Ceri Shaw



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Category: welsh american history


From the Wikipedia Fort Belan :- "The fort was built in 1775 for a reported cost of £30,000 (£3,451,642 as of 2015), by Thomas Wynn, then MP for Caernarfonshire and later to become Lord Newborough. He was worried about the vulnerability of Britain’s coastline to attack, particularly because of the ongoing American War of Independence. Fort Belan was the only purpose-built fort of the American Revolution on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean."



Trilby Angharad Busch , is a descendant of Welsh, German, and Lithuanian immigrants. After retiring from teaching college English she devoted herself to writing an historical novel about Welsh immigrants in her hometown of Homestead, PA. AmeriCymru spoke to Trilby about her novel and future plans at the 2012 North American Festival Of Wales in Scranton P.A.Website: Darkness Visible





This is a book that works on many different levels. With a full complement of credible and well developed characters it is a useful contribution to the social history of late 19th century industrial Pennsylvania. There is no shortage of drama. The account of the pitched battle between the strikers and Pinkertons which is central to this tale does full justice to the tragedy and horror of the actual historical events.

For anyone who is not acquainted with this dark and violent chapter in the history of American labour relations the brief introductory remarks and accompanying links in the interview below should provide an invaluable introduction.

On a personal level Darkness Visible is the story of a Welsh immigrant worker who loses and recovers his faith, a process in which the appalling developments unfolding around him play no small part . But perhaps more interestingly it has been written by a fourth generation descendant of one of the casualties of the conflict ( for more details see the interview below ). This provides the author with a unique historical perspective and her devotion to recounting these events is evident both from her painstaking and meticulous background research and from the sympathetic and artful manner in which she develops the narrative.

This is an important book about an important event. If you read only one work of historical fiction this year, it should probably be 'Darkness Visible'.


AmeriCymru: What inspired you to write Darkness Visible?

Trilby: My parents and I were all born in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and both sets of grandparents lived and worked there most of their lives. During my childhood, everyone in town-- and probably most people in the Pittsburgh area-- had heard about the 1892 strike.

I grew up listening to stories from my father, whose grandfather was killed in the Homestead Works of Carnegie Steel in the immediate aftermath of the strike. As I did research to corroborate his stories and learn more details about the strike, I found many terrible and fascinating stories from contemporaries and eyewitnesses. I wrote this book as an imaginative recreation of those events in a work of historical fiction.


The Homestead works from across the river

AmeriCymru: Tell us a little about the 1892 strike. How significant an event is it in American labor history?

Trilby: The 1892 Homestead Strike is a very significant event in American history. The strike was chosen as one of the events featured in the 2006 PBS-TV series, "Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America." The violence surrounding the confrontation between workers and company is an infamous chapter in labor history. Henry Clay Frick , running the company while Carnegie was off in Scotland, locked out the workers at the end of June 1892. On July 6th, the conflict came to a head when Frick sent in 300 Pinkerton guards to secure the way for replacement workers. They were met by 3,000 armed strikers and townspeople and a 10-hour running gun battle ensued. In the end, the strikers won, but inevitably lost the war a week later when Frick convinced the governor to send in the Pennsylvania Militia. In this way, Frick and Carnegie busted unions in the steel industry for nearly 40 years.

AmeriCymru: You have a personal connection with these events. Can you tell us more?

Trilby: As I said, my great-grandfather was killed in the Works after the strike. He was an unemployed German immigrant with a wife and 11 children to support. After the battle, the Carnegie Company desperately needed skilled "fireman" to fire up the industrial boilers that ran the mill, and he answered the call. He was killed by union saboteurs who set a boiler to explode while he was working on it. Fictional versions of him, my grandfather, and other family members appear as minor characters in the book.

AmeriCymru: Was there a strong Welsh involvement in the strike movement?

Trilby: Yes. Many of the members of the union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers , were Welsh. At that time Wales led the world in the technology of steel production, and the Carnegie Company actively recruited engineers, chemists, and skilled workers from Wales.

AmeriCymru: What was the subsequent history of the Homestead Works?

Trilby: In 1901 Carnegie sold the company to J.P. Morgan of US Steel. In 1937, anticipating the need for steel in the war that loomed on the horizon, US Steel took over the whole lower part of Homestead below the railroad tracks, expanding the Works into that area. In its heyday, the Homestead Works produced nearly one-third of the finished steel in the United States, a behemoth operation spreading for five miles along the bank of the Monongahela River. In 1983, US Steel, weary of foreign competition and disputes with workers, shut down the Works for good. In its place sits the Waterfront Shopping Complex, a large mixed-use commercial area of stores, apartments, and office buildings.

AmeriCymru: Where can people go to purchase Darkness Visible?

Trilby: Darkness Visible is available for sale via Paypal on its website,  and on Amazon.com , you can get either the paperback or Kindle versions. If you go to Homestead, the book is available in the shop of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in the Bost Building.

AmeriCymru: What's next?

Trilby: I'm kicking around two ideas: 1. a sequel taking place in the Depression, following the children of Emlyn Phillips and/or 2. a collaboration with my daughter Ceridwen--a mystery/satire involving ghosthunting and preservation politics in present-day Minnesota.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for readers and members of Americymru?

Trilby: A number of people have gotten confused about my connection with the Welsh characters in the book. Actually, there is none. I am the descendent of scabs, immigrants from another country--as are so many of the present residents of the Steel Valley. However, I decided to use the information and contacts I had acquired in my search for relatives of my Welsh grandmother (a search that was not successful) in developing the characters of the skilled worker and unionist's family in the story.

AmeriCymru: Croeso i AmeriCymru Eirug and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What prompted you to write The Welsh of Tennessee ?

Eirug: Back in the late 1990's, and when I started to contemplate the possibility of retirement, I found that my life long enthusiasm for micro-electronic research was gradually being replaced by a curiosity over what had been published in Welsh within the United States. One of the things that became immediately apparent was a need to compile a list of such publications, both books and pamphlets, and the fruit of that labor eventually appeared in the 2003 issue of Llen Cymru. Often noted at the beginning of copies of such books in Harvard University's possession were the names of former owners, many being well known figures in Welsh American circles of the 19th century, but invariably residing in the northern states. What eventually led to the present study was a curiosity over the surprise finding that a significant number of the donated books had come from a relatively unknown miner who happened to reside in Coal Creek, Tennessee.

AmeriCymru: Do you think that the Welsh contribution to the building of the United states has been adequately recorded or recognized?

Eirug: To a large extent the Welsh are an unknown factor. Take the early Quakers as an example, and while their 40,000 acre Welsh Tract is often referred to in older historical texts, no mention is made of how their ill-fated attempt at preventing its break up led to a far more democratic way of governing Pennsylvania. Occasionally one hears of how many signers of the Declaration of Independence were Welsh but nothing is heard of how their background had propelled them to take such a perilous step.

AmeriCymru: Your book introduces the reader to a number of fascinating characters. The name Samuel Roberts springs to mind. What can you tell us about him?

Eirug: Even though Samuel Roberts remains as a much admired figure in Wales, it appears that he was not the most practical of individuals. Given that he had relatives in Cincinnati it is not unreasonable to find that he should visit the city on the way to Tennessee. What is more difficult to figure out is why after sailing to Maine he would make his way to Cincinnati by travelling through Canada.

Worthy of the same recognition as him, but unfortunately long forgotten, would be their second minister in Knoxville, Iorthyn Gwynedd. His lone stance on behalf of Wales in the 1847 government report referred to as The Blue Books is remarkable and it stands as a fore runner to what The Welsh Language Society are still striving for in present day Wales.

On the mining side, one of the more appealing individuals was the Phillip Ffransis whose expertise was called upon during the Fraterville disaster and when over 200 miners lost their lives. In one passing remark he mentions how he and two or three others would occassionally gather to socialise outside one of their Dowlis homes. Sometimes I cant help but speculate how I would have fared if only I could have sneaked up and joined in their discussion. Presumably all would be well, but then not coming from their area of Wales, the odd unfamiliar word would creep in and become the subject of some humorous ridiculing.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the 'Dixie Eisteddfod'?

Eirug: Poetry competitions are an important feature of any eisteddfod and the failure to locate the winning entries at both Knoxville and Chattanooga proved to be a bitter disappointment.

What is quite remarkable is the distance some were prepared to travel to get to Knoxville or Chattanooga, and without the attraction of an eisteddfod, many would never have visited either city. With many an eisteddfod in other parts of the country, it was not unusual to find that they had managed to get the railroad companies to issue half price tickets.

AmeriCymru . To what extent have Welsh traditions been preserved in Tennessee?

Eirug: The Welsh Society in Knoxville, which dates from the 1890s, still exists and many of its members, who take great pride in their Welsh background, have been extremely forthcoming with their information. With the aid of the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation the historic Welsh Church in Briceville has recently been restored and several historic markers have been placed in its vicinity.

Students at Briceville Elementary School still hold their Dixie Eisteddfod competitions, the next one to be held on May 17, 2013 as described at Fort Anderson Dedication  to dedicate the listing of Fort Anderson on Militia Hill on the Natural Register. Students will participate in an essay contest to document the oral history of the Coal Creek War and a recitation of The Snark.

AmeriCymru: Do you have plans to embark on any further historical research?

Eirug: Here I'll take the liberty of mentioning what is already available. Though written in the Welsh Language, the first of the titles, Y Cymry ac Aur [Gold] Colorado, could prove suitable for learners. This was folloed by Gwladychu [Pioneering] y Cymry yn yr American West and more recently Helyntion [Tribulations] y Cymry yn Virginia.

One of the many problems encountered on writing in English is that the original Welsh eventually gets lost. One of the first American poems to be written in Welsh is a song of rejoicing on being in Pennsylvania. It dates from 1683, a year after the Quakers first arrival, but all that remains available is a very non inspiring translation. For such reasons the original Welsh quotations have been retained in the present volume, and for those learning the language, it could prove an interesting challenge to come up with an improved English translation As to any future writing, and whether it be in Welsh or English, well just have to wait and see.

Interview by Ceri Shaw

Border Boss

OK so "The Lone Ranger" is a fictional character but the fact remains that he is probably based on John Reynolds Hughes whose life and exploits are recorded in Border Boss . John Reynolds Hughes whose family were of Welsh descent was born in Illinois on February 11th 1855. Dafydd Meirion, writing in Welsh Cowboys and Outlaws observes that.:- "Hughes grandparent had left Wales for America and his father, Thomas Hughes, had visited Wales twice to see his relatives."

"Border Boss" is essential reading for anyone wanting a detailed account of Hughes'' adventures. John Reynolds Hughes single-handedly tracked and subdued two gangs of murderous cattle-rustlers before deciding to do it professionally and joining the Texas Rangers. After that his career reads like a history of the old Wild West. He knew tthem all:- Butch Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean, Pancho Villa, Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, John Wesley Harding etc. Not only that but he survived to tell the tale. After his retirement he lived in Austin, Texas where he died in 1946 having reached the ripe old age of 91.

And the Lone Ranger connection?

" The famous western writer Zane Grey spent some time with Hughes while he was on the job. Later, his friend Grey wrote the famous book The Lone Star Ranger and dedicated it to Hughes and the Texas Rangers. It is written that his book was also the basis for the character of radio and movie fame, the Lone Ranger. Thus, some have concluded the Lone Ranger was based on the life of John R. Hughes. "

( Quoted from SIPES Houston http://www.sipes-houston.org/story_behind_the_photo.htm )