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"Letters from Wales" by Frances H. Davies

Transcribed and Introduced by Barbara Henry. ©1999 Barbara Henry.

Introduction
Letters Aug-Dec 1911
Letters Feb-May 1912
Notes and Acknowledgements

Remember us to all who read our letters.
--Frances H. Davies

Dedicated to the memory of Welsh-American writer and poet, Frances H. Davies (1840-1916) who was born in Wales and later lived in Fairview, New York in the Cattaraugus Welsh Settlement.

Photo: Frances H. Davies with her granddaughters, Ruby (on the left) and Winifred (on the right), circa 1910. Courtesy of Dianne Davies Levi and Ruby Davies Morris.



Introduction

In 1869 Thomas and Frances H. Davies immigrated from Wales to America, settling in the Cattaraugus Welsh Settlement in southwestern New York. Four decades later in 1911 the Davies decided to visit their homeland of Wales for the first time since their departure. Frances promised to write to her friends back in America. The letters she sent home were published in The Spectator, a local newspaper published in Rushford, New York. 1

During the late nineteenth century The Spectator engaged local reporters to compile the news for their towns. Frances Davies had been a Spectator correspondent since 1887, reporting on the Fairview area where she and other Welsh immigrants lived.

The Spectator's weekly news columns reflected everyday events. One could read about the opening and closing of the cheese factories and schools; the departures and arrivals of school teachers, ministers, and visitors; church and community events. When the threshing commenced and finished for the season it was there on the pages of The Spectator. Personal news of sickness, injury, births, marriages, birthdays, and deaths were chronicled. People's comings and goings were faithfully noted: who had visited whom, who had departed for Wales, and who had just returned. Catastrophic events were documented including extreme weather, lightening strikes, and barn and house fires. Sometimes a bit of gossip and a few embarrassing tales were told. Occasional verbal brickbats flew between rival reporters when one of them became over zealous and covered news in the other reporter's territory.

Local columns, like the one Davies wrote for more than a quarter century, provide a rare personal glimpse of small town, rural America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, in this instance, into a community with a sizeable ethnic Welsh population.

Davies' letters from Wales are written in the same intimate style as her Spectator reporting. Addressed to the "folks back home" in the farming districts of Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, the letters cover subjects dear to their rural hearts: crops, livestock and dairying, the weather and landscape, the flora and fauna. In the neighborly style of the local correspondent, Davies writes of friends, family, and the changes that have come to the old country. The letters are presented here as they were published including descrepancies in spellings of place names. The letters provide an early twentieth-century portrait of Wales through the eyes of a long-absent immigrant daughter who expresses a strange mixture of curiosity and apprehension as the Welsh coast looms into view. What will she find? Will the power of the old country lure her back from her adopted land and friends in America?

In all, it was a memorable trip. Davies describes with exuberance the great beauty of the Welsh countryside and the warm Welsh welcome they received. Despite a miners strike and a sinking ship, Frances Davies returned safely to America to resume her life and correspondence on Fairview Hill.

Several years later in May 1914 at age 74, Frances H. Davies' creative efforts were recognized by her homeland at the Powys Eisteddfod, Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales. Davies shared a prize for her poem about the Welsh moorland Plynlimon. The poem was probably written during her trip to Wales in 1911-1912. She appears to have been talented with the camera, too. Her photographs, Three Studies of Childhood won honorable mention at Powys. 2

As writer-researcher Alun Trevor points out, "a win at the Powys Eisteddfod was highly prestigious." The Powys Eisteddfod "is a 'semi-national' competition like the one at Anglesey, with the status second only to the National Eisteddfod. And like the National, and unlike the local eisteddfodau, the event takes place at a different location each year. 3

Over the years, Frances H. Davies' poems (often signed "F.H.D.") also appeared in local newspapers like The Spectator and in city newspapers published in nearby Buffalo, NY.

Frances H. Davies died in 1916 after suffering a stroke. She, her husband, Thomas (1838-1914), and son, Earnest G. (1888-1903) are buried at the Siloam Cemetery, Maple Grove Road, Freedom, New York.

Notes

1. It is not known if the original letters survived. The letters included here were transcribed by Barbara Henry from microfilm of The Spectator, Rushford Town Library, Rushford, N.Y.

2. The poem and photographs could not be located.

3. Alun Trevor to Barbara Henry, November 17, 1992.

Acknowledgements

Rushford Town Library, Rushford, New York
Alun Trevor, Chester, England
Helen Edwards, Area Librarian, Newtown, Powys, Wales
Eirionedd Baskerville, Assistant Archivist, Dept. of Manuscripts and Records, National Library of Wales

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Letters Aug-Dec 1911
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© Barbara R. Henry