The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  Coming of the Welsh to Oneida  |  9

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II. The Coming of the Welsh to Oneida County


When the Welsh first came to Oneida County, it had not yet received that name but was included in the county of Herkimer. Herkimer had been made up from a part of that vast district lying west of Albany County, which was known before the Revolution as Tyron County and after it as Montgomery. When Oneida County was first taken from Herkimer, it included a large block of territory which now make up the counties of Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego. The first two of these were separated in 1805 and Oswego in 1816, leaving Oneida with substantially its present boundaries. (1)  All of the Welsh settlements before that time had been made within the present boundaries of Oneida.

The honor of being the first Welsh settler in this county belongs, according to one of the historians of the Welsh in this district, to Captain Nehemiah Jones, the father of Judge Pomroy Jones, best known for his
Annals of Oneida County. (2)  Captain Jones came from Berkshire county, Massachusetts in 1787 to the town of Westmoreland. Though a Welshman he could not claim birth in Wales, nor could the next Welshman who came to the county, Arthur Breese from New Jersey. The actual settlement of Welsh began with the arrival of a number of families from Wales in 1795. (3)  They came from the Old Country in the spring that year, staying for some time in New York City. Two of their number preceded the others to Oneida County. These were William P. Jones and a young seaman, William Davies, who came up the Hudson in the summer. From Albany to Utica they walked a portion of the way in front of the boats on the Mohawk which were bringing their baggage. Reaching Fort Schuyler, as Utica was at that time known, they decided to go to Trenton, New York. There was only a path through the woods to connect the two villages, but when they reached Trenton they found a larger town than the other.  (4)

The journey in those days from New York to Utica was tedious and rough. Up the Hudson to Albany the traveler might make a comfortable trip but he was fortunate if he could cover the rest of the journey in eight days. If encumbered by much baggage or delayed by bad weather or low water, he might spend ten days on the trip. After that the Welshman who was bound for the hills of Steuben found it necessary to spend a night or two in the woods before he reached the end of his journey.

In coming from Albany, some chose the narrow uneven paths through the forest and others came by boat up the Mohawk River. Many of the latter were obliged to walk much of the way along the banks of the river through the tangled forests, while those unable to walk would be carried slowly by boat along with their furniture. It is not surprising that their journey was so long when the best means of propelling the boats was by long poles pushed into the bed of the river. (5)

Jones and Davies were the vanguard of a small band of Welsh who came in 1795. The son of one of these early comers tells of their arrival:  "In the month of March, 1795, they left their native land -- and landed safely in New York after a voyage of fourteen weeks. After a short stay in New York, five of the above families, that is, Griffith Rolands, William Williams, Evan Davies, Hugh Roberts and Owen Griffiths, making in all eighteen persons, left the city for some more favorable place to start a settlement. (6)   They took a small boat in New York, came up the Hudson River to Albany and from there overland to Schenectady, and there they took a kind of boat, called at that time a
bateau. And so they came through the windings of the Mohawk, very slowly till at the end they reached the place where is now the city of Utica." (7)

After a short stay in Utica, they decided to go to Steuben, and soon set out for their new home with a cart drawn by four oxen and a horse to lead, carrying thus their furniture and their children. But five to seven miles could be covered in a day over the forest trails, and so four days had passed before they reached their destination on the 15th of September, 1795. They were welcomed by a few American families who had come there the year previous.

They fell to work as soon as they had chosen sites for their new homes, to build log houses. Most of their furniture was made from the rough timber. A basswood log would be split in two, the flat side turned up and four stakes answering for legs were driven into the round or bottom part. Thus a serviceable sofa was complete. French bedsteads were made by driving four posts into the ground, laying cross sticks on them and then finishing off with elm bark for the bottom. In some instances, a building spot would be selected where there stood a large maple or birch. This would be felled, a part of the body used for one side of the dwelling and the large stump in the center made to serve as a table.

The nearest grist mill was in Whitesboro twenty miles away, and in the whole town  but one horse, owned by an American, had to serve as a common carrier. The following year a new mill was erected close by and the former difficulties were thus overcome.

The expense of the long journey with their families had exhausted the store of most of the Welshmen, so that they found it necessary to leave their wives and children and search for employment with those who had been longer settled there. In this way they were able to live until they had cleared their own land and brought it into bearing.

In the next few years before the close of the century, other Welshmen came to join these already located in Oneida County.  Most of the Welsh were in Steuben, and late in 1798 or early in 1799 several of those whom they had left in New York four years previous, attracted by the good reports of the settlers, arrived seeking homes.  Among these were Deacon William C. Jones, William Griffith, Robert Griffith, John Parry, and others. The greater part of these were religious men and shortly after their arrival a prayer meeting was started at the house of William C. Jones. The prayer meeting served the religious needs of the people until 1801, when Rev. John G. Roberts of Ebensburg, Pa. Came to the district and began preaching.

Meanwhile, in Utica, more Welsh had settled. Richard Frances, about 1797, had come from Pembrokeshire, probably several other Welshmen with him. John Adams came in 1800 and in the same year John Williams and his family, a farmer from Pembrokeshire. (8)  And in 1801 there came a large number of energetic and enterprising young Welsh people, mostly from South Wales. Their number has been estimated at close to one hundred. They settled in and around Utica and in Steuben. (9)  This was the first large immigration of Welsh and it is from this time (1801) that the Welsh of Utica date their settlement. From then on there was a continuous stream of Welsh coming to the country, a stream running low in its course at times, but again swelling when men in the distress of economic affairs in the old country were stimulated to emigrate through the glowing accounts in the letters of friends or relatives in America.

The Welsh mechanics among the early comers for the most part stayed in the villages, (10) while the farmers settled on the hills to the north of Utica around Marcy, Trenton, Floyd, Remsen and in Steuben. These small villages and the farming country around proved very attractive to the Welsh; we find Welshmen buying small farms around South Trenton in 1808 from the Holland Land Company at $8 an acre. (11) While the Welsh had settled on the hills of Steuben to the west of Remsen as early as 1795, they appear not to have stopped in that township till 1808, when David Mound, John James, Griffith I. Jones, John Owens and Hugh Hughes settled there. (12)  This was the beginning of the Welsh in that township and they continued to go into Remsen until it was estimated in 1850 that three-fourths of the population were Welshmen (13); and in 1859 that seven-eighths of the population of Remsen and Steuben were Welsh. (14)  In none of these districts were the Welsh the first comers, but when once their settlements had started, they increased rapidly until Marcy, Trenton and Floyd, and Remsen and Steuben particularly, came to be as thoroughly Welsh as the Palatine settlements in Schoharie County were German.  Other parts of the county also received a share of the Welsh immigrants. To the south of Utica in Waterville, in Paris Hill and Bridgewater and Plainfield were Welsh settlements. To the northwest in Rome and Oriskany, and nearer by, at New York Mills, many Welsh have made their homes, and in Deerfield and Frankfort Hill on the east other settlements have been made. North of Remsen in Boonville, the Welsh pushed their way and about 1840 they began settling in Lewis County, in Constableville, Turin and West Turin, Collinsville, Leyden and Lowville. (15)  Other smaller settlements were made just over the line in Herkimer County as well as some in Madison.

After the land had been once taken up, the incoming Welshmen as a rule found it more advantageous to stay in the villages, and particularly in the city of Utica. More and more the tendency has been for the new comers, like the sons of the old settlers, to go to the city, and for the last forty years but few of the immigrants have settled outside the city.

Many of the early settlers came from Pennsylvania, some of these recent arrivals from the old country, others natives there who were looking for cheap lands. This latter class was by no means small. The best farming lands in East Pennsylvania had been early taken up. Around 1800 the prices of land near Philadelphia, where were located the Welsh settlers, were rapidly increasing, and the sons of large families were eager to find land at low prices where they could set up for themselves. Many land owners even were induced to sell their farms at high prices and invest in a cheaper locality. Those who did not wish to go out to Western Pennsylvania or to Ohio were interested in the lands being sold in New York State.
The Cambrian gives a sketch of one of the leaders in this movement, Richard Jones from Cardigan. He had preached to the Welsh in Philadelphia for a time before 1800. "When the Welsh people began to buy lands from the Holland Land Company in Oneida County, New York, and began to settle Remsen, Steuben and Utica --- Priest Jones, as he was called by them in those early days, was selected by the Welsh people of Philadelphia to go on to New York and look after their interests in that vicinity."(16)  More numerous than the Welsh natives of Pennsylvania who came to Oneida were the Welshmen who came from the old country to Philadelphia and the vicinity and then removed to New York. (17)

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