Researching your Welsh Ancestors
One of the earliest European ethnic groups to migrate to North Carolina in the colonial
period were the Welsh. Most of them were second-generation Welsh-Americans; their
parents had migrated from Wales to Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 1680s. What
early records exist indicate that the Welsh originally migrated to North Carolina as
early as the 1720s, when Parliament offered bounties to individuals participating in the
naval stores trade. A 1738 map of North Carolina shows two Welsh settlements, one
in present day Duplin County on the Northeast Cape Fear River and the other on the
Cape Fear River in present day Pender County.
The earliest account of the Welsh in North Carolina was in “An Account of the Cape
Fear Country, 1731,” a travel account by Hugh Meredith and published in Benjamin
Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. With glowing terms, Meredith described the land
and wildlife of the Cape Fear region and his stay with Welshmen David Evans and
Thomas James on the Northeast Cape Fear in present day Duplin County. He
considered both to be not only good producers of corn but also skillful in the naval
Undoubtedly Meredith’s account of the Cape Fear encouraged more Welsh to migrate to
North Carolina. The early North Carolina land records, for instance, include numerous
Welsh surnames, including Bloodworth, Thomas, Davis, Edwards, Ellis, Jones, Bowen,
Morgan, Wells, James, Lucas, Price, Owen, Powell, and Williams. By the end of the
century, the Welsh had assimilated into North Carolina society. For example, the first
student enrolled at the University of North Carolina in 1795 was Hinton James, a
descendent of the early Welsh settlers in North Carolina. Determined to attend the
university, Hinton remarkably walked over 140 miles from his home in Pender County to
Economic rather than religious reasons pulled and pushed many to North Carolina. Many
of the Welsh were staunch Calvinists—unsurprisingly so because many were former
members of the Pencader Hundred Presbyterian Church in Delaware. Some North
Carolina churches, including Rock Fish Presbyterian and Hopwell Presbyterian in
Duplin County, can trace their origins to the eighteenth century.
Some prominent North Carolinians of Welsh descent include Civil War Governor John W. Ellis
and, more recently, William S. Powell, a distinguished local and state historian; Archie K.
Davis, who promoted the cultural advancement of the state; and former Attorney General and
United Sates Senator Robert Morgan of Harnett County. Today, thousands of Welsh
descendents reside across the state.
At first, Welsh Immigrants settled in or near British colonies, among fellow
Welsh Americans who shared their religious denomination, such as Baptist,
Methodist, or Quaker. Many tried to found a new homeland for their people.
Following the missionaries and farmers were the skilled industrial workers and
artisans. In the Appalachians, The Welsh settled by the many rivers and streams
seeking to maintain their religious traditions. Welsh attitudes, beliefs, and customs
stem largely from the strength and nonconformity of Welsh churches.
The Welsh settlements in the Carolinas were settled by Welsh settlers from
Pennsylvania, (later New Castle County Delaware) in the early eighteenth century.
The Welsh who migrated to the Carolinas were Calvinists; those going to North
Carolina were Presbyterians from Pencader Hundred who settled on the Northeastern
Cape Fear in present Duplin County, North Carolina as early as 1725.
The Presbyterian Churches established by these Welsh settlers on the creeks
flowing into the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers had a strong cultural
influence on the region. This evidence exists in the church minutes and the church
graveyards. An example of this Welsh ethnicity survives at Rock Fish and Hopewell
Presbyterian Churches in Duplin County. These churches began in the eighteenth
century and the graveyards have tombstones with Welsh surnames, such as Bowen,
Morgan, Owen, Edwards, Thomas, Evans, James, Jones, Williams, and Wells.
Today, these surnames continue to be prominent in southeastern North Carolina.
There is also a small community in Columbus County, named Iron Hill, perhaps
associated with the town of Iron Hill in Delaware.
Duplin County's earliest immigrants were the Welsh who arrived in the 1700's. They
were soon followed by German Palatines and the Swiss in the 1730's and 1740's.
The Scotch-Irish arrived in 1736 with Henry McCulloch, a wealthy London merchant,
to settle on a rich and fertile 71,160-acre land granted to him from the British Crown.
The French Huguenots and English, who migrated from Virginia along with Scottish
Highlanders who came from the upper Cape Fear region, also were among the earliest
settlers to the area along with African-Americans. The early settlements were primarily
along the river and larger creeks as these were the best means of transportation.
Henry McCulloch, who had transported Ulster Scots and Swiss Protestants to settle
this area, established several settlements. One on the east bank of the Northeast
Cape Fear River named Sarecta, became Duplin's first incorporated town in 1787.
Another settlement was established on the west side of the river on Goshen Swamp,
and a third at a place referred to as Golden Grove, later to become the Town of
Kenansville. These early settlers were primarily Presbyterians and they established the
Goshen congregation in 1736. Later called the Grove congregation, it was the first
Presbyterian church in the state and is still active today.
In 1751, the first official county court was held in the home of William McRee. Today,
Guilford Mills, Inc, on NC Highway 11/903, is located on the original site. A short time
later the first courthouse was built on Turkey Swamp near the present day
Duplin/Sampson County line. When Sampson County was created in 1784 from the
western half of Duplin County, the courthouse was relocated again to a more central
location. The first sessions of county court at this new site were held in James's home
near the road to Magnolia about 2 miles south of Kenansville. Later, the court was
relocated to the area that was to become Kenansville.
Links to find Welsh Information
Public Records Office
Association of Family History Societies of Wales
Association of Family History Societies of Wales
The National Library of Wales
Comprehensive links to archives and information from around Wales
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