Letter from America.

This week we have another contribution from Rhyl History Club member Maggi Blythin:

My great grandfather, Griffith Griffiths, moved to Rhyl in 1900.  He farmed at Trellewelyn Farm and his youngest son Edward Herbert took over from him.  Griffith had 3 brothers and 4 sisters.  One of his older brothers, Edward, had a Poultry and Greengrocery business in Rhyl for many years, but, prior to this he travelled to America with the eldest brother Philip.

Philip was born 1841 in Derwen.  At the time the family were tenant farmers on the land belonging to Erriviatt Hall.  Sometime prior to August 1868 he and his brother Edward decided to leave the family home.  They went to England looking for work, but then decided to try America after, no doubt, hearing that it was the land of opportunity.

Some of the letters that they wrote home survived and are now in y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales.  They were found by an ancestor in a relative’s attic and were photocopied and translated from their original Welsh before being deposited in the Archives.  They make interesting reading as they are well written and beautifully descriptive.  The hand writing is impressive and, considering they were farm boys with, presumably, only basic schooling, they never cease to astound me.

The family were devout chapel goers and some of them were deacons.  The boys would have been brought up to attend chapel regularly.  They would also have enjoyed the social side.  Philip appears to be suffering with hiraeth (feeling homesick) and his description of home is very touching.

maggi chicago

photo shows Barbara and Griffith Griffiths c.1910

This is the first letter that survived and was written from 213, Mitchell Street in Chicago on August 26th 1868.

“Dear Family
I am taking this opportunity of sending you a few words hoping you are well and comfortable.  We have waited quite a bit to hear from you.  I have not been enjoying very good health these days.  I have had diarrhoea or something that I had when I came home from Liverpool.  Edward has had it some time ago but he has recovered well but I have been troubled by it at times for about three weeks or a month.  I am not working this week.  It is quite a common illness in this country, the hot weather or something is the cause.  Although the weather has improved greatly it gets cool at night now, so we can go to bed.
I will now tell you something about this big country America.  I have not seen much of it so far.  We are living in the same place all the time since we came here, in a large city, therefore we have little opportunity to relate the story of the country.  We have heard they have had the harvest without losing one ear nor a pitchfork of hay.  They say they have had a good crop this year.  Another thing that has paid a visit to this country is the cattle disease like it was in England during the last years.  Another thing, the country is very agitated these days regarding the choice of President or a new King around next November because they don’t like the present one and there are two sides something similar to Whigs and Tories in England concerning the choice of different men in the post, and circumstances like that are throwing a great uncertainty on the market, especially the builders. They are afraid of some difficulty with the money, that they will be recalling all the paper money and replacing it with silver but of much less than their real value so that through one thing and another it is quite slack in this town and throughout the country generally.  t has been like this throughout the summer but we have had quite regular work but not as regular as we had expected.  We had expected it would have been easy to get work here but we have realised that we are no better off than in the towns of England.  We have been in more places in a few months than the whole time we spent in England and we have had to be separated from each other for some time.  The two of us are working at present and liking the work quite well but we don’t expect it to last long.  We have been thinking for some time that it is a short one and not two tails that the cat in America has.”

Philip’s complaint of ill health was probably attributable to the poor standard of hygiene in the drinking water and inadequate sanitation although he does seem to have been affected whilst still in Britain.  A new Board of Health had been formed in Chicago in 1867 following an outbreak of cholera the previous year.  Hopefully they would have some savings to carry them over if they were unable to work.

The comments on the harvest and cattle show that they have their roots in farming although they are following the building trade in America. It is interesting to read of the political situation. Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated in 1865 and the President was now Andrew Jackson.  General Grant replaced him in 1869.

I thought the line about the cat with two tails was very clever.

The letter continues-
“When looking at many things it is very dull in this chapel. I have a great longing for the chapels of Liverpool.  Here they are falling out with their preachers and amongst themselves.  I do not feel half as homely here as I did in Liverpool, but there are better wages here and a better place to make money if you get regular work which is quite difficult.  We are getting three dollars a day.  They reckon that to be twelve of English money but if we want to exchange it for the old country’s currency we don’t get half as much.  We have to give about 7 dollars for a pound which is a very great reduction.  The Americans are very like the bees, collecting honey in the summer and eating it in the winter, the honey and the honeycomb too.  But I expect providence will look after us in this strange place as it has done throughout our lives.  We must say that we did not want any goodness since we have lived.  I am thinking quite a great deal about the old times when we were working at Garw Fynydd and Plas in Derwen.  I was complaining much at that time but in truth I think that the happiest time of my life was that time.  If the work was rather hard and dirty there was the thought of Saturday night with its cup of tea, a clean shirt and clean socks and the company of a welcoming family would throw all the troubles of the week to the shades.
Here there is no hope of a Saturday or Sunday to heal the body and the mind.  I have nothing in particular to say but that I wish to be remembered to you all in the most kindly manner. I am troubled in my mind during sleep, dreaming all the time that my father was rowing.  I hope the dream is reversed by now.
I conclude sending my regards to you and hoping to have a word from you and I hope to get your photograph soon. I am too thin for them to photograph me, the light would go through me.”

Philip and Edward Griffiths




Filed under People

4 responses to “Letter from America.

  1. Pat Brooks

    Fascinating read. We think we get things tough now but how tough was that life for those two young men, far from their family, unwell and trying to fit in to a whole new way of life. Their family was obviously dear to them and as you say a very touching letter so heartfelt and informative.

  2. Sandra Williams

    Amazing reading and how lucky to discover them. It must be very pleasing for you to have read these letters about your family with information about life in the USA. They sounded quite home sick too, bless them

  3. My own Great-Grandfather John Davies (originally from Trefnant) also farmed Trellewelyn Farm for some years in the late 1800’s. Then later his widow, my Great-Grandmother Mary Davies (nee Jones, originally from Perthewig Farm, Trefnant) farmed it with her sons. They were presumably tenants too and moved on to farm Tynewydd Farm for quite some years. My maternal Taid (Their son) David Davies was known locally as Dafydd Tynewydd. He died in 1945 just weeks before the end of WW2
    Alun Rhys Jones

  4. Having lived overseas I well understand the emotions these lads were going through.

    To get over the death of both his wife and baby son, my own grandfather James Frederick Hamilton Smith sailed to America in 1911. He left his other two sons in the care of his mother at Wrexham, and must have felt enormous pain to leave them both behind.

    He returned and became manager of Cefndy Brickworks, just south of Rhyl, from where he finally retired. I wish I’d known him.

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