At the beginning of summer in 1818, a group of enterprising emigrants from the Cilcennin area in Ceredigion were about to complete an extremely long and troublesome journey. Before embarking on this trip, it is unlikely that any of them had roamed any further than their own county, but the desire to seek a better life had driven them to travel over three thousand miles from their homeland to North America.
Their intention was to join the Welsh settlers who had already established a community in Paddy’s Run in western Ohio – and who could blame them? Life in rural Ohio was a far cry from rural Wales. There were flat and fertile lands in the Paddy’s Run area and plenty of opportunities for industrious emigrants. Communities in Wales were suffering oppression and poverty due to an increase in population, high taxes and rents and a series of poor harvests in 1815 and 1816. It is no wonder that John Jones Tirbach, the innkeeper of “The Ship” in the village of Pennant, managed to persuade six extended families to leave their native land and sail America.
On 1 April 1818, a group of around 36 emigrants left Aberaeron harbour bound for Liverpool and from there they ventured across the Atlantic. After a voyage of almost two months – and the loss of a little girl at sea – the pioneers landed in Chesapeake Bay. They then proceeded in wagons to Pittsburgh and down the Ohio River on flat boats. Their ambitious journey and some of their first experiences in the new country have been documented by Virgil H Evans, in The Family Tree of John Jones Tirbach.
Landing in the town of Gallipolis in southeast Ohio was a significant turning point in the story these courageous Welsh pioneers. It was at that point that they decided to stay put rather than continue on their journey to Paddy’s Run. They later became known as “The 1818 Welsh” and the founders of the famous Welsh community in the counties of Jackson and Gallia in southeast Ohio.
Only a few Welsh emigrants followed them during the years that followed. However, the emigration from Ceredigion started anew in the thirties when families began packing their bags to join their former neighbours in Jackson and Gallia. By 1850 around 3,000 “Cardis” (inhabitants of Cardiganshire or Ceredigion) had crossed the Atlantic to start a new life in areas such as Tyn Rhos, Moriah, Nebo, Centerville, Peniel, Oak Hill and Horeb. They took their culture, traditions and religion with them and Jackson and Gallia became known as “Little Cardiganshire”!
Two centuries later, the story of “The 1818 Welsh” is still alive on both sides of the Atlantic and the links between southeast Ohio and Ceredigion continue to flourish. Thanks to the efforts of the Madog Center at the University of Rio Grande, benefactors such as Evan and Bet Davis and the organizers of the Cymru-Ohio 2018 celebrations in the Aberaeron area, the relationship between Wales and Ohio is still being nurtured. The history of the emigration has also been documented for future generations of genealogists, researchers and historians thanks to the generosity and vision of Evan and Bet Davis. In partnership with the National Library of Wales, the Wales-Ohio Website was created to chronicle the experiences of the Welsh settlers in Ohio through digital images and interpretative text and to strengthen the bonds that exist between Wales, Ohio and the United States of America.
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