Why did people want to leave Wales in the first palce?
Wales is such a beautiful country so why did thousands of ship leave ports like Liverpool packed full of hopeful emigrants all with the sole purpose of seeking a better life abroad?
The reasons are complex but let’s choose one main cause: the Industrial Revolution. Iron needed to be produced which led to the need to mine coal and the coal mines needed huge work-forces. The rural demographic of Wales changed for ever as miners from the North moved to the valleys of South Wales where they were joined in turn by groups of miners from England. The Welsh became a second language in its own country. The landowners who often owned the quarries and coal mines and furnaces and the smelting works spoke English and the tenants were expected to speak English with their masters and attend church , not chapel. Life was hard, poverty rife and the attraction of the new life in America was a powerful one.
The pull of the promise of a better future was stronger than the burden of the present and whole families went to seek their fortunes in America where they would be free to follow their own religion, speak their own language and farm their own land. Letters flooded back to Britain with accounts of a better life. A large Welsh community was formed in Pennsylvania and it thrived. Despite this many emigrants who went out to America with the idea of maintaining the traditions that were being lost in Wales saw that they were now being diluted under the influence of other emigrant groups. What could be done to stop this happening? In steps Michael D. Jones to our history…
Michael D. Jones
Michael D. Jones had himself emigrated to North America where he trained as a minister but he saw that the Welsh were quick to lose their identity and so he started to dream of creating a ‘Gwladfa’ (Colony) in another part of the world where it would be possible to safeguard the language and culture. In 1856 a group in California began to consider Patagonia a possible location for this community. Back in Bala, Wales, Michael D. Jones began promoting the idea with religious fervour, whilst Edwin Cynrig Roberts, who had also emigrated to America only to return disappointed, was travelling around Wales searching for others to accompany him on a journey to South America. In 1861 the Cymdeithas Wladychol Lerpwl (Liverpool Colonial Society) was formed to organise the venture and amongst its leaders was one Lewis Jones.
Preparing the ‘Gwladfa’
In 1862 Edwin Roberts went, along with a man who was going to play a key role in funding the venture, Captain Love Jones -Parry to Buenos Aires to talk terms with the Argentine government and then onto Patagonia to see the land that was to be offered to the Welsh. They returned to Wales with very favourable tales which were, as was proved by the first settlers, far too favourable for the truth! In March 1863 an agreement was signed between Argentina and Wales which offered 100 acres to each family which arrived in Patagonia. Roberts started the work of getting together animals, food and produce for the first party who would arrive in Patagonia in order to set up the colony the most southerly European settlement in Argentina at the time.