In 1681, King Charles II handed over 45,000 square miles of his American land holdings to a wealthy Quaker called William Penn.
The land was originally called New Wales, but later renamed Pennsylvania by the king. Many maintain that the name means Penn’s Woods, but Penn himself modestly explained that ‘pen’ means ‘head’ in Welsh, and suggested a more accurate meaning of the name would be ‘head of the woods’.
Vast numbers of Quakers began to emigrate to Pennsylvania, many of whom were Welsh speakers seeking a home in the New World. They settled just west of Philadelphia, and the area became known as the Welsh Tract.
Many of the original Welsh settlers spoke no English, and a failed attempt was made to establish an independent state whose language of governance would be Welsh.
In 1701, William Penn granted the Welsh a second Welsh Tract of 30,000 acres, which included what is now Pencader Hundred, Delaware and a part of Maryland. By this time, approximately one third of Pennsylvania’s population was Welsh.
Welsh-speaking farmers constituted the majority of early settlers, with a later influx of Welsh miners who were attracted by the coalfields of Pennsylvania.
A strong Welsh presence exists in America to this day – the numerous Welsh place names in Pennsylvania and other regions reveal the formidable influence of the Welsh pioneers, e.g. Bryn Mawr (large hill), Uwchlan (upper bank) and Gwynedd, a county in Wales.
Many streets in Pennsylvania also bear Welsh names – Llandrillo Road, Clwyd Road, Penarth Road and Derwen Road can all be found in the Bala Cynwyd district of the city. Bala and Cynwyd are two separate towns in north Wales.
Today, approximately 200,000 Welsh Americans live in Pennsylvania – more than in any other part of the United States.