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The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  The Welsh Churches  |  11

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III. The Welsh Churches

The church has occupied such an important part in the life of the Welsh people, its pastors have been so truly the leaders of their flocks when those flocks have included nearly every Welshman outside of English churches, and its history has received so much attention from the Welsh themselves and so little from the English that its growth and decline are deserving of a separate chapter in any account of the Welsh people. It is a national peculiarity, this Welsh love of religion and the church. The Welsh children have been born and raised in it and they have brought it with them to this country where they have clung to it tenaciously. Around the church has been centered the main interest in the Welshman's life. Poetry and music have been his recreation, theology his food and religion his life. His magazines have been homiletic reviews, his theatre has staged only dramatized Bible stories, and his music has been hymns and oratorios. It is natural that men of this character should turn early to the task of founding churches for themselves in the new land. And so we find it.

The first church organized in Oneida County was the Utica Welsh Baptist Church. Up until 1801 there had been no church organization of any kind in the town, though the Presbyterians and Episcopalians had held services there before. Two or three years previous several Welsh Baptists had come to Utica and had commenced religious meetings. "On the 12th of September, 1801, several persons met at the log house of John Williams upon the road opposite the Lunatic Asylum and formed the First Baptist Church of Utica. Of their number were Elder James Harris and Elder John Stevens, who officiated as ministers. In 1806 Abraham Williams, James Morgan and William Francis were elected the first trustees, and it was in this year that the church erected a house of worship." (1)  So reads the account given by the historian of early Oneida.

No other Baptist church was formed in the city for years and in the meantime many of the English Baptists, instead of uniting with the Methodists who carried on the only English services, preferred to attend the Welsh church. They were encouraged in this and the Welsh pastors, anxious for their support, began preaching in both Welsh and English. (2)  By 1819 these English Baptists had become sufficiently numerous to form a church of their own, and with the consent of the Welsh church, seventeen of them withdrew, including two Welsh. (3)

The Welsh Congregationalists were a little behind the Baptists in organizing themselves in a church body. About the same time that the latter founded their church, ten Welshmen from Utica joined the English Presbyterian Church at Whitesboro. A number of other Welshmen were unable to understand the English and so did not care to go with the rest to Whitesboro. Fourteen of these met at the home of Mrs. Jones on Main Street, January 1st, 1802, to consider the formation of a Welsh Congregational Church. When the church was established, the ten who had gone with the English Presbyterians joined it, this even when they had no pastor. In November of that year at the call of this little body, Reverend Daniel Morris, minister of the Welsh Church in Philadelphia, became their pastor. They numbered thirty-three communicants at the beginning of 1803. At that time they were without a church building but worshipped from house to house. By 1804 they felt themselves able to erect a house of worship and this they did before the end of the year. (4)

The Calvinistic Methodists who are of substantially the same character as the English Presbyterians, though they later become the strongest of the Welsh Churches in Utica were slow in starting. Those of that denomination worshipped at first with the Congregationalists until they could organize a church of their own. This took place in March 1830, when, with the aid of members of their denomination from Steuben, they established the Utica Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church. There were then twelve members. The church at first had no settled pastor, being supplied from Steuben and Remsen. In 1831 they built a small church edifice where they grew rapidly, especially under the pastorate of Rev. William Rowlands, editor of
Y Cyfaill, who became their pastor in 1841. (5)

The Welsh Wesleyan Methodists, never a strong organization, did not have enough adherents in Utica to form a church until July 1849. Meeting at first in an upper room, they were able in 1850 to build a small church, and in 1858, a much larger one. They have had some able pastors, among them R. L. Herbert and Humphrey Humphreys, but have never had a large membership. In 1872 there were sixty members. (6)  Of this church I have no further history. The others already mentioned will be considered later on.

In Steuben, that Welsh settlement which was begun earlier even than Utica, religious organizations were formed almost as early. The settlers who came to this region in 1795, being joined by others in 1798 or 1799, soon established a prayer meeting which was held at the home of William C. Jones, one of the later arrivals. In 1801, with the arrival of Rev. John G. Roberts, a Congregational pastor from Ebensburg, Pa., regular preaching services were held besides the weekly prayer meetings. There was no regular church organization until 1804, when a Union Church was incorporated with Roberts as pastor under the name of the "First Welsh Methodist Society of Steuben", there apparently being more Calvinistic Methodists among the members than Congregationalists. Soon more Congregationalists settled in Steuben and with the advice of their society in Utica they joined with the members of that denomination who attended the Union Church to form themselves into a Congregational Church. This was in April 1805. All of the Calvinistic Methodist members of the Union Church were present at this organization meeting and, seeing that by themselves they would be unable to maintain a church, consented to join with the new one being formed. The church organization thus went out of existence and a new one on the Congregational system was instituted. The name, however, still remained the "First Welsh Methodist Society of Steuben", this until April 1829, when, the Methodists having separated and founded churches of their own, the name was changed by state action to "The First Welsh Congregational Society of the town of Steuben".

In 1804 this Union society had built a log church in Steuben designed to serve also as a schoolhouse. When this burned, Christmas night, 1804, a new frame building was erected, which gave way in 1820 to a stone church, known thereafter as Capel Careg or more frequently as Capel Ucha. This was much larger than its predecessor, for now the influx of new settlers from Wales required more room. This building stood until 1904 when a new chapel was built on the same spot, much smaller now, as it was fitted to the needs of a dwindling congregation. (7)

The Baptists were a little behind the others in organizing their church. Beginning about 1800, Morgan Williams had preached to them occasionally in different places, and upon the arrival of Rev. Richard Jones from Philadelphia in 1806, the First Welsh Baptist Church of Steuben was formed. They soon built a log church about half a mile from the Union Church, this, like the later buildings on the same spot, was known as Capel Isel (the Low Church - it was in a hollow).

The numbers of the Calvinistic Methodists who were members of or attended Capel Ucha, the former Union Church, were continually growing larger as new settlers arrived. By 1824 several felt themselves strong enough to organize a church of their own, and aided by Mr. James Owen of Trenton, they incorporated in February of that year and by August had completed Pen-y-caerau, their first church in this vicinity. This was located about a mile east of Remsen village on the hill opposite Capel Ucha, which stood about half a mile west of Remsen in the town of Steuben. Though their building was completed, they did not leave Capel Ucha entirely, as they had no pastor. One of their members, Benjamin Davies, rose to the occasion, began preaching in 1826, and from that date served as the pastor of the church. (8)

Thus were the first churches of the three principal denominations established in the district around Steuben and Remsen. This region was essentially agricultural. The villages of Steuben and Remsen were small, as were the other villages round about. Most of the people, like their churches, were located in the country. Nothing can better illustrate the religious character of the Welsh than the multiplicity of their churches in this section. It is undesirable to give an account of the founding of the various churches which followed those already mentioned. Brief mention of them will answer the purpose.

The Calvinistic Methodists established the following churches. In 1828 a church was established known as Pen-y-graig on the road from Remsen to Boonville, three miles from Remsen village in the town of Steuben. In the same year, Capel Nant was built in Steuben about three miles southwest of Remsen village. In 1828 also they organized a church at French Road in Steuben township about two miles north of Pen-y-graig. They were not able here to erect a church building until 1835. Three years after these three Calvinistic Methodist churches were organized, another was formed, this in the village of Remsen in 1831, known as Capel Careg (Stone Church). (9)  All of these churches had an acre of land for sheds and a cemetery. There were still other churches of this denomination organized. In 1837 a church at Enlli about two miles and a half from Pen-y-caerau and east of Remsen was established and in 1841, two miles away, another at Ninety-Six. These were never strong enough to have church buildings, but met in schoolhouses. (10)  A number of the members of Pen-y-caerau resided in the village of Prospect, a mile or so to the south. For greater convenience they organized a Calvinistic Methodist church of their own in 1857, erecting a building in 1860. (11)

While the Calvinistic Methodists were thus multiplying their organization, the Congregationalists were not idle. Many of the members of Capel Ucha lived on the hills to the north and west. For their benefit in March 1832 Penymynydd (Top of the Mountain) was organized, and a building erected about three miles north of Capel Ucha. This church almost to the present time has been served by the pastor at Capel Ucha. Six years after this two other Congregational churches were founded in the neighborhood, Peniel and Bethel. Morris Roberts, the pastor, was turned out of Capel Careg, the C. M. church in Remsen village, on account of liberal views. A large number of his congregation went with him and established a Congregational society in the village in 1838. A church was erected called Peniel.


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