The Welsh connection


Gwilym Jones

One can safely assume that it was due to an act passed by the Government at the beginning of the nineteenth century to enclose all common lands, as well  as the steady decreasing prices at the markets and low wages were the main factors for the mass emigration from Llyn to the USA. Welsh emigrants had already crossed the Atlantic as far back as 1679, and may be before, but it was not until 1794 that the people of Caernarfonshire became affected by the eagerness to seek better living standards in a foreign land.

Robert Hughes of Moel –y- Berth, Llangwnadl, gives us a vivid report of the departure of around fifty people from the parishes of Llangwnadl, Bryncroes, Rhiw and Aberdaron in 1825. The report is written in welsh, being Robert Hughes native tongue is as follows:

“ Around fifty people from the neighbourhood left for America, men and women who were members of the church and regular followers of Sunday School. They all embarked for America on the same day. The time came to leave Pen- y-Graig where a large crowd of friends and relatives had assembled and feelings were running high.

"Pen-y-Graig, Chapel, Llangwnadl"

Fathers, mothers and children embracing and crying with thoughts in their minds that they were seeing one another for the last time ( which undoubtedly was true for the majority.) It was decided to hold a prayer meeting in the open air and what a meeting it turned out to be- ‘Yr oedd y bloeddiadau yn rhwygo’r awyr’

At the close of the congregation, a verse was issued as an attempt at singing failed because of the shattering effect of the words:


Ffarwel gyfeillion annwyl iawn

Tros ennyd fechan ymadawn

Henffych I’r dydd cawn eto gwrdd

Yn Salem lan oddeutu’r bwrdd.



Farewell my dearest friends

For a short time we will depart

Glory to the day that once more we’ll meet

In paradise so pure and sweet.


Then they left, presumably for Porth Colmon as this location was the nearest point where they could board one of the many small coastal trading vessels bound for the port of Caernarfon or Liverpool.

The historian Bob Owen, is unsure as to the exact year and his belief is that this incident took place in 1827-1828. I tend to agree with him after looking at records in the Archives, as I found that only a few inhabitants left the shores of Llyn in 1825.

Ships regularly sailed from the ports of Caernarfon and Penrhyn with ballast of slates for the USA and according to report in the Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald of June 18, 1831, around sixty Llyn inhabitants left Pwllheli on board the brig ‘Marquis of Anglesey, bound for New York. Two days later it was sighted close to land by the islands of St Tudwal due to lack of wind. This report clearly shows that vessels from Pwllheli also crossed the Atlantic. Once they set sail, it would take an average of three months before land was again sighted if the weather was atrocious. On the other hand, ships that were favoured with good weather would make the crossing in six to nine weeks.

The 167 ton brig, ‘Marquis of Anglesey, was built at Caernarfon by the ship builder, Samuel Samuel and was partly owned by shareholders from London and Caernarfon with five holders from Llyn. The ship was a regular visitor to the USA. Another brig that used to sail regularly from Gwynedd to New York was the 161 ton Gomer, built in Meirionydd in 1821 under Capt. Richard :Pritchard’s command.

 An advert in the North Wales Gazette 17 May, 1827 names another 200 ton brig called ‘Friends’. Capt David Lewis commanded it and, at the time of the advert, he was overseeing the loading of slate ballast at Y Felinheli. According to the advert, passengers could travel in cabins as well as steerage. For further information and details, intending passengers could be advised either at the Royal Oak in Caernarfon or the Cross Keys in Pwllheli. The intended date of sailing was 24 May after completing the ballast at Caernarfon.


William Williams of Pwll Ciw in the parish of Aberdaron, walked from Aberdaron to Porthdinllaen accompanied by his family in 1832 and, by all reports arrived safely in the USA six weeks later.

Certain parishes opened their coffers so as to aid the poor to emigrate, whether this benevolent act was for the benefit of the destitute or just to rid the parish of its dependant families thus saving future expense. One cannot help but wonder how callous the church could be towards illegitimate children and their parents. The child would be frowned upon and treated as an outcast, while the parents would be banned from church; a practice that still existed up to fifty years ago in the Methodist Church.

It is recorded in the parish register of Bodferin of one such child born to Lowry Jones and she was exiled from the church. A man by the name of William Roberts of Dre Bach, in the same parish was paid two pounds and twelve shillings to take the infant with him to the States. Since there is no further mention of the child, it would be interesting to find out what became of him.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, when emigration had just begun, the journey across the Atlantic was somewhat disgraceful and the slate traders earned themselves a bad reputation as far as the treatment and welfare of the passengers was concerned. Life under the hatches was miserable and at times quite terrifying with the plague breaking out due to unsatisfactory sanitation, dirty drinking water starvation and, the presence of rats. One person who must have experienced this grim horror and lived to tell the tale was Dafydd Sion Harri, who wrote a letter to his brother Lewis, advising him not to travel by slates from Caernarfon.

By February 1836, emigration from Caernarfon was steadily increasing and newspaper adverts were constantly naming vessels and times of sailing. One brigantine that regularly sailed from Caernarfon to New York was the 360 ton ‘Ann’

"This advert appeared around Caernarfon in February 1843"

Emigrants will find this conveyance most convenient for the embarking for the United States, the vessel being properly fitted out for the accommodation of passengers. For freight and passage and further particulars, an early application is requested to be made to the Commander on board or to John Owen, High Street, Caernarvon, 1st Feb, 1843.

By 1850, emigration had become very popular due to the fact that relatives of the already settled Welsh people in places like Utica, Remsen and Steuben in the state of Oneida, New York desired to join their kinfolk in what seemed an ideal world.

Two very well known and talked about vessels of the era were the 600 ton barque ‘Hindoo’ and the ship ‘Higginson’, o 453 tons, both belonging to the same owner. The owner’s son, William Humphrey Owen, captained the ‘Higginson’and Capt Richard Hughes the ‘Hindoo’. The Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald paid tribute to Capt Richard Hughes for the amicable way he looked after his passengers and his exploits by having sailed to America twenty five times without mishap.

According to maritime records, the Hindoo and the Higginson left the Menai Straits in April 1851, the Higginson with 141 emigrants on board bound for New York, while the Hindoo had set her course for Boston with a ballast of slates and a few passengers.

There was one instance when the Hindoo was seized on her arrival in New York. It was reported that the vessel was libelled and seized immediately on arrival for carrying more emigrants than the state permitted, On this occasion, there were ninety passengers over the limit and the penalty was $150 per head. It was mentioned that the Hindoo would be forfeited, but in a later report it states:

“We trust the forfeiture will be remitted as the parties concerned were not aware that children counted the same as adult passengers.”

Overloading or no overloading, the Hindoo was a safe vessel and after experiencing one of the worst storms in history, arrived safely in New York with all the passengers in the best of spirits and good health.

Another Caernarvon and Denbigh reporter wrote that the ship, Forest Queen, sailed from the port of Liverpool on 19 April 1850 with 150 Welsh passengers from the Bala area. On their departure, Rev John Philips of Bangor who mentioned solicitors, unscrupulous landlords and the Tithe Rates as the cause of disruption in rural parishes during a sermon. He also informed the passengers that once in the States they would be free to worship with any denomination of their choice. It is sad to say, that many died on the voyage to America, due to fever and other sickness and never arrived at their destination.

One instance that received much publicity was the occurrence on board the Oregon captained by David Evans of Talsarnau, Meirionydd. According to the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald, 14 April 1849, cholera broke out during the voyage resulting in the death of thirty six Irish passengers, together with two welsh crewmen and another young Welsh crewman died of fever on arrival at Quebec. By 1860 Caernarfon had ceased to be an emigration port, but the Welsh owned vessels still carried passengers from Liverpool.

landing_stage_liverpool_2.JPG (83360 bytes)

"Liverpool Docks"

A census taken in the USA in 1850 showed 29,868 Welsh speaking people, 2000 of these from Caernarfonshire.

One of the dangers facing emigrants on arrival were the Runners or Land Sharks, as they were called, who would rob the unsuspecting of all their belongings given half a chance. They would lure the tired away with promises of work etc. To combat this evil, a man by the name of Evan Griffiths set up office in New York, as well as three taverns, i.e. Caernarfon Castle in Oak Street, Cambria Hall in Hudson Street and St David’s Hall in Walker Street. The Caernarfon Castle must have been quite a large establishment as it could accommodate two hundred persons with ease.

Not all passengers for the USA were to arrive at their destinations, some would die on the way and be buried at sea. On more than one occasion, the passengers would be lost, like the City of Glasgow, which left Liverpool for Philadelphia on March 1 1854 with 580 people on board outward bound, for what they thought was to be a new adventure. Eighty of the passengers were Welsh quarry workers. Months passed without any news of the vessel and it was sadly realised that all had been lost like the ship President, which floundered thirteen years previously.

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"Pen y Caerau Chapel in Steuben, New York State"

By 1857 Remsen and Steuben was as welsh as any county in Wales and Welsh was spoken in other regions as well, places like Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin with welsh names used in settlements Pen y Caerau, Nant, Enlli, Pen y Graig, and Penrhiwdar in the State of Oneida. Pen y Graig Methodist Chapel Remsen was built in 1828 in memory of the people of Llangwnadl in Llyn, Pen y Caerau cemetery at Remsen had a record of 219 Welsh people buried between 1826 and 1853, an average of eight persons a year.

Number of emigrants from Llyn 1795 – 1860.









































Other areas of Llyn     204



List of vessels that sailed between Caernarvonshire and America 




Marquis of Anglesey, Hindoo, Bramley Moore, Higginson,

Friends, Ann, Forest Queen, City of Glasgow, President,

Ann Grant, Gomer, Royal William, Jane, The Oneco, Agnes,

Rettena, Chieftain, Tamarac, Strathmore, Governor Fenner,

Albion, New York Packet, The Talisman, Jamestown.





One person who became renowned for his work in designing maps was Lewis Evans of Ty Mawr Llangwnadl. In August 1749 he published a map of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, as well as geographical, historical, political, philosophical and mechanical essays. Bearing in mind the state of education in Pen Llyn in the early years of the eighteenth century, it is surprising how well educated this man must have been or was it after his arrival in America that his education developed ?

Others who became well known.

Humphrey J Williams from Pwllheli, miller by trade became an inventor.

John R Jones from Porthmadog, warehouse owner.

Samuel Jones Beddgelert, oil merchant.

John Griffith, Llangian. Shipbuilder.

W.J. Powell Beddgelert, chief inspector for USA’s largest railway.

Samuel Williams, Aberdaron, managing editor of the San Francisco Bulletin who later joined the staff of the Utica and Morning Herald.


Emigrants from Llyn



"1800 – 1886"



Letter from New York 1805


This is a very short list just to show how well the Welsh people fared in their new surroundings. Many became preachers and ministers and were content with just preaching the gospel.


With thanks to Gwilym Jones, Felin, Tudweiliog for this very interesting and informative article.



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