On April 9, 1819, a large gathering witnessed the departure of the brig Albion from the banks of the Teifi River near Cardigan. This significant event marked the journey of 180 passengers, comprising families from neighboring regions, who sought a better life in British America. Accompanied by a cargo of slate, the ship sailed towards Saint John and arrived at its harbor on June 11, 1819. The Welsh immigrants, after being declared healthy and disease-free, disembarked and promptly held a church service to express their gratitude for a safe voyage. By mid-July, many families had relocated upriver to Fredericton, the capital city, where they approached the Legislative Assembly for land approximately 15 miles outside the city. This settlement was named ‘Cardigan Settlement’ in honor of their origins.
The arrival of 150 impoverished Welsh immigrants had a significant impact on the small city of Fredericton. Most of these newcomers did not speak English, and none possessed the skills necessary to transform the untamed wilderness into a habitable environment. Consequently, an Emigrant Society was established to provide the Welsh settlers with food, shelter, tools, and guidance on land clearance and cabin construction.
The challenges faced by the settlers were extensively documented in local newspapers. In August 1819, they were described as “very destitute” and were often seen “wandering through the streets or packed into barns.” In September, the Emigrant Society appealed to the residents of Fredericton for additional support, highlighting that without further assistance, the settlers would “nearly perish from cold and hunger in the upcoming winter.” It was emphasized that finding them suitable housing during the winter would be difficult due to their different customs.
By November, it became apparent that the settlers, despite their best efforts, would need to find shelter within Fredericton. The Emigrant Society visited the various dwellings of the Welsh immigrants and found most of them in desperate conditions. One particularly heartbreaking situation involved William Richards, his wife, and their four children, who were in a pitiable state. Tragically, William’s four-year-old daughter succumbed to these dire circumstances. A few days later, John George was discovered dead in the woods, having succumbed to exhaustion and the harsh weather. Nine families endured a harsh winter in the Cardigan settlement, while others sought refuge in sheds and barns within the town. Sickness, cold, and hunger afflicted all of them.
Today, Cardigan has undergone significant changes. Similar to many rural communities, the industrialization that followed World War II led to the decline of small family farms, and much of the land cleared by the original settlers has reverted to forest. However, the Welsh Chapel and graveyard remain as historic sites, diligently preserved by the descendants of the first settlers, spanning several generations. Commemorative services are held in the Chapel in June to honor the arrival of the Albion and in October to express gratitude for the resilience of our ancestors.
The establishment of the Cardigan Settlement has been extensively recorded through various sources, including Peter Thomas’s book “Strangers From a Secret Land,” public records, newspaper articles, and the personal letters and family bibles of the Welsh settlers.
This account is written by Janet Thomas, the great, great, great granddaughter of William Thomas from Kidwelly, Wales; the great, great, great, great granddaughter of David Saunders and Elizabeth Bowing from Cardigan, Wales; the great, great, great granddaughter of Sarah Davies from Carmarthenshire, Wales; and the great, great, great, great granddaughter of Jonathan and Elizabeth Jones from Carmarthenshire, Wales.
Nestled in the heart of the rural village of Cardigan, between Tay Mills and Hamtown Corner in York County, stands the Welsh Chapel. It is a modest, carpenter Gothic-style church that bears witness to history. The small, rectangular building faces the Royal Road on Route 620, which connects Cardigan, the oldest Welsh settlement in New Brunswick, to Fredericton, the provincial capital.
Recognized as a Provincial Historic Site, the Welsh Chapel serves as a symbol of the religious and cultural development of the Welsh community, as well as an architectural gem.
Constructed around 1856, the Welsh Chapel is deeply associated with the first permanent Welsh settlement in New Brunswick.
The congregation itself dates back to approximately 1822 when Reverend Dafydd Phillips began conducting Welsh-language services within the homes of the settlers. Many of the original Welsh pioneers find their final resting place in the nearby churchyard.
Although the exact designers and builders remain unknown, the existing architectural evidence suggests that the chapel was inspired by the model of Protestant country churches. Notably, the use of local wood for design elements showcases the craftsmanship of the era. The chapel’s unpretentious vernacular style holds significance in its combination of Classical and Gothic influences, characteristic of rural New Brunswick church construction in the 19th century. As an embodiment of the Welsh-Baptist religious building tradition, the church features unique attributes of a mid-Victorian picturesque church, serving as a spiritual and social anchor for the Welsh farming community. In its simplicity, the Welsh Chapel lacks a steeple or any structural additions, maintaining its original form.
For more information contact the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society
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