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 
    stores industry.
    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 
    Chapel Hill.
    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
  • 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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