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Welsh Americans


by Evan Heimlich


Wales, the western, mountainous peninsula of the island of Great Britain, occupies an area just slightly larger than the state of New Jersey. Wales is shaped roughly like a rectangle with a section taken out of the west sideCardigan Bay, facing Ireland across the Irish Channel. North of Cardigan Bay the island of Anglesey and the Lleyn peninsula jut westward; to the south, also stretching west, lies the larger Pembroke peninsula. Bounded by water on three sides, Wales itself constitutes a peninsula with its eastern border formed by England. Much of the terrain is mountainous. In the northwest is the rugged Snowdonia range, named for Mount Snowdon, at 3,560 feet the highest in Britain south of Scotland. Lesser mountains and hills run south through central Wales into Pembroke and the famous coalfields of South Wales.

Principal cities and towns lie mostly along the coast. Through these busy seaports come the ore and slate from Welsh mines and quarries. Notable seaports spread from Cardiff, Wales' capital and largest city, which lies on the Bristol Channel in the south, to Caernarfon ("car-nar-vin") and Bangor opposite Anglesey in the north. The Welsh climate is temperate and wet.

The country was named after its inhabitants. The Welsh trace their ancestry to two distinct groups of peoplethe Iberians who arrived from southwestern Europe in Neolithic times and the Celtic tribes who arrived on the island in the late Bronze Age. Fierce fighters, they resisted the Anglo-Saxon invaders, who could not understand their language and called them wealas (strangers). They called themselves Cmry (fellow countrymen); and, although populations and cultures overlap between Wales and England, Wales and its culture remain distinct. Wales occupies about 8,000 square miles and is the size of a small New England state. Since virtually all farms are no more than 50 miles from the shore, Wales has maintained its own connections with the outside world.


With the collapse of Roman power in the 400s, Germanic tribes from Northern Europe began settling in southeastern Britain. Most numerous were the Angles and the Saxons, related peoples who became the English. The Celts resisted this long influx of alien settlers but were gradually pushed west. By about 800, they occupied only Britain's remotest reaches where their descendants live today: the Highland Scots, the Cornish of the southwest coast, and the Welsh. The Irish are also Celtic.

Over the coming centuries, the Welsh, isolated from other Celts, developed their own distinctive culture. However, their identity would always be shaped by the presence of their powerful English neighbors. Wales became a western refuge from the invasion and conquest by hostile tribes from Europe, as well as for puritanical dissenters against English culture. Not only did this refuge lie farther west than most conquerors could effectively extend, its geography made it inaccessible. Later, Wales became a site from which England extracted resources and prefigured the position that colonial America assumed.

The Roman empire took Wales along with Britain in the first century a.d.: "Wales, however, was always a frontier area of the Empire, and remained scarcely changed throughout the Roman period of occupation," except by the introduction of Christianity (George Edward Hartman, Americans from Wales [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978], pp. 27-28; cited hereafter as Hartman). In the fifth century a.d., early Welsh Christianity blossomed with the monasteries of St. David. Historically, in literature and legend, Germanic invaders took what is now England, isolating the Celts in the mountainous area of Wales.

In the late eighth century, Anglo-Saxon invaderswho were not yet Christiansbuilt Offa's Dike (named after Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia), a physical, earthen barrier to keep Welsh people from raiding eastward. This boundary still marks the separation between Wales and England.

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated the English and, with his French-born Norman nobles and knights, took power in England and determined to subdue the unruly Welsh. Over the next century, the Normans built a series of wooden forts throughout Wales from which Norman lords held control over surrounding lands. In the late 1100s, they replaced the wooden strongholds with massive, turreted stone castles. From about 1140-1240, Welsh princes such as Rhys ap Gruffydd and Llewellyn the Great rose up against the Normans, capturing some castles and briefly regaining power in the land. After Llewellyn's death in 1240, Welsh unity weakened. The English King Edward I conquered Wales in the late 1200s, building another series of massive castles to reinforce his rule. The Welsh successfully resisted the invaders for hundreds of years, until in 1282, they were brought under the political jurisdiction of England under Edward I. Under Edward and his successors, Welsh revolts continued against the English. Most important was the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr in the 1400s. Despite his failure, Glyndwr strikes a heroic chord in Welsh memory as the last great leader to envision and fight for an independent Wales.

During the 1400s, the Welsh increasingly became involved in English affairs, taking part in the War of the Roses. In 1485, a young Welsh nobleman named Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth Field against King Richard III, thus securing his claim to the English throne. The Welsh rejoiced at having a Welshman as king of England. King Henry VII, as he was called, restored many of the rights that the Welsh had lost under English occupation. Under his son, Henry VIII, Wales and England became unified under one political system. Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, was the last Tudor monarch. When she died in 1603, English language, law, and customs had become entrenched in Welsh life. Since that time, the history of the Welsh people has been closely tied to that of their English neighbors. Wales has become a highly industrialized mining region of Great Britain. About four of five Welsh people have adopted English as their language. Yet the Welsh remain a people apart, proud, independent-minded, and always conscious of their own national character.


As explorers, migrants, settlers, and missionaries, the Welsh peoplethemselves descended from Europe's seekers of western refugeled early waves of westering Europeans to America. Myths of their ancestors' independence prompted them, as did Anglican labeling of their Christianity as Dissent. Generally, Welsh people came to the United States within waves of British migrants. Many valued religious freedom, especially Welsh emigrants whose Christianity did not conform to the Church of England. Furthermore, explorations, rich lands, and higher-paying industrial jobs lured them from Wales to America. Some important early British settlers in North Americaincluding Pilgrims and founders of the United Stateswere Welsh or Anglo-Welsh, and not English at all.

Popular belief in pre-Columbian contact between Wales and the New World supported Welsh migration to America. According to this popular belief, centuries before Columbus, Welsh migrants had crossed the Atlantic, reached North America, and mixed with Indians. Thus some Welsh missionaries sought to reunite with and Christianize their long-lost cousins.

In Wales, many published reports circulated from those who claimed to have found Welsh Indians in North America. Though no one ever proved the legends, they nevertheless helped propel Welsh immigration. They also motivated important exploration. For example, in 1792 (seven years before the Louis and Clarke Expedition), John Evans, a Welsh Methodist, searched for Welsh Indians in the northern reaches of the Missouri River (David Williams, Cymru Ac America: Wales and America [Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1976], pp. 7, 19); cited hereafter as Williams). Contemporary artifacts commemorate the legend. According to a plaque to Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd on the wall of the Fine Arts Center of the South in Mobile, Alabama, visitors can see where Prince Madoc, the Welsh explorer of America, is believed to have arrived with three ships. Also, the plaque of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which is located on the public strand of Mobile Bay, reads: "In memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language." (David Greenslade, Welsh Fever: Welsh Activities in the United States and Canada Today [Cowbridge, Wales: D. Brown and Sons, 1986], p. 17; cited hereafter as Greenslade). Although the various claims of the existence of Welsh-speaking Indians have not been proved, the finding (after Columbus) of Americans descended from Welsh and Indian ancestors offers some corroboration. However, even discounting the legendary Madoc, the Welsh came to the American continent early, relative to other Europeans.

After Britain's Religious Toleration Act of 1689, Welsh emigration subsided until agricultural economics motivated a late eighteenth-century wave. Welsh farmers had reaped poor harvests for years when they heard of America's expansion into the fertile Ohio valley; meanwhile in Wales, acts of British parliament enclosed commons and open moorlands. Concerned by the streams of emigrants leaving Wales, the British government passed measures to prevent skilled workmen from emigrating.

As industrialists built America's factories, skilled industrial workers migrated in large numbers from Wales to America beginning in the 1830s. Near the end of that century, skilled industrial workers mostly took over from their farming countrymen as newly arrived Welsh Americans. These workers, many of whom developed their industries, came here mostly from southern Wales, Britain's main source of coal and iron.

Knowledgeable Welsh industrialists came here to fill positions in ironworks not only as workers, but also as industrial pioneers and leaders. After David Thomas perfected techniques of burning anthracite coal to smelt iron ore, an American coal company in 1839 brought him from Wales to the great anthracite coalfields in Pennsylvania, where he developed America's anthracite iron industry. The new industry drew the Welsh by the thousands. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Scranton recorded nearly 5,000 natives of Wales, and more than 2,000 in Wilkes-Barre, who came to mine coal for David Thomas' process (Williams, p. 81). From the time of the Civil War to the end of World War I, Scranton claimed the largest concentration of Welsh people in the world outside Wales and England (William D. Jones, Wales in America: Scranton and the Welsh 1860-1920 [Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1993], p. xvi; cited hereafter as Jones).

Another segment of Welsh American migration followed the tinplate-production industry. Glamorganshire, in southern Wales, dominated the world market as the main producer of tinplate until America, a principal market for Welsh tinplate, captured for itself the role of tinplate producer. To protect its own young tinplate industry, America's 1890 McKinley Tariff raised prices of imported tinplate, throwing the Welsh industry into a depression and effectively drawing hundreds of workers from Wales to its new tinplate works (Williams, p. 85). The Welsh American tinplate producers centered in Philadelphia and Ohio, monopolized their industrial science, and then dominated the field for several generations. Many Welsh immigrants developed into important figures of the industry business, becoming executives and capitalists in their own right (Hartman, p. 86). In addition to their major roles in the development of American coal, iron, and steel industries, Welsh Americans in the mid-nineteenth century also built the American slate industry. Immigrants from North Wales prospected for and dug America's early slate quarries along the borders between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and between New York and Vermont.

Robert D. Thomas, a Congregational minister, authored what became for the Welsh of the post-Civil War period a convenient and detailed guidebook in their own language concerning the available land opportunities in America. After its publication in 1872, Hanes Cymry America ("History of the Welsh in America") became popular in Wales and probably figured in encouraging further emigration.

Immigration of Welsh farmers in the closing decades of the nineteenth century swelled America's Welsh communities into the tens of thousands, until about 1890, when the immigration of Welsh farmers to America ebbed. Australia and other destinations began to draw their share of emigrant farmers from Wales who were forced from their farms because they opposed the Anglican Church in Wales. Their emigration helped to improve the harvests by balancing the Welsh population level (Hartman, pp. 75-76).


At first, Welsh Americans settled in or near British colonies, among fellow Welsh Americans who shared their religious denomination, such as Baptist, Methodist, or Quaker. Many tried to found a new homeland for their people. Following the missionaries and farmers were the skilled industrial workers and artisans. Baptists led the way. John Miles, founder of the first Baptist church in Wales in 1649, suffered religious persecution as a Baptist, both before and after he led Welsh Baptists to Massachusetts in 1662. Though at first the colony refused to tolerate them, eventually Massachusetts granted them land, where they established the town of Swansea and the First Baptist Church, which stands today as the oldest Welsh church in America.

Two decades after Baptists first arrived, Welsh members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, founded the second and much larger Welsh group settlement in America. Quakers suffered the worst religious persecutions in Wales, because they professed to value their "inner light" over Church and Bible. Many people of all classes joined the Quakers in England, among them William Penn, who supposedly had a Welsh grandfather. In 1681, Penn obtained a vast tract of territory south of New York. "He [said] that he originally intended to call it New Wales, as it was `a pretty hilly country,' but the authorities in London did not like the name, and it was called Pennsylvania" (Williams, pp. 24-25). Penn led the Quakers there, including many from Wales, and Pennsylvania became the heart of Welsh settlement.

Preacher Morgan John Rhys founded a new homeland for Welsh Americans in western Pennsylvania where they could live together and preserve their language and customs. Although Beulah, the center of the settlement that he established, has not survived, Ebensburg, its second township, has lasted. Meanwhile, Philadelphia, with its large Welsh population, soon flourished and became one of the most important cities in America.

"T here was a man that came around every morning and every afternoon, with a stainless steel cart, sort of like a Good Humor cart. And the man was dressed in white and he had warm milk for the kids. And they would blow a whistle or ring a bell, and all the kids would line up, and he had small little paper cups and every kid got a little warm milk."

Donald Roberts, 1925, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).

American regions from New York to Wisconsin and Minnesota to Oregon offered Welsh immigrants work in their traditional occupations and drew concentrations of descendants of Welsh shepherds and dairy farmers. After the Civil War, in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, men entered trades and Welsh American young women found service work in private homes. Some Welsh American fruit growers became pioneers of orchard industries in the Pacific Northwest. Copper workers came to Baltimore, silver miners to Colorado, and prospectors for gold, after 1849, rushed to California. Slate quarrymen came to New England and the Delaware Valley. Because so many Welsh immigrants were coal miners, they came in the greatest concentrations to the coal regions of Pottsville, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton. Steelworkers came to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago. (Islyn Thomas, Our Welsh Heritage [New York: St. David's Society of New York, 1972], p. 27). Scranton led Welsh American communities in maintaining a Welsh American identity. On the 1990 census, two million Americans reported their ancestry as Welsh.


Welsh Americans, like other British Americans, spread throughout the United States. Americans reporting Welsh ancestry on the 1990 census, in fact, divide evenly between the Northeast, Midwest, South, and Westmore evenly than any other European-American group. Early Welsh American Baptists, who first settled in Massachusetts, branched out to other places. They moved to Pennsylvania because it was especially tolerant of their religion. Others bought land in what is now the state of Delaware, which they called the Welsh Tract.

Some Welsh setters sought not only toleration, but further isolation, to ensure that their children did not lose their national characteristics. To escape Anglo-Americanization, Ezickiel Hughes, of Paddy's Run, Ohio, a sponsor of Welsh immigrants, "decided to place his colony in the open waste lands of Patagonia," at the remote, under-colonized southern tip of South America, where it still exists (Williams, p. 73). Other intramigration followed economic opportunities, such as the move of the industrial town of Lackawanna from Pennsylvania to western New York. Largely accepted by dominant Anglo-Americans, Welsh Americans frequently dominated their industries; non-Welsh coal miners often complained that Welsh American supervisors favored their brethren. Irish American workers suffered categorically at the hands of some Welsh American mining bosses (Jones, p. 37).

Acculturation and Assimilation

In America, as in Wales, members of this ethnic group forged their identity through their churches, language, and education. Traditional Welsh American ethnic identity, which depended also on the domination of particular fields of employment, has since flourished in singing festivals.

Especially since nineteenth-century modernization linked the Welsh to England and Welsh Americans to America, the two minority groups have acculturated to the respective cultural dominance of England and America. When England industrialized Wales, extracting its abundant coal and iron ore, it divided the inhabitants into a rural group in which Welsh was spoken and an urban group in which English was the primary language. Late in the nineteenth century, battles over Welsh culture moved into the field of education as England prohibited Welsh public schools from teaching in Welsh. The Welsh maintained their culture, though, through their traditional Sunday schools and through nationalism. Although the Welsh fought and won from the British the legal right to use their own language in courts and schools, the use of the Welsh language declined.

Welsh traditional beliefs, attitudes, and customs stem largely from the strength and nonconformity of Welsh churches. In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Wales, religious nonconformity preserved Welsh identity when it "arrested the inroads of Anglicanization and the complete absorption of Wales into England" (Hartman, p. 26). Although this resurgent nationalism was crucial for Welsh identity, it was less important to Welsh American identity. At Sunday Schools, Welsh churches campaigned to perpetuate the Welsh language by teaching men, women, girls, and boys to read their Bible in Welsh. Because of the Sunday School movement, many Welsh Americans became literate in their own language. Welsh culture has struggled not only against the English church, but also against the English language. The Welsh flag itself displays a red dragon who legendarily champions the ancient Welsh language. The dragon, called Y Ddraig Goch, which is said to keep the faith that "three things, yea four, will endure forever, the earth, the sea, the sky and the speech of the Cymry, " leads the Welsh people "in an unending war for the perpetuation of [their] language" (Thomas, p. 49).

Welsh American communities waxed and waned with their churches. At first, as new territories opened in North America, Welsh missionary work expanded to fill the opportunities to convert new souls. In eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, Quaker, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches anchored communities in which Sunday Schools helped shaped Welsh American identities; nevertheless, these early Welsh Americans eventually became Americanized in their habits and English in their speech. During the nineteenth century, however, an increasingly Welsh-minded clergy led Welsh American congregations. Their work, coupled with frequent exchanges of visitors from Wales and between Welsh American communities, drew together a Welsh American identity which better resisted acculturation.

Toward the turn of the twentieth century, in Scranton and elsewhere, Welsh Americans acculturated. More immigrants joined occupations outside their traditional industries. The contexts of their ethnic identities also changed as Eastern European and Italian immigrants entered the coal mines: to the newcomers, Welsh immigrants and Welsh Americans seemed more similar than ever to Anglo, Yankee, or established "mainstream" Americans. Churches, organizations, and festivals sustain Welsh American culture. America's Welshness manifests itself in placenames such as Bangor, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford. Welsh American places include not only Scranton, but small towns such as Emporia, Kansas, and Cambria, Wisconsin, population 600, "a stronghold of Welshness" near Madison, which bears Welsh street signs (Greenslade, pp. 68, 87).


Welsh American culture still blooms in singing festivals, which stem from the traditional Welsh eisteddfod, which calls for Welsh writing and oratory. The eisteddfod arose in 1568, when Queen Elizabeth commissioned a qualifying competition to license some of "the multitude of persons calling themselves minstrels, rhymers and bards" (Thomas, p. 24). At the end of the eighteenth century, Romanticism revived Welsh cultural promotion and the eisteddfod. Today, the United States usually sends the largest delegation of "Welshmen in Exile" to the annual eisteddfod in Wales. The "exiles" march in ranks by country to the singing of the Welsh nostalgic hymn, "Unwaith Eto Yng Nghymru Annwyl " ("Once Again in Dear Wales"). The revived eisteddfod, popular in Wales since 1819, features reconstructed Druidic rites, in "an atmosphere of mysticism always associated with the Celtic spirit" (Hartman, p. 143).

Since the 1830s, Welsh Americans also compete in their own eisteddfod. Especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Utah, strong traditions of eisteddfod have inspired expert choirs in their performances of Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, and other classical composers of sacred music. Utica sponsors the oldest continuously eisteddfod in the United States. However, because few Welsh Americans speak or write in Welsh, Welsh Americans focused on singing and mostly replaced the eisteddfod with the Gymanfa Ganu or Welsh singing festival. The Gymanfa Ganu started in Wales in 1859 and spread through America by the 1920s. Unlike in Wales, where each church denomination sponsors its own Gymanfa Ganu, Welsh American ones include all denominations. The National Gymanfa Ganu Association of the United States and Canada, founded by Welsh Americans, represents the only successful attempt at forming an all-over national association of Welsh Americans. It originated at Niagara Falls with a gathering of 2,400 Welsh Americans and meets at key American centers each year on Labor Day.


Welsh cuisine uses the basic ingredients of dairy products, eggs, seafood, lamb or beef, and simple vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and leeks. A national symbol, leeks are waved at rugby football matches by Welsh fans. The leek is Wales' most popular vegetable, being featured in soups and stews. One favorite dish, Anglesey Eggs, includes leeks, cheese, and potatoes. Welsh Rabbit (often called Rarebit by the English) combines eggs, cheese, milk, Worcestershire sauce, and beer. The rich melted mixture is poured over toast.


The Welsh dress much as Europeans and North Americans do, though perhaps a bit more formally than the latter. Among young people, however, jeans, a t-shirt, and running shoes are as common in Wales as everywhere else. Traditional costumes, commonly worn at events such as an eisteddfod, feature colorful stripes and checks, with a wide-brimmed hat for women that looks like a witch's hat with the top half of the cone removed.


Cymraeg, the Welsh language, has long been a separate branch of Indo-European languages. It descends from Celtic and relates closely to Breton, the language of Brittany, to Highland Scots Gaelic, and to Irish Gaelic. The language looks difficult to an outsider; it also sounds strange with lilting, musical tones in which one word seems to slur into the next. And in a sense, it maythe first letter of a word may change depending on the word before it. This is called treiglo, and it achieves a smoothness treasured by the Welsh ear. Welsh also contains elusive sounds such as "ll" (in the name Llewellyn or Lloyd, for example), which is pronounced almost like a combination of "f," "th," and "ch," though not quite. Welsh words nearly always accent their second-to-last syllable.

The Welsh language's age and its supposed migratory path across Eurasia prompts some linguists to make extraordinary claims about etymologies of certain words. For example, the ancient name for the Caucasian chain of mountains forming an immense barrier between Europe on the north and Asia to the south, may come from the same words as the Welsh "Cau," which means "to shut up, to fence in, to encompass", and "Cas," which translates as "separated" or "insulated" (Jenkins, p. 55).

The Welsh alphabet uses the letters "a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, I, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, rh, r, s, t, th, u, w," and "y" to make such words such as: Cymru (Wales); Cymry (Welsh people); Ninnau (We Welsh), the title of a Welsh American periodical; noson lawen (an informal evening of song, recitation, and other entertainment); te bach (light refreshments, usually tea and Welsh cakes); cymdeithas (society); cwrs Cymraeg (Welsh language course); and bore da, syr (good morning, sir). Welsh spelling lacks silent letters; in different words, too, the same letter nearly always has the same sound. The Welsh language, which lacks the letter "k," always sounds "c" as the English "k": thus "Celt" is pronounced "Kelt."

Celt, which first referred to "a wild or covert," and the people who lived there, became a loose term to refer to a grouping of disparate peoples living in certain areas of Great Britain. Romans called Cymry who lived on open plains Gauls, which the Cymry pronounced as Gaels, and the Saxons, in turn, as Waels or Wales, home of the Waelsh or Welsh (Jenkins, pp. 38, 40, 97).

Welsh surnames have their own story. When English law in 1536 required Welshmen to take surnames, many simply added an "s" to their father's first name. Common first names such as William or Evan (the Welsh equivalent of John) begot the common surnames of Williams and Evans.

The Welsh pride their language on its musicality and expressiveness, and cherish traditional oratorical skills of poets and priests. In literature, the canonization of poet Dylan Thomas is a matter of Welsh American pride. Thomas wrote and recited in Wales and America English-language poems that drew from Welsh culture and preaching styles. The art of oral storytelling which flourished in medieval Wales left as its written legacy the Mabinogion (translated into English by Jeffrey Gantz). Preachers of sermons mastered versions of a chanting style "marked by a great variety of intonations" called hwyl and each preacher characteristically followed "his own peculiar melody" through a major key to climax in a minor key (Hartman, p. 105). With their hwyl, Welsh preachers led congregations in fervent evangelical revivals.


In pre-Christian Wales, the Druids (a special class of leaders) dominated a religion in which Celts worshipped a number of deities according to rites associated with nature (Hartman, p. 27). However, Welsh and Welsh American identities have centered on religious traditions of strictness, evangelicalism, and reform. From the breach between Welsh and Anglican churches stemmed modern Welsh nationalism itself. Also, Mormonism and scattered versions of pre-Christian paganism figure in Welsh American religion.

The patron saint of the Welsh, St. David (born circa 520) "organized a system of monastic regulations for his abbey ... which became the awe of Christian Britain because of its severity of discipline" (Hartman, p. 28). St. David's Day commemorates his death. On the first day of March, Episcopalian churches such as St. David's Episcopalian Church in San Diego (the cornerstone of which comes from St. David's Cathedral in Wales) hold memorial services (Greenslade, p. 33). For all denominations of Welsh Americans, the day represents an occasion for the annual rallying of Welsh consciousness.

As Welsh churches pitted their religious fundamentalism against the English establishment, their progressivism foreshadowed contributions of Welsh Americans to American puritanism and progress. Around the year 1700, when English rule still dominated Welsh religion, the reform movement came from within the church and received its great stimulus from the pietistic evangelism introduced by John Wesley and George Whitfield. Soon these men, and Welshmen of similar beliefs, were emphasizing the necessity of abundant preaching within the church and the need for experiencing a rebirth in religious conviction as a necessary part in the salvation of the individual.

After this evangelical Methodism spread through Wales, Welsh Methodists split from Wesley and from English Methodists and followed Whitfield into Calvinism, calling themselves Calvinist Methodists. Welsh Methodists, furthermore, withdrew from the Anglican Church and precipitated a consolidation of Welsh culture. "Within a few decades, the Calvinist-Methodists, the Congregationalists, and the Baptists had won over the great majority of the masses of Wales from the established [Anglican] church," and at Sunday Schools taught Welsh people to read the Bible (Hartman, p. 33).

Welsh Christian nonconformists shared fundamentalism and puritanism, yet did not lack for internal controversy. Unifyingly, their shared religion demanded "rigid observance of the marriage vows, discouragement of divorce, austere observance of conduct of life generally" and the strict reservation of Sundays for religious activities; on the other hand, divisive religious differences arose "over the issues of church organization, Calvinism, and infant baptism" (Hartman, pp. 103-104). Congregations and denominations guarded their independence.

In America, as in Wales, Welsh churches pioneered Sunday Schools; children and adults attended separate classes in which teachers used Socratic methods of questioning. Welsh American churchgoers sang hymns and testified, respectively, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and regularly held gymanvas, preaching festivals.

The first groups of Welsh converts to Mormonism came to America in the 1840s and 1850s. Mormon founder Joseph Smith converted Captain Dan Jones to the religion, then sent him on a mission to Wales. Captain Jones in turn converted thousands, most of whom resettled in Utah and contributed much to Mormon culture. As a prime example, Welsh Americans founded the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Since the 1960s, versions of Celtic nature-worship have gained popularity in America and Britain. Two members of the Parent Kindred of the Old Religion in Wales brought Hereditary Welsh Paganism to the United States in the early 1960s. Today, Welsh Pagans can be found in Georgia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, California, and West Virginia. Welsh pagans form circles with names like The Cauldron, Forever Forests, and Y Tylwyth Teg. Members take symbolic Welsh names like Lord Myrddin Pendevig, Lady Gleannon or Gwyddion, Tiron, and Siani. Welsh pagans in America also use the Welsh language in their rituals. Although the Druids, who led the pre-Christian Welsh religion, have not survived, some of their practices have.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Welsh Americans traditionally worked in farming or, during the Industrial Age, in the heavy industries of coal, iron, and steel. Because these industries had developed earlier in Wales, immigrants tended to know their work better than workers from elsewhere. Thus Welsh immigrants took leading roles in America's developing industries. Welsh American industrial bosses especially preferred to hire Welsh American workers, and more specifically, ones from their own religious denomination. As a result, Welsh Americans dominated coal mining, and many coal mines filled mostly with a particular denomination of Welsh Americans. Bosses themselves held membership in the Freemasons. Across the coal region, though only men worked as miners and bosses, boys, girls, and women worked around the mines.

Politics and Government

George Washington once noted, "Good Welshman Make Good Americans" (Thomas, p. 27). In the founding of the United States of America, cultural history positioned Welsh immigrants as American revolutionaries. The Welsh, who already tended to resent English control, were strongly inclined toward revolution in France, Britain, and America. The United States can trace the derivation of its trial-by-jury system through England to Wales. Though it is unclear exactly where Welsh culture contributed to the founding moments of America, Welsh Americans claim the Welshness of Jeffersonian principles, especially that certain rights are inalienable, that rights not assigned to governments are reserved for the people, and that church and state must remain separate. In February of 1776, one month after the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, a Welshman, Dr. Richard Price, published in London The Nature of Civil Liberty, appealing "to the natural rights of all men, those rights which no government should have the power to take away"; five months later, Welsh American Thomas Jefferson published similar ideas in the Declaration of Independence (Williams, p. 45).

For decades, nearly 75 percent of Welsh immigrants became citizens, higher than any other group (Williams, p. 87). In accord with their religion, Welsh Americans have helped to lobby for temperance, Prohibition, and Sabbath-enforcing Blue Laws. Welsh American abolitionists included workers on the underground railroad, such as Rebecca Lewis Fussell (1820-1893), and authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Author Helen Hamilton Gardiner (1853-1925) joined several other Welsh American leaders in the fight for women's suffrage.

Welsh Americans also have been labor leaders. In 1871, Welsh American coal miners led their union in a historic strike in which they protested a 30 percent wage decrease, ultimately to no avail. They won only disapproval and prejudice from more established classes of Americans (Jones, p. 53).

Individual and Group Contributions


Illustrator Alice Barber Stephens (1858-1932), and architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1969-1959); pioneer film-producer D. W. Griffith (1875-1948); Bob Hope (1903 ); talk show host Dick Cavett (1936 ); stage and screen actor Richard Burton (1925-1984); actor Ray Milland (1907-1986); actress Bette Davis (1908-1989).


Elihu Yale launched Yale University; Morgan Edwards and Dr. William Richards established Brown University; Carey Thomas (1857-1935) founded and served as president of Bryn Mawr College. Catharine E. Beecher (1800-1858), sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, founded seminaries for women. Helen Parkhurst (1887-1973), originator of the Dalton Plan of individualized student contracts, established the Dalton School in New York.


In the 1780s Jacques Clamorgan, a Welsh West Indian, whose real name was Charles Morgan, led an important scientific exploration of the West before Lewis and Clark; Clamorgan ventured up the Missouri for the fur-trading Spanish who wanted to ally with the Mandans, who seemed to be the remaining Welsh Indians. Meriwether Lewis himself was Welsh American, as was frontiersman Daniel Boone, and John Lloyd Stevens, who discovered Mayan ruins and authored travel narratives.


Luther Hammond Lewis founded the Big Brother Movement. Roger Williams (born in Wales in 1599) was the first European to establish a democracy on this continent, based upon the principles of civil and religious liberty, at Providence plantations, Rhode Island. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), was the greatest Welsh American colonial patriot, whose ancestors came from the foot of Mount Snowden in Wales to the colony of Virginia. Another Welsh American, Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), later wrote the final draft of the Constitution of the United States. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835) fathered American constitutional law. Welsh American presidents of the United States include not only James Monroe and Calvin Coolidge, but moreover, Abraham Lincoln. Robert E. Lee, General of the Confederate Army, and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, also were Welsh Americans. So were Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Secretaries of State Daniel Webster and William H. Seward, and first Lady Hillary Clinton. At least 30 state governors also were Welsh American.


Emlyn Williams, actor and playwright, author of The Corn Is Green; Jack London (1876-1916), author of The Call of the Wild and White Fang; Kate Wiggin (1856-1923), author of Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm; and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.


Medical scientist Alice Catherine Evans (1881-1975), first woman president of the society of American Bacteriologists; pioneer nutritionists Mary Swartz Rose (1874-1941) and Ruth Wheeler (1877-1948); as well as women's health reformer Mary Nichols. Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930), was the first female president of the American Psychological Association, and became the first president of the American Philosophical Association.


Spirited Welsh Americans led the American Revolutionary War. Robert Morris (1734-1806) financed the American effort, in which Major General Charles Lee, born in Wales in 1731, served as second in command to Washington. General "Mad Anthony" Wayne (born in 1745), a Pennsylvania-born Welsh American, fought the Battle of Monmouth. General Isaac Shelby (born in 1750), a Maryland-born Welsh American, fought with his father, Evan Shelby, and other Welsh generals and soldiers in 1774 at the Battle of Point Pleasant, New Jersey.


Opera star Margaret Price; popular vocalists Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, known as the "Welsh Elvis."


Welsh preacher Morgan John Rys, who came to America in 1794, preached that slavery contradicted the principles of the Christian religion and the rights of man; he also stirred controversy by preaching a sermon in which he said that no land should be taken from the Red Indians without payment.



The Bard.

Published in Phoenix, Arizona, by the Annwn Temple of Gwynfyd, a circle of hereditary Welsh pagans.


Monthly magazine containing news and information for Americans and Canadians of Welsh ancestry.

Contact: Arturo Lewis Roberts, Editor and Publisher.

Address: 11 Post Terrace, Basking Ridge, New Jersey 07920.

Telephone: (908) 204-0704.

Fax: (908) 221-0744.

E-mail: [email protected]

Welsh Studies.

Address: Edwin Mellen Press, 415 Ridge Road, Box 450, Lewiston, New York 14092.

Telephone: (716) 754-2788.

Fax: (716) 754-4056.

Y Drych ( The Mirror ).

Monthly newspaper on Welsh social and political news; also covers Welsh events in the United States and Canada; includes regular cultural, genealogical, and Welsh-language features.

Contact: Mary Morris Mergenthal, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 8089, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108-0089.

Telephone: (612) 642-1653.

Fax: (612) 642-0170.

Yr Enfys ( The Rainbow ).

Published since 1949 by Undeb Y Cymry Ar Wasgar (Wales International), it is the only international periodical for Welsh exiles.

Organizations and Associations

National Welsh American Foundation (NWAF).

Has bestowed charitable awards since 1980, and lobbies for a Presidential proclamation of the first of March as the official Welsh American Day.

Contact: Wilfred Greenway.

Address: 216-03 43rd Avenue, Bayside, New York 11361.

Telephone: (212) 224-9333.

Welsh American Historical Society.

Contact: Mildred Jenkins, Secretary.

Address: c/o Welsh American Heritage Museum, 412 East Main Street, Oak Hill, Ohio 45656.

Welsh Associated Youth of Canada and the United States (WAY).

Launched in 1970 to involve young Welsh Americans in their heritage; a decade later, the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association board of trustees granted WAY a permanent seat.

Contact: Claire Tallman.

Address: P.O. Box 3246, Ventura, California 93006.

Welsh Harp Society of America.

Founded by the St. David's Society of Kansas City in 1984.

Contact: Judith Brougham.

Address: 4202 Clark, Kansas City, Missouri 64111.

Telephone: (816) 561-6066.

Welsh Heritage Week.

Contact: Anne Habermehl.

Address: 3925 North Main, Marion, New York 14505.

Telephone: (315) 926-5318.

Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association (WNGGA).

Contact: David E. Thomas.

Address: 5908 Hansen Road, Edina, Minnesota 55436.

Telephone: (612) 920-1454.

Welsh Society.

Seeks to keep alive Welsh culture and heritage; assists immigrants to the United States from Wales; maintains charitable programs.

Contact: Daniel E. Williams, Secretary.

Address: 450 Broadway, Camden, New Jersey 08103.

Telephone: (609) 964-0891.

Museums and Research Centers

Cymdeithas MadogThe Welsh Studies Institute.

Contact: Donna Lloyd-Kolkin.

Address: 1352 American Way, Menlo Park, California 94025.

Telephone: (415) 565-3320.

Sources for Additional Study

Ashton, E. T. The Welsh in the United States. Hove, Sussex: Caldra House, 1984.

Dodd, A. H. The Character of Early Welsh Emigration to the United States. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1957.

Greenslade, David. Welsh Fever: Welsh Activities in the United States and Canada Today. Cowbridge, Wales: D. Brown and Sons, 1986.

Hartmann, George Edward. Americans from Wales. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.

Holt, Constance Wall. Welsh Women: An Annotated Bibliography of Women in Wales and Women of Welsh Descent in America. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1993.

Jones, William D. Wales in America: Scranton and the Welsh 1860-1920. Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1993.

Morris, Jan. The Matter of Wales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Thomas, Islyn. Our Welsh Heritage. Trucksville, PA: National Welsh-American Foundation, 1991 (originally published in 1972).

Thomas, R. D. Hanes. Cymry America: A History of the Welsh in America, translated by Phillips G. Davies. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1983 (originally published in 1872).

Williams, David. Cymru Ac America: Wales and America. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1975 (first published in 1946).

. A Short History of Modern Wales. London: John Murray, Ltd., 1961.

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