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BEULAH LAND

Try these references: "The Search for Beulah Land" – Gwyn A. Williams (Professor of History at the University College of South Wales, Cardiff)

"Beulah Land" – Walter R. Davis, 1986, St Francis College, Loretto, Lecture.

 

"A town laid out by Reverend Morgan John Rhys (Reese) in 1792 after the plan of Philadelphia about three hundred inhabitants principally Welsh settled here. The town had two hotels, a store, mill, school, church and circulating library of six hundred volumes. Here was located the first post office for Cambria County and Beula was designated the first polling place for holding elections for this region before Cambria County existed. The cemetery is located North of this point."

Erected by the Cambria County Historical Society

1936

The late eighteenth century was a hinge of fate for the people of Wales. The first modern Welsh ‘nation’ was born with the American and French revolutions; so was the first Welsh democracy. It was a time of beginnings.

It is in the 1790’s that this decisive change registers on the historical consciousness, in a crisis of modernization which cracked a society and a crisis of identity which created a ‘nation’ and generated a millenarian migration to the USA. One young Welshman rode the entire length of the American Republic, fought for a black church in Georgia and for Indian identity in Ohio, to launch a new Wales on the frontier.

So, Morgan John Rhys planted his town and gave it the name of Beula. The creek and the country he called Cambria. Morgan John Rhys was fulfilling a pledge.

Beula was to become a reality. Times were tough, and the politics of the time saw Beula disappear into memories and a small cemetery.

Morgan John started to spell his name Rhees upon his arrival in the Philadelphia area. At the end of October 1795 the Maria of Salem, no less than thirteen weeks out from Bristol, having run thought a violent storm which dismasted her and before an Algerian corsair which pursued her. Now, as he sighted the Delaware, the captain turned in relief to his leading passenger and said, ‘Well, Mr. Lloyd, there’s no need to preach and pray any more. We come from the sea to the river.’

This was the company which was to prove decisive in the launching of the Welsh Gwladfa. The leader of the immigrants was Rees Lloyd, a Congregationalist minister from Pontypool in Monmouthshire.

Rees Lloyd had a son born to him four days after landing in America; he called the boy Ebenezer and dedicated him to missionary work among the Indians.

Benjamin Rush had in 1794 patented a great tract of heavily forested hill country south of the western branch of the Susquehanna, in the last of the intra-mountain folds of the Appalachians. On 1 October 1796, Morgan Rhees and his wife Ann bought the whole country, 43 named 400 acre tracts totaling 17, 400 acres on the waters of the Blacklick and the Connemaugh, some 230 miles from Philadelphia and 80 from Pittsburgh.

The first settlers moved to the land in the autumn of 1796 and as early as April 1797 Rees Lloyd had raised an Independent chapel there. In October of the following year Beula was finally and legally launched when Morgan John Rhees and his Ann patented the town plan on 2 November 1797.

Admittedly, in this region of western Pennsylvania, the initial difficulties were appalling. Many such settlements failed or made false starts. Clearing the ground had proved much harder than expected. Particularly serious was the failure of the mills.

Residents became disenchanted and the harsh winters did them no favors. The fate of Beula was decided in the critical conjuncture of 1801. A new land law was passed and many saw their fortunes farther west in Ohio. Emigration from Britain and Wales suddenly accelerated. Under the emigration and land prices, Beula cracked.

The Christian Church never got off the ground. As early as April 1797, Rees Lloyd led a group of 12 independents, 11 Methodists and a new member to form Ebenezer Independent chapel a little north of the Beula site.

The events which followed were quite remarkable. For in August 1804, Rees Lloyd bought from Benjamin Rush one of the original tracts which had been part of Rhees’s purchase in 1796 and which he had restored in 1802. On this tract, Lloyd announced the plotting of a new town which he called Ebensburg.

And the rest is history!

Rees Lloyd’s town was much smaller and simpler affair than Beula. His street names differed, too. The street directly facing Beula was named Triumph. Lloyd named one street after Sample. Another was named after one of the three new county commissioners, to whom Lloyd had also conveyed town properties. This was Alexander Ogle, known as Spoony Ogle because he once denounced President van Buren for living in Oriental luxury and when he discovered there were silver spoons in the White House. Alexander Horner of the German community, another commissioner, was also honoured, but not John J. Evans of Beula, third of the commissioners. Lloyd named one street after himself, another after his daughter Fanny, whose name, fortunately for the dignity of the county seat, he spelled Phany (it has gently mutated into Phaney).

The little site of Beula was soon celebrated for its ruins and its lonely graveyard. As the very stones crumbled, it became the ‘ghost village’. No house was built there after 1804. Perhaps it can be said finally to have died when Thomas Watkins Jones died in 1808, at the age of 36; at the very latest when John J. Evans went in 1829. Much of the land ultimately passed to one man, Griffith Lloyd, who, in 1844, was the first to report the Beula ghost.

My personal thanks to Pam Chambers who provided me with Professor Williams writings, of which I have extracted a bit to give the reader an idea of what Beula really was. May those folks all rest in eternity and may we never forget.