The earliest immigrants from Wales to Wisconsin arrived in 1840, with peak immigration between about 1850 and 1860. To see more photos and documents related to the history of Welsh immigrants in Wisconsin, try searching our database for the term Welsh. To read more about Welsh settlement in the state, see Phillips G. Davies, Welsh in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2006).
“Tell everyone who inquires after us that we think the country will prove very agreeable to us. We are only sorry that we did not come earlier, but ‘better late than never.’ The land in general is exceptionally good, and although thousands come here the country is so immense that there is yet plenty of Government land.”
—John and Margaret Owen of Baraboo, letter home to family members in Wales, 1847.
From “Documents: Immigrant Letters,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 13:4 (1930)
This needlework sampler, which includes two verses in Welsh and one in English, was stitched by Anne Thomas of Wales. Anne’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth came to Wisconsin in the 1890s, joining other relatives who had previously settled in the Waukesha area. To find out more about Welsh settlement in Waukesha, see Sadie Rowlands Price, “The Welsh of Waukesha County,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 26:3 (1943)
When I bow my head to die
Let me see your blessed love
See the open heavens
The son of man to the right of the Father.
Smile upon me Lord of Grace
On the shores of the blue river of death
Give your lovely presence
As I leave this world for the next.
In August 2012, the Peniel Chapel near Pickett, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin hosted its 90th annual Gymanfa Ganu—a traditional Welsh festival of sacred choral music sung in four-part harmony. The chapel itself was constructed in 1856.
In 1940, Helene Stratman-Thomas and Robert F. Draves recorded songs performed by the congregation at Peniel Chapel as part of the Wisconsin Folk Music Recording Project sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Library of Congress.
listen: “He’s the Lily of the Valley,” Gymanfa Ganu in Pickett, Wisconsin, 1940, from the Wisconsin Folksong Collection 1937-1946, Mills Music Library by way of University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
To read more about the ongoing preservation of Welsh music traditions in the state, visit the website of the Welsh Gymanfa Ganu Association of Wisconsin.
The Bethesda Presbyterian Church in the unincorporated community of Ring, Winnebago County, Wisconsin was built in 1856 and features stained glass windows with Welsh inscriptions. The example shown here is Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
To see more images of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church, Peniel Chapel, and other early churches in Winnebago, Fond du Lac, Marquette, Calumet, and Waushara counties, explore the Pioneer Churches Collection from the Oshkosh Public Library.
The images in this post come from the following digital collections. Click the links to browse the full collections.