“Pa bryd y cawn fyned i Seion” – the forgotten history of Welsh Mormonism

It’s a fairly remarkable fact that the place outside these islands with the largest percentage population of Welsh descent isn’t Scranton (from the Western Mail), Gaiman (From the Argentina Independent), or the Welsh Tract of Pennsylvania (from Wiki).

The winner is Malad City in Idaho. The link is to this year’s Malad Valley Welsh Festival. Here’s Malad City’s Wiki with an explanation:

Malad began largely as a Welsh Mormon settlement whose settlers brought their Welsh traditions with them. In addition to the Mormon majority, some of the leading families in the community belonged to either the Presbyterian Church or the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These two denominations each built a place of worship in the town. Some of the minutes from early town meetings were taken down in both English and Welsh. The city is very proud of its Welsh heritage. Malad lays claim to having more people of Welsh descent per capita than anywhere outside of Wales Malad celebrated its Welsh heritage by holding an annual “eisteddfod”, patterned after the music and poetry contests held in Wales for over 900 years. The eisteddfod was an all-day event with people coming from all over southeastern Idaho. The event featured music, songs and storytelling of Wales. The custom continued until 1916 and the outbreak of World War I. With the goal of renewing the old eisteddfod tradition in Malad, in 2004, the annual Malad Valley Welsh Festival was established.

I got a little interested in these Welsh Mormons – the history is pretty remarkable. Here’s a site maintained by the Brigham Young University – Welsh Mormon History. From the intro:

The Church had great missionary success in Wales during the 1840’s and 1850’s, and many thousands of Welsh converts immigrated to America, heading West with Brigham Young as a part of the great Mormon Migration, which began in 1847. Today it is estimated that approximately twenty percent of the population of Utah is of Welsh descent.
As the message of the restoration spread throughout Wales, many Saints eagerly asked, “Pa bryd y cawn fyned i Seion?”, which means “When may we go to Zion?” The new converts sought to follow the counsel of their leaders to leave “Babylon” (Wales) and go to “Zion” (Utah)

Meet Captain Dan Jones (again from Wiki), who heard Joseph Smith’s last prophecy:

In June 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were arrested and imprisoned in Carthage Jail. With Willard Richards and John Taylor, Jones was chosen to accompany the Smiths to jail to offer support and protection. The night before Joseph and Hyrum were killed, Joseph Smith asked Jones if he was afraid to die. Jones replied, “Has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors.” Smith replied with what many have identified as his “last prophecy”: “You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die.”
The following morning, June 27, 1844, Smith asked Jones to deliver a letter on his behalf to Orville H. Browning in Quincy, Illinois, requesting that Browning act as the Smiths’ lawyer in their upcoming trial. As Jones departed the jail on horseback, bullets were fired at him, but none struck him. In his haste and panic, Jones took the wrong road to Quincy and became lost. It was later learned that an anti-Mormon mob had been waiting to intercept him on the correct road to Quincy. When Jones finally reached Quincy later in the afternoon, he learned that Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been killed by a mob at the jail in Carthage, Illinois.

Jones returned to Wales and:

In 1846, Jones began to publish a Welsh language periodical for the church entitled Prophwyd y Jubili—Prophet of the Jubilee. It was the first Mormon periodical to be published in a language other than English.[4] In 1847, Jones published the most famous of his many Welsh language pamphlets and tracts, Hanes Saint y Dyddiau Diweddaf (History of the Latter-day Saints)

And of course there’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (from online Utah):

Singing was a part of the first general conference of the church in the Salt Lake Valley on 22 August 1847, less than one month after the arrival of the pioneer company. The quality of such singing was significantly enhanced by the arrival of a group of 85 Welsh converts in 1849. Brigham Young invited their leader, John Parry, to organize a choir for the next general conference, and this choir formed the nucleus around which the church’s choral tradition grew.

Here, again from BYU, is the story of the translation of  Llyfr  Mormon (The Book of Mormon) in 1852.
The Baptists were not pleased!!

Samuel Evans, editor of Seren Gomer (Star of Gomer), a Baptist periodical for which Davis (the translator-Dewi) worked before becoming a Latter-day Saint, said that it was a “pity such valuable labor in producing so perfect a translation had been bestowed upon so worthless a work as the Book of Mormon.”

To square the circle Donny Osmond’s Mam was a Malad City girl – Here’s Donny in Cardiff singing  Myfanwy.
And of course Ann Romney (not of the pioneering tradition) makes a mean Welsh Cake……

 

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