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Wales and North America

The Welsh were among the first to settle in the USA and Canada in the late seventeenth century and have since made a significant contribution to life in North America. Some say Welsh Prince Madog ab Owain Gwynedd discovered America in 1170, landing in the state of Alabama over 300 years before Christopher Columbus set out from Spain. They believe the Native American tribe, the Mandan, could have included decedents from Prince Madog’s voyage as they are reported to have had blue eyes and light hair colouring.

It’s estimated that around 20% of the Pilgrim Fathers were Welsh and almost 50% of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence were Welsh or of Welsh heritage, including its principal creator President Thomas Jefferson. There have been eight Presidents with Welsh ancestry, including  John Adams, Richard Nixon, John Quincy Adams, James A. Garfield and Calvin Coolidge.

Many of the early settlers in America became wealthy land owners such as Robert Edwards, a sea captain from Pontypridd Wales, who owned 73 acres of land across Manhattan. Many people have since claimed they are descendants of Robert, in an attempt to inherit the estimated $650 billion dollars worth of land.

It is often said that Wales roofed and heated America. Nearly all the slate used in America for roofing before 1785 came from Wales and Welsh Coal was imported to heat homes, drive the railways and steamships. Skilled craftsmen left Wales to work in the coal, slate, iron, tinplate and steel industries during America's gilded age. In 1878 Welshman Sidney Gilchrist and his brother Percy Carlisle Gilchrist developed a new way of producing steel – they sold the patent to Andrew Carnegie who made millions with the new steel, which again helped to build America’s infrastructure at the time.

Welsh workers brought with them their families, language and some formed choirs. Colonies were set up in Idaho, Tenessee, Ohio, New York, Virginia and the Carolinas and Pennsylvania.  

There was a particularly large emigration of Welsh Quakers to Pennsylvania under William Penn. By 1700, the Welsh accounted for about one-third of the colony’s estimated population of twenty thousand. There are to this day, a number of Welsh place names in this area including Cambria which was established in a second wave of immigration in the late eighteenth century. 

 

In the USA today,

The links between Wales and North America are still strong.  Many Welsh companies are investing and doing business in North America. Congressional Friends of Wales Caucus was formed on Capitol Hill in Washington DC to help further develop business, academic and cultural links between Wales and the USA.

Welsh universities and centres of excellence have developed educational links with North American universities - both for academic exchange and for joint research purposes. You can find out more here.

Welsh artists and performers have also made their mark on North America. You can find a list of well known celebrities with Welsh ancestry below and you can read more on our cultural links page.

Famous Americans with a Welsh ancestry include:

  • Andrea Bowen, actor
  • Kelly Clarkson, singer
  • Hilary Clinton, politician
  • Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniels, business man + producer of the Worlds most famous American whisky
  • Bette Davis, actor
  • Teri Hatcher, actor and writer
  • Bob Hope, actor/comedian
  • Tommy Lee, drummer for hard rock/heavy metal band Motley Crüe
  • The Osmond’s, singer / performers
  • Michelle Pfeiffer, actor
  •  Michael Phelps, Olympic Swimmer
  • Chris Pine, actor
  • Betty White, actor
  • Julia Roberts actor
  • Robin Williams, actor/comedian
  • Daniel Boone, American pioneer
  • Earl W. Bascom, inventor
  • Cowboy Morgan Evans, famous Texas rancher;
  • Frank James, famous outlaw
  • Jesse James, famous outlaw
  • Henry Morton Stanley, journalist/explorer
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
  • Elihu Yale, first benefactor of Yale University
  • Kings of Leon, Band.

Visiting Wales

If you would like to visit Wales on holiday our sister site Visit Wales has information to help you plan your trip.