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The Welsh Americans

Updated on August 16, 2017
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Peter lived in California for 26 years. Retired and back in Wales, he is now involved in local politics and is a town councilor.

Washington Monument Stone

Hon. Thomas M. Rees of California Speaking in the House of Representatives on Wednesday February 17th 1971

Mr. Speaker, the birth of Saint David, the Welsh Patron Saint will be celebrated on
March 1st by Welsh-Americans throughout America….Nothing like the Saint Patrick gatherings, though St Patrick grew up in Wales and spoke Welsh, not Latin.

Very little has been written about what the Welsh have contributed in all walks of life in the shaping of American history.

Twenty percent of the Pilgrim Fathers were Welsh, as was the captain of the Mayflower.

How many know that almost fifty percent of the signers of the declaration of Independence were Welsh or of Welsh descent, ---as were nine presidents of the United States---and that many of the Universities and colleges such as Yale, Princeton, Brown, William and Mary, Virginia, Johns Hopkins and Maryland were founded by Welshmen.

The man who funded the war of independence was Robert Morris, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn and Rhode Island by Roger Williams. All were Welsh. It is strange indeed that such a small country as Wales, so many are hardly aware of it’s existence, has contributed so much more in proportion to it’s size than any other nation, and stranger still, so little has been written of it. Oh, Yes, the next time you are in the capitol and feel like climbing the Washington monument stairway, about halfway up there is a stone inscribed;

FY IAITH, FY NGWLAD, FY NGEDEDL, CYMRU AM BYTH

My language, My Country, My people, Wales for ever.

Thomas Jefferson would have placed it where more people could see it for he was very proud of his Welsh origin.

It would take many pages to name the great Welsh-Americans since the founding fathers who have helped build America----In Government, Industry, Labor, Finance, Law, Architecture, Music, Religion, Literature.

Yes, the Welsh in America can be very proud of their heritage. And it is hoped that as each St. David’s day comes around more people will remember how much good has come from so small a country, where the greatest honor each year is to be crowned “Poet of the year.”

The Honorable Thomas S. Morris makes a very good point. The Welsh in America have lousy P.R. There is a reason though. Wales, around 1870 had a population of less than half a million. There was never the massive immigration that characterized so many other European nations. There just were not enough to make the kind of cultural impact the Irish and Germans made. The impact that has been made is huge, especially compared to the size of Wales and the relatively small population.

The Welsh Indians

Painting of the Mandan people with their Coracle
Painting of the Mandan people with their Coracle

Were the Welsh the first Europeans in America?

According to legend; There was a 12th century Welsh Prince, Madog ap Owain Gwynedd, who sailed from North Wales. There is a monument on the Lleyn peninsula in Northwest Wales commemorating the supposed site of his sailing. After crossing the Atlantic he landed in what is today Mobile, Alabama, a monument. also stands at that location. It is claimed that he then returned and gathered more of his followers. They set sail and were never heard from again. The group is believed to have traveled up the Mississippi delta and eventually became the tribe known as the Mandan tribe. They were a light skinned, bearded tribe discovered after the revolutionary war. The Mandans built stone walls and stone forts in a manner typical of Welsh construction. For fishing they used a flat bottom boat, hide stretched over a light frame in a way almost identical to the Welsh Cwrlan (Coracle).
Their Creation Myths speak of the "Lone Man." The last Mandan Scattercorn Priest, alive at the turn of the 20th century, provided details of 33 generations of Mandans. He said that the Lone man came from across the sea bringing with him "many colored cattle" and teaching planting and building skills.
Queen Elizabeth I revived interest in this tale. Columbus had landed on the new world and claimed it for Spain. She cited her descent from the Welsh princes of Gwynedd and used the legend to justify her claim that Britain had more right to the new world than did Spain. This led to the colonization of North America and the state of Virginia, named for the virgin queen.
The reverend Morgan Jones claimed that in 1669 he had been captured by a tribe of Tuscarora people. The chief spared his life when he heard the reverend praying in Welsh. A language that the chief understood..
The Mandans were almost completely wiped out by smallpox in 1836. The few remaining mandans live in North Dakota as part of the Sioux nation.
Merriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition that mapped out so much of the American west was Welsh. His guide, Sacajewa, was raised in a Mandan village.
There is evidence to suggest that it was a Welshman who named America.
According to an English College Professor, Dr. Basil Cottle, there was a Welsh customs officer at the port of Bristol who was the chief financier of John Cabot's second Trans-Atlantic voyage. His name was Richard Amerik, Amerik is derived from the Welsh "ap Meurig,” Because Cabot’s voyages were made before 1500AD they pre-date Amerigo Vespucci’s interest in the new world. Professor Cottle points out that it was highly unlikely that America would be given the first name of a commoner. It was always the last name of the explorer that was used to name a country. Such examples are; Tasmania and Van Diemen’s Land. It was only royalty that gave their first name to a country. (The Philippines are named after King Philip of Spain)

Donny Osmond Sings Myfanwy (In Welsh)

Welsh America

In the early 17th century many Welsh people left for America. Particularly the Welsh Quakers who wanted to escape persecution and set up their own Welsh colony. They joined William Penn who agreed with their leader, Dr. Griffith Owen, that the new colony should be named “New Wales” To the bitter disappointment of the Welsh and Penn himself, the Royal charter named the colony, "Sylvania" due to it’s heavily wooded areas. The name “Penn” was not named after William Penn or his famous Admiral father, but as a compromise to the Welsh. Pen being the Welsh word for “head” as explained in a letter William Penn wrote to a friend, Robert Turner, the day after the Royal Charter was granted;

This day, my country was confirmed to me under the great seal of England, with privileges, by the name of Pennsylvania, a name the King would give it in honor of my father. I chose New Wales, being as this, a pretty, hilly country, but Penn being Welsh for head as in Penmanmoire (Penmaenmawr), in Wales, and Penrith, in Cumberland, and Penn, in Buckinghamshire . . . called this Pennsylvania, which is the high or head woodlands; for I proposed, when the secretary, a Welshman, refused to have it called New Wales, Sylvania and they added Penn to it, and though I opposed it and went to the King to have it struck out and altered he said it was past . . nor could twenty guineas move the under-secretary to vary the name

On a plaque mounted on the east façade of PhiladelphiaCity hall is inscribed;
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.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States. | Source

Thomas Jefferson and the Welsh Americans

The Revolutionary war was very much a Welsh war with many Notable Welshmen taking up the cause of the colonies. Among them, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson spoke six languages including Welsh. He drafted the Declaration of Independence and was the third President of the United States. The declaration of Independence states the wrongs committed by the King against the colonies, among them Jefferson wrote;
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce”
The above paragraph was deleted by Congress.
If any further proof is needed that Jefferson was Welsh, just note that while he was writing the Declaration of independence he kept an account at the City Tavern.
In the 19th century the Mormons converted large numbers of Welsh people to their religion and a wave of immigration began to Utah and Idaho. Today, 75% of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are of Welsh descent and Malad City in Idaho claims to have more people of Welsh descent than any other city in the World outside of Wales. These days it is almost impossible to mention the Mormons and Wales without mentioning the Osmond family. They are very proud of their Welsh roots tracing their forefathers back to Merthyr Tydfil.
t would take a very large book to record the names and the contributions of all the famous Welsh men and women who have helped build America, but to name a few;

General Morgan Lewis, quarter-master general of the US Army and governor and chief justice of New YorkState;
Oliver Evans, inventor and early industrialist;
Thomas Cadwallader, co-founder of the Philadelphia Library;
Joshua Humphries, builder of the US Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia;
John Morgan, Physician-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Army and founder of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School;
Robert Wharton, Mayor of Philadelphia for 15 terms beginning in the late 1700's; Frank Lloyd Wright (one of his masterpieces was named after the medieval Welsh bard Taliesin); and a host of others including the founders of Harvard, Yale and BrownUniversities.
No less than eight of the early Presidents were of Welsh stock including Abraham Lincoln.

Such a small country, yet it’s influence on America and the World is far out of proportion to it’s size.
It is said that to be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth but with a song on your lips and poetry in your heart.

Cymry am byth. Wales for ever.

The Welsh band Catatonia "every day when I wake up, I thank the Lord I'm Welsh"

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      Marguerite Puente 4 days ago

      loved this article. Thank you for sharing. I'm personally of Welsh, Irish and Mexican descent but have held Wales closest to my heart. Why? I never knew. You helped me today. God bless...

    • iantoPF profile image
      Author

      Peter Freeman 5 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Dominic! This article is about the Welsh in America, not the Welsh in England. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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      dominic 5 years ago

      English King Henry 8th was Welsh his emblem was the dragon. check it out

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      kristal 6 years ago

      I was born & bred in Carmarthen and continue to reside here in the beautiful Tywi valley.

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      Wynne Jones 6 years ago

      Thank you Ianto for researching & bringing so many facts to our attention. I was born & bred in Carmarthen and continue to reside here in the beautiful Tywi valley. I have been to the US on numerous occasions and attempted to educate americans on many of the facts that you have stated. It's such a shame that we Welsh don't push ourselves a bit more in the states ( like the Irish/Scots )we have so much more to offer as the 'true' brits. Diolch yn fawr Ianto. Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad !

    • iantoPF profile image
      Author

      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Diolch yn fawr o'th galon Jana; 'Sgrifennu am yr hen wlad a pethau fel hyn yn helpu mi gyda'r hiraeth. Dwy'n falch iawn chi di mwynhau ac yn ddiolchgar iawn am deich sylwad mor anogaeth.

      Os allai gofyn, o ble yn America ydych chi'n ddod? Fy hunan dwy'n fyw yn sir Los Angeles.

      Pob bendith da iddo'ch chi a deich teulu.......ianto

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      Jana Jones 7 years ago

      Diolch am hyn! Dwi'n dod o America yn wreddiol ond dwi'n bwy yng Nghymru rwan efo fy nheulu i. Mae'n pwysig iawn i mi bod fy hogia bach i yn deallt y dylanwad o Gymru ar America. My husband did his masters thesis on John Evans and the legend of Prince Madog and the Mandan Indians. And, of course, my Welsh husband always says (about everything and everyone) "That's Welsh!!" But it is nice to have it laid out in such a factual and concise way. Mi fydd y gwybodaeth ar eich wefan yn defnyddiol iawn wrth dysgu Gruff (5 oed) a Cai (2 oed) am Welsh-Americans (like them!) Diolch yn fawr iawn! Thank you very much!

    • iantoPF profile image
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      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hi there PB thank you very much for reading my Hubs. Thank you for your comments too. I didn't know that part about the moon eyed people. very interesting,

      Namaste ;)

    • Pandoras Box profile image

      Pandoras Box 7 years ago from A Seemingly Chaotic World

      Another great hub. The mandan are believed to be the descendents of the moon eyed people the cherokee spoke of. It's not a contradiction, same thing as what you said. Madoc's people settled here in the lower appalachian, before a war with either the cherokee or the creek compelled them to seek higher ground, so to speak. We have here one of their stone walls. It's fascinating really, to think of druids settling here, a lone european tribe for hundreds of years.

      Great hub!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 7 years ago from France

      I hope your hubs and the whole HubMob contributes to open our ways about the influence of the Welsh.

      You did an excellent job, I am glad you joined the HubMob!

    • iantoPF profile image
      Author

      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hello Chuck; I didn't realize that writing a hubmob would put me in contact with so many great hubbers. Thank you for reading and commenting. A large portion of my Hubs are about Wales and Welsh myth and legend. I hope you have the time to enjoy them.

      Best Wishes ................Ianto

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Great Hub. I knew that Thomas Jefferson was of Welsh descent, but had no idea that all the other famous people you described were also of Welsh descent.

      Keep up the good work.

    • iantoPF profile image
      Author

      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Sally's Trove; Thank you so much. I looked at back-links with a kind of religious faith, believing they worked rather than having hard evidence. You have affirmed my belief in the power of back links. Bless You.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub though. I already have a number of hubs on Welsh legends but now I'm thinking I'll write about some more things people don't know about us.

      Thank you again.

    • iantoPF profile image
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      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      ScaryTaff; Diolch yn fawr. Thank you for reading my Hubs. you are very supportive and it is truly appreciated.

    • iantoPF profile image
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      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Princessa; Thank you for your encouragement. As I mention, the Welsh have lousy PR perhaps some of my Hubs can change things a little.

    • iantoPF profile image
      Author

      Peter Freeman 7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Rose West; Thank you so much. There is much more I could have written and perhaps I'll do one or two more. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

      Best Wishes..........Ianto

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Wonderful Hub. I had no idea of the extent of Welsh influence in this country. Thanks so much for all the photos and historic references. I voted your shetoldme link up for this Hub (which, by the way, is how I found it).

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      Great hub, Ianto. A taste of real history.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 7 years ago from France

      Wow... when I started this topic I didn't know about the great influence the Welsh had in American culture. It is amazing! and you wrote about it in a way that makes it easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      Really great hub! I didn't realize how big of an impact Wales had on America. It's really impressive! Thanks for sharing all this information; you've really done your research!