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Home > Places > Van Wert County, Ohio > The Welsh Settlement in Van Wert County

The Welsh Settlement in Van Wert County

Rev. J. P. Morgan, 'Early History of the Welsh Settlement in Van Wert County, Ohio', The Cambrian, Vol. II, No. 1 (Jan/Feb 1882), p. 1-5.

The history of the Welsh settlement in Van Wert County begins with the arrival in the county of William Bebb, Thomas Morris and Richard Jervis and families, in the spring of the year, A.D. 1848, all of whom had emigrated to America the previous summer from Montgomeryshire, North Wales.

It is true that several years previous to that date some Welsh families had located in the county. As early as the year 1838, if not before, one Evan B. Jones and family had settled on what is called Long Prairie, about six miles west from where the nucleus of the Welsh settlement was formed in after years by Mr. Bebb and those who accompanied him, and where now stands the village of Venedocia. The above mentioned Evan B. Jones was a man of some means and enterprise. He was married to a strong-minded woman of intelligence and culture, a daughter of the Rev. Michael Jones, and sister to the Rev. Michael D. Jones, Bala - both of whom, father and son, have figured in some of the ecclesiastical "disputations" of the day in the principality of Wales.

Mr. Evan B. Jones purchased a vast tract of land in Sections 6 and 7 of York Township, and resided thereon with his family, in comparative isolation for many years, before any of his countrymen from Wales settled in the county.

There is another Welsh family by the name of Price which came to this county in an early day, and settled in the southern part of Van Wert and the northern part of Mercer counties. This Price family came here from the Welsh Hills, Licking Co., O., and were the descendants of some of the early settler of that county.

During the period that Evan B. Jones lived on Long Praire the county was visited by the Rev. B. W. Chidlaw, whose untiring zeal and enthusiasm for preaching the gospel to the poor and the destitute are very much like his Good Master. He came full of life and cheerfulness, while the county was all a wilderness, save a log cabin here and there in the tall forest. These few log cabins, in many instances, were many miles apart, with neither roads, paths nor bridges between them. The only indications of the presence of white men were blazed paths through the woods. Mr. Chidlaw, then in the buoyancy of youth, came to the county to establish Sunday-Schools and preach the Gospel. His elastic step was as free as the bounding roe with which the forest abounded. He first came to a cabin located on the east half of the north-east quarter of Section 12, York Township, where a man by the name of Walter then lived, and who in after years sold his premises to Mr. William Bebb. After remaining with Mr. Walter over night, and partaking of the hospitality of the family in the good old frontier way of venison, corn cake and strong coffee, and then joining in family worship, Mr. Chidlaw proceeded on his way in the morning to the residence of Evan B. Jones on Long Praire.

While visiting the inhabitants in their cabins, Mr. Chidlaw invited all to meet on the next Sabbath day in Van Wert town, the county seat, where he intended preaching to them in the primitie log Court House. At an early hour the inhabitants of the forest came to hear the gospel preached from a messenger of peace, from the stand of the Judge in the Court House.

This was surely a dispensation of the GOSPEL superseding that of the LAW. But about the time the faithful servant of Christ was about to open his mouth to speak to the people, another public man by the name of Shingledecker claimed that the multitude had assembled to hear him preach, and was loth to give way to Mr. Chidlaw. However, a compromise was soon effected, Mr. Chidlaw proposing to divide the time, half an hour to each one. Mr. Chidlaw speaking first, and his half hour being about to expire, was accosted by the good Mr. Shingledecker, who spoke in the German brogue : "Go on, broder! Go on, go on, broder! Got bless you! Go." The enthusiastic German was so much overcome by the godly words of the Sabbath-school man that he was very glad to have him occupy all the time.

But as Mr. Evan B. Jones and family left this county shortly after the arrival of Mr. Bebb, and as the tract of land owned by him has not been occupied by any Welsh families since, his sojourn here cannot be properly regarded as the beginning of the Welsh settlement in the county.

Upon the arrival of William Bebb in the county he purchased a tract of land, the home of Mr. Walter, formerly mentioned. On this tract there was some cleared land and a log house, on the spot where now stands the brick mansion of D. W. Evans, Esq., who married Miss Jane Bebb, the youngest daughter in the family.

Mr. Bebb also made extensive purchases of other tracts of land in the vicinity. Thomas Morris and Richard Jervis, also, were located in their new homes in the newly formed colony. At this period, all the country was thickly covered with an immense growth of forest trees, except a few spots of cleared land here and there the beginning of new farms in the "back woods." The forest trees being very large and standing thickly on the ground, could not easily be removed, and the work of clearing the land and fitting it for cultivation was very hard and tedious. The trees comprised nearly all the varieties of forest trees growing in Ohio, - among which, the oak, ash, elm, beach, hickory, and maple predominated, with black walnut of the finest quality in abundance. But, as no market was then opened for any of these varieties of the best timber, they were regarded as nuisances upon the soil.

Immediately upon the arrival here of the families mentioned above, religious services were held in the dwelling-house of Mr. Bebb, for the most of the time, and, on other occasions, at the house of Thomas Morris. The family of Mr. Bebb consisted of himself and Mrs. Bebb, a sensible and intelligent wife and mother of deep piety and kind disposition. She was esteemed by all who knew her. The eldest daughter was Laura Bebb, who, in after years, became the wife of David M. Jones, a happy union that proved to be a blessing to the whole community. She was, at the time, a young lady of good education and amiable disposition. She has borne her part well in all the changes of the settlement to this day. William G. Bebb and David O. Bebb were sons of good qualities and kind dispositions; both of whom, in after years, left this county and state. But the religious training and instructions obtained at their father's house make them a boon to the Church wherever they go. Margaret Bebb, who afterward became the wife of William Watkins, of Allen county, departed this life many years since, in the strong hope of the gospel. Martha Bebb, another daughter, died in her youthful years. Jane Bebb, the youngest of the family, became the wife of D. W. Evans, as mentioned above; she inherited the old homestead of the family, where she resided with her husband and a young family to this day.

The family of Thomas Morris consisted of himself and Elizabeth Morris, his wife; Edward Wigley and Elizabeth, son and daughter.

The family of Richard Jervis consisted of himself and Mrs. Jervis and one child, namely, R. B. Jervis, now a merchant in Delphos. O.

These were all that formed the little community at their arrival here, in the spring of the year 1848. The religious services conducted among these early pioneer settlers of the colony, under the auspices of Mr. Bebb, were as follows: On Sabbath days, at the hour of 10 o'clock, A.M., after opening with devotional exercises, a sermon was read by Mr. Bebb or Thomas Morris. These were printed sermons, selected from volumes of sermons published in Wales and were the productions of some of the ablest men that Wales or the world can boast of - such as David Charles, Carmarthen; Henry Rees, Liverpool; John Jones, and others. Mr. Bebb, being a good scholar in the Welsh, as well as the English language, read very accurately, in a simple and unaffected way, as there was nothing that he abhorred more than vain and frivolous affectation.

The singing in these primitive exercises was in good taste, as Mr. Bebb despised all theatrical and secular melodies in the sanctuary, - appreciating highly the simple and the sublime in music, as well as in all other things that pertain to the worship of God.

At the hour of 2 in the afternoon, a Sabbath School was conducted, where the younger members were catechised thoroughly. A prayer meeting was held in the evening at the close of the duties of the day. These exercises were carried on unremittingly for many years, until the little flock succeeded in obtaining a pastor to labor among them. In the fall of the year 1848, the Rev. Michael D. Jones, Bala, Wales, visited his sister on Long Prairie, and preached at the house of Thomas Morris. This was the first sermons, delivered in the Welsh language in the county. Early in the spring of the year A.D. 1848, the little community were favored by the coming of Mr. David M. Jones of Columbus, Ohio, to cast his lot among them, who also proved himself faithful in all things" concerning the life that now is and which is to come. He, in future years, married Laura Bebb, as mentioned before. In April of the same year, the settlers were visited by the Rev. Howell Powell, of Sugar Creek, Pennsylvania, - afterward pastor at Cincinnati, O. He preached several times, and formally organized the church; he also administered the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and baptized Margaret, daughter of Richard Jervis. In the fall of the same year, Rev. Robert Williams visited the church and preached and administered the sacraments.

During the summer of 1849, the number of settlers' increase rapidly by the coming of many families to reside here, viz: David Owens, Edward Jones, Hugh F. Jones, Thomas Hughs, Abraham Jones, Rowland Evans, and Robert Richards.

The Rev, David Jones, pastor of the Congregational Church at Gomer, Ohio, was faithful in visiting the church in its infancy, as was also the Rev. James Davies, who succeeded Mr. Jones in the charge of the church at Gomer. It is due to say that the most cordial sympathy has always been cultivated between the Congregational Church of Gomer and the Calvinistic Methodist Church at Van Wert, from that day to this time. In the year 1850, the church was visited by the Rev. John L. Jeffreys, and in 1851, by the Rev. J. W. Evans, Jackson, Ohio. In the spring of the year 1852, the Rev. Hugh Edward Rees came to the settlement to visit the church, with a view of preaching. He, at the time, labored in Cincinnati. The brethren here promised themselves a spiritual feast under his ministry, but, to the sad disappointment of all, he was taken severely ill with fever and pleurisy, which terminated in his death.

He received all the attention that kindness could bestow upon him at the residence of William Bebb. His remains were taken to Cincinnati and buried at Spring Grove Cemetery. In the spring of the year 1853, the Rev. Reese Evans, of Wisconsin, came here, in returning from the Association held at Jackson county, O. He preached a number of times, and administered the sacraments.

It was during this year that the first meeting-house was built on the east side of the county road that runs on the township line between York and Jennings townships. The building was a frame, strongly made, and was quite an undertaking at that time for the few settlers who labored hard to open new farms in the midst of the surrounding forests. But the new building was completed, and all its costs paid by the settlers themselves. During this year, the little community suffered a sad loss in the death of Thomas Morris, who had proved himself a good man in all the connections of life. His death was greatly lamented by all, and, as he was one of the elders of the church, Mr. Bebb was now alone in that position. Some time after Mr. Jeremiah Parry moved to this vicinity from Putnam county, and was faithful in the discharge of the office of church Elder for many years.

In the year A.D. 1854, Rev. Hugh Pugh came here, and, in the latter part of the year, he came to take charge as pastor, and continued in that relation for more than ten years. Mr. Pugh was a very conscientious and pious minister. He possessed remarkable traits of character, and gifts that were somewhat eccentric. He labored faithfully in the vineyard of his master, and his memory is fondly cherished by all.

In the year A.D. 1857, the settlement suffered the loss of its founder, William Bebb, who was always looked upon as the father of the movement. He was the wisdom of the community in church and state affairs, and his loss was mourned by the entire band, most of whom followed him from Wales, as their elder and friend. He was a cousin to Governor William Bebb, on his father's side. He was buried in the family burial ground, at the cemetery near where now is built the village of Venedocia.

During the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Pugh, the church was strengthened and multiplied. Several families had moved here from Jackson county and Paddy's Run, Ohio, and other localities. The Welsh settlement, during this period, extended the cords of its habitation, and many of the American settlers going elsewhere to dwell, sold their fams to those who came here to live. The rising generation also gave proof that they inherited the good qualities of their fathers. In the summer of the year 1858, William G. Bebb and David M. Jones were chosen church elders; also Abraham Jones who had settled some three miles and a half on the south-west from the habitation of Mr. Bebb. As many of the inhabitants of the south-western portion of the settlement had a long way to come to attend church, and had shown great fidelity in their attendance, means of grace were established in the house of Abraham Jones, and, in the year 1863, a church building was erected and called the Church of Seion. A Sabbath School was also established in the south-east, and called Horeb.