Welsh American

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Welsh Americans
Americanwyr Cymreig
T Jefferson by Charles Willson Peale 1791 2.jpgAbraham Lincoln head on shoulders photo portrait.jpg
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Total population
0.6% of the U.S. population
Regions with significant populations
Pennsylvania; Ohio; Northeast; Rockies; the Southern United States
American English
Predominantly Protestant Christian
Minority Roman Catholic and Episcopalian
Related ethnic groups
British Americans (Cornish Americans, Scottish Americans, Scots-Irish Americans, English Americans), Irish Americans

Welsh Americans are citizens of the United States whose ancestry originates wholly or partly in Wales. In the 2008 U.S. Census community survey, an estimated 1.98 million Americans had Welsh ancestry, 0.6% of the total U.S. population. This compares with a population of 3 million in Wales. However, 3.8% of Americans bear a Welsh surname.[2] Moreover, a particularly large proportion of the African American population have Welsh names.[2]

There have been at least eight U.S. Presidents with Welsh ancestry including Thomas Jefferson,[3] Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Garfield, Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are also of Welsh heritage.[4]

The proportion of the population with a name of Welsh origin ranges from 9.5% in South Carolina to 1.1% in North Dakota. Typically names of Welsh origin are concentrated in the mid Atlantic states, the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama and in Appalachia, West Virginia and Tennessee. By contrast there are relatively fewer Welsh names in New England, the northern mid West, and the South West.[2]

Famous sons[edit]

On a plaque mounted on the east façade of the imposing Philadelphia City Hall, the following inscription is found:

Perpetuating the Welsh heritage, and commemorating the vision and virtue of the following Welsh patriots in the founding of the City, Commonwealth, and Nation: William Penn, 1644-1718, proclaimed freedom of religion and planned New Wales later named Pennsylvania. Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, third President of the United States, composed the Declaration of Independence. Robert Morris, 1734-1806, foremost financier of the American Revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Governor Morris, 1752-1816, wrote the final draft of the Constitution of the United States. John Marshall, 1755-1835, Chief Justice of the United States and father of American constitutional law.

Philadelphia City Hall

Welsh emigration to the United States[edit]

'Welsh ancestry' Dark red and brown colors indicate a higher density. (see Maps of American ancestries)

The legend of Celtic voyages to America, and settlement there in the twelfth century, led by Madog (or Madoc), son of Owain Gwynedd, prince of Gwynedd, are generally dismissed, although such doubts are not conclusive. The Madog legend attained its greatest prominence during the Elizabethan era, when Welsh and English writers used it bolster British claims in the New World versus those of Spain. The earliest surviving full account of Madoc's voyage, as the first to make the claim that Madoc had come to America, appears in Humphrey Llwyd 1559 Cronica Walliae, an English adaptation of the Brut y Tywysogion.[5] In 1810, John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, wrote to his friend Major Amos Stoddard about a conversation he had had in 1782 with the old Cherokee chief Oconostota concerning ancient fortifications built along the Alabama River. The chief allegedly told him that the forts had been built by a white people called "Welsh", as protection against the ancestors of the Cherokee, who eventually drove them from the region.[6] Sevier had also written in 1799 of the alleged discovery of six skeletons in brass armor bearing the Welsh coat-of-arms. Thomas S. Hinde claimed that in 1799, six soldiers had been dug up near Jeffersonville, Indiana on the Ohio River with breastplates that contained Welsh coat of arms.[7] It is possible these were the same 6 Sevier referred to, as the number, brass plates and Welsh coat of arms are consistent with both references. Speculation abounds connecting Madog with certain sites, such as Devil's Backbone, located on the Ohio River at Fourteen Mile Creek near Louisville, Kentucky.[8][9]

The more substantiated claim is that the first Welsh arrivals came from Wales after 1618.

First Mass Migration: Pennsylvania[edit]

In the late seventeenth century, there was a large emigration of Welsh Quakers to Pennsylvania, where a Welsh Tract was established. By 1700, the Welsh accounted for about one-third of the colony’s estimated population of twenty thousand. There are a number of Welsh place names in this area. There was a second wave of immigration in the late eighteenth century, notably a Welsh colony named Cambria established by Morgan John Rhys in what is now Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

The Welsh were especially numerous and politically active in colonial Pennsylvania, where they elected 9% of the legislature. In the 19th century thousands of Welsh coal miners emigrated to the anthracite and bituminous mines of Pennsylvania, many becoming mine managers and executives. The miners brought organizational skills, exemplified in the United Mine Workers labor union, and its most famous leader John L. Lewis, who was born in a Welsh settlement in Iowa. Pennsylvania has the largest number of Welsh-Americans, approximately 200,000; they are primarily concentrated in the Western and Northeastern (Coal Region) regions of the state.[10]

Subsequent Major Migration: Ohio[edit]

Mass emigration from Wales to the United States got under way in the nineteenth century with Ohio cities and towns such as Canal Dover, Niles and Gloucester being particularly popular destinations.

In the early nineteenth century most of the Welsh settlers were farmers, but later on there was emigration by coal miners to the coalfields of Ohio and Pennsylvania and by slate quarrymen from North Wales to the "Slate Valley" region of Vermont and New York. There was a large concentration of Welsh people in the Applachian section of Southeast Ohio, such as Jackson County, Ohio and was nicknamed "Little Wales". The Welsh language was commonly spoken there for generations until the 1950s when its use began to subside. As of 2010, more than 126,000 Ohioans are of Welsh descent and about 135 speak the language,[11][12] with significant concentrations still found in many communities of Ohio such as Oak Hill (13.6%), Madison (12.7%), Franklin (10.5%), and Jackson (10.0%).[13]

Southern United States[edit]


Following the American Civil War, 104 Welsh immigrant families moved from the Welsh Barony in Pennsylvania to East Tennessee. These Welsh families settled in an area now known as Mechanicsville, and part of the city of Knoxville. These families were recruited by the brothers Joseph and David Richards to work in a rolling mill then co-owned by John H. Jones.

The Richards brothers co-founded the Knoxville Iron Works beside the L&N Railroad, later to be used as the site for the World's Fair 1982. Of the original buildings of the Iron Works where Welsh immigrants worked, only the structure housing the restaurant 'The Foundry' remains. In 1982 World's Fair the building was known as the Strohause.

Having first met at donated space at the Second Presbyterian Church, the immigrant Welsh built their own Congregational Church with the Reverend Thomas Thomas serving as the first pastor in 1870. However, by 1899 the church property was sold.

The Welsh immigrant families became successful and established other businesses in Knoxville, which included a company that built coal cars, several slate roofing companies, a marble company, and several furniture companies. By 1930 many Welsh dispersed into other sections of the city and neighboring counties such as Sevier County. Today, more than 250 families in greater Knoxville can trace their ancestry directly to these original immigrants. The Welsh tradition in Knoxville is remembered with Welsh descendants celebrating St. David's Day.

Midwestern United States[edit]

After 1850 many Welsh sought out farms in the Midwest.


In the years surrounding the turn of the Twentieth Century, the towns of Elwood, Anderson and Gas City in Grant and Madison Counties, located northeast of Indianapolis, attracted scores of Welsh Immigrants, including many large families and young industrial workers.


After 1855 Minnesota's rich farmlands became a magnet, especially Blue Earth and Le Sueur counties. By the 1880s between 2,500 and 3,000 people of Welsh background were contributing to the life of some 17 churches and 22 chapels.[14]


Some 2,000 immigrants from Wales, and another nearly 6,000 second-generation Welsh, became farmers in Kansas, favoring areas close to the towns of Arvonia, Emporia, and Bala. Features of their historic culture survived longest when their church services retained Welsh sermons.[15]

Mid-Atlantic United States[edit]

New York[edit]

Oneida County and Utica, New York became the cultural center of the American-Welsh community in the 19th century. Suffering from poor harvests in 1789 and 1802 and dreaming of land ownership, the initial settlement of five Welsh families soon attracted other agricultural migrants, settling Steuben, Utica and Remsen townships. The first Welsh settlers arrived in the 1790s. By 1855, there were four thousand Welshmen in Oneida. With the Civil War, many Welshmen began moving west, especially to Michigan and Wisconsin. They operated small farms and clung to their historic traditions. The church was the center of Welsh community life, and a vigorous Welsh-language press kept ethnic consciousness strong. Strongly Republican, the Welsh gradually assimilated into the larger society without totally abandoning their own ethnic cultural patterns.[16]


Five towns in northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania were constructed between 1850 and 1942 to house Welsh quarry workers producing Peach Bottom slate. During this period the towns retained a Welsh ethnic identity, although their architecture evolved from the traditional Welsh cottage form to contemporary American. Two of the towns in Harford County now form the Whiteford-Cardiff Historic District.[17]

Western United States[edit]

Welsh miners, shepherds and shop merchants arrived in California during the Gold Rush (1849–51), as well the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain States since the 1850s. Large-scale Welsh settlement in Northern California esp. the Sierra Nevada and Sacramento Valley was noted, and one county: Amador County, California finds a quarter of local residents have Welsh ancestry.


Mormon missionaries in Wales in the 1840s and 1850s proved persuasive, and many converts emigrated to Utah. By the mid-nineteenth century, Malad City, Idaho was established. It began largely as a Welsh Mormon settlement and lays claim to having more people of Welsh descent per capita than anywhere outside of Wales.[18] This may be around 20%.[19]

Welsh culture in the United States[edit]

One area with a strong Welsh influence is an area in Jackson and Gallia counties, Ohio, often known as "Little Cardiganshire".[20] The Madog Center for Welsh Studies is located at the University of Rio Grande. The National Welsh Gymanfa Ganu Association holds the National Festival of Wales yearly in various locations around the country, offering seminars on various cultural items, a marketplace for Welsh goods, and the traditional Welsh hymn singing gathering (the gymanfa ganu). The annual Los Angeles St. David's Day Festival-National Day of Wales, celebrates Welsh heritage through performance, workshops, and outdoor marketplace.[21] In Portland, the West Coast Eisteddfod is a yearly Welsh event focusing on art competitions and performance in the bardic tradition. On a smaller scale, many states across the country hold regular Welsh Society meetings.

Tin workers[edit]

Before 1890, Wales was the world's leading producer of tinplate, especially as used for canned foods. The U.S. was the primary customer. The McKinley tariff of 1890 raised the duty on tinplate that year, and in response many entrepreneurs and skilled workers emigrated to the U.S., especially to the Pittsburgh region. They built extensive occupational networks and a transnational niche community.[22]


The American daytime soap opera One Life to Live takes place in a fictional Pennsylvania town outside of Philadelphia known as Llanview (llan is an old Welsh word for church, now encountered mainly in placenames). The fictional Llanview is loosely based on the Welsh settlements located in the Welsh Barony, or Welsh Tract, located north west of Philadelphia, PA.

Current Immigrants[edit]

While most Welsh immigrants came to the US before the 20th century, immigration has by no means stopped. Current expatriates (a recent notable example being Anthony Hopkins) have formed societies all across the country, including the Chicago Tafia (a play on "Mafia" and "Taffy"), and AmeriCymru.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Berthoff, Rowland. British Immigrants In Industrial America (1953)
  • Hartmann, Edward G. Americans from Wales, Octagon Books, 1983.
  • Lewis, Ronald L. Welsh Americans: A History of Assimilation in the Coalfields (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Schlenther, Boyd Stanley. "'The English is Swallowing up Their Language': Welsh Ethnic Ambivalence in Colonial Pennsylvania and the Experience of David Evans," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 114, Number 2 (April 1990), pp 201–228 online edition


  1. ^ U.S. Census Community Survey 2008
  2. ^ a b c Webber, Richard. "The Welsh diaspora: Analysis of the geography of Welsh names". Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "The Presidents: Thomas Jefferson". American Heritage People. AmericanHeritage.com. Retrieved 2008-08-24. "Ancestry: Welsh and Scotch-English" 
  4. ^ "The Education of a Southern Gentleman: Jefferson Davis". Lexington History Museum. Lexingtonhistorymuseum.org. Retrieved 2008-11-28. "Ancestry: Davis is of Welsh ancestry" 
  5. ^ Bradshaw, p. 29.
  6. ^ text of John Sevier's 1810 letter
  7. ^ The American pioneer:a monthly periodical, devoted to the objects of the Logan Historical Society; or, to collecting and publishing sketches relative to the early settlement and successive improvement of the country, Volume 1 (Google eBook) J. S. Williams., 1842
  8. ^ Indiana State Department of Natural Resources
  9. ^ "The Madoc legend lives in Southern Indiana: Documentary makers hope to bring pictures to author's work" Curran, Kelly (2009-01-08). News and Tribune [Jeffersonville, Indiana]. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  10. ^ http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=4286&&PageID=471948&level=5&css=L5&mode=2
  11. ^ http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_10_1YR_DP02&prodType=table
  12. ^ http://www.mla.org/map_data_results&mode=lang_tops&SRVY_YEAR=2000&lang_id=633
  13. ^ http://www.epodunk.com/ancestry/Welsh.html
  14. ^ Phillips G. Davies, "The Welsh Settlements in Minnesota: The Evidence of the Churches in Blue Earth and Le Sueur Counties," Welsh History Review, Dec 1986, Vol. 13 Issue 2, pp 139-154
  15. ^ Phillips G. Davies, "The Welsh in Kansas: Settlement, Contributions and Assimilation," Welsh History Review, June 1989, Vol. 14 Issue 3, pp 380-398 Period: 1868 to 1918
  16. ^ David Maldwyn Ellisd, "The Assimilation of the Welsh in Central New York," New York History, July 1972, Vol. 53 Issue 3, pp 299-333
  17. ^ "Whiteford-Cardiff Historic District". National Register Listings in Maryland. The Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved 2009-08-28. "The two towns ... occupied by Welsh slate workers" 
  18. ^ see BBC report
  19. ^ Welsh Mormon History website.
  20. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/mid/sites/national_library/pages/wales_ohio.shtml
  21. ^ http://www.welshicons.org.uk/news/international/the-2013-los-angeles-st-davids-festival-national-day-of-wales/
  22. ^ Bill Jones, and Ronald L. Lewis, "Gender and Transnationality among Welsh Tinplate Workers in Pittsburgh: The Hattie Williams Affair, 1895," Labor History, May 2007, Vol. 48 Issue 2, pp 175-194

External links[edit]