Evan & Elizabeth Davis
NLW 20995: Jack Edwards letters
Jack Edwards (1853-1942), bookseller and singer, was one of the five children of Edward and Elizabeth Edwards, Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire. His father Edward ('Pencerdd Ceredigion', 1816-1897) , a bookseller, was also a well known musician, who founded a choir in Aberystwyth. Jack also had a great interest in music, he enjoyed singing, played a number of musical instruments including the cornet, and composed several hymn tunes.
He worked in the telegraph department of the Post Office in Aberystwyth until 1880, when he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. He lived there with his brother Ed, a bookeeper who had migrated to America in the late 1860s, and worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Company, for a wholesale drug store, and as a music teacher. He spent a great deal of his time singing, as a soloist and in various choirs.
Jack corresponded with his family throughout his life. During his time in America he mostly corresponded with his with his sisters, informing them of his latest news and progress, and news of the Welsh community in Cincinnati. He also wrote regularly, but less often, to his father Edward (his mother having died when Jack was 12 years old), always in Welsh, with information about his work and musical activities. He also corresponded with many musicians in Wales.
Jack never intended to stay in America, and in 1887, after the death of his sister Mary, he returned home to work with his father as a bookseller's assistant in Great Darkgate Street, Aberystwyth. His father died in 1897, leaving Jack to take over the business.
He had a great 'interest in local affairs', and was a strong supporter of the development of Aberystwyth as the 'premier resort on the Welsh coast'. He also developed a great interest in the Esperanto language, becoming fluent and attending international conferences.
He died at Aberystwyth in 1942 in his 89th year.
The Welsh Community in Cincinnati
During his time in America, Jack became very popular and made a great number of friends. It was natural that the Welsh would wish to settle together in a strange country, and it is obvious from Jack's discussions about his numerous Welsh acquaintances, along with his activities in a nearby Welsh chapel and with Welsh musicians, that the area was home to many Welsh emigrants. Many Welsh emigrants stayed with or near relatives who had already migrated, and Jack stayed with his brother's family during most of his time in America. On several occasions he would talk to his new friends about his home and family, and commented "they never got tired of listening with interest to all I have to say about my dear old home + family".
"... The welsh people here having been away two New Years Days at an Eisteddfod have got out of the way of "Calling" considerably but having neglected to visit them somewhat of late I availed myself of the opportunity to make amends so I called on about 40 yesterday & had a splendid time."Most emigrants sorely missed their families and friends from home, and it was important to connect with others who shared their feelings and experiences. Naturally enough, his letters included the latest news about the Welsh people in Cincinnati, and he would regularly send news about those who had moved from the Aberystwyth area to his family at home. It was also very important to receive news from people who had visited 'home' and who returned with information of family and acquaintances from home.
NLW 20995: Jack Edwards
Religion, Music and Welsh culture
Music, especially Welsh music was an important link with home. For Jack Edwards, who was from a very musical family, and a good musician himself, this was very important. A large proportion of his letters contain some reference to singers, concerts or other singing events in the local churches.
Religion was also a source of comfort to Jack and his fellow emigrants in times of loneliness and adversity. Faith also reinforced the bond with home, and the numerous passages devoted to religion in Jack's correspondence demonstrates the spirituality of the family. The comforting thought that they would meet again in heaven was important in uniting the family in times of separation.
Letters from home were a great source of comfort to Jack and his family in America. He received such things as information, comfort, reassurance and security through correspondence with his acquaintances back home. Jack's answer to the "hiraeth" or longing for home that he felt was to work hard, possibly numbing his feelings, as he reveals to his father:
"If it wasn't for having my hands full with work there is a danger that I would often feel lonely and rather nostalgic."(letter dated 6 June 1887)
Another source of comfort were the supply of newspapers and books from Wales, and several letters contain comments on articles read in them.
As can be seen from his letters, America was never really a home, but perhaps this may be because he always knew that he would be returning home to live in Aberystwyth. However, in a letter dated 28 Feb 1932, 45 years after returning home, he reveals to his niece Mali that he had found the box containing letters from his time in Ohio, and "I hope to be able to look at a few now and again when I am alone, so that I may continue the dreams that they give rise to. It is awfully sweet, but oh! How hiraethus!" These letters not only provided him with comfort during his time away, but also stirred these emotions in him so many years later.