Tag: Welsh language

Early Welsh Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania

William Penn Deutsch: William Penn († 1718) ??...
William Penn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welsh Quakers were some of the earliest emigrants to Pennsylvania. Through their industrious habits, they made significant contributions to the colony’s development and played a key role in its political, social and economic formation.

Religion was the primary push factor for most of these early Welsh emigrants. The Quakers had been harshly persecuted in their homeland. Parliament had passed stringent laws forbidding their public worship, and enforcing fines and imprisonment on any who disobeyed.

William Penn, an English Quaker with Welsh roots, had recently been granted a charter from King Charles II to establish a colony in the New World. This colony was to be called Penn Sylvania, or “Penn’s Woods”.  In establishing this colony, Penn’s goal was to provide a safe religious haven for the persecuted peoples of Europe.

Faced with trying circumstances in England, the Welsh Quakers saw Pennsylvania as a secure haven from English religious oppression. Penn’s Welsh ancestry and Quaker heritage gave the Welsh Quakers the resolve and confidence needed to emigrate to his colony.

With the promise of great economic opportunity and the assurance of complete religious liberty, a committee of Welsh Quakers met with William Penn in London to negotiate the purchase of a tract of land. The Welsh committee, headed by John ap John, approached Penn with their desire to buy a piece of land where they could form a distinct Welsh settlement where they could maintain their own language and customs. They proposed a self-governed settlement in which they would handle any quarrels or crimes in their own way and their own language.

An agreement was reached between Penn and the Welsh committee; however, it was a fully verbal agreement (which would later lead to some controversy). Nonetheless, the committee was satisfied at the time, and arrangements were made to purchase forty thousand acres.

Thirty thousand acres were put in the names of select Welsh leaders who acted as “company heads”. Some of these men purchased the land for themselves, while others acted merely as trustees and eventually parted the land out to settlers. The other ten thousand acres of the Welsh Barony were to be distributed by Penn himself to additional settlers.

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon ...
The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King’s breakfast chamber at Whitehall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Settlement took off rapidly, and the Welsh Barony was quickly populated by numerous Quaker families. Estimates show that between 1662 and 1700, the Welsh made up the largest immigrant body in the state. The original townships of Merion and Haverford soon overflowed into new townships in Radnor and Goshen. Soon Tredyffrin and Uwchlan were established, and before long, the rest of the barony was settled.

The Welsh Quakers were typically well-to-do, industrious folks. They built up and developed their land quickly, and lived fairly luxurious lives for early pioneers.

For some time, they did indeed govern themselves as the Welsh Barony; however, the system soon disappeared as the Welsh merged into the general population. Over the next few generations, the Welsh language died out as the Quakers took to speaking English. Nonetheless, the relatively small group of Quakers gained surprising eminence in the region, and to this day, their influence can be felt.

Off to Patagonia in the Morning – Welsh Migration to Argentina

 

Each year, flights arrive in London carrying Welsh-speaking passengers bound for the National Eisteddfod. These aren’t Welshmen returning home, however. These visitors speak little to no English, yet they are able to communicate freely once they have crossed the border into Wales.

English: Bodiwan, Bala At one time this was th...
Bodiwan, Bala At one time this was the home of Michael D. Jones 573337who had to sell it because of financial losses incurred in the establishment of a Welsh colony in Patagonia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They have come from Patagonia, nearly 8,000 miles away in Argentina. The story of how this Welsh outpost has survived in a Spanish speaking country is quite a fascinating one, and it begins in the early 1800s.

In the early 19thcentury, Wales was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the Welsh. Much of the land was owned by the English, and the rich landowners were trying to impose change on the Welsh culture and religion. The Welsh heartlands were being rapidly given over to industry. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Wales was a source of much iron, steel, slate, and coal. Little by little, rural communities dwindled away as burgeoning industrial centres took over.

This civil unrest (likely combined with the allure of the new world) caused a considerable Welsh migration to the Americas and Australia. Welshmen and women set out to establish communities across the Americas. Some of the most notable settlements were in Utica, New York and Scranton Pennsylvania.

While a few communities were somewhat successful, many Welsh immigrants found that they were generally under great pressure to learn the English language and integrate into the American way of life. If they hoped to be accepted into the community or find gainful employment, being able to speak and understand the English language was crucial. Thus, much of their native culture and language was lost over time.

Welsh patriots were concerned about this. They wanted a place where they could be isolated enough to retain their native language, culture, traditions, and beliefs – and the United States didn’t seem to be an option. In 1961, a group of men met at the north Wales home of Michael D. Jones (a staunch nationalist) to discuss what could be done. For a time they discussed the possibility of Vancouver Island; however, it soon became apparent that Patagonia in Argentina held all the elements they were searching for in a true Welsh promised land.

Michael Jones corresponded for a time with the Argentine government about settling on a tract of land called Bahia Blanca. Due to an ongoing dispute with Chile regarding this bit of land, the Argentine government was only too happy to have the land settled by the Welsh. They allowed the Welsh to freely colonize the area, and gave them the freedom to live however they wanted.

In May of1865, the first group of 163 Welsh natives set out from Liverpool aboard the tea-clipper, Mimosa. In eight short weeks, the ship arrived at Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

While the natives of Patagonia were welcoming and assisted the Welsh migrants as they settled in the territory, the land wasn’t the fertile, friendly terrain the settlers had expected. The land was barren with no water, little food, and few materials available for building shelter.

The Welsh migrants founded their first settlement on the banks of the river Camwy in the Chubut valley. The colony suffered fiercely during the early years, and nearly failed due to lack of food. Finally, through much backbreaking labor, the settlers were able to irrigate the land with a water management system, utilizing the occasional flooding of the Camwy. This ultimately saved the settlement.

The colony succeeded and thrived with more settlers arriving from Wales and Pennsylvania in the following years. By late 1874, the population exceeded 270 souls. The fresh blood brought new life and energy to the settlement, and farms and colonies began to emerge along the banks of the river Camwy.

When the Argentine government officially granted the land to the Welsh settlers in 1875, many new settlers began to make their way to Patagonia. Great depressions in the coalfields of Wales brought several large influxes of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All of these settlers made further irrigation of the Chubut valley possible, and the Welsh had soon transformed the arid wasteland into one of the most fertile spots in all of Argentina.

For many years, the Welsh had their utopia. Welsh was the language of home, church, school and government. In time, the Argentine government stepped in and enforced Spanish as the language of school and government; however, Welsh continued as the language of home and chapel. The community continues to thrive to this day, celebrating their proud heritage in language and custom.

 

 

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