On the American Frontier : Amman Valley Emigrants in Texas, 1879-1880.
By Bill Jones and Huw Walters.
The Carmarthenshire Antiquary Vol xxxvii 2001
Copied by Gareth Hicks with the permission of the authors.
Includes biographical notes on Hopkin Hopkin by Rina Callingham
Most parts of Wales have some form of an overseas dimension to their history and the Amman Valley is certainly no exception. For centuries people have left the area of their birth in search of a better life elsewhere, and they became more numerous during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Not much research has been done on emigration from the Amman Valley aud little is known about changing patterns of out-migration and settlement abroad, and how the emigrants fared in their adopted countries. It is even impossible to say exactly how many did leave over the years because statistical records at this level are either unreliable or have never been kept in the first place. Many of the emigrants, probably the majority, made their homes in the United States; others travelled to Canada, and further afield to South Africa, Australia and Patagonia. Far from settling permanently at the point of arrival, some were very mobile as they moved from place to place in search of work and more favourable conditions. Most probably went overseas on their own resources and those of family and friends, though some, however, took advantage of government assisted passages to the Dominions and Commonwealth countries or planned emigration schemes to the United States.
Generally, comparatively little is known also about the ordinary individuals and families who took part in this exodus, and their actual experiences. Sometimes they surface for a period in the columns of the newspapers of the time, only to then disappear completely from the surviving record. Such is the fate of some of the Amman Valley emigrants in Texas and other parts of southern United States of America in 1879-1880 who are glimpsed in this article. But, more unusually, there is a fuller picture of one family from the same valley who also found themselves in Texas due to some exceptional circumstances. It is on the story of this family, that of Hopkin Hopkin, a Gwauncaegurwen miner, his wife Margaret, and their nine children, that most of the following concentrates. Unusually again for an ordinary emigrant, something is known about Hopkin Hopkin before he emigrated, as he was a very well-known and much respected local figure. During 1879-1880 he and his family were involved in a very ambitious plan to move Welsh industrial workers and their families to a new agricultural settlement in Texas. Yet our knowledge of the Hopkin saga is due less to their participation in that scheme and more to three lengthy Welsh-language letters that were printed in the Aberdare-published Tarian y Gweithiwr newspaper during late 1879 and early 1880. 1
Before he left for Texas, Hopkin William Sion Hopkin of Waun Leision, Gwauncaegurwen, had played a very prominent part in the temperance movement in the Amman Valley. 2 A strongly religious man, he was a faithful and active deacon of Carmel Independent chapel, Gwauncaegurwen, where he served as precentor. Surviving testimony is unanimous in declaring that he possessed a rare talent as a musician and singer, and won many prizes in eisteddfodau and other competitive meetings in the area. In 1860, a poetic tribute to Hopkin's efforts as a music teacher and on behalf of the Band of Hope, written by Evan Gethin of Gwauncaegurwen, was published in Y Diwygiwr. 3 Hopkin gave music lessons in Bethesda chapel, Cwmaman, for a time, and also at his parents' house on Waun Leision. The parental home was apparently a major meeting place for the poets and musicians of the area. Hopkin was also a member of the renowned 'Cymdeithas Gorawl Dyffryn Tawe', led by the influential W. Ivander Griffiths. 4 In 1916 D. W Lewis wrote that of all the musicians in the locality: `Fe ddichon mai efe (Hopkin) oedd yr arweinydd a ddangosodd fwyaf o allu i osod cor wrth ei gilydd ryw 40 neu 50 mlynedd yn ol.' [Possibly Hopkin was the conductor who showed the most ability to put a choir together forty or fifty years ago].5 Eleven years earlier, Jonah Evans had been even more emphatic, maintaining that had Hopkin been a young man in 1907, he would almost certainly have become one of Wales's premier musicians. 6
Some measure of Hopkin's local standing can be gained from the fact that his chapel, Carmel, and the locality in general, collected the sizeable sum of £12 8s towards his emigration. As a Gwladgarwr reporter commented, this was pretty good considering times were so hard. Garnant Colliery workmen (suggesting Hopkin worked at that colliery) collected £1 12s and the Gwauncaegurwen fife band, £1 5s. The money was presented at a farewell meeting in Gwauncaegurwen on the evening of 14 October 1879, during which several speeches were interspersed with items by the local glee party. As is unfortunately true of most press reports of farewell meetings for departing emigrants during the nineteenth century, the content of the speeches at this one was not recorded.7 Clearly the departure of Hopkin was a blow to the musical and religious life of the Amman Valley, as contemporaries recognised. Indeed, the loss reminds us of the amount of cultural talent, as well as industrial expertise, that emigration removed from districts all over Wales.8
Even though we are blessed with some biographical information on Hopkin (see Update below), we can only surmise as to why he and his family decided to go Texas at the very time when, as D. W Lewis declared, he was breaking new ground and gaining wider attention.9 The merest glance at both Welsh- and English-language newspapers in Wales during 1879 will reveal that there was much discussion about emigration whilst their pages were heavy with reports of industrial slump, wage reductions, distress and people leaving south Wales for America. 10 No small amount of column space was being devoted to the virtues of Texas as a field of emigration, including the New Cambria settlement near Jacksboro, some sixty miles north-west of Fort Worth, which had been established the previous year. 11 As will be seen later, some from the Amman Valley had already been attracted there. Determining authoritatively why a particular individual or group of people emigrated in the past is a difficult task for the historian because of the lack of surviving evidence. It is possible that the Hopkin family moved for reasons other than the purely economic, and they may well have gone anyway had they not been helped (unfortunately for them, perhaps, as things turned out) by the emigration scheme that became the talk of south Wales - and not always in favourable terms - during 1879. Alternatively, it might be expected that due to the economic circumstances prevailing at the time, they were among a possibly large group of people who wished to emigrate but did not have the means to do so. However, the cost of joining the scheme was quite high. Ultimately, their decision to emigrate must remain an enigma, though it is likely that a desire to return to farming and the prospect of acquiring free and relatively extensive land in what was reputed to be a very rich and fertile agricultural area played no small part in their deliberations.
The scheme in question, officially known as the Texas Freehold Farm and Emigration Company Ltd., was an attempt to alleviate the depressed conditions of the 1870s. 12 One of its key promoters was the renowned Welsh miners' leader, William Abraham, Mabon (18421922), then leader of the Rhondda miners, but who later became a Rhondda MP and President of the South Wales Miners' Federation. Like many others at the time, he was convinced of the efficacy of what appears to us to be the rather shaky and ineffective 'safety-valve' theory of emigration, and believed that out-migration was a means of preventing wage reductions. He wanted to develop an efficient mechanism whereby unwanted workers could be moved from areas where they created a glut, thus creating unemployment and driving down wages, to areas where they were badly needed and where wages were high. Wages in the places they left would rise, too, because of the labour shortage caused by their departure. 13 Subscriptions to the scheme were to pay for the nucleus of a Welsh agricultural settlement to be established at New Philadelphia, around sixty miles south-west of Houston, Texas, to be followed within five years by a large-scale migration of over a thousand workers a month. The society's entrance fee was 1s and any member was entitled to take part in a prize drawing on making a contribution of £5. Those selected were sent to America with £150, which was to be repaid in ten years with interest. 14
The plan attracted frenzied interest all over the industrial valleys of south Wales during 1879. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that nearly every issue of Tarian y Gweithiwr during 1879 contains at least one item of commentary or report on the scheme's conditions and progress. 15 As early as the middle of February, such was the number of requests for information that Mabon was receiving personally that he curtly reminded Tarian y Gweithiwr readers he could not 'codi stamps fel y codir ceryg o'r heol' [get stamps like you can lift stones from the road], and refused to answer any more queries unless they were accompanied by a stamped addressed envelope. 16 Numerous lectures were delivered on the subject and a number of local branches of the Texas Emigration Society or Workmen's Emigration Society (as the enterprise was popularly known), were formed, especially in the Rhondda Valleys where there were six branches. At the end of April, Mabon came to lecture on the scheme and Texas generally at a well-attended meeting in Gwauncaegurwen and a branch of the society was established here also. 17 Was Hopkin Hopkin there at the meeting, one wonders, or did he hear about it afterwards? But he clearly enrolled as a member and paid his dues for in August 1879 it was announced that his family was one of the two from south Wales who had been selected to be part of the first group to go to Texas. The other was that of George and Catherine Davies of Ton Pentre, Rhondda. 18 These two families did indeed reach Texas under the auspices of the society, but either because of organisational failure, incompetence or malpractice, or a combination of all three, the whole scheme turned into an utter fiasco. This promptly killed the emigration society and with it Mabon's advocacy of emigration as a solution to industrial problems. As Alan Conway has emphasised, this was in fact the last serious attempt to promote large-scale emigration by organised societies in Wales. 19
The Hopkin letters back to Wales trace in rich detail the changing nature of the family's fortunes between October 1879 and April 1880. The letters were addressed to relatives and friends in Wales, who probably sent them on to Tarian y Gweithiwr, it being common practice at the time for such letters to be sent to newspapers. Even so, there is something of a mystery here, as according to the Gwladgarwr report of the farewell meeting, Hopkin Hopkin intended to send that paper an account of his journey, together with information on Texas. In a statement which fully reveals both the extent of contemporary interest in that state, and concern about the misinformation about it that was in circulation, the Gwladgarwr was keen to have Hopkin's reports because 'as he is a religious and truthful man, we can expect to have accurate information on the state which has been so much written about and argued over lately'. 20 But on this occasion, at least, it would appear that Hopkin did not keep his word - or maybe his friends in the Amman Valley decided to send his bulletins to the rival Tarian y Gweithiwr.
The first letter was dated 21 November and published on 19 December 1879. It records how the family left Brynaman railway station on 16 October 1879 (including expressing thanks to Mr Price the station master for his help with their travel arrangements) and travelled to London, then Southampton, from where the steamer sailed the following evening. They finally arrived in New Philadelphia on 10 November 1879, after further rail, river- and steamboat journeys via New Orleans and Galveston. As soon as they reached their destination they found problems.
The emigrant society's local agents were not expecting the newcomers and the houses which had been built for them were not yet equipped. Nor was there for them the free food they believed they were entitled to under the emigration scheme's terms. Some of the emigrants, the Hopkin family among them, were forced to use most of the money they had left to buy provisions. All this did not augur well for the future, as the emigrants would not be able to support themselves until they had grown crops for the first time. Nevertheless, when lots were draw, the Hopkin family secured one of the better plots of land, and then began the long, arduous work of preparing it. 21
The Hopkins's second letter, written at the end of December 1879, was more optimistic than the first. 22 'Wele ni yn fyw, it begins brightly, `ac yn rhagorol mewn iechyd. Yr ydym ni a'r plant yn bwyta cymaint arall yn agos o fwyd ag oeddem yn arferol o wneud gartref yng Nghymru, ac hefyd yn teimlo fod ein nerth yn cynyddu bob dydd.' [We are alive and in excellent health. We and the children are eating almost twice as much as we usually did in Wales, and we also feel that our strength is growing every day.] At the time of writing they had left the work of rolling the land and were in the process of erecting sheds for the animals. There was also nothing but praise for the agents, who appeared to be fulfilling all their promises. There was plenty of food - flour, potatoes, a side of bacon, peas, corn, and fresh meat three times a week - as well as tea, coffee, sugar and lard. The emigrants were also being provided with whatever they needed for farming in terms of materials, wagons and livestock. Little wonder the letter ended with a reassurance that `ein bod yn gysurus iawn o ran ein hamgylchiadau ar hyn o bryd ' 23 [our circumstances are very comfortable at the moment]. A letter written by the other Welsh family sponsored by the emigration scheme, George and Catherine Davies, confirms the air of satisfaction and optimism that appears to have prevailed among members of the New Philadelphia community at that time. 24
After the end of December, however, things deteriorated. In stark contrast to the upbeat tone of the second letter, the final one, dated 14 April 1880, 25 described how the Hopkin family had been forced to move away from New Philadelphia. In mid January the pioneers' food allowances were stopped because the local agents insisted that they had not received enough money from the emigrant society's backers in London, and were not prepared to subsidize the pioneers any further. It was difficult for the emigrants to know exactly what was going on and who was to blame, but the fears of running out of what little money they had left and starving were real enough.
For a fortnight the Hopkin family wondered what they should do, hoping every day that they would receive some good news which would enable them to stay on the farm in which they had invested so much hope and effort. Then came what Hopkin Hopkin described as `un o'r pethau mwyaf anhawdd a wnaethum erioed, sef troi fy nghefn ar y lle; ond felly bu rhaid gwneud ' [one of the hardest things I have ever done, to turn my back on the place; but that's what had to be done]. The realization finally came that if they were to obtain work, then they had to go `on the tramp' in search of it. Consequently on 27 January 1880 Hopkin and one of his sons, Ioan, went to North Texas to sell the two horses the agents had given them; they kept the money as a small recompense for the swindle they believed they had suffered. They then proceeded to Dallas where they met a Welshman from Neath, Elias Thomas, who after giving them shelter for the evening, advised them to go to a coal mine which was being opened up some two hundred miles away in McAlester in what was then Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma). Apparently it had good prospects and the owners were having difficulty in recruiting workers. Hopkin and his son finally reached there on 7 February, after riding on luggage trains without paying in order to save money. They found work straight away. At the time, McAlester was a settlement of Welsh and English immigrants. Later that month Hopkin and his son also discovered that the Amman Valley was not all that far away:
. . . yr oeddem yn eistedd i lawr yn nhy Mr. Morris, y drws nesaf i'm llety. Daeth dyn tal, lysti i'r ty, a dywedodd Mr. Morris wrtho, dyma Gymro eto, bachgen or Hen Wlad. Gofynodd yntau i mi o ba le yr oeddem yn dyfod, ac atebais mai nid pell o Lanelli, sir Caerfyrddin. Beth yw enw y lle? Dywedais mai Gwauncaegurwen ydoedd. Hopkin, rho dy law. Sut yr wyt er ys Ilawer dydd? Yna dywedais fy mod yn credu fy mod yn adnabod ei lais, ond nas gallaswn ddweyd pwy oedd. Dywedodd John Williams, Glynbeudy, Brynaman, a mawr mor falch oeddem i weled ein gilydd. Y mae John yn gweithio engine Slope No 5 yn y lle hwn, ac yn ddyn parchus gan y cwmni a'r gweithwyr, a chanddo ddigon o arian. 26
[We were sitting in Mr Morris's house, next door to our lodgings. A tall, lusty man came to the house, and Mr Morris said to him, here's another Welshman, a boy from the old country. He [i.e. the newcomer] asked me where I came from, and I said not far from Llanelli, Carmarthenshire. What's the name of the place? I said it was Gwauncaegurwen. Hopkin, give me your hand. How are you this long time? Then I said that I thought I recognised his voice, but couldn't say who he was. He said John Williams, Glynbeudy, Brynaman, and how very pleased we were to see each other. John works in engine Slope No. 5 here, and he is a man respected by the company and the workmen and has plenty of money.]
The meeting with John Williams, and probably the Amman Valley connection, proved to be a very profitable one for the Hopkin family. Williams paid for Margaret Hopkin and the remaining eight children to travel from New Philadelphia to Houston whilst the coal company paid for the journey from there to their new home in McAlester, five hundred miles away from the scene of their earlier disappointments. Williams also loaned them, free of interest, enough money to enable them to establish themselves. And it is at this point, it seems, that Hopkin Hopkin and his family disappear from the written record. Despite numerous efforts, we, the authors, have not been able to discover any references - in either American or Welsh sources - which might give clues as to their subsequent fate.
There is, however, one more Amman Valley link in this remarkable story. Originally Hopkin and his son had planned to go on from Dallas to New Cambria, near Jacksboro, Texas, where other acquaintances of theirs, Morgan and Mary Hughes, had a farm. 27 However, heavy snow near Fort Worth prevented them going any further. The Hughes story, as described by Morgan in a letter dated 30 December 1879, is a startling example of the incredible mobility of some Welsh migrants in nineteenth century America. The letter was originally sent to an old neighbour and friend of theirs, Job Phillips of Cwmaman (d.1922), a shop-keeper and postmaster who was also a bosom friend of Mabon's. Phillips in turn sent Morgan Hughes's letter to Tarian y Gweithiwr, 28 partly to warn intending emigrants that prospects on the other side of the Atlantic were not so rosy after all.
Morgan Hughes was the son of Thomas and Ann Hughes, formerly of Ty'nywern Farm, Glanaman. He appears to have worked in coal mines all over south Wales before he and his wife emigrated to Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the early 1870s. There, Hughes continued his calling for seven years and in 1878, having accumulated enough money, they purchased a farm near Jacksboro, Texas, where the small Welsh settlement of New Cambria was beginning to be established. By 1880, however, although one Welsh resident there believed the place was 'a paradise of a country', 29 for Hughes the venture had not worked out and he was in a desperate position:
Yr wyf mewn tipyn o helbul yn awr beth i wneud; nid oes genyf ddigon o arian i brynu stock, a byddaf yn hir cyn y gallaf werthu dim oddiwrth y rhai sydd genyf yn bresenol, ac hefyd yr wyf wedi colli un or ceffylau, y mae hyny wedi beri gofid mawr i mi . . . Y mae chwant arnaf i renti y lle am tua dwy flynedd, a myned yn ol i'r gwaith glo, ond nid wyf wedi penderfynu beth i wneud; eto nid oes dim lle i enill arian ond wrth ffarmo yma, ond enillaf fwy o lawer yn y gwaith glo. 30
[I am now greatly troubled by what to do; I do not have enough money to buy stock, and it will be a long time before I can sell any of the ones I have at present, and I have lost one of the horses, which has caused me much worry ... I am tempted to rent out the land for two years and go back to the coal mines, but I have not yet decided what to do; again there is no way of earning money here except by farming, but I will earn far more in the coal mines.]
How exactly Hughes resolved his dilemma will probably remain a mystery. No further letters from him appear to have been published in Tarian y Gweithiwr (or elsewhere) so he and his wife's later years are as lost to written history as are those of their friends, Hopkin and Margaret Hopkin. For both these Amman Valley families the reality of agricultural life on the American frontier turned out to be far removed from the idyllic existence many at the time believed it to be. There is no way of knowing to what extent these emigrants' experiences, with their hardships and triumphs, were typical or exceptional; most probably they were a little of both. Nevertheless, the glimpses into emigrant lives which these letters present are significant in their own right. They also stand as a vivid reminder of the extraordinary circumstances which ordinary people could find themselves in as they strove to come to terms with the new worlds they had entered.
1. Tarian y Gweithiwr, 19 December, 1879, 9 January, 7 May, 1880. English-language translations of edited extracts from these letters can be found in Alan Conway, ed., The Welsh in America: Letters from the Immigrants (Cardiff, 1961), 151-156. See also Huw Walters, 'Gair Am Y Dyddiau Gynt: Y Dyffryn ac America', South Wales Guardian, 16 September 1976. The translations used in this article are those of the authors.
2. For some biographical detail, on which most of the following paragraph is based, see Jonah Evans, Hen Gymeriadau Cwmgors ar Waun, or Flwyddyn 1840 (Brynaman, 1907?), 80; D. W. Lewis, 'Hen Gerddorion Dyffryn Aman', Amman Valley Chronicle, 28 December, 1916.
3. Evan Gethin, 'Penillion o Glod i Hopkin Hopkin am ei ymdrechion gyda'r Ysgol Gan ar Band of Hope. Buddugol yng Nghyfarfod Llenyddol Carmel [Gwauncaegurwen] Mawrth 31 ain 1860', Y Diwygiwr, August 1860, 250.
4. Huw Walters, 'Chwifio Baner Dirwest: Cenhadaeth Dafydd Daniel Amos' in Geraint H. Jenkins, gol., Cof Cenedl, V (Llandysul, 1990), 85-115, 108-113. See also Rhidian Griffiths, 'Dau Gor' in Hywel Teifi Edwards, gol., Cwm Tawe (Llandysul, 1993), 188-210; Selwyn Jones, 'Ivander Griffiths and the Eisteddfod Abroad', Planet 2 (1970), 60-64; T. J. Morgan, 'Cymdeithas Gorawl Dyffryn Tawe', Y Traethodydd 127 (1972), 223-29.
5. D. W. Lewis, loc. cit..
6. Jonah Evans, loc. cit., 80.
7. Y Gwladgarwr, 24 October, 1879.
8. For a discussion of poets who left the Amman Valley and Wales and settled in England and overseas see Huw Walters, Canu'r Pwll ar Pwlpud: Portread o'r Diwylliant Barddol Cymraeg yn Nyffryn Aman (Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, 1987), 110-111, 214-216. See also, for a discussion of the same phenomenon in Monmouthshire, Sian Rhiannon Williams, Oes y Byd i'r Iaith Gymraeg: y Gymraeg yn ardal ddiwydiannol Sir Fynwy yn y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg (Cardiff, 1991), 23-27.
9. D. W Lewis, loc. cit..
10. See, for example, Aberdare Times, 27 September, 1879; Baner ac Amserau Cymru, 12 July, 23 August, 1 October, 1879, and the very numerous reports in Y Gwladgarwr and Tarian y Gweithiwr, April -September, 1879.
11. See, for example, Baner ac Amserau Cymru, 3 September, 1879; Y Gwladgarwr, 19, 26 September, 3, 17, 10, 24 October, 1879; Merthyr Telegraph, 22 August, 1879. For New Cambria and Jacksboro, see Y Drych, 4 July, 3 October, 26 December, 1878, 6 February, 1879; Tarian y Gweithiwr, 5 September, 1879.
12. For details of the scbeme see Tarian y Gweithiwr, 17, 24, 31 January, 9, 23, 30 May, 6 June, 1879. It is discussed in Alan Conway, 'Welsh Emigration to tbe United States' in B. Bailyn & D. Fleming, eds., Dislocation and Emigration: the Social Background of American Immigration (Cambridge, Mass., 1974), 257-259, and E. W Evans, Mabon: A Study in Trade Union Leadership (Cardiff, 1959) 25-26.
See Conway also for a general discussion of emigration schemes in Wales, and for a particular case study see Bill Jones, `We Will Give You Wings to Fly': Emigration Societies in Merthyr Tydfil in 1868, Merthyr Historian 13 (2001), forthcoming.
13. Mabon's justification for the scheme and expositions of his belief in the `safety valve' theory of emigration as a means of preventing wages falling can be found in numerous issues of Tarian Y Gweithiwr during 1879. See, especially, 17, 24, 31 January, 1879.
14. Tarian y Gweithiwr, 24 January, 9 May 1879.
15. See, for example, ibid., 23 May 1879.
16. Ibid., 21 February, 1879.
17. Ibid., 2 May, 1879.
18. Ibid., 22 August, 1879. See also 31 October, 1879.
19. Conway, `Welsh Emigration', 259.
20. Y Gwladgarwr, 24 October, 1879.
21. Tarian y Gweithiwr, 19 December, 1879.
22. Ibid., 9 January, 1880.
24. Ibid., 16 January, 1880.
25. Ibid., 7 May, 1880.
28. Ibid., 13 February, 1880.
29. Y Drych, 6 February, 1879.
30. Tarian y Gweithiwr, 13 February, 1880.
By Rina Callingham
I read with interest about the exploits of Hopkin William Sion Hopkin in both Bill Jones and Dr. Huw Walters article "On the American Frontier: Amman Valley Emigrants in Texas, 1879-1880" and Jenni Hyatt's translation of "Hen Gymeriadau-Cwmgors a'r Waun o'r flwyddyn 1840". On learning that nothing more was known about him after his last letter from America, dated 14th April 1880, I tried without success, to find him and his family in the American censuses. Having no connection to spur me on, I then forgot about him.
Some time later, whilst researching the Morgan family of Gelliwarog farm on the Gwrhyd mountain in Llangiwg, I came across a reference which rang a bell. My ancestor, Moses Morgan had an older brother, Thomas of Bryndu, Gwaun-cae-gurwen, whose eldest daughter, Margaret (born 1841) married a Hopkin W. Hopkin of Waun Leision in 1858. I traced the young family through the censuses up to 1871, but was unable to find any of them after this time. Suspecting they may have emigrated, I recalled the Hopkin W. Hopkin, I had previously read about and realised they were one and the same. With renewed interest, I set about looking for them again.
Knowing that they had arrived in America in 1879, the first port of call was the national census of 1880. It took some time to realise that the Indian Territory, where the family relocated in April 1880, wasn't actually included in this census. At that time, this region was in a state of flux, seeking to accommodate the many Indian nations who had been forced to congregate there to escape the advance of European settlers. With undefined boundaries and no official recognition as an organised territory, there were few formal government processes in place. From 1889 however, the federal government began to exercise some control in the area and after many adjustments, by 1907 the Indian Territory was reduced in size and organised to become part of Oklahoma, the new, 46th State of the Union.
The Hopkin family were enumerated for the first time in the federal census of 1900. Their home town of McAlester was recorded as Township no. 5 in the Choctaw Nation County of the Indian Territory. McAlester had been founded at the "crossroads" where the California (stage and mail) Trail met the emigration and trade route of The Texas Road. The settlement was named after Colonel James J. McAlester, who after buying some land, discovered coal and managed to persuade the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway to build a track locally. As a result, the coal industry flourished and this is what had drawn Hopkin and his family to the area, on the advice of Elias Thomas.
There was no sign of Hopkin in the 1900 census. In fact, he had died, aged about 49 in 1882 and was buried at North McAlester Cemetery. His wife, Margaret, now 59, was recorded as the widowed head of a family of 5 unmarried children who included a 17 year old, American born daughter, Jennie. 2 Welsh born boarders, employed as a miner and a musician respectively, completed her household. In total, Hopkin and Margaret had had 11 children - 7 sons and 4 daughters. Their 2nd son, Joseph had died aged only 9, before they emigrated from Wales. The passenger list of the ship, "Nurnberg" which brought them to America, records that 9 children travelled with their parents. In one of his early letters home, Hopkin had described the family as being alive and in excellent health and this had probably stood them in good stead for the trials that had faced them. In 1900, Margaret was recorded as being the mother of 11 children, of whom 8 were still living. Alongside the unmarried children, Daniel, Margaret, Gwenllian, Morgan and Jenny; 3 sons, John, David and Moses were married with families living locally. 2 remaining children, their eldest daughter, Mary Ann and 6th son, William cannot be identified in this census and along with the previously mentioned Joseph, probably account for the 3 deceased children.
Of the children at home, Daniel (32) was a miner and Morgan (21) was a salesman. Margaret (25) and Gwenllian (23) had no recorded occupation while Jennie was still at school. The next 3 censuses reveal that of these 5 children, only Morgan and Jennie had married by 1930. Eldest son, John (described as Ioan in the letters), aged 40 in 1900, was recorded as being a "mine boss". He and his Texan wife, Tennie had, by then, been married for 13 years and had 4 children. 3rd son, David (34) was a "business manager" and with his wife of 8 years, Illinois born, Georgia Amanda (nee Mason), had 2 daughters. 5th son, Moses (30) was a miner and he and his wife of 5 years, Bertha Mae (nee Humphrey), from Ohio, had 2 sons.
Over the years, the family became totally integrated into the local community. Polk's 1905 City Directory of McAlester, records David Hopkins, of 26 East Locust Avenue as being the secretary and treasurer of the J. J. McAlester Mercantile Company. John Hopkins, living at 56 East Smith Avenue was a coal operator and his 2 sons, Jonathan and David of the same address, were described as engineers. Morgan Hopkin was a storekeeper for the Bolen Darnell Coal Company, living with his mother, Margaret; brother, Daniel and sisters, Margaret, Gwennie and Jennie at 25 West Park Avenue. Jennie was by then, employed as a Post Office clerk.
By 1910, the Indian Territory had been integrated into the state of Oklahoma. McAlester, which was upgraded to the status of a city, found itself situated in the newly created county of Pittsburg. Margaret Hopkin was recorded as keeping a boarding house, providing lodgings for 8 men whose occupations were all connected with the railway. Son Daniel (a labourer) and daughters, Margaret and Gwenllian remained at home. Son Morgan, a manager in a lumber yard had by then, been married for 2 years and was living with his wife, Bessie (nee Cambron) who hailed from Kentucky. American born, Jennie was also recorded as having been married for 2 years and was living at McAlester with her husband, Wallace Bond and baby daughter, Olive. Margaret's eldest son, John had become a post master, while his brother, David continued to put his business skills to use as the manager of a departmental store. Moses Hopkins had moved near to his wife's parents in Krebs City, Oklahoma. He supported his 7 children by working as a track-man in the coal mines.
Margaret appears to have retired from keeping a boarding house by 1920. She continued to live with her unmarried children, Daniel, Margaret and Gwenllian. The census entries for her other children reflect few major changes. This was the last census entry for Margaret who died on 30th November 1922 and was buried (perhaps surprisingly not with husband, Hopkin) at Oakhill Memorial Park, McAlester. Many of her children were later buried nearby.
Rina Callingham (Sept 2008)