The Welsh who migrated to North Carolina were Presbyterians from Pencader Hundred and settled along the Northeast Cape Fear River in present-day Duplin County (New Hanover County at that time) as early as 1725. The Moseley Map of North Carolina, surveyed in 1732-1733 and published in 1738, depicts two Welsh Settlements in North Carolina - one in Duplin County and one in Pender County along the Northeast Cape Fear River.
The first published eighteenth century account of the Welsh who migrated from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas was "An Account of the Cape Fear Country," written in 1731 by Hugh Meredith for the Pennsylvania Gazette in two issues, May 6, and May 13, 1731. He traveled from Philadelphia to New Town (later named Wilmington) near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. He described New Town as having an excellent harbor, as well as the potential to become a commercial and government center of the province.
He observed, "Tho' at present but a poor unprovided Place, consisting of not above 10 or 12 scattering mean houses, hardly worth the name of a village." His account is also very descriptive of the terrain, the rivers, the swamps, the trees, and the animals that inhabit the forests. "Most of the Country is well cloathed with tall Pines, excepting the Swamps and the Savannahs, and some small Strips by the Sides of the Rivers."
He noted that the savannahs in present-day Brunswick County (North Carolina), "are good pasturage for cattle; Beneath the Grass there is a fine black Mould....on the bluish white Clay. In moderately wet Summers they might make tolerable good Rice-Ground, as is done with the like in South Carolina." Meredith also described the swamp and river water to be "of a dusky Complection, and it looks much like high-coloured Malt Small-Beer."
About twenty miles inland, he stayed at the home of David Evans, a former magistrate from New Castle County, Delaware. He noted, "The Land he lives on is pretty good and the highest I saw in the Country, but there is only a small body of it." Meredith then traveled with Mr. Evans and two others to the Northeast Cape Fear River, about eighty miles inland. He noted that the Northeast Cape Fear River had a number of Welsh settlers who migrated from Pennsylvania to North Carolina around 1725.
He found those Welsh proficient in the naval stores industry, as well as growing corn. He wrote that the Indians were no longer a threat to the settlers, but, "Thomas James, whose Settlement they plundered and burnt, and murdered him and his Family. But now there is not an Indian to be seen." He concluded his account by noting that "the agricultural goods produced in the region were cheap, but goods imported are 50 and 100 percent higher than than can be bought in Philadelphia, especially rum and osnaburgs."
Meredith's account encouraged the Welsh from Pennsylvania and Delaware to migrate to North Carolina. It appears that the Welsh settlement of the Cape Fear region in the eighteenth century was far more extensive than what previous observers had believed.
In 1964, Harry Roy Merrens, in his book on the historic geography of the state wrote that other than Hugh Meredith's 1731 account, "there is no further information on the Welsh settlers in the colony, which suggests that they could not have been very numerous." Thus, in Merren's view, the Welsh in North Carolina settled in rural areas, and they established no villages or towns that provided a cohesive "focal point of community life and organization, and with farms spread thinly over a fairly large area into which other more numerous settlers came, Welsh settlements probably quickly lost whatever distinctiveness they may have possessed at the outset."
In 1994, Dallas Herring, the director of the Duplin County Historical Society wrote a brief article entitled, "The Cape Fear Welsh Settlements," disagreeing with Merren's observations of the early Welsh in North Carolina. According to Herring, "The land records verify that a bonafide Welsh settlement existed and thousands of Welsh descendents still occupy the region."
Through his genealogical research, he concluded that there were Welsh families who migrated from other colonies to the middle Cape Fear region of Duplin County, and Sarah Meredith owned an eighteenth century Welsh Bible. Herring continued, "The land records document the steady influx of settlers in the following years. A great many of them were Welsh and among them were Bloodworth, Thomas, Davis, Jones, Bowen, Morgan, Wells, James, Williams, and others." Herring concluded that most of the early Welsh settlers came to North Carolina for economic rather than religious reasons, and, "The Cape Fear was to them the long-promised land."
The Welsh settlers were not confined to the Northeast Cape Fear River in Duplin and Pender Counties, North Carolina. Rather, their settlement extended eighty to ninety miles inland, along the creeks flowing into the Cape Fear and the Northeast Cape Fear Rivers. Many Welsh who came to North Carolina in the eighteenth century settled along the creeks that drained into these rivers. These creeks and swamps include such names as Rockfish, James', Swifts', and Smith's Creeks, Black Mingo and Goshen Swamps, and the Black River that runs through southeastern North Carolina.
This region today covers parts of the present-day counties of Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Onslow, Jones, Brunswick, Pender, and Sampson Counties. The reason this Welsh settlement was so spread out was due to the naval stores industry, spurred on by the British Parliament when in the eighteenth century it granted a bounty on naval stores in North Carolina. This British bounty on naval stores encouraged Welsh settlers to migrate from Pennsylvania and Delaware to North Carolina in the 1730s. Those who migrated to North Carolina were primarily Presbyterians who had previously attended the Pencader Hundred Church in New Castle County Delaware.
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.
The first student to enroll in the University of North Carolina when it opened its doors in 1795 was Hinton James, a descendent of the early Welsh settlers of Pender County.
In addition, some people of Welsh descent moved from the Welsh settlement in the Welsh Tract of South Carolina to North Carolina. In the 1760s, the Welsh Neck Baptist Church minutes recorded that Valentine Hollingsworth moved his family from South Carolina to Bladen County, North Carolina.
At the time of the first United States census in 1790, the Welsh represented 11.6% of the total population of North Carolina, slightly higher in percentage than the Welsh in South Carolina, which made up only 8.8% of South Carolina's population the same year.
In the 1720s, the Welsh settled along the Cape Fear River in what are the present-day counties of Brunswick, New Hanover, Columbus, and Bladen. Some made their way a little further east, along the Northeast Cape Fear River, to what are the present-day counties of Duplin, Pender, and southern Sampson.
In the 1730s, the Welsh, along with some English, from the seacoast, settled what is present-day Johnston County. Between 1736 and 1738, many Welsh from Delaware landed at the Cape Fear and made their way up to what are the present-day counties of Anson, Richmond, and Scotland.
In 1746, a large group of Welsh that had originally settled in Bladen County moved themselves to what are the present-day counties of Stanly and Montgomery.
With the great influx of Scots-Irish that started in the 1730s and continued well into the late 1700s, the Welsh, as a distinctive group, was essentially no longer separately identified after the 1746 settlement of what are present-day Stanly and Montgomery counties. It is very likely that many more Welsh settlers arrived in North Carolina after 1746, but there just are no distinctive records to substantiate it.