The Royal Colony of South Carolina

The Welsh Settlers During the Royal Period (1729 to 1775)

The Welsh who migrated to South Carolina between the years 1736 and 1746 were Calvinist Baptists who settled along the upper Pee Dee River in what are present-day Marion, Darlington, and Marlboro Counties. 

More is known about the early Welsh who migrated to South Carolina in the eighteenth century. Governor Robert Johnson, the royal governor of the province of South Carolina, granted the first Welsh settlers ten thousand acres in northeastern South Carolina that eventually became known as the Welsh Tract. The establishment of the Welsh Tract was part of Governor Johnson's "township scheme" of 1730. Click Here to learn more about this important historical effort.

One of the reasons the Welsh received such a large grant of land was perhaps due to Maurice Lewis, a Welshman who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in South Carolina. Mr. Lewis owned 450 acres in Anglesey, Wales and migratred to South Carolina around 1728. His influence among the early Welsh was short-lived; he contracted a fever and died in Charles Town in 1739.

The early Welsh who settled along the upper Pee Dee River in South Carolina were Calvinists who believed in predestination, and became disillusioned by the Arminian practices that included the belief in universal salvation. More than thirty families migrated from Pencader Hundred Baptist Church in Delaware to South Carolina between 1736 and 1746. Some families, particularly the Harry, James, and Jones families, were slaveholders and imported their slaves from Delaware to South Carolina. In addition, a distinct Welsh cultural identity prevailed in the upper Pee Dee River area of South Carolina, at least to 1760.

The Baptist Church known as Welsh Neck, founded by eight families in 1738 near present-day Society Hill in Darlington County, South Carolina, became the mother church of over thirty-five churches on the South Carolina frontier in the eighteenth century. Unlike the Welsh in North Carolina, a more distinct Welsh cultural identity prevailed in South Carolina.

In his 1745 visit, the Rev. John Fordyce, the SPG minister, described these Baptists as being bilingual, since they spoke both Welsh and English when they migrated to South Carolina. James James, Esq., the first leader of the Welsh settlers owned a Welsh Bible.

Before building their church at Welsh Neck, these early Welsh were using the Cyd Gordiad by Abel Morgan in the home of John Jones. The Cyd Gordiad was the first and only Welsh Bible published in Philadelphia in 1730. Some of the first settlers also owned other Welsh books. Nicholas Rogers, at the time of his death in 1760, owned a parcel of Welsh books valued at £1-10s. Mary Devonald, while writing her will in December of 1755, also owned a parcel of Welsh books that she left to her son and daughter.

In the early years of the settlement, the upper Pee Dee River community had a Welsh identity that was well-known in Charles Town and throughout the province of South Carolina. On October 22, 1744, Robert Williams, a planter who resided near Charles Town, advertised a reward in the South Carolina Gazette for the capture of a runaway Welsh indentured servant named Thomas Edwards. Williams believed the servant, who spoke bad English, "had gone up the path towards the Welsh Settlement or on board a ship."

Even earlier, Robert Williams advertised three runaway Welsh indentured servants in the same paper. One of these servants was Jenkins James, who "talks very much Welshy." Advertisements announcing St. David's Day festivities in Charles Town also appeared in the South Carolina Gazette. One advertisement printed in that Charles Town paper appeared in Welsh, announcing the celebration of St. David's Day in that city on March 1, 1771. This announcement read:

Dydd Gwyl Dewi - Mae yr Hold Hen Brittaniad a I Hepil, fydd yn Dewi

Ginauau ii guda I, Guridwir ar Dydd Gwyl. Dewi, Yn Dummuno Rei,

Henuan Pump O Dyddian O flaeny Dydd cynta o Faretth Trwy

Orchymmun Peny Genedl, I William Edwards, igriven Trief siarles y is

Dydd a Chaefrer, 1771

This society was first organized in Charles Town in 1736, and celebrated by local inhabitants of Welsh descent. The coming of the American Revolution could have interrupted this Welsh celebration in 1774, when the Sons of St. David noted in the South Carolina Gazette that they were unable to assemble to celebrate this event.

One of the first Welsh settlers to settle in the upper Pee Dee River region of South Carolina was William James. He called his 350 acres he obtained through the headlight system in 1738, New Cambria, meaning New Wales. In 1746, there were three settlers, William Hughes, James Price, and Job Edwards, who came to South Carolina directly from Wales. But, those men seem to have been the only men to migrate directly from Wales to South Carolina in that decade.

Most of the Welsh settlers in South Carolina were Baptists. These Welsh Baptists kept a distinct cultural identity within their church communities for several years after they arrived in South Carolina. In 1759, a membership list of the church members taken at Welsh Neck Church included the names of sixty-five members. Of those members' surnames, only four were of non-Welsh descent, or English and Scottish origin. Those non-Welsh had surnames such as McDaniel, Desurrency, Poland, and Perkins.

By 1777, the church members had much more diversity as revealed by the 197 members. This ethnic diversity after 1760 can be attributed to the aftermath of the Cherokee War of 1760 that caused more settlers of Scots-Irish descent from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina to migrate down the Great Wagon Road into South Carolina.

At the time of the first United States census in 1790, the Welsh represented 8.8% of the total population of South Carolina, slightly lower in percentage than the Welsh in North Carolina, which made up 11.6% of North Carolina's population the same year.

With the establishment of the Welsh Tract and the nine new "townships" in the early 1730s, there was a great influx of Welsh into South Carolina that began around 1734. These newcomers, primarily from Delaware, settled what are the present-day counties of Marion, Darlington, Florence, Dillon, Marlboro, and Chesterfield. The new Queensborough Township was settled in 1735 by Welsh from both Pennsylvania and Delaware, along with some Scots-Irish.

During the 1740s, the Welsh virtually remained in place, slowly expanding their lands in the above-mentioned counties.

In the early 1750s, a new wave of Welsh from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland settled in the southern part of what is present-day Lancaster County, South Carolina, along with a group of Germans and Scots-Irish they had met along the long trip down the Great Wagon Road.

In 1760, the first primarily Welsh town of Long Bluff was established in what is present-day Darlington County. After this date, more primarily Welsh towns were established in what are the present-day counties of Marion, Darlington, Marlboro, and Chesterfield counties, but there is essentially no decent records indicating later "new settlements" by the Welsh in South Carolina.

As in North Carolina, the Welsh distinction seemed to fade away after around 1750. It is very likely that more Welsh continued to arrive in South Carolina from various points of origin, but the historical record is scant. With the great influx of the Scots-Irish into the Carolinas in the 1740s through the 1760s, the historical record focuses on this group and seems to ignore most of the other groups. But, that doesn't mean that the Welsh were no longer important or that they continued to settle into other locations within South Carolina - they most likely did, just not in large numbers.

The following was provided by Alicia Rennoll in July of 2019 (used with permission):

Commemorating The Lasting Influence Of Early Welsh Settlers in South Carolina

Although the numbers of Welsh settlers were smaller than other groups of immigrants, they and their descendants have played an important role in the history of America. Sixteen of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were of Welsh descent, and several former presidents can trace their family roots back to Wales. The Welsh first arrived in South Carolina in the late 1600s but many more settled during the Royal Period. Some prominent figures from South Carolina of Welsh descent included the governor from 1812 to 1814, David Rogerson Williams, and several members of the Welsh Neck Baptist Church who served in the General Assembly in the late 1700s. Despite their great influence, unfortunately little remains of the buildings and artefacts from the time. However, unsurprisingly with almost ten per cent of South Carolina’s population bearing a name of Welsh origin, there are still areas of life in the State that are touched by the local Welsh history.

Wood Carving and Love Spoons

Starting as an early American tradition, the carving of wooden spoons came to rise in the colonial days when settlers, including the Welsh, would share their own traditions, designs and carving techniques. A local artist from Trenton is still influenced by traditional techniques, using 18th century tools to add authenticity to his pieces. While demonstrating his skills, he enjoys telling the history behind one of his most popular pieces, Welsh love spoons. They were originally carved by young men to offer to the girls they were courting and, if they were accepted, they became a symbol of betrothal. The earliest love spoon is in the National Museum of Wales, and dates from around 1667, about the time the first Welsh settlers were coming to America. Now, after a revival of the tradition over the past few decades, love spoons with their intricate, meaningful symbols, are made in a variety of materials. These spoons are still exchanged for engagements, but are also used to commemorate significant and memorable occasions such as weddings and anniversaries.

The James Family Bible

The Darlington County Historical Commission Building holds the original documents that give authority to run the Welsh tract in South Carolina. Written on linen and pigs’ hide, they came from the court of King George II. The building also proudly houses a 371 year old Welsh bible, preserved in pristine condition. The bible was brought to the Pee Dee region by James James Jr, a Welsh lawyer. He led settlers into the area and the bible went on to be used to establish the Welsh Creek Baptist Church. Described as evidence of the determination of the settlers in South Carolina, the bible is beautifully crafted, made of wood bound in leather and inlaid with brass detail.

Welsh Language and Song

The Welsh Neck settlement fairly quickly adopted English as their main language, and, within a generation, the use of the Welsh language in their community appears to have come to an end. By the time the St. David’s Society set up a school in 1789, all the teaching was to be undertaken in English. The Welsh influence of the group does, however, still persist in small ways. For several decades, Conway High School in Horry County sang the Welsh tune All Through The Night as its alma mater hymn, and hymn singing is a tradition that continues today in the baptist churches of the Pee Dee region.

Although little remains in the way of original buildings and artefacts, the Welsh settlers in South Carolina had a profound influence on religion, politics and trade as soon as they arrived in South Carolina. With so many of the current population claiming Welsh ancestry, it seems fitting to continue to commemorate their influence with the preservation of traditional crafts, conserving the few original historical items that do remain, and enjoying the enduring popularity of rousing Welsh hymns.

© 2019 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved