By Huw Davies.
Rees Thomas Davies and Betty Davies of Llangadog, Sir Gaerfyrddin, are my great, great, great, great grandparents. Rees was born in 1811 and Betty in 1816. They had several children, including John Rees Davies b.1834, Rees Davies (died in infancy), Elizabeth Davies, Thomas Davies b.3rd April 1838 and d.3rd December, 1914 (my great, great, great grandfather), Margaret Davies b. 22 October, 1839 and d. 22nd August, 1930, and Jacob Thomas Davies b. 1855 and d. 20 January, 1929. All the children were born in Cymru but they all, except Thomas and Rees, died in the United States.
The 1841 Census has them all (Rees, Betty, Thomas and Margaret) living in Cefnycoed, Dyffryn Ceidrych, Llangadog and Rees’s occupation was a shoemaker. In the household also was Michael Monk, a 20 year old Apprentice Shoemaker. Dyffryn Ceidrych lies to the north of the Trichrug to Penylan Highway according to the Census.
In the 1851 and 1861 census they are living in Ebbw Vale in the parish of Bedwellty. Rees is recorded as being a shoemaker once more. Bedwellty is a parish in the county of Monmouth, 7 miles to the west of Pontypool. It is situated in a hilly district between the river Rumney on the west, and the Sirhowy on the east. The district is rich in iron and coal, and is the seat of extensive iron manufacture, giving employment to above 1,300 hands. Between 3,000 and 4,000 persons are engaged in the great ironworks and collieries in the vicinity
They decided by 1868 to leave Wales for the USA. They sailed from Liverpool via Cork to New York with the Cunard Line / The British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company. The ship was the SS Malta, a passenger cargo vessel, captained by Commodore William H. P Hains. The Cunard Line was founded in 1840 as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, the name was changed to the Cunard Steamship Company, Limited in 1878 but that was soon shortened to the Cunard Line. The first trip was made by the Britannia on July 4, 1840, in 14 days and 8 hours. Cunard sailed from Liverpool to New York and Boston with a stop, for some years in Halifax. Queenstown, Cork was also added to the route for the mail service. The SS MALTA was built in 1865 by J & G Thomson Govan, Yard No 84 (Tonnage: 2132 grt; Length: 303.1 feet; Breadth: 39.3 feet). Its port of registry was Liverpool. The propulsion was steam oscillation. The Malta was launched on Thursday, 19/10/1865. The Malta was wrecked off the Cornish coast on 15/10/1889 (Cargo: 2.000 tons general including copper ingots, tin plate and pig iron. SS Malta was en voyage from Liverpool for Genoa and Venice via Falmouth when she sank 15th October 1889, running ashore in dense fog under the cliffs of Kenidjack Castle, half-mile north of Cape Cornwall. All the 40 crew and 21 passengers were safely removed by the Sennen Lifeboat).
The ships manifest notes that Rees, Betty and son Jacob were in steerage. In the early days of emigration the ships used to convey the emigrants were originally built for carrying cargo. In reality the passengers were placed in the cargo hold. Temporary partitions were usually erected and used for the steerage accommodation. To get down to the between-deck the passengers often had to use ladders, and the passageway down between the hatches could be both narrow and steep. The manner in which the ships were equipped could vary since there were no set standards for this. It was necessary that the furnishings could be easily removed, and not cost more than absolutely necessary. As soon as the ships had set the passengers on land, the furnishings were discarded and the ship prepared for return cargo to Europe.
They arrived in New York on the 29 Jun 1868 and were processed through the Castle Clinton immigration facility. Castle Clinton began its interesting life as a fort built to defend New York Harbour from the British during the War of 1812. Twelve years after the war it was ceded to New York City by the U.S. Army. The former fort reopened in 1824 as Castle Garden, a public cultural centre and theatre. In 1855, Castle Garden became America’s first immigrant receiving centre, welcoming more than 8 million immigrants before it was closed on April 18, 1890. Castle Garden was succeeded by Ellis Island in 1892. Castle Clinton, also referred to as Castle Garden, is a fort and national monument located in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan in New York City. The structure has served as a fort, theatre, opera house, national immigrant receiving station, and aquarium throughout its long history. Today, Castle Garden is called Castle Clinton National Monument and serves as the ticket centre for ferries to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
They travelled from New York to Ohio. Rees Thomas Davies died 19th October, 1881 in Austintown, Mahoning County, Ohio. Jacob was the administrator of his will and the surviving children on both sides of the Atlantic were John, Thomas, Margaret and Jacob. His will (13th April 1881) mentioned personal cash of $150, property (real estate) $600 and bonds valued at $300. He left all his assets ‘to my beloved wife Betty during her life…..the remainder of my property personal and real (after Betty’s demise) shall be equally divided among my children John Rees, Thomas: Margaret and Jacob Thomas Davies’. Thomas Davies, back in Cymru, receives $138.51 via a L.W. King – probably a solicitor. Betty died in Ohio on 19th June, 1882 and both are buried at the Welsh Hills Cemetery.
Rees and Betty had arrived in the township of Austintown by the 9th April, 1872 because they bought 3.25 acres of land at 9 Salt Track from Jane and William Owens. They went on to buy 5 acres of land at Salt Springs from Sylvenus and Sarah Pennell on 5th May, 1877. This document mentioned that John Rees Davies was the Sheriff of Mahoning County. Jacob sold the first plot at Salt Track in 1883 for $475 and Salt Springs for $300. These Salt Springs (magnesia, sulphur and lithia springs) had been known to be valuable both medically and financially. Generations of Native Americans boiled the water for salt and used the other springs for medicinal purposes. The existence of these springs had been known as far back as 1755, so the purchase of the land was a good investment for the pioneers from Llangadog. The capital was put to good use by the descendants and invested first in solid merchant businesses and then in the iron and steel industry.
Margaret, their daughter, had married a butcher called Thomas B. Thomas before leaving Cymru for Ohio. She became a member of the First Methodist Church and the Welsh Club in Niles, Ohio. They came to the United States in 1866. Later they moved in 1884 to a cattle ranch in Nebraska before Margaret and the children returned to Ohio after Thomas B. Thomas’s death in 1906. In Niles she lived her last days at 827 Robins Avenue. They had produced nine children – born in Cymru were Thomas David b.1859, Rees b.1862, Celia Thomas b.1864 and then in Ohio Gomer b. 1868, Elizabeth b. 1869, Anios Ira b.1870 and Jacob Frank b.1878, and finally in Nebraska in 1885 Claude Rees. They did not all stay in Niles, Ohio. Rees went to Sumas, Washington; Celia to Cedar Hill, New Mexico; Gomer to Clover Block, Bellingham, Washington; Elizabeth to Ferndale, Washington.
One of Thomas David Thomas’ sons was Clinton Geraldys Thomas b. 1882 in Niles, Ohio. He was President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Thomas Steel Company (a division of the Pittsburgh Steel Company) founded in 1924. He developed his plant into one of the leaders in the cold rolled strip steel industry. When it first opened the plant employed 50 persons and produced 500 tons of steel a month. When he retired in 1945 the plant employed 800 and produced 6000 tons of steel a month He and his wife, Layte Hice, lived on an imposing estate on East Market Street next to the Country Club in Warren, Ohio. He had an extensive library, which included many first editions and rare volumes according to the ‘Warren Tribune Chronicle’ in 1950. He was a well-known industrialist and philanthropist and was prominent in civic affairs. A modest man he preferred to remain in the background, but was always ready to help out any worthy causes and was a major contributor to the welfare of Warren.
Thomas was greatly interested in the men who worked for him and labour relations at the plant were very favourable under his leadership. A number of employees of the company were with it from 15 to 20 years. Earlier he had been connected with the Niles Iron and Steel Company and organised the Western Reserve Steel Company in Warren. He was a member of several organisations including the American Steel and Iron Company and a director of the Turnball Memorial Hospital.
Another son of Margaret Thomas was Ira Anios Thomas b.1870. He was a President of the Sykes Metal Lath Company, Thomas Patterson and De Forest Mills and the Republic Steel Company. Earlier in his carrier he was associated with Thomas and Hoffman Stores in Warren, Ohio. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church and like Clinton Thomas, was a member of the Masonic Lodge. In his will, in addition to his stocks and bonds, he left $10,000 to his son Ira Anios Thomas Junior. Ira Junior went on to found Meck & Thomas Inc. and the Youngstown Advertising Club.
Another son of Margaret, Jacob Frank Thomas b.1878, became President of the Mckinley Federal Savings and Loans Company. With his brothers he developed the iron and steel industry in the area. The brothers sold their interests in 1929 and established the Ohio Oxygen Company. Jacob served on the Niles Education Board and as a director of the Niles Bank and Trumball Savings & Loan Company. Active in the Church, like the rest of his family, he contributed financially to the Mahoning Lodge. Claude, the youngest of Margaret’s children, b. 1885 in Nebraska, was also an active member with of this family of industrial and financial entrepreneurs. He died in 1969, aged 83 years. His estate was as impressive as his brothers and included shares in the Republic Steel Company, Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company, American Telephone and Telegraph, Armco Steel Corporation and Lykes Youngstown Steel and Tube. He had an estate of $116,600 and in addition, real estate valued at $82,000.
Meanwhile, Thomas Davies (my great, great, great grandfather), the oldest boy of Rees and Betty, had stayed in Cymru. He married Margaret Davies and lived on Bumbers Inn Farm, Llandyfan. The 1881 Census has the family living together on the farm and Thomas’ occupation detailed as a shoemaker. It follows that he had taken over the family business and has his son, Esiah, already working as an Apprentice Shoemaker at the age of 15 years.
Huw is a History and Welsh History graduate of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. As a teacher he became a Head of History before joining the BBC’s Education Department. After a period as Head of Public Affairs with Heartbeat Wales / Curiad Calon Cymru and the Sports Council for Wales he worked in the private sector. He also worked at Dyfed’s Education Department and Carmarthenshire College before working with Menter Iaith Rhondda Cynon Taf and the Local Authority. Now retired he has a keen interest in genealogy and has a full programme of voluntary work, family and dog walking commitments. Like his grandfather he is a passionate Welshman, Christian, and Pacifist.