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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Mid Wales

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Immigration and Emigration
The land of hope not plenty

Why America

William Penn
William Penn, commonly heralded as the founder of Pennsylvania.
© Library of the Religious Society of Friends
America was viewed by many as the 'Holy Land', the land of religious freedom and great opportunity. William Penn (1644-1718) is often though of as the founding father of the Quaker colonies in America. He journeyed there in 1681 to build a Welsh Barony, which was to have been a Quaker colony where people lived by Quakers rules, spoke Welsh and generally existed as they would have liked to in Wales but were not permitted to.

The Quaker project involved an oral understanding with William Penn and the Society of Friends that 40,000 acres of land in south eastern part of what later became Pennsylvania (some sources give 30,000) were to be set aside as this Barony. Unfortunately, this agreement was never put into writing and later became a source of bitter controversy between Penn and the Welsh Quakers. Regardless of this bitterness Pennsylvania did become a magnet for Quakers and other non-conformist religions e.g. the Baptists.

Is Pennsylvania named after William Penn?
Pen is the Welsh word for high or head woodlands. Penn claims in a letter to Robert Turner that he intended to call it New Wales but the secretary, a Welshman, objected. So it became Pennsylvania, meaning head or hill. The intriguing point about this story is that ‘pen’ in Welsh is spelt with a single n, whereas Penn’s surname had a double n, like the new name for the county.
There are many long standing myths regarding America's links to Wales. One which was enjoying a period of revival in the 1790s was the Madogiad story; the tale of the Welsh prince, Madoc, who discovered America in 1170, and who lived and married into the native Indians. The fable centres around a tribe of light-skinned, Welsh speaking Indians who many people wished to discover.

Morgan John Rhys, a Quaker from Glamorgan, who founded Beulah, was a believer in this story and he publicised his hopes that Welsh people would come to America, under his auspices, to preach to and convert more Indian tribes.
The signing of the Pennsylvania treaty
William Penn and the signing of the Pennsylvania treaty
© Library of the Religious Society of Friends

They came from Llanbrynmair

'Of the people born in Llanbrynmair in the last fifty years there are now more living in America than in Llanbrynmair'

This was according to the Rev Samuel Roberts, resident in America, in 1857, 50 years after the first convoy of Welsh emigrants left Llanbrynmair. Members of the party included Ezekiel Hughes and Edward Bebb, George and Jane Roberts and friends and family from Llanbrynmair.

The impact of their emigration on Llanbrynmair was dramatic. Although the number of emigrants was relatively low, Wales had a tiny population, so any loss to its numbers was badly felt; prior to the 18th Century the population of the country was as low as 0.5 million. The migration of Quakers from Mid-Wales was so thorough and dramatic that the sect had virtually vanished by the mid-19th Century.

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