Emigrants letters

Reference: MS 22846D

Most of the letters presented here are from Henry Jones (1824-52), who emigrated to Holland Patent, New York, in 1850, and his sister, Mary Jones (1831-61), who emigrated to Ballarat, New South Wales in 1856. They are addressed to members of their family in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Gwynedd. Also included (ff. 39-40) are verses by Mary Jones, 'Hiraeth am fy ngwlad'.

Emigration to America

Although the number of Welsh people who emigrated to America and Australia in the nineteenth century was far lower than from less industrialised countries, such as Ireland, a significant number did leave Wales in the hope of a better life. It is estimated that about 60,000 people emigrated from Wales to the USA during the period 1850-70.

A number of factors have been suggested for emigration from Wales during the middle years of the nineteenth century. Many of the Welsh tenant farmers and farm labourers were living in poverty. Also, the unstable market in coal and steel meant that employment for many steelworkers and miners was unreliable.

When radical figures, such as Samuel Roberts ('SR'; 1800-85) and Michael D. Jones (1822-98) spoke in favour of emigration, many were ready to listen. It was often seen as an opportunity to own land at a time when most land in Wales was owned by the gentry, while others headed for the mines and quarries of the industrial areas.

Many of these emigrants to America made their way to the existing Welsh communities, such as Cambria in Pennsylvania, Gallia in Ohio and Oneida in New York State. So many Welsh people migrated to Wisconsin that the state's constitution was translated into Welsh.

The most famous instance of Welsh migration was the attempt made by Michael D. Jones and others to establish a Welsh colony in Patagonia, Argentina. The first migrants landed in Porth Madryn in 1865 and a small Welsh-speaking population remains in the area to this day.

Emigration to Australia

By the time Mary Jones emigrated to Ballarat in 1856 many other Welsh migrants had already established themselves in the area. Large numbers had arrived during the gold rush of the 1850s. Most of the main towns and cities in Australia had Welsh chapels and some areas held an annual eisteddfod. However, Welsh culture here was not as long-lived as in Patagonia and parts of America, and the Welsh migrants were soon assimilated into mainstream Australian society and culture.

Contents of the letters

Henry Jones settled in an area that already had many Welsh inhabitants. In Holland Patent, New York State today over 16% of the population has Welsh ancestry. His long and detailed letters describe his new home and life with references to other Welsh settlers. Unfortunately, he lived for only 2 years after arriving in his new home.

When Mary's letters begin she lived in Welshpool but then emigrated from Liverpool to Australia on the White Star line. In one letter she describes the voyage, life on board ship and some of her fellow passengers. While she was living in Australia she composed a ballad entitled 'Hiraeth am fy ngwlad' ('Longing for my country') which was published after her death in 1861.

Further reading