<< Prev Next >>
Though there was recovery from this crisis following the Napoleonic Wars, still conditions in England were such as to make emigration to America economically profitable. Agriculture languished even when other industries had recovered, and the letters from friends in Oneida County reporting the fertility and cheapness of the land drew many to try their fortunes here. This particularly after 1830. Many colliers and ironworkers found better pay in Pennsylvania and the reports of Welsh papers in America after 1838 show a steady increase in the numbers arriving from Wales. (9)
It remained for the great famine of 1848 and consequent hard times to bring the Welsh over in greatest numbers. While the Irish were suffering from the potato famine after 1845 and the Continentals were in the throes of revolution, Wales too was feeling the stress of hard times. Their potato crop had also failed in 1846 and hopes of a better season in 1847 were disappointed. Heavy snows of the winter; a late and cold spring and many storms thereafter had combined to cause poor harvests again. One Welshman of Aberteifi wrote his brother in New York in the early summer of 1847, "We are having very hard times in this section this year and we fear that it will go very much worse yet. There are thousands of Welsh already who are suffering for their daily bread. There is but very little grain among the farmers to be sold notwithstanding that they have seeded their ground." (10) The potatoes had again been blighted in the blow and the oats and barley had but slightly filled out. All nature seemed to have conspired against prosperity. Very destructive thunderstorms occurred during the summer of 1847, doing much damage to the crops. Many diseases broke out in consequence of the need and privation following the famine.
The harvest turned out better than expected and the laborers, aided by large importations from America, were partially relieved from the pressure of want. But the farmers gained little being affected at once by the lowered price of provisions. These low prices continued through the following year when in spite of a fairly good crop the farmers were much distressed and were crying out against the repeal of the Corn Laws which they claimed benefited all classes but themselves. (11) Farm laborers found their wages lowered and in some cases the hours of labor lengthened. (12)
By 1849 the distress had hit the manufacturing and mining interest in South Wales, and their laborers suffered accordingly. The following year brought only greater misery. The Welsh correspondent of Y Cenhadwr in the spring of 1850 had a gloomy account to give. "I have nothing new and comforting regarding economic conditions in our country. The condition of business is very low. The owners of the iron works in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire have during the month notified their workers that they are going to lower the wages again, notwithstanding their lowness at the present time. It is a mercy that the elements of food are cheaper than they have been, probably cheaper than in the remembrance of any now alive. Otherwise there would be thousands of workmen and their families starving." (13)
It is not surprising that with times as hard as these many were anxious to make a trial of fortune in America and that we find the Welsh coming in large numbers at this time than at any period before. The United States particularly was the destination of these sufferers. The Welsh papers in this country devoted much space to the consideration of affairs in the mother country and hardly an issue went by without notices of the arrival of new shiploads of emigrants. Y Cenhadwr in the late summer of 1847 reports the sailing from Aberystwyth of two hundred emigrants for America in the Tamerlane of 700 tons. (14) In the July number 1848 the same magazine announces the arrival of 90 emigrants from Montgomeryshire, 50 of whom were members of one Congregational church in the parish of Llanbrynmair. (15) In April Y Cenhadwr received the following report from Merthyr Tydfil, the center of manufacturing interests in South Wales: "The present dark appearance of things in this vicinity is causing a great many of the coal miners to turn their thoughts to emigrating across the sea. A free voyage to Australia and good wages after getting there are being offered them, and a great many have accepted. Others are intending to emigrate to America." (16) The writer thought that many would go in the course of the succeeding spring.
The Mormon missionaries from America found the religious nature of the Welsh good ground for their seed, especially when as now they had hopes of earthly gain to hold out to their converts. During the year 1848 they were working in almost every town and village of Wales (17) and with what success is shown by a report in the Cenhadwr in the spring of 1849 from Merthyr: "Some scores or possibly hundreds of Mormons left this city and vicinity the beginning of last week for the Gold Country." (18) There was however too much opposition in Wales to the Mormons for them to get a very strong following and the numbers of Welsh in Utah do not support the idea that they came in very large numbers.
Each year as the distress became more acute the numbers of emigrants became larger. In the spring of 1849 a Congregational pastor of Lanegryn, Rev. Evan Griffith, later of some repute among the Welsh of New York state, proposed in a letter to Yr Amserau that, since such large numbers of Welsh were leaving for America, a special ship be chartered for their convenience. They would thus avoid the necessity of traveling with the English or Irish and probably get lower rates. (19) The scheme, fostered by a Welsh steamship agent in Liverpool, was early taken up by many preparing to go to America, attracted by the advantage of not having to travel with the "Children of the Swamp"---the Irish. The steamship Jamestown was chosen to take them out and arrived in New York June 10th after a voyage of one month from Liverpool with 274 Welshmen on board and -horrible dictu- 90 other emigrants beside, probably the detested Irishmen. Many other ships bearing Welsh emigrants are reported in the next two years. (20)
The number of the Welsh arriving in the United States is given in the tables at the end of the volume. Owing to the almost invariable failure of the port officers to class the Welsh separately from the English, it is impossible to get accurate statistics of the number arriving before 1847. The figures which are given for the Welsh by the United States officials up until recent times undoubtedly much understate the numbers, as will be seen from a comparison of the figures in the two tables from 1848 to 1890. After May 1847 we have accurate figures for the Welsh who arrived at the port of New York. At that date the state Emigration Commissioners took control of the port and careful statistics were kept of the nationality of the immigrants. It should be observed however that the figures are lacking for those landing at Philadelphia. Quite a number of Welsh, purposing to settle in Pennsylvania, entered by that port. Some few came by Boston and Baltimore, but not many, and a certain number entered the United States through Canada.
The effect of economic conditions on the emigration from Wales has been dealt with so far; it remains to note those other moving causes, the desire on the part of the farming classes to own the land they work and the general wish to be free from the exactions of the Established Church.
In common with most of England the mass of the Welsh farmers did not own their lands but were tenants. In some cases the landlord was a Welshman; in others he was English. In the first he was more likely to live on his own estate and manage it himself; if an Englishman, he probably managed it through a steward or agent, against whose oppressions are to be found very frequent complaints on the part of the emigrants. Various systems of renting were in vogue, a very common one being to lease for one or more lives. (21) The traditional spirit of independence in the Welsh was severely tried by this land system. The almost universal presence of entails made it impossible for the thrifty farmer, thought he had saved enough money, to buy the farm, which he worked. Long leases, particularly for two or three lives tended to give him the feeling of ownership and to encourage him in permanent improvements, but he still lacked the satisfaction of feeling the land to be absolutely his own, and the man of a shorter lease, continually harassed by an officious steward, would lack that feeling entirely. It can then be easily understood what an attraction for the Welshman was exercised by the free or cheap lands of America, when it was considered that he could soon hold these in fee simple. The emigrants not infrequently rejoiced over this opportunity.
A more frequent cause of complaint of those coming to this country was what the Non-Conformists speak of as the oppression of the English Church. The system of tithes appears to have been more distasteful to the Welsh than to any other section of England. Beginning with voluntary gifts of a tenth part of their produce to the Church, the English people had gradually given to this system the force of law. Churches and monasteries were supported by the tithes of the surrounding district, or, in some cases of distant parishes. With the breakdown of the monasteries under Henry VIII, their lands and the right of their tithes passed for the most part to laymen, who were known as improvisators. Tithes then were no longer necessarily a tax to support religion but gift-money to men designated by the king as recipients. By the nineteenth century the inconvenience and expense of paying the tithes in kind had caused that system quite generally to disappear. Tithes had been commuted to money payment, and this was provided for by law in the tithes Commutation Act of 18. But whether they had paid in kind or money did not greatly matter to the average Welshman. He did not wish to pay at all to support a church of which he was not a member, and particularly did he hate to pay if the money went into the hands of an improvisator, the justice of whose claim to it no Welshman could understand. It is unlikely that the proportion of Non-Conformists in Wales to the whole population remained stationary through the nineteenth century, but it is no more likely that it has changed very much. At no time has a census been made to determine this, although since the question of disestablishment in Wales has become acute the partisans of the Church have strongly recommended it against the opposition of the Non-Conformists. Estimates at the end of the century placed that proportion anywhere from sixty to ninety per cent, and it is impossible to determine which is more nearly correct. Even should the minimum be the true proportion, one need not wonder at the violent protests which have been made in Wales against the support of the Church by the whole people, which serves but a minor part of them.
<< Prev Next >>