the outset to make contact with fellow countrymen both in New York itself their usual port of landing (which had had a small Welsh population for well over a century) 1   and in the remoter settlements too. Many had been regaled by tales of this land of promise, whether in letters or by word of mouth from returned emigrants, before ever they set out; for example, young Benjamin Chidlaw, who went out with his father from Bala as a lad of eleven in 1821, had always cherished memories of what that father told him, after a temporary sojourn in New York state from 1794-9, of this 'great and good country beyond the ocean, where there is no king, no tithes, and where poor people can get farms, and where apples abound'. 2   The letters are nearly all in Welsh, and personal and family affairs naturally take pride of place. But there are long passages of more general interest, and it is these that have been transcribed or translated in the following pages, with some indication of the general trend of the omitted passages. The passages between quotation marks are all directly copied or translated literally from the originals in the Library, only the punctuation and sometimes the sequence of paragraphs being modified. A single letter from a third bundle is added for the sake of comparison with conditions in the same area twenty years later, when pioneering had moved further west.

I.

LETTERS FROM MERIONETH IMMIGRANTS, 1816-18.

(N.L.W. MS. 2722E; from the papers of Edward Griffith, Dolgelley, 1832-1918).

1.   From Hugh Thomas and his wife Catherine (Trenton, Oneida county)3 to their daughter and son in law, Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Zachariah (Gwastad Coed, Dolgelley, Merioneth), 25 September 1816.

[An 'exact copy' in copperplate hand (with many underlinings, which are not reproduced here), apparently made by the son in law, of a letter in colloquial and ill spelt Welsh. The copy is directed to Henry Owens, Esq., Dolgelley.]

The writer begins by referring to his forty acre holding, crossed by two streams and lying on a turnpike road, of which he keeps the gate, thereby supplementing his income by $80 a year. In worship they join a good deal with the English. There are two Societies 4  in Utica 5  (one Baptist and one 'ours') and two in Steuben ........................

1 Dodd, op cit., pp. 10-11.

2 Story of My Life, loc. cit.

3 Oneida is written 'Nerida', but the transcriber conjectures that 'Oneyda' is meant.

4 'sysciat' ('seseiet' elsewhere in the letter). He is using the word in the sense made familiar by Methodism (the modern Seiat: the bodies to which he refers belong, however, to the older Dissent, which in some counties (notably Merioneth) had for some time been profoundly influenced by the Methodist Revival (see R. T. Jenkins, Hanes Cynulleidfa Hen Gapel Llanuwchllyn, Bala, 1937, pp. 48-58).  The writers appear to have been Independents.

5 He writes 'Ueta' or 'Veta'.

........................................... (one Baptist and one 'ours', calling itself Independent but including 'Calfins'). They hold a joint yearly Cyfarfod lasting two days in Utica and two in Steuben. The ministers are William Prys (Caernarvonshire), John Roberts (Bala) and Robert Griffith (Dinas Mawddwy). The Thomases live midway between two convenient markets, with plenty of good shops handy; there is a good school half a mile away, where the schoolmaster is paid $20 a month ('4 10s. in your money'), together with his food, drink and laundry. There is a good mill, and cotton and woollen factories, in the neighbourhood. Craftsmen get good wages, but living is very dear; joiners earn tenpence a day, stonemasons twelvepence and victuals; harvesting is paid at eightpence a day and other work at fivepence. 1   A dry and cold summer, however, has made everything dear; wheat sells at 10s. the bushel of 32 quarters, a pair of oxen costs 22, a cow from 6 to 8, a horse from 10 to 30, and sheep 10s. each 2.   Prices are falling now, but wages remain the same. Malt liquor is scarce, and costs 6d. a quart; rum is 4s.6d., gin 6s.6d., brandy 8s. and whiskey 2s.6d. a gallon. 3 Butter and cheese are dear, the former costing elevenpence and the latter ninepence a pound. 4  Welsh butter goes to New York two or three times a year; fair prices are given, and the transaction involves thousands of dollars a year. 'And here is one thing in which the Welsh succeed; and since the Lord prospers them more than any other race in America, I don't think there is any land under the sun better for any honest and hardworking man to come to than America, nor better laws, more favourable to the working man. He gets respect according to his worth, not his wealth. Another thing you would hardly believe that is that in our town there are 160 dollars of poor rates out at interest, without anyone asking for a penny; and I haven't seen one poor man begging since I've been here and that is about thirteen years'.

There are shipyards all along the river from New York to Albany, where big vessels are built, 'but I don't know what wages they get only I know they are big wages. There is no shipbuilding with us, but there's a good place here for joiners and carpenters. I should like to see thousands of you, and after that it could still be said that there is room [for more] .... As for mining, there is nothing of that in these parts, so far as I know. The price of woodland is eight dollars an acre,.....................

1 Only in a backward agricultural county like Merioneth would these wages be considered 'good' in 1816 --- even if the words 'and victuals' are meant to apply generally, and not only to stonemasons; for in Eden's State of the Poor (1797, iii. 887, 891) Denbighshire agricultural wages appear as ranging between 1s.2d. and 1s.6d., and Davies's General View of the Agriculture . . of North Wales (1810, p. 354) reckons an average agricultural wage for the six counties at 10d. to 1s.2d. with victuals and 1s.6d. to 2s. without.  Before the war labourers' wages in the Bala district were estimated by a local parson at 6s. to 6s. 6d. a week (D. Davies, Case of Labourers in Husbandry, 1795, based on figures for 1788, pp. 188-91). The writer may have miscalculated the rate of exchange, for his figures in English money do not seem to tally with those given in American money in letter 5, below.

2 Wheat was 60s. a quarter (c. 7s. 6d. a bushel) in Bala in 1816; it had been up to 13s. or 14s. at the height of the war (Dodd, Industrial Rev. in N. Wales, 1951, pp. 339, 348-9). Caernarvonshire cattle sold in 1797 at about 4 each for yearlings and twice as much for two year olds; those from Merioneth were probably rather less. Draught oxen were about 7 each in 1792. Merioneth sheep sold at 10s. to 14s. each in 1799, but since come down in price (Davies, General View, pp. 312, 338, 324).

3 Beer sold at a penny a pint in rural Wales in mid-eighteenth century, but taxation raised the price, and it did not fall as low as 1 1/2. till after the repeal of the duty in 1830. Spirits were probably unknown in rural Merioneth at the time the Thomases migrated. (Dodd, Ind. Rev p. 350 and n., cf. 330).

4 Butter was 8d. to 9d. a lb. in North Wales in 1797, and later in the war it went up to 1s. and even (exceptionally) 1s.4d., but in a single post war season prices had dropped by half. (Dodd, op. cit. pp. 348-9).

................................... and from 25 to 30 for cleared land, and pay in five or seven years, but pay interest every year. As for the Welsh, you can hardly imagine how well they get on. Many of them who weren't worth a pound are [now] worth many hundreds. As for us, I can only say this: when we came here we had only 195 dollars, and after buying the land we bought a pair of oxen and a cow and paid 40 dollars to start with for the land; so we didn't get on very quickly with farming the land. But the farm is now well stocked with everything ... This year we have 140 cattle, 2 horses, 40 pigs, 38 sheep. I have to sell some of my stock because hay is scarce. Last year we had about 20 tons of hay but this year only about 17 tons. We get butter from 4 cows about 60 dollars --- selling for 20 dollars a hundredweight --- to go to New York. But we haven't finished paying for the farm. Last year we had a lot of losses: lost a cow that cost 30 dollars; lost a three year old horse, worth 70 dollars; a marauder 1  killed 12 sheep; lost thirty dollars through trusting a man for a pair of oxen'.

He acknowledges a letter from his correspondent, dated 29 August. He is unable to give any news of Griffith Williams; two families from their 'Society' migrated 500 miles to the south fifteen months ago, but enquiries from them have brought no word of him. Nor can he tell them anything of Evan Williams. He sends greetings to his mother, thanking her for her care of his old father, and begs for news of his kindred and old friends, of his old nurse 2  'Cathrin Davudd' and of Mary Jones, the old smithy. The children (born in America) send messages in a postscript: 'Ebeser' aged 13, 'Eleuasaph' in his eighth year, Frances 11 last March. He adds in a postcript that Hugh Roberts has buried his wife Gwen, and that Howel Thomas buried his two years ago; Howel has also lost one child but has another living. 'And so here's a short account with many imperfections for my old friends and kinsfolk from

Hugh Thomas and Catherine Thomas'.

2.    David Jones (or David Sion Harry) joiner (Capitol Street, Albany, N. Y.3   to his wife at Llwyngwril, Merioneth. 14 October, 1817.

[A copperplate copy of a very long letter. The copy is in English, with occasional lapses into Welsh, but there are indications that the original was mostly if not entirely in Welsh, which the transcriber has translated, and in some parts paraphrased.]

He sailed in a 'smallish' ship carrying sixty passengers for New York, but they were driven back twice to Ireland. After a fresh start they had seven days' good weather and then 'met with very cross winds and tempestuous weather' which drove them back nearly to Spain. One of the masts was crippled, but the writer had (with some difficulty) smuggled his carpenters' tools aboard, and was able to 'fish' it with five cleats, earning 2 by the exercise of his craft an important asset (he........................................

1 Ytsleiddiad' (ysgleifiad) --- no doubt some bird or beast of prey.

2 Or 'foster mother' ('fy hen mameth')

3 He (or his copyist) writes 'Cappytol Street, Albay, State, New York, North America',

.................................. emphasises) to all emigrants. 'With those Tools, a few in Number as they were, under providence I saved the Ship from Sinking and consequently the lives of all on Board while others were bewailing their wretchedness'. With four other passengers he contracted fever, and was very ill for three weeks, by which time they had eaten all their meat, and the water stank because it had been put in dirty casks. The captain of a small French schooner coming from the West Indies saved them by giving them all he could spare of rice, pork, water and sugar. After that they got into their right course, and frequently met American ships bound for England, who helped them with meat and water. 'But at last when we came in sight of land we forgot all our trouble and danger'.

They were kept in quarantine for four days at a place nine miles from New York; no immigrant was allowed to enter the city until the doctor attached to the great hospital had given him a clean bill of health. 'After going to church, I went first to Hugh Lewis's daughter Nelly; and I had a great welcome from her. Next I went to the house of my cousin Margaret, and was well looked after by her; I stayed there four days. New York is a lovely town. Then I took ship to Albany. I went straight to my cousin Lewis, and right glad he was to see me. He gave me good work at once; he has given up work himself ... My uncle Hywel looks a Rob' 1  with a gentleman close by this town. He wants to be remembered to my father, and says that if father comes out here he will gladly pay his passage'. 2

'This Country pleases the heart of every Man when he sees it .... If I had come to this country 4 or 6 years sooner I should have been under no necessity of taking off my hat to any Man ... I hope that none of you are in trouble on my account: I live better now here than I have ever done before ... But I would rather than any thing I was ever possessed of had I known before I left Llwyngwril what I do know now since I came here: that is, I am concerned ... that I did not come, at the expense of Old England, to Canada and my family with me. There are in that province 100 acres of land for a Man and his wife, and one hundred of the same Acres for every boy for nothing, and all this for ever . . . 3   and their food for a year while they prepare the land for farming. Hundreds of picked Welshmen went there last year. The British consul 4 lives in New York, and gives a living to everyone from England who goes to him to ask for it. The land isn't anything like that in Wales. The Welsh are simpler than any people: 5   lots of Irish have gone there ... It gives me more pleasure to earn money here than to be safe in Llwyngwril. I came to this land on purpose to try and earn money, and I think my journey won't be in vain ... If I'm alive and well, I hope in a few years that you, my family, will see me, to your comfort. I don't doubt I have been a lot of trouble to all of you, but it can't be helped if we get no respect over there. I'm ................

1 A swell?

2 This passage in Welsh.

3 Up to here in English, the rest of the paragraph in Welsh.

4 'Cwnslar'.

5 'Wirionach' (to put up with the hard life at home?)

....................................not like that here: if I'd come here instead of going to gaol, it would have been a good thing for me'. 1

'Here is a very good place for all handy Craftsmen, weavers excepted ... Here is good thick Silk for 4s. per yard; of this Women here wear much. Men and women are very proud in their cloathing here. 2   I earn 12s. of currency per day; this sum is equal in value of your money in England 6s.9d.,--- 8s. of American currency is a Dollar of 4s.6d. value. This country has not as yet in many things recovered from the effects of last War. Old England, by burning the Towns in America, has cut out work enough for handy Craftsmen for many years. Here is a very good place for such as follows viz t for Masons, Stone Cutters, Bricklayers, Plasterers, Painters and Joiners; and for the last named better than them all, because we, joiners, can work at all times of the Year. 3

'Here in these parts of the country the weather is very Cold for four Months in the winter; but in this part of the Country it is very healthy. But it is ... very hot to the Southward and thereabout it is very unhealthy the Yellow Fever kills a great number thereabout almost without any respite. When it comes into these parts it proceeds on Northwards as far as Phyladelphia; but not more Northward than that City, nor so high to the North as that but very seldom. Here it is very Hot in the Summer but if you can get shaded from the Sun, it will be bearable enough. This Country differs very greatly from Wales: everything that you can think of, grows here. Everything is now very low in price here this year. Wheat at 7s. of your English money per Winchester Measure. Good rye at 4s. The Horses eats up all the Oats. Here are the best Horses I ever saw. They come forty miles from the country in teams drawing Small Wagons, like Coaches, on Gallop, with everything to the Towns to sell. And in the winter, when the grown [sic] is covered with Snow, Sledi 4   will work about them very pretty. Snow is very acceptable with the Farmers. When there is snow of considerable depth they cut down and fall Timber and they leave a yard of the Stem or Stump near the roots to hasten them to rotten sooner and so it is they clear their ground. The Earth fine, and the ground free from Stones. Claydir tywodlad 5   in the Middle of the Country. In Steuben, where all the Old Welshmen are collected together, the earth is of a blackish 6   full of Timber the finest your eyes ever beheld, are..............................

1 This allusion, coupled with the regrets expressed at the beginning of the paragraph, might be thought to suggest that the writer had been caught up in some of the war time troubles of the home country before his emigration. There had been serious riots against dear corn and the press gang in various parts of Merioneth in the early war years (Dodd, Ind. Rev., p. 400), but this seems too early to fit in with David Jones's experiences; from 1808 to the time of his emigration the county was singularly free from major crimes (see reports of assizes in North Wales Gazette, 1808-16). But his might well have been a poaching offence, tried by the local magistrates an obvious temptation in times of dear food. In another significant passage he marvels at God's providence in turning to his good the 'ill-will of another.'

2 He notes elsewhere in the letter that men don't wear the farming breeches ('closa') universal among labourers in rural Wales, but pantaloons.

3 This paragraph and the one that follows are in English, The reference is to the burning by British troops of the half built Capitol at Washington and other acts of destruction in the war of 1812.

4 ' sledges'.

5 'Sandy clayland'?

6 The copyist has here inserted in brackets the Welsh epithet ('goddu') used by the writer, but forgotten to add the noun.

............................burn, on account of their being too far distant from a water carriage. There are none here that place a Timber Tree on a Waggon. The Old Welsh people here make their Rents of the Butter they make. But many of them sudd yn crafu'r cwbwl fel yngymru, and live very close in their houses.'

'This is the best place under the sun for earning money; but hundreds of men here kill themselves by drinking. A man who keeps himself sober will get respect and a job, and the best wages you can imagine. I shan't be pestering any of you on that account. Hundreds of people came here last year very poor, and many children, and not a trade to their name either, and on this account they become a burden on the state. They have room here for everyone to get his bellyful of food without begging from house to house. It's a very poor look out for the labourer here; 1  but men on the land get land on credit immediately and pay when they can. But a little money is needed to start clearing the ground ... From the beginning cultivation here has almost all been done by newcomers. The people of the land are wild Indians; they live far off in the country, living by fowling and hunting wild beasts, and coming with skins to sell to the merchants. They are the inheritors of the land, but they sell the lot to great men, and get very little for it. These in turn sell it to all who come to buy'. 2

'There is every sort of religion here, and first rate chapels. 1 saw 28 Baptists dipped on Sunday morning every one of them in white gowns. There is great danger of fire here on account of the greater number of the Houses being built with Timber. 3  There is more freestone here than of any other kind of stone; plenty of white marble; and plenty of bricks only labour is very dear. 4  The Americans are an uncommonly clever people. You never saw anything like their kindness to strangers. I can earn as much money as I want. No one need work more than ten hours a day here; eating our breakfast before going out to work and begin to work at 7; 5   knocking off at 12 and going back to it at one; and knocking off at six. There's a good place here for small jobs 6   and ready money; there is a dollar for shoeing a horse. But people always take care to grumble, the Welsh worse than any. There is too much small change for drink; the best rum at a shilling a quart English money, and all other liquors at similar rates. This is a land that ruins its inhabitants, and that on account of its fruits. The women lose their teeth before they are twenty years old the greater number; men at 45 years old look very old; there are here no old people to be seen. 7   They commonly ruin themselves with drink. It is a good place for fowling: every sort of fowl to be had...........................................

1 Literally 'there is only a very mean place ('lle sal iawn') for the labourer here'.

2 This paragraph and the next are in Welsh, but English translations of a few words have been added in brackets in the first, and there is an occasional English phrase or sentence (indicated below) in the second.

3 This single phrase in English.

4 He adds in a later passage that hones are almost unprocurable, and begs his wife to buy any Llyn Idwal hones she can lay hands on.

5 This one sentence in English.

6 These two words in English.

7 This sentence in English.

...........................................without getting into trouble for killing them. 1   Everyone carries a gun, [but] a gun is very dear'. Other prices he mentions are: two dollars for a pair of shoes, one dollar to the tailor for making a good coat; tea 2s. 6d. a lb., sugar 5d. a lb., salt 3s. a Winchester bushel; meat, cheese and butter much the same as at home. 'Apples are the finest you ever saw, and you can have as much cider as you want in every house; apples sell at 2s. a bushel and potatoes the same. The rivers abound in fish.' 2

There are the usual messages to friends at home, and news of old neighbours in America. Evan David the smith is advised to come out, because he would be sure of work at once in any corner of the land. He has seen nothing of Nancy Jones since he met her in Ireland; her ship hadn't arrived at Baltimore last time he asked. Six ships came to New York very close together, and all had had rough weather. 'Twm o Byscin and Betty live not far from this town, he has a Ferry carrying over the River Hutson; he made it himself i mae yn dda'r byd arno'. 3   'William' Lewis would soon make his fortune here; he can get enough wood to make a boat for a crown ... I often think of his son in New York when I see the sailorboys'. 4   He sends remembrances to Richard Jones of Borth Wen, Griffith Jones Ty Du, and Rhees William, promising to have ready for them the best tobacco they have ever handled if they come out; and to 'Hugh Robert o'r Gors' whose son Harri (now living at 'Bulan', hundreds of miles away from the other Welshmen) he has had news of, but not seen . 5   'Isn't Hugh Robert's lad, who was so clever, in this town?' 6

The rest of the letter is taken up with arrangements for sending out his two eldest boys in the spring. The other children, he thinks, are not yet old enough, especially the little girl; boys can fend for themselves so long as they are kept from climbing the rigging and falling overboard, but little girls cannot stand the passage. He will send money for their clothes, and their fares to Liverpool, and pay the captain in New York for their food aboard. If Harry Robert is willing to come out with them, the writer will bear the cost or for that matter anyone who has a little English. He would like his brother Lewis to come with them, but hesitates to ask lest Lewis's wife should be unwilling. They should take an American ship, because these are quicker and have better food; the passage costs five guineas and the food ten pounds a head as far as New York. The Caernarvon slate boats, although they seem cheaper, should be avoided; they pack the passengers aboard like a herd of pigs.' 7  He urges his wife strongly to let the lads come: he can give...................................

1 This lends colour to the suggestion made earlier that the writer may have been in gaol for poaching before he sailed.

2 All this information in Welsh.

3 'he makes a good living out of it'.

4 These two sentences in Welsh.

5 This is a jumble of Welsh and English, the latter sometimes mis-translating the former --- either through the copyist's carelessness or because the writer had by this time become (as he says himself) 'wedi drysu' (muddled) with all the things on his mind. He is evidently unaware that 'Bulan'(Beulah) was itself a Welsh settlement --- the first capital of Morgan J. Rhees's Cambria settlement, about 300 miles south-west of Albany.

6 'I In Welsh.

7 On this cf. Transactions Caernarvonshire Hist. Soc., xiii, 81, where some of the relevant passages in this letter are quoted in extenso.

.............................them a far better start in life than they would have at home. 'They will be taught Gratis untill they will be fourteen years Old; here are the best Schools in all the world, in every part and corner of the Country at the cost of the States'. 'Dear wife, I can send you money every month. by going down to New York; but this would be attended with considerable expense, they would be to be had at the Bank in Dolgelley,' 1  or some other place you may think; there will be no danger of their being lost at sea; As all business is transacted between England and America yn saff'. 2   In any case he begs her to let him know her decision without a day's delay, taking the letter to the post office at Dolgelley, with Dr. Owen or some other escort, and paying the postage to Liverpool; he will then send final instructions by the ship's captain. If the answer is unfavourable, he will return home as soon as he can make enough; he talks of going 1,500 miles south, where he can earn sixteen shillings a day, with a better chance of working his passage home. Meanwhile 'My dear wife I think no less of you than if I was with you'.

3.   John Richards (Johnsburg, Warren county, formerly of Llanuwchllyn, near Bala) to ---------, Llanuwchllyn. 3 November, 1817.

[A copy, apparently in a roughly contemporary hand, bearing the following endorsement: 'John Richards went from LlanuwchIlyn to North America about  ----------------- years ago; he was then a schoolmaster and at first followed the same occupation in America; he understood Navign and this sometime after enabled him to become Land Surveyor for Purchases in Lots of Wild Land in its Natural State; he map'd the same, each lot of Half Mile Square. He has now 1000 acres cleared of his own; and has erected thereon a Forge and Furnace . . . In going from Albani to the North Westward emigrants pass over a Neck of Land to shorten the way up to the Mohawk River. From Albani over the said neck of Land to the Mohawk the distance is about 15 miles; from then on to Utica 15 more; from thence to Stuben 15 more'. The letter is written in educated Welsh.]

He has heard with regret of the poverty at home, for which he has been trying to point out the remedy for twenty years, but 'can't talk loud enough'.  'The earth has been made for the children of men, and it couldn't be convenient to put it all in England and Wales, nor in LlanuwchIlyn ... And I must tell you my friends that I've seen enough land for all the inhabitants of Wales to live on in comfort, and no one using or owning it'. Here winters are long, snowy and very cold, but healthy; the water is good, the land not as rich as further south, but it yields twenty to thirty Winchester bushels of rye or barley to the acre. He has had forty bushels of Indian corn from an acre, and 350 bushels of potatoes. The average yield of wheat in Johnsburg is 10 to 25 bushels an acre. Land sells at 4 dollars to 5 dollars an acre, spread over ten years or more. Payment can be made in kind, but cash is better. In the back parts of Pennsylvania the yield is twice as high as here, but land sells at 5 dollars to 10 dollars an acre, with short credit and no payment in kind, and the country isn't as healthy. 'Stubend' is like Johnsburg; no virgin soil is to be had in Utica, only old farmsteads, but it is much better for craftsmen, who get higher wages there than in Johnsburg and are employed ..................................

1 Founded in 1803-4 (Dodd, Ind. Rev., p. 317.)

2 'safely'.

................................... all the year round. It is best for immigrants to make their way inland as soon as possible rather than stay at the ports. Good land is to be had in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana for a dollar an acre, but the yield is small --- half a dollar for a bushel of wheat as against two to two and a half in Johnsburg. In Ohio hyson tea costs four dollars a pound, but only a dollar in Johnsburg. Wages are generally threequarters of a dollar, as against half a dollar in Johnsburg. A youth of sixteen to twenty can earn ten to twelve dollars a month in summer, and eight in winter. A cow can be bought for two months' work. Those inexperienced on the land start with less, but they soon learn.

'At the present time canals are being made in the country, and people from the old country are specially well suited to the work'. There is good work for women and children. The best plan for big families is to come to a place like Johnsburg and take a small holding ar y cyd 1  if they can't afford to stock it themselves; that is, they take half the yield of hay, barley, cheese, butter and all foodstuffs, while the landlord supplies the plough team, harrow and cows. Immigrants should bring clothes and bedding with them, since they are very dear here. 'Steuben is the only place I know of in this country where Welsh sermons are preached'. 2   Recently there has been drought, and shortages caused by exportation overseas.

'The government is good, mild, free and fair, strong for war or for peace'. But 'Let no one coming here imagine that it is a heaven on earth. It's nothing of the sort. Here there are crosses and sin and satan; and yet this country is undoubtedly the best for a poor man to earn his bread and bring up his children in the face of all the world; and praised be the Lord for His great goodness to us all. Those who come here must be loyal to the government. If any think of coming here who are in love with kingly government, let them go to Upper Canada; . . they can live well there in peace time, but in time of war they will perhaps run into trouble. Here are earth and water, justice, freedom and personal security; health and sickness, coffins and graves, and a way to heaven, heat and cold, wind and rain, as in other lands'. There are the usual messages: to his old mother 'if she's still alive', to his brother and sister 'and all old friends in Llanuwchllyn'.

4.     William Thomas (Utica), son of Thomas Jones, Ty Mawr, Rhyd y maen, Llanfachreth (Merioneth) to his family at home. 17 August, 1818.

[Copy, all in Welsh. The endorsement states that Thomas went out with  ----------------of Ty Nant and others from Bala and Dolgelley in May, 1818.]

He hopes his family are well, as he is, thanks be to God for His mercies. He is working on the canal with the English for $13 a month; a few Welsh in the same place are getting $22 on their own victuals, but his are supplied. There are no other Welshmen in his gang.

1 Literally 'jointly' or 'together'. Evidently a sort of metayer tenancy.

2  He is wide of the mark here, as appears from preceding letters. Welsh had by this time died out in the old Welsh settlements in Pennsylvania, Delaware and the Carolinas, where once Welsh preaching had been frequent; but Welsh services and sermons were held in Beulah from 1796 to 1813; they had begun at Paddy's Run (Ohio) this very year (continuing till 1886), at Pittsburgh in 1812 and other Ohio settlements either now or soon after. (See Dodd, Early Welsh Emigration, pp. 30-34; Ohio State Arch. and Hist. Soc. Publications, xvi. 194-227; Quarterly Publications Hist, and Phil. Soc. of Ohio, vi. 22-31.)

John Richards 1   and John Jones of Penrhyn have praised the land too highly. Richards left his wife two years ago and isn't nearly as well off as he pretends; John Jones has gone looking for work in New York, since there is none to be had in Steuben. Many Welshmen have been misled by their letters. Except on the canal, many of the Welsh are unemployed. He warns his neighbours not to come; it costs more than they reckon. He is thinking of coming home himself in spring; many other Welshmen will do the same if they can find the means. 'The land is a wild desert of woodland, not much of it cleared, and for that reason it isn't worth a Welshman's while buying it'.

This summer has been the hottest for ages. Here, within a mile of Utica, there is no fair or market. It snows for four months in winter. Houses and clothes are very dear, the former costing four to six dollars a month. 'I would rather work in the old country for eight guineas than here for twenty'. Craftsmen are no better off than labourers. Carpenters working on the canal are unemployed. I saw David Jones of Pen y lan looking old, ill and ragged . 2   Messages are sent to Catrin, Robert, Betsan, and all at Pantyclyd and Graig, and especially to my dear daughter, who is often in my thoughts'.

5.    David Richards (Utica) to his brother. 11 December, 1818.

[An original, all in Welsh. No indication of the writer's provenance, but he is obviously a neighbour of the writers of the preceding letters.]

The summer has been very hot, but snow began three days ago. They say this will thaw, and snow begin again in March and last till May, so the working year is short. He unexpectedly met his son Richard, who had been nine weeks on the voyage (which was very stormy), and was ill for five weeks. He stayed for five weeks in New York with the writer's brother Humphrey, who earns from $1.50 to $1.75 a day, spending only $3 a week for food. The journey from New York to Utica took him nearly a fortnight. Richard has now come to Utica; John, another son, has a good place there, working on the arches under the canal. Grace had a baby daughter a fortnight ago. William, Thomas 3   is going to thresh in the town, getting a tenth share for his pains, and his food and drink. Richard and John are looking after horses and cattle for 'a great gentleman'.

He adds the following information in answer to questions asked. Uncleared land in Steuben sells at $5 an acre; there are hundreds, if not thousands of Welshmen there. Woodland near the town costs $15 to $20 an acre. Rents are $1 an acre, taxes low. Boys' wages are $8 to $10 a month, $10 to $12 in summer; girls get $4 to $4.25 on their own victuals. Work on the canal is paid at $1 a day, or $13 to $14 a month with food, drink, washing and half a pint of whiskey a day; the equivalent for those working on their own victuals is $22 to $23, 'wet or fine'. There .............................

1 See letter 3, above.

2 Possibly the writer of letter 2, above,

3 See letter 4, above.

........................... is no work for smiths here, since everything is done by machinery, but there is great demand for them in New York, and they get good wages. Women's wages are better in New York than in Utica, but it is healthier here for Welsh people. Wages are poor for shopmen and farm bailiffs. 1    'Almost everyone is a good scholar'. Shoes ($2 a pair), clothes, watches and clocks are dear. Cows cost from $28 to $40. horses $60 to $100. sheep $1.50; butter is 18d. a pound, cheese 5d., wheat $1.50 a bushel, potatoes 19d., apples the same.

Religion is not as well provided for here as at home; preachers are rare, and no one makes a living by preaching only. Yet there are scores, if not hundreds, of church members among the Welsh, and the government gives free course to the gospel --- but also to sin. 'I've seen men mowing hay on the Sabbath, others threshing and others carrying, others turning it and others carting to the house, and all sorts of goings on ... The two sacraments are the same as in the old country with the 'dysenters' 2   and the Baptists, but there is no congregation of Methodists 3   anywhere that I know of. Every denomination conducts its own marriages for itself, no matter what time or what place, at home or away, night or day, but there is a burial place by some houses, and some special places out in the fields. Everyone buries his own dead by the house to save trouble; nobody reads over the dead body, but [it's a case of ] bury my dead out of sight'.

II

LETTERS TO REV. ELLIS EVANS, BAPTIST MINISTER, CEFN MAWR (DENBIGHSHIRE), 1821-2. (Cwrt Mawr MS. 818).

The Baptists had always formed an important element in Welsh migration across the Atlantic. John Miles went out with a few followers soon after the Restoration, to found a new Swanzey in Massachusetts; and a small group of disciples of Vavasour Powell, from his own county of Radnor, found a home among the Welsh Quakers in Pennsylvania some twenty years later, to be joined early in the next century by a company of co-religionists from West Wales, who in turn spread out to found new 'Welsh Tracts' successively in Delaware, North Carolina and South Carolina. 4   This small but steady flow of Baptist immigrants, inspired far more by apocalyptic zeal than by hopes of material betterment, continued until nearly the middle of the eighteenth century, and during the last quarter of the century the same restless energy, quickened now by the Methodist Revival, was applied to extending the Baptist cause to North Wales, where it had hitherto been represented only by a......................................

1 'husmun'.

2 A familiar Welsh term at this time for Independents.

3 There was by this time at least one Welsh Methodist congregation in Ohio (Radnor 1808, Ohio Arch. and Hist. Soc. Publications, xvi. 213). It appears from letter 1 above that in Steuben they still formed part of a mixed congregation, and it was only later that they set up a separate church in Utica. (Quar. Publ. Hist. and Phil. Soc. of Ohio, vi. 28-9).

4 Dodd, Early Welsh Emigration, pp. 9, 10, 13-14.

......................................few small congregations near the border. Among the regions where this evangelism bore fruit was the lower valley of the Conway and the Creuddyn peninsula, on which Llandudno stands, and it is from that area that this next group of correspondents went out, with a number of neighbouring Baptists, during the closing years of the eighteenth century. 1   No special incidence of economic hardship accounts for the move, for the copper mines at Llandudno were flourishing, 2   and the vale of Conway was among the better agricultural areas; the emigrants were following a deeply-ingrained tradition of their denomination --- only now they sought their New Jerusalem either with their co-religionist Morgan John Rhees beyond the Alleghanies or (as in this case) among other groups of fellow countrymen on the banks of the Mohawk.

Ellis Evans, the recipient of the letters, was a Merioneth man by origin, but having been baptised at Llanuwchllyn (where he was a farm labourer), and aspiring to the Baptist ministry (in which he was to become a leading figure), he went to learn his letters at the feet of a Baptist schoolmaster and preacher who kept school on behalf of the denomination near Llansantffraid Glan Conway. Here he met and married a member of the local flock, whose uncle Owen Owens was one of the New York immigrants from this area. It is to Owens (then over eighty) and to his fellow immigrant William Davies, (from the same community) 3  that we owe the three letters that follow ---  the former writing in illiterate Welsh,   the latter in English that speaks for itself.

9.   William Davies (Deerfield, near Utica), to Ellis Evans, 24 September, 1821. (English)

He is a stranger to Evans, but a neighbour to his wife's uncle Owen Owens, who showed him a letter written by Evans about April but received in July. Owens is in his 83rd year, and lives with another of his wife's nephews, Harry Williams, who emigrated from Llanfair Talhaiarn (Denbighshire) about 1817; 'he can walk about and goes to meetings by times'. Of his sons, Thomas died last year in Ohio, leaving ten children, John is a shoemaker in Utica, and David keeps a farm and tavern near by, 'doing very well'. The writer left his home near Glanwydden (Creuddyn) with his wife and child in April, 1794, landing at Philadelphia at the end of June. They remained in that neighbourhood till May, 1806, when they moved to Steuben, and then Deerfield. Having been members of the Baptist church at Glan Conway since 1789, he and his wife joined that at Steuben. 'There is in the Township of Steuben two Large Congriation of welsh one Baptist C hh and one Independence, maid of Whitfils Whesleyans 4   Prespiterians &c joind to one sociaty there is also an English Baptis Church in Steuben and a wealshman preach.............................

1 J. Spinther James, Hanes y Bedyddwyr un Nghymru (Carmarthen, 1903), iii. 331, 420-9.

2 Dodd, Ind. Rev., p. 167.

3 R. Ellis, Cofiant ... E. Evans (Llangollen, 1866); James, loc. cit.

4 I.e. the Calvinistic Methodists, who followed the Calvinistic teaching of Whitefield in preference to Wesley's Arminianism.

...........................for them. there is also two Congregation of welsh in Utica similar to them described in Steuben there is allso an English Baptist Church in Utica.

'This country is full of religion but there is room to fear that the greatest part of it stand in outer ward or natural Conformance ........The Churches about hear dont Comonly keep a setled Minister, but hiar one by the year ... exept some eble Churches'. He mentions some local Welsh ministers of the denomination: John Stephen (Pembrokeshire), Thomas Morgan and David Griffiths (Merthyr), Griffith Jones (Sarnau), Abram Williams (Monmouthshire), Richard Jones (Cardigan); 'your worthy and faithful friend Joseph Richard Preach Among the Welsh sometimes in Utica and some times in steuben and is very exeptable by all, there is another Welsh Minister that lives some distance to the west by the name of John Evans (white hair) but he is rather insnared with Tribulations to our sorow'. 1   In answer to enquiries, he reports the death in Albany about 1806 of Thomas Maurice, 'to all apearans of one that lost his religion', in New York in 1814 of John Evans (late of Glan Conway), 'litl or no bettar, but God is the juge and not us', and a year ago of James Harris 'statefast in the Faith'.

He describes Utica as 'a very smart and thriving village Consisting of nearly 600 dwellings, and seven or eight pleasis of worship vis two Baptist Church one Independence One Presbiterians One Whesleans One Episcopal and one Romancath there is One Acadamy two Banks besides many other public bildings, and there is a Canel run through the center of the village which Extend 300 miles it will Communicate the waters of Lake Eary and the waters of Lake Champlane to the Hudson river and thence to the Ociane at New York the Canel is not yet finish but in two years it is Expected to be finished'.

On 'Country afers' he reports 'a general Complaint hear of hard times and scarsity of mony, but the Country is blesd with Abundance of all the blessings that mankind can wish for, Markets are law [low?], weat 6/ pr Bushel Rye 3/- Indian Corn 3/6 Oats 2/- Malt 12/-   baril ... Everything els is very low Land is very difrence in the prices from 3 dollars to 100 dollars an Acre acording to its quality and situation lands in this visinity is from 8 dolars an acre to 30 dolars ---I recon the prices acording to our Mony that is 8/ to a dollar or 4/6 starling.'

'You said something in your letter Concerning coming to America I would wish to see many of my Country men coming to this Country of them which are sober and very endustry, but men dont get [ torn] hear with out hard labor except very few and [ torn] must have good qualifycations towards it, I dont want to flater to Any body to come hear, but there is a very good place hear for evry sober and Industrious man to get thire comfortable living'.

He concludes with the usual messages to old neighbours, especially John Evans of Glanwydden and his wife ('if they are on the land of living') and the congregation at Salem, Glan Conway, as well as ('if theyre alive') his nephews and nieces, the children of Jane Williams, late of Ffynon Loyw --- his own old home near Glanwydden.

1 Owen Owen's letter (10, below) gives the reason: he had 'crazed himself by drinking too much, like some others'.

10. Owen Owens (Trenton) to Ellis Evans, 7 October, 1821. (Welsh)

[Entirely on family and religious matters. Much of the news is also in William Davies's letter above; much is so ill written and ill spelt as to be unintelligible. The chief items are summarised below; not much is coherent enough for quotation.]

He lives about a mile from his son David, whose inn is about half way between Steuben and Utica. David is arranging for services in his house; the eight mile walk to Steuben or Utica is too much for many of them, and the English too have to walk four or five miles for service. David has four children, Seth, Sarah, Ebenezer and Phebe. They did not find Thomas's death matter for sadness, as if he had died without hope; 'to the end he remained constant in exhortation and prayer as he was in the old country'. Thomas's son Owen was a sort of leader of the congregation, in a place without a single minister much gifted in prayer and preaching. Seth, Mary and Jane have married into English families; others of the children are married and living comfortably in Ohio. Religious life has fallen off ('wedi marweddo'), but it is far from dead. John Williams of Garn, who has been a minister for four years, 1  has four or five hundred members in his church --- English, with a few Welsh, the service being in English. Jane Harris, who came out eighteen years ago, is a paid itinerant missionary, much respected. Thomas Morris's son is a great preacher with the Baptists. There are 110 Welsh Baptist families in Owen's neighbourhood. Joseph Richard 2  lives about half a mile away, but preaches in Utica; he sends greetings and would like to see Evans on American soil ('ar y dir merica'). Sermons are rare and the cause is weak all the more reason why Evans should go out and preach to them in English and Welsh; there is plenty of scope for him, and many good chances of getting land. 'I beg you if you aren't coming to this land ... to send a letter telling about my old brethren in Llansantffraid and Glanwddyn and Llandudno'. 'I haven't had much news of the old country since I've been here'. Letters should be directed to David's inn., A postscript in English by Lucy Maurice tells how she was baptised a year ago and joined the church at Steuben, and how happy she and Harry Williams would be 'to see you in the america and that very soon'.

11.   William Davies to Ellis Evans, 9 November, 1822. (English)

He has had no reply to his letter of the preceding year, and is 'very desirous to open a Communication with some friend from my native land'. Owen Owens is still 'eble to go about midlin smart'. As for the country, it 'has the best Government in the world ... the poor is not oprest the midle Clas of the Inhabitants is not burden'd with tithes 3  nor hevy taxis, as for the rents, there is but a small part of the people is liable to pay rents, for evry one that is desirous can buy a pease of land for himself, but if they are not Eble to pay the money for the land.....................

1 in New York (James, iii. 433).

2 Emigrated about 1817; see letter 11.

3 Cf. Chidlaw's story of his father (supra, p. 43), and Transactions Denbighshire Hist. Soc., ii. 71ff.

.......................they can [ illegible] by paying a lawful interest of sevn prsent.....The wealsh pople in genaral are doing very well. Concerning Relegion .... we have our Ministers Our Cadomies and our Seminaris are full of studians'. The other items of information repeat those of his first letter. He again sends messages to John Evans of Glanwydden, begging a letter from him, with news if possible of his sister's children. 1

III

1842-4.

(Cwrtmawr MS. 1044E)

The only letter of general interest in this group is to Rev. Ellis Evans from John H. Evans, formerly of Llanrhaiadr (whether the one near Denbigh or its namesake on the borders of Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire is not clear), and now of Remsen, N.Y. One written by Evans to his wife from Utica in the following year has been omitted as of domestic interest only. Its purpose is to reproach her for not coming out last summer and to urge her to join him, or at least send the children out, in the summer of 1843. He has bought land and the price will be cleared in five years. She is instructed to book her passage with Mr. Grimshaw, 10 or 40 Goree Piazza, Liverpool, and to enquire at New York for Mr. David Roberts, Mechanics' Bank, Wall Street. If she fails him this time he will say good bye to her for good. He gives his address as: c/o D. E. Morris, merchant, corner of Senaca [sic] Street and Whilsborow Street, Utica, Oneida county, State of New York, North America. 2   A third letter in the group, to Ellis Evans from Jesse Jones, a Baptist minister who went out in 1823 and writes from Steuben in 1844, is of purely theological interest.

12. John H. Evans (Remsen), to Ellis Evans, 15 February, 1842.

[Written in Welsh, in an excellent hand but with erratic spelling and punctuation.]

In answer to his correspondent's enquiries he sends his impressions of America, warning him that immigrants' impressions are coloured by mood and circumstance, and that accounts which are too glowing or too gloomy should be equally discounted. His first hand knowledge is confined to the three states of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. 'New York state is all rather hilly, poor and stony; but part is very productive of butter considering how stony it is; in other parts of the land there is excellent soil giving fine crops of corn and hay. I have heard that...................

1 Cf. letter 9, above.

2 None of these settlers seems to use the term 'United States' (cf. letter 2).

.....................some make 1 to 1 1/2 hundredweight and some 2 hundredweight of butter from every cow, and yet they consider they are doing pretty well to make 1 hundredweight per cow on an average. As for Pennsylvania, the land is particularly hilly; I have travelled eighty miles without seeing, to the best of my recollection, a single acre of level ground. Much of it is extremely poor, but towards the eastern boundary there is some fine land that is, towards Philadelphia. I haven't seen half the state of Ohio, but that is pretty level, and the soil generally very good. I think that here is the prettiest place I've ever seen. Prices of land vary a lot according to its quality and convenience of situation. Woodland is here five to eight dollars the acre; farms long cleared from 18 to 25 dollars the acre. Some good farms, with good buildings on them, sell for 60 to 70 dollars the acre. In Ohio, where the land is better, you can get a good farm for 18 to 25. 1   But as far as I can judge from hearsay, Wisconsin Territory is the place for Welshmen. It lies to the north of Illinois. They say that it is a very healthy country, with good water, pure air and a temperate climate. There are also mines of lead and copper there, very rich, and land can be had for 1/2 dollars the acre. Also if a man choose to keep a hundred cows he could keep them if he chose summer and winter without paying a halfpenny of rent; there is enough hay and pasturage for them on the prairie (which means grassland or meadowland), and those can't be sold for years, and when they are sold there is no risk that the man in possession will lose them; besides, the price won't be more than [that of] wild land.'

'As for the laws, they are better than you'd think, although the administration of them isn't always right, any more than yonder. I've often heard since I've been here that there is nothing in the laws to protect the Sabbath, but that's a mistake, for the magistrates here have often put the law into force against desecrators of the Sabbath and fined them heavily; but often it isn't put in force, the same as yonder. Again, if a man happens to strike another the officers of the land lay hands on him and send him to gaol; but in some places the officers of the land pass over great offences rather lightly; I don't understand that they punish thieves and murderers as often as in England; it is said that there isn't much of a punishment for killing an Irishman. This land like other lands has its advantages and its disadvantages. Disadvantages: money is rather scarce, and banks fail rather often, and when you bank in one state, you will have to pay so much for changing to a bank in another state, and this sometimes as much as 12 per cent. Again, the roads are commonly rather bad ... But there are advantages here, especially, in some things, namely good craftsmen, farmers too have lots of hardworking children; I've seen plenty of them testify that they'd only a pound when they got here, some only a shilling, but by now they are milking, some of them twenty, some forty cows, some have paid for their farms, others half paid and some who've newly come have only paid a little. As for poor labourers, there's a good place here for such, for they take 2s.3d. a day (of your money) in wages as well as their food, and their entire keep and maintenance [comes to] about half that; 2   so that ...........

1 Cf. letter 3.

2 cf. letter 5.

..........................here there's no cause for anyone to be in want except the lazy and the sick. So far as I remember, I've never seen anyone begging since I've been here 1   except one, and he was a man who'd just lost his arm. In the matter of religion, there is here almost every sort of Churchmen, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Socinians, Quakers, Universalists and Mormons, who are a disgrace to humanity, and yet there's nothing to be done except to let truth and error fight it out till truth prevails'. He concludes with greetings to Mr. Robert Griffith and his wife, Evan Griffith and his family, Thomas Davies (Llety yr Euos), Ellis Jones, D. Morgan, D. Davies (Cedig) and Thomas 'Richet'.

1 Cf. letter 1

A. H. DODD.

University College of North Wales,

Bangor.


Return to top of page

InfoFind help, report problems, or contribute information.

(Gareth Hicks Aug 2002 )

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional

Copyright GENUKI and Contributors 1996 to date
GENUKI is a registered trade mark of the
charitable trust GENUKI

Hosted by Mythic Beasts Ltd