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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Wales' slice of American pie
Catherine Zeta Jones
Catherine Zeta Jones is one of Wales' most successful exports
In modern-day America, Welsh movie stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Sir Anthony Hopkins are among Hollywood's biggest stars, tussling with the cream of the A-list for the juiciest movie roles the world has to offer.

And veteran singer Tom Jones is another proud Welshman flying the flag for Wales over the pond.

But this world-famous trio are just the latest in a long line of exports from Wales to embrace the star-spangled banner.

As America celebrates Independence Day, here are some of the most interesting bonds joining the two nations.

1) Presidential address

On Independence Day, a good starting point is the man who drafted the declaration of independence itself.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson is one of the faces sculpted into Mount Rushmore

In his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of America, claims that his family hails from north Wales.

"The tradition in my father's family was that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowdon, the highest in Gr. Br.," he writes (although Ben Nevis in Scotland is actually the highest).

It has also been claimed that up to 18 of the 56 signatories of the declaration were of Welsh descent, but historian Dr John Davies casts doubt upon this assertion.

"I think people have exaggerated about the number of Welshmen signing the declaration," he said.

"Anyone with a remotely Welsh name is seized on."

However, he added the numbers of Welsh settlers in US were "not insignificant", particularly in states including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

According to official figures, around 90,000 Welsh people crossed the Atlantic between 1820 and 1950.

Other presidents believed to be of Welsh descent include Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon.

2) Most wanted

Not all Welshmen in America have stayed on the right side of the law.

The name of Al Capone is known the world over, as the Chicago gangster who ruthlessly built a criminal empire during the era of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s.

Al Capone leaves court in the custody of US Marshals, Chicago, 1931
Al Capone leaving court with US Marshals in Chicago, 1931

But behind the scenes, Capone's chief enforcer was "Murray the Hump", who was born Llewelyn Humphries to parents from near Llanidloes, mid Wales.

When Capone was jailed in 1933, Murray is said to have been described as America's Public Enemy Number One.

Murray, who is thought to have been involved in organising the St Valentine's Day massacre in 1929, died in 1965 at the age of 66.

But the family never forgot their mid Wales roots.

In Carno, near Llanidloes, it is rumoured that Murray himself visited the area in the 60s to visit family graves.

And retired schoolteacher Alan Phillips, remembers how he survived a run-in with the gangster's descendants.

"I met three of his granddaughters when they visited 10 years ago," he said.

"Interesting, they were still in the beer business, and were now middle-class American ladies!"

3) Manhattan millions

Hundreds of families from south Wales could be in line for a multimillion windfall if they can prove they own some of the land Manhattan is built on.

The claim goes back to a story that Robert Edwards was given the land in New York by the Crown, but then leased it out.

His descendants, mainly based in America, say the lease later expired.

Manhattan
The land which Manhattan is built on is worth billions

In that case, they argue the rent, which would run into many billions of dollars, should revert to them.

But their argument is disputed by Trinity Church, which says it was granted the land by Queen Anne in 1705.

A parish spokesman from the church said: "There have been repeated, failed attempts at litigation on this claim since the 19th century.

"There's never been any evidence which indicates there is any substance to it."

Malcolm Williams, from Tredegar, who could become a multimillionaire if the claim succeeds, is closely following the arguments.

He said the first task was to prove whether the story about Robert Edwards owning the land was actually true.

"The story about the Edwards millions has been been passed down through generations by word-of-mouth - we don't have the full facts yet."

And even if the Edwards' are proved right, Mr Williams said the south Wales families would have to prove they were linked to the original Robert Edwards

"We are using DNA testing to check if the Welsh lines of the family are related to the American lines.

"Our main aim is to find out if the facts are right, although the money would be nice."

4) University challenge

The name of Yale is now world-famous as one of America's most prestigious universities, but did you know the college was named after a Welsh merchant?

Yale University
A choir from Yale performed at the north Wales grave of its benefactor in 2001

If it was not for key donations from merchant Elihu Yale, the Ivy League institution in Conneticut might not exist at all.

The Boston-born son of Welsh immigrants, Yale gave 1,362 to the college in 1718, and made further gifts of money, books and artwork to the university before his death in 1721.

As well as having the university named after him, the theological department at Yale is also housed within a full-size replica of the spire of the medieval St Giles' Church in Wrexham, where Yale is buried.

To mark his contributions, a choir from the university visited north Wales to perform at Yale's graveside in 2001.

This Have Your Say is now closed. Below is a cross-section of your messages:


I understand that the name Presley was an anglicised version of Preseli ,given to people originating in the Preseli area. Come home Elvis...all is forgiven!
Pete Blenkinsop, Cardigan Wales

Prince Madog ab Owain is said to have established a settlement in Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1170 AD. It is said they intermarried and were enveloped into local native tribes to give rise to the Madan Indians, who came to settle in North Dakota. What is history and what is myth is hotly debated, but it's a good story if nothing else. And who can claim to have Welsh blood and not love a good story?
Philip, Brick, NJ- USA

Nice though Rhys' tale about Richard ap Merrick is, America was named for the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci
Jim, Cardiff

My favourite Welsh Americans are Harold Lloyd the silent movie comedy actor and the next President of USA Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. The the best and active group of Welsh Americans you can meet are in Arizona of course!!
Carwyn Lloyd Edwards, Gilbert Arizona

My father Charles E. "Gene" Thomas was a photojournalist in his younger years and an editor later in life. He served in the U. S. Navy during WWII as a combat photographer and claimed to have hoodwinked the U. S. Army out of their sound equipment, thereby creating to only motion picture recording of the Japanese Surrender with sound. He also claimed to have gone into Japan in advance of the U.S. Marines, a faux pas, because he was tired of filming their hindquarters and wished to film them arriving in Japan. I'm sure he was notorious in other quarters, but this will do for now. My great grandfather, Thomas, W. Thomas hailed from Aberystwyth
Leri Thomas, Madison, Virginia, USA

I was mildly astonished to see no mention made in this article of Shirley Jones, Broadway actress, singer, star of Oklahoma & The Music Man, and 'The Partridge Family' on TV. The loveliness of Wales wants no better representation, in face or voice.
Gordon Neff, South Carolina USA

Nice though Rhys' tale about Richard ap Merrick is, America was named for the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512).
Jim, Cardiff

No offense, but I feel that Wales is trying to claim the entire world. I recently heard that some Welsh people want to bring the stones of Stone Henge back into Wales. This is absurd. I'm sure many places can be linked to many other places, but this does not give them the right to claim it as their own.
Grim, Wales.

We mustn't forget about Prince Madoc who, legend has it, sailed to America in the 12th century, more than once.
Gareth Jones, Glastonbury, Connecticut, USA

First of all America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian cartographer, not a Welshman. Second, John Dillinger was Public Enemy Number One, not Murray the Hump. He may have been at the top of an FBI list for a time, but it was Dillinger who was called that moniker.
Jennifer, Wisconsin, USA

Please don't forget Ted Lewis who was born in Machynlleth, Wales and played baseball for the Beaneaters and the Americans from 1896-1901. A great Welsh contribution to the great American game of baseball.
Leon Eckell, Maryland USA

We mustn't forget about Prince Madoc who, legend has it, sailed to America in the 12th century, more than once. The rumours of Welsh speaking Blue eyed Indians (with boats shaped like coracles!) was so well established that in the late eighteenth century President Thomas Jefferson ordered the Lewis Clark expedition to keep an eye out for them!
Gareth Jones, Glastonbury, Connecticut, USA

John Parry, the first conductor of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City was originally from Trelawnyd, Flintshire, and the Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir has been invited to sign at the Tabernacle in October, 2005,the first Welsh Male Voice Choir to be so invited.
Gwynn Davies, Dyserth,Denbighshire

Bryn Mawr is just one of close to ten or twelve towns in PA. with very Welsh names. Any Welshman would have to see ther names written down however as Pennsylvanians murder their correct pronounciation.
Karl Ludvigsen, Pottersville,New Jersey, U.S.A.

Interesting that you start with Thomas Jefferson, but what about his contemporaries, Samuel, John and John Quincy Adams?
Caitlyn Johnston, Tucson, Arizona

Bob Hope definitely had connections with Borth, his mother was born there her name Avis Townes, Bob never visited Borth
Gwynant Phillips, Bow Street, Ceredigion

Jack Daniels, of that nasty bourbon fame, was born in Ceredigion.
Rigger, ex-Aberystwyth, now Milwaukee

Don't forget Frank Lloyd Wright, self-proclaimed "world's greatest architect". His Welsh-named school, Taliesin, is in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
John, Wisconsin, USA

Interesting that you start with Thomas Jefferson, but what about his contemporaries, Samuel, John and John Quincy Adams - the latter two being the 3rd and 5th presidents of the US? That family originiated from Chepstow.
Caitlyn Johnston, Tucson, Arizona USA

Dr Richard Price 1723-1791 Nonconformist minister from Llangeinor nr Bridgend. He was the American Colonists most vocal supporter in Britain. He was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and other American leaders.

In 1778 he was invited by Congress to go to America and assist in the financial administration of the States (although he declined the offer). He did however address Congress in 1778 and was also inducted into the American Philosophical Society. He was awarded (along with George Washington) an LL.D. degree by Yale in 1781.
Chris Richards, Bridgend Wales

Bryn Mawr College is a women's liberal-arts college located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. It has approximately 1,200 undergraduates and 400 graduate students.
Mark Edwards,

I believe that Donald Trump, or his in-laws, is of Welsh origin
Sarah

Both Wales and the US are not very good at rugby
Name not supplied

I can think of three / four successful Welshmen:
1) Stanley, the American newspaperman, of Dr Livingstone fame. He hailed originally from a workhouse in Carmarthen and his name was Parry. He changed his name to that of the newspaper man who 'adopted' him as a teenager in the States.
2) Capt. Morgan the pirate. He was so successful that the English crown eventually pardoned him and gave him the Govenorship of one of the major Carribean Islands.
3) The James brothers: Francis and Joseph, scourge of Banks and Railroad companies. They are more commonly known as Frank and Jesse James
Robert Thomas, London, England

America was thought to have been named after the sheriff of Bristol: Richard ap Merrick. Richard ap Merrick was a Welshman. You can't get a better link between Wales and America than that.
Rhys, Cardiff

Please see "Wales in America", Prof. William Jones. This book details the origins of economic freedom won by Americans from Britain. The pivotal role of Welsh iron and coal engineers and technicians is documented by Jones. Not as glamorous as movie stars and politicians, but these Cymry personally provided the actions that launched the USA into global success. All the best from America.
Jerry Williams, Forest City, USA

From May - November 1953, F.J. Hope, brother of Bob Hope, requested biographical information on their mother, who was born at Borth, Ceredigion.
Seri Crawley, Aberystwyth, Wales.

I believe that Donald Trump, or his in-laws, is of Welsh origin too
Sarah,




SEE ALSO:
Mormons unveil family tributes
19 Jun 04  |  South West Wales
Bob Marley's family on 'Welsh' roots
29 Jan 04  |  North East Wales
Welsh archive goes online
04 Sep 03  |  Mid



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