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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Your Story: The Harris family in America

James whose whereabouts in America I have never been able to trace, sadly died of alcoholic poisoning there – not because he was a drunkard but because he was given some homemade drink which poisoned him.

Newspaper cutting about Benjamin Harris
Newspaper cutting about Benjamin Harris and his trip home to Wales
© Pat Moseley
Benjamin, who was already married to a schoolteacher from Pontlottyn, the next village down the Rhymney Valley, went with his wife and daughter Bronwen to America in 1896. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, he ministered to Welsh speaking congregations made up of people who had gone there in vast numbers to work in the iron and steel industry at the turn of the century. Whilst making enquiries about him in the 1980s, I was told by a member of the congregation of his last church that it was only in the last 30 years that the Welsh hymnbooks dating from that time were finally thrown out, as no one knew any Welsh any more.

I also have a newspaper cutting from an American newspaper of 1928, which describes the atmosphere surrounding the life of those Welsh emigrants. Apart from the prosperity they enjoyed in America they were very much bound up with exactly the same sort of social chapel life as that in the ‘old country.’

Benjamin Harris's descendants getting married
Members of the Harris fanmily had an old wedding dressing renovated to wear at their wedding.
© Pat Moseley
My grandmother had kept in touch with the family until the 1940s but had finally given up writing so when I became interested in the 1980s I had to start all over again. I wrote to the last church that Benjamin Harris was pastor of and eventually got a reply putting me in touch with his descendants. They were delighted to renew family ties and one of the great granddaughters had her grandmother’s wedding dress renovated for her wedding.

In my turn I wrote to Ben Harris’ daughter-in-law for many years. This year, quite old and ill by now, she did not answer my Christmas letter and since I do not have the address of any of her family to find out I can only presume that she has died. So here ends an episode in the history of Welsh emigrants to America. Benjamin Harris’ family are all Americans now.

Words: Pat Moseley

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