Chapter 32


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Patagonia

With the increasing anglicization of much of the Welsh heart lands in the aftermath of the industrial growth of Wales in the 19th century, efforts to find a new homeland in which to practice their ancient culture and language continued. In 1850's a large area of land in Tennessee was bought by Samuel Rombers to establish a colony of Welsh settlers that failed to materialize. Other lands were sought in Wisconsin and in Ohio, but by far the best prospect seemed to be Australia, where the government offered free passage to wood-be immigrants in the mid-18th century. In Brazil, there was an attempt to found a Welsh state, which failed for lack of support, and even Chile came under consideration. Welshmen and women emigrated to all these areas, but not in sufficient numbers to sustain a Welsh way of life.

The most "successful" colony, in so far as maintaining its cultural identity is concerned, even surpassing those in such "Welsh" towns at Utica, New York State and Scranton, Pennsylvania, was that founded by a group of hardy pioneers in the most unlikely place -- the Chubut Valley in the wastelands of Patagonia, southern Argentina.

At a meeting held on the front lawn of Bod Iwan, the residence of Michael D. Jones in Bala, North Wales in 1861, a group of men were discussing the possibility of founding the new promised land somewhere other than Wisconsin, or even Pennsylvania, which had held out so much promise at first, but where the Welsh chapels and the Welsh language were becoming rapidly anglicized and the congregations divorced from their heritage.

A few years earlier Jones had felt that the USA offered the best hope for saving the Welsh nation from extinction, but by the 1860's his hope had vanished. The Welsh congregations in the United States were not keeping in touch with one another, although the Welsh-American newspaper Y Drych (which is still published monthly, but now in English) had been started in 1855 to try to establish connections between the far-too scattered Welsh-American communities. It was all too apparent that chances of a distinct Welsh identity in the US were fading rapidly.

At Bod Iwan, Michael Jones, the principal of Bala College, was elaborating on his dream. He had been corresponding with the Argentine government about settling the area known as Bahia Blanca in eastern Patagonia, where Welsh immigrants would be allowed to keep their language, their traditions and their self-identity. At home, there was no Welsh political party; the established church was asleep as usual, doing nothing to preserve any sense of Welsh nationhood; the government of Great Britain in Westminster was apathetic if not hostile to Welsh concerns; no one seemed to care about the fate of the Welsh nation, still fighting desperately to survive after one thousand years of struggle.

Now there was a new crisis: in the face of increasing Anglicization of their beloved land, for such as Michael Jones and a few other patriots, it was necessary for Welsh people to move away from Wales to preserve their heritage. As non-Welsh neighbors were swallowing up the Welsh people in the United States, perhaps opportunities existed in South America. Thus negotiations began with Argentina.

Chapter 32 Continued
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