Search billions of records on

The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  Coming of the Welsh to Oneida  |  10

<< Prev  Next >>

More vessels sailed at that time for Philadelphia than at present and consequently many Welsh went to that city without intending to stay definitely. They frequently found prospects not as good as expected in Pennsylvania, and the attraction of cheap lands combined with the contagion of numbers going thither drew many of the new comers to Oneida.

Why the Welsh came to Oneida County is as interesting a question as it is difficult. Nowhere have there appeared facts which would warrant a definite answer. There is no evidence that General William Floyd had anything to do with the coming of the Welsh to the county. He purchased in 1784 a valuable tract of wild land in which is now the town of Western, Oneida County, going there himself to live in 1803. (18)  Many of the patentees in this district had in early times exerted much effort to get settlers to take up their land and it has appeared not at all impossible that Floyd as a Welshman would have induced the Welsh to go to Oneida and settle on his estate. This, however does not seem to be the case. The early settlers stayed in Steuben (which at the time, it is true, included Western, but their settlements were made in the eastern half) or in Trenton or Utica. The Welsh did not settle near Floyd's lands till they had already made numerous settlements in other parts of the county.

It seems much more probable that it was the efforts, either of the Holland Land Company or of Benjamin Walker, one of the heirs of Baron Steuben, who brought the Welsh to Oneida. The Holland Land Company  (19)  had early acquired small blocks of land in this district, blocks which were small at least in comparison with their enormous holdings in the western part of the state. Gerrit Boon, agent of the company and responsible for the purchase of much of the land in this district, made the first settlement in Trenton in 1793. Most of the land about the village belonged to the company and it was to their interest to get settlers who would purchase. What methods, if any, were used to attract emigrants from Wales, I am unable to say. The first two Welsh settlers in the county, W. P. Jones and William Davies, went to Trenton, though probably not as purchasers of land from the company. Jones, at least, went soon after to the Steuben lands. In the early years of the next century many sales were made by the company to Welshmen  (20); but this is not proof that the company had inspired the Welsh to come to Oneida. However, the central office of the Holland Land company was in Philadelphia  (21) and many of the Pennsylvania Welshmen bought lands when they came to Oneida from the company. It is not at all improbable that they were directed to that county by the efforts of the company's officials.

No better evidence is at hand to show the part, if any, which Benjamin Walker had in bringing the Welsh to Oneida. As a secretary to Baron Steuben and his most intimate friend, he had aided Steuben largely in the care of his patent which New York State in 1786 had granted him. This tract of land included a quarter of a township or 16,000 acres and was later erected into a separate township called after the Baron. (22)  Steuben died in 1794 and left by will much of his land in Steuben to Walker.

Most of those Welsh who came in 1795 settled in Steuben, supposedly upon Walker's land. I find, however, no sales made by him to Welshmen before 1803 and then but one in that year. In 1805 and 1806 sales to me with Welsh names were numerous. (23) Here again there is no proof that the land owner had anything to do with the bringing to Oneida of the Welsh. The first settlers might very well have gone to Utica relying on the information that land was for sale there cheap. (24)  Once settled their letters bearing news of their satisfaction with the new location would be sufficient to bring more of their countrymen and so start that settlement which was destined to grow ever faster and faster.

There was at one time a very material attraction for the Welsh to the center of New York State and that was the labor afforded by the building of the Erie Canal. The Canal was started in 1818 at the same time that the exceedingly hard times following the Napoleonic wars were driving the laboring classes from Wales in such large numbers. Many of them found work on the various parts of the canal. (25) There was a great demand for masons and carpenters as well as common laborer, and Welshmen of mechanical skill, especially if they spoke English, had little trouble in finding paying jobs. The scarcity of work in Wales forced the laborers to seek it elsewhere and the Erie Canal furnished it for many at much higher wages than were to be obtained even if work could be had in the old country. (26) These men were likely to make their homes in Utica and the vicinity and work from there as a center, or if they had come alone, to settle there when the work was completed or when they had accumulated enough to send for their relatives in the old country, and then find a permanent home among others of their race.

<< Prev  Next >>

To Oneida