People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Welsh Americans

About the Welsh Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Welsh-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: During the great immigration period of the 19th century, most Welsh, particularly the skilled workers, came from the urbanized, heavily populated areas of South Wales.

Why They Left: Most Welsh abandoned their homeland for purely economic reasons. In the 19th century, Welsh farmers were growing weary of a long agricultural depression and poor treatment at the hands of Church of England landlords. Good land was scarce to begin with, and furthermore the English legal code "disinherited" all younger sons--the law of primogeniture. Welsh miners and quarrymen left a slumping job market to capitalize on the sudden expansion of 19th-century America's industrial economy. In the 1890s, the McKinley Tariff cut off the importation of Welsh tinplate, thus drying up the industry and forcing the tinplate specialists to move their lucrative enterprises to the U.S.

Where They Settled: During the 19th-century wave of Welsh immigration, at least one third of the newcomers settled in Pennsylvania, particularly in the anthracite coal regions around Wilkes-Barre and Scranton and the bituminous coal and steel center of Pittsburgh, while others settled in industrial areas in New York and Ohio. As the West opened up, Welsh miners pushed on to the coalfields and copperfields of Colorado and the goldfields of California. Following the Civil War, Welsh farmers migrated to Wisconsin, Iowa, and Kansas.

Numbers: Since 1820 about 100,000 Welsh immigrants have come ashore, most of them during the last half of the 19th century. Their rapid assimilation and subsequent loss of cultural identity makes roll call difficult, but Welsh-American historian Edward G. Hartmann estimated, in 1967, that there were at least 500,000 Americans of Welsh descent.

Their Story in America: The first Welsh settlement was established by a small group of Baptists who fled religious persecution in their homeland. They settled at Rehoboth in Plymouth Colony (present-day Massachusetts) in 1663 and then moved to Rhode Island because of a clash with the Puritans, who were first to settle in the area.

The second settlement was established in 1682 by a sizable number of Welsh Quakers, who bought a large tract of land from William Penn, a Quaker convert, in what was to become the colony of Pennsylvania. Welsh Anglicans and Presbyterians, as well as additional Baptists and Quakers, emigrated in small numbers throughout the 18th century.

Beginning in 1795, the tide of Welsh immigrants changed from religious dissenters to farmers and laborers fleeing poor economic conditions at home. The 19th century was the period of large-scale immigration. Prior to 1820, the immigrants were mostly farmers who settled near Philadelphia and in upstate New York. America's industrial boom in the 1830s opened up unlimited opportunities for skilled miners and quarrymen. Welsh miners rushed first into the anthracite regions of northeastern Pennsylvania and then westward to the bituminous country of Pittsburgh and eastern Ohio.

Though the Welsh were more clannish than other British immigrants and spoke a foreign tongue, Americans never really considered them foreigners. Nearly all of them were skilled, literate, hardworking Protestants. George Washington had noted early on that "good Welshmen make good Americans." Feeling no loyalty to the English throne, they were quick to become nationalized. Furthermore, the steady flood of unskilled Irish Catholic immigrants during the latter half of the 19th century emphasized the social and economic similarities among the Welsh, English, and Scots. The Welsh continued to emigrate in the 20th century but in very small numbers.

Famous Welsh Americans: Fifty-six signatories of the Declaration of Independence as well as its author, Thomas Jefferson; Presidents James Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, and Calvin Coolidge; President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis; frontiersman Daniel Boone; abolitionist Cassius M. Clay; African explorer Henry M. Stanley; financier John Pierpont Morgan; architect Frank Lloyd Wright; authors Sinclair Lewis and Jack London; poet Edgar Lee Masters; pioneer film director D. W. Griffith; actors Ray Milland and Billy De Wolfe; and William G. Fargo, founder of Wells, Fargo and Company.

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