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Vol. 6, no. 1 1979

Welsh emigration to the United States : a note on surname evidence /

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Welsh emigration to the United States: a note on surname evidence
Professor and Head of the Department of Geography, University of
(Received November 1977: in revised form April 1978)
This paper seeks to explain why the strong standing and widespread
distribution of Welsh surnames in the United States today is at
variance with the conventional view of the Welsh in the United
States. It is argued that the influence of the early migrants and their
progeny in forming the basic population stock of the United States
has been underestimated.
The movement of population from Wales to the United States is fairly
well documented for the period since 1800 (for example, Conway,
1961; Ellis, 1961; Hartmann, 1967; Williams, D., 1933-5, 1935-7;
Williams, D., 1946; Williams, G., 1976). Statistics, though not always
reliable (they tend to understate the Welsh who were sometimes
classified as English), became available from the 1820's and these
reveal a swelling stream of emigrants, encouraged by poor economic
and social conditions at home and the prospect of a fair, prosperous,
and just society in the new republic. The flow reached its peak in the
1880's, when over 100,000 Welsh-born were resident in the United
States, but even at the height of the movement, numbers were small
compared with those from other European countries, and they rapidly
became absolutely and relatively smaller (figure 1). In 1890 Welsh-
born composed only 1 per cent of the total foreign born population;
the 100,000 Welsh have to be set against nearly two million Irish and
approaching three million Germans. In that census year there were
more Americans born in Switzerland and in Denmark than in Wales.
The accounts relating to these emigrants tend, quite naturally, to
focus upon the more or less organised groups (who often had a mini-
ster or other person to act as their historian) and to concentrate upon
the areas of major settlement in the northeast and midwest princip-
ally in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa
(figure 2). It was in these areas that the Welsh maintained their
identity longest, formed Welsh communities, and established societ-
ies to sustain their traditions. Because of their origins, and their polit-
ical and religous convictions, they tended to be egalitarian (for
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