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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Cambrian mountains
The Cambrian mountains, near to Llanbrynmair.
The land of hope not plenty

The Quakers

The emigrants from Llanbrynmair were all non-conformists, many of them Quakers, who found life intolerable in 18th Century Britain. George Fox, founder of the Quaker religion, believed that there was 'something of God in every person'. The Quaker faith is based on the premise that everyone can communicate with God, without the need for Churches, church officials or services including sacraments. This was a revolutionary viewpoint in the 17th Century because at that point the Church was closely allied with the monarchy and politics. The established church, the Anglican Church, viewed Fox's viewpoint as an attack on the structure of society itself, which meant many Quakers were persecuted and imprisoned because of their beliefs.

George Fox
George Fox, the founder of the Quaker faith
© Library of the Religious Society of Friends
The Proclamation of 1655 classed them with ranters as people given to 'rude and unchristian disturbance of ministers' and therefore when behaving in such a manner, which could include holding a religious meeting in someone's home, to be regarded as disturbers of the peace and proceeded against accordingly. Indeed between 1662 and 1670 around 6,000 Quakers were imprisoned, mostly for holding meetings which were banned by the aforementioned Act. However his philosophy prospered and by his death in 1691 there were over 500,000 Quakers around the country.

For the Quakers in Llanbrynmair religious persecution was only one of many factors which would make them give up their homes, and strike out for a new life thousands of miles away. Over 100 years earlier, in 1679, a trial at Bala in North Wales took place, affecting a large number of Quakers who refused to pay tithes. Tithes were a form of taxes which had to be paid to the feudal overlord, which in this case was the Anglican Church. This prompted a large number to leave Wales for America; although exact figures are not available, it is known that the ones who left around this time began the settlements of Bangor, Narbeth, Radnor, Berwyn, St Davids, Haverfordwest, Bala-Cynwyd and Bryn Mawr, after which the Yale school is named, in Pennsylvania.

The success of these emigrants gave hope to the inhabitants of Llanbrynmair who were, in 1795, facing more difficulties. Economically they were struggling: a series of poor harvests left the town struggling to grow enough crops to eat, the land was poor and the rents they were forced to pay were felt by many, particularly senior members of the Quaker community, to be outrageous. The situation they found themselves in, while not unique, did prompt concern from other Welshmen. William Jones, the self-taught disciple of Voltaire, wrote from Llangadfan in the 1790s:

"The hardships which the poor inhabitants of this barren country suffer by the Insatiable Avarice of the Landowners, have affected my feelings so, that I had determined to write to London to get Intelligence of some proprietor of uncultivated land in America in order to offer my services to concert a Plan for removing such of my countrymen as have spirit enough to leave their Aegyptian Taskmasters and try their fortune on the other side of the Atlantic"

Although the emigrants did not follow William Jones they were spurred on by his words and decided to chance their fortunes in America.

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The Religious Society of Friends
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George Fox
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