- Early Modern Migration from the Mid-Wales County of Radnorshire to Southeastern Pennsylvania, with Special Reference to Three Meredith Families
In 1971 the Honorable Thomas M. Rees of California observed that “very little has been written of what the Welsh have contributed in all walks of life to the shaping of American history.”1 In 1979 historian David Galenson maintained that “the issue of the composition of America’s early immigrants is an important one and will continue to receive considerable attention from historians who seek to understand the social and economic history of colonial America.” However, Douglas Greenburg’s examination of the historiography of the middle colonies revealed that Pennsylvania, which witnessed the immigration of many early modern Welsh Quaker migrants, has not attracted as much attention from researchers as has its neighboring states. In 1992, twenty-one years after Rees’s observations, Aaron Fogelman noted, “there is little literature on Welsh immigration in eighteenth-century America and quantitative estimates [End Page 1] are virtually non-existent.” In 1994 Wayne Bodle showed that, during the preceding fifteen years, the William and Mary Quarterly had “published fewer articles with specific Middle Colonies themes than had been published in the previous fifteen years.” Bodle highlighted Barry Levy’s study of Quakers in the Delaware Valley. Levy undermined his argument by conflating north Wales and Cheshire, thereby ignoring their cultural and linguistic differences. Boyd Stanley Schlenther too asserted that no adequate account of settlement of the Welsh in colonial Pennsylvania exists. James T. Lemon later declared that while many studies on early Pennsylvania have appeared since the 1970s, much remains to be written about the contribution made by emigrants from Wales to the development of the colony.2
Among Welsh historians of the period, John Davies pointed to the distinctive local identity embraced by many Welshmen. He observed, “to be Welsh in America was to be from Wales; to be Welsh in Wales was to be from Carmarthenshire or Anglesey or Glamorgan or Denbighshire.” Studies by Arthur H. Dodd, J. Gwynn Williams, and Geraint H. Jenkins are examples of this localism.3 Their research concentrated on Quaker migration from the counties of Merioneth and Montgomeryshire. While the majority of the early modern Welsh who migrated to southeast Pennsylvania did come from these two counties, a number also migrated from Radnorshire.
The Radnorshire local historian, Frank Noble, briefly addressed the issue of eighteenth-century Radnorshire-Pennsylvania emigration fifty years ago. In expanding on Noble’s work, I observe Geraint Jenkins’s warning that for this period in Welsh history “there is a woeful lack of either primary sources or secondary material on topics such as demography, size of households, social structure, foreign trade and much else besides.”4
In the eighteenth century, Radnorshire (now part of the larger county of Powys) was the second smallest county in Wales, measuring twenty-eight miles from north to south and twenty-seven miles from east to west. With 16,270 inhabitants, it also had the second-smallest population.5 There is a significant diversity of cultures and communities between people who live in the different upland and lowland areas of Wales.6 There are also wide regional variations in both spoken and written Welsh, which may have made for some communication difficulties among early migrants from Merioneth, Montgomeryshire, and Radnorshire.7 Even today it is alleged that the difference in Venedotian dialect (north) and South Wales Welsh is as distinct as that between the English spoken in Alabama and New England.8 [End Page 2]
There were religious differences, too. The Radnorshire families who left for Pennsylvania were Quaker, Baptist, or Anglican. Quaker migration has been more thoroughly documented than migration by the other two groups. Mary K. Geiter pointed out that research on the Baptists in the middle region of North America has been relatively neglected.9 Thus, I will endeavor to trace the religious, economic, and social contribution that Radnorshire Baptists and Anglicans, as well as Quakers, made to early Pennsylvanian development under William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges that guaranteed religious freedom to all.10 As Dissenters from the Established Church, early Baptists anticipated the Quakers in emphasizing...