The Welsh Reverend of Minnesota

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Born: 1 March 1845

Penmachno, Caernarfonshire N. Wales

Married: 3 December 1868

Columbus, Wisconsin USA

Died: 23 September 1913

Lake Crystal, Minnesota USA

A Story of Rev. William Machno Jones

as told by Mary Weltsch Daniel

What on earth had he done, thought William? All he had tried to do was to escape the suffocating rigidity of a life lacking opportunity. He longed for basic freedoms: to support himself and hopefully someday a loving wife with whom to raise his own family, to build a meaningful life, to worship in a meaningful way. Instead, he had never been so hungry and so scared. Down on his knees, he prayed hard and long for deliverance from the latest crushing scourge of Biblical proportions. 

As a young boy, William Jones worked long days with his father Owen, mother Cathrine, and their blended family of several children on a 100-acre desolate and primitive tenant farm called Tyddyn Bach, located in the village and parish of Penmachno high in the Snowdonian mountains of North Wales. They raised sheep for wool and Welsh mountain ponies for use in the slate quarries. When he could get away, he and two friends would hike to a cave in the mountain where prayer meetings were held. It wasn’t long before the trio decided to become ministers and become shepherds of men. Twelve-year old William’s first convert was his own father. A curious William quickly learned to read and write at Rhydymeirch School and the parish Sunday school. He continued his education at the Glynnogo School under the direction of a famous poet Dewi Arfon, eventually attending the Bala College Theological Seminary located in nearby Bala, North Wales. His side-line as a bookbinder brought in barely enough money to keep him going. All the while, he wished to emigrate like so many of the Welsh people who were leaving in large groups.


So on April 9, 1867 William carried a very small bag of belongings and travelled to the noisy seaport city of Liverpool. Two weeks later he set off aboard the crowded ship Paris bound for New York. The United States were now fractured and bloody, having just barely concluded the violent Civil War. A shocking number of citizens were brutally killed in battles either by injury or disease. It didn’t matter which, the result was the same. Had William been trying to piece together what he could of the status of the civil war, waiting for just the right time to make his move? Did he have nightmares about trying to start a peaceful new life in such a raw, rough and raucous country?


I am guessing William travelled with a group that may have included a few Lloyds and Williams from Dolwyddelan in North Wales, a two-hour or more hike up, over and then down the other side of the mountain. Others from the ancient villages of Penmachno and Dolwyddelan had emigrated before them and sent letters of praise of the bountiful and plentiful conditions in this new country. Perhaps William met his travel companions through church or through friends of friends. It was common for Welsh immigrants to sail from Liverpool to New York, travel to Lake Erie and through the Great Lakes to the Wisconsin shore. Some continued to Minnesota. Eventually the travellers arrived at their destination, an area of rolling hills in Wisconsin favoured by Welsh immigrants who treasured the rich, black soil for farming. William landed in the small predominantly Welsh village of Cambria and started courting a local teacher named Alice Louise Williams. A year later, in 1868, William and Alice were wed in Columbia, Wisconsin. Alice was born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1849. Her Welsh immigrant parents Owen Richard Williams (1821-1887) and Eleanor (Ellen) R. Jones (1823-1887) had arrived in Racine from Wales and soon moved to the Cambria area to farm and operate a blacksmith shop. The village was so new that the couple’s second child Richard was the first child born in the village.


William continued to preach in local churches and supplemented their income with his bookbinding business while working towards eventual ordination in 1870. A year later, 26 year-old William answered the call for a pastor of the Jerusalem Calvinistic Methodist Church in the tiny village of Judson, Minnesota and two other equally small churches in nearby Cambria. At that time, the congregations of all three churches together totaled a mere 70 members. For the first 13 years, worshippers had met in the log cabin homes of families in the area. There were no regular pastors and the pulpits were filled by volunteers and traveling preachers. When the Jones family arrived, Jerusalem was a little log church with two small rooms on back where they made their home. The annual combined salary from the three churches was $100. Rev. Jones, his wife Alice and their children lived a meagre but spiritually full existence.


Was William aware of the recent history in this part of Minnesota that was to become his new home? The territory of Minnesota became the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858. It was slowly recovering from the bloody massacres of double wars: the Civil War of 1861-1865 and the local Dakota Indian War of 1862. The Indians were frustrated by the U.S. government’s failure to make treaty payments on time or at all. The promised payments would supply the Indian families with food in exchange for the tribal land and hunting grounds they had relinquished their rights to. The Indians were a subjugated people, pushed off the lands they had roamed and hunted for eons, their language suffocated. When a group of Indian men got into an argument with a white merchant at a trading post resulting in the murders of several settlers, heated violence erupted in armed conflict between the Indians and the settlers that lasted four terrifying months. Isolated farm families fled, hid in swamps and fields, saw their kin killed and scalped. Towns were attacked, women were assaulted, and children kidnapped. Blood was brutally shed on all sides, everywhere, adding another stain on our country’s history. Hundreds of Dakota Indians were rounded up and 303 were rushed through murder trials in batches and summarily convicted. When President Abraham Lincoln learned of this, he turned his attention from the all-consuming Civil War battles to review trial transcripts and commute the death sentences of 264 native Americans. On December 26, 1862, 38 “convicted” men were hung simultaneously from a specially built scaffold in Mankato, Minnesota in the largest mass execution in American history. The Minnesota Congress passed a law expelling all Dakota bands from Minnesota a few months later.

Then came another inconceivably horrific blow. A plague of Rocky Mountain locusts swarmed over the land in southern Minnesota, ruining crops and the local farm economy for three long, hungry years. The locusts ate every living plant, but especially loved the wheat crops. The following spring, the locusts’ eggs hatched and there were more grasshoppers than ever.


Farmers fought the insects with everything they could think of. They lit smudge pots, set fire to prairie grasses, sprinkled brine over their fields, and walked endless miles through the fields scooping insects up with shovels and tossing them into fires. On June 3, 1875, the Blue Earth County commissioners offered 10 cents a quart for grasshoppers delivered to designated places to be destroyed. A large vat of water was kept boiling, into which the locusts were dumped. Then they were thrown into a long trench and buried. Some of the farmers earned as much as $20 a day. After three days, more than 4,000 bushels were filled and the county paid $14,000 in bounties. The county cut the bounty in half, and a few days later, cut the bounty to 60 cents a bushel. The next day, after having paid out over $31,000 for 15,766 bushels of bugs, the county stopped the program. According to reports from the time, this was the period of the greatest poverty that the inhabitants of Minnesota had experienced, and the Welsh settlement was among the hardest hit sections of the state. Many a Welsh family subsisted through the winter on little more than corn bread, or “johnny cake” as it was called. Unable to support his family and keep the churches running in this impoverished area, Rev. Jones and family moved back to Wisconsin in 1877 to lead churches there for four years.


Every possible treatment for the destruction of the grasshoppers failed, and the locusts were as thick as ever. Finally, in the spring of 1877, the desperate people asked Minnesota’s Governor Pillsbury to designate April 26, 1877 as a day of fasting and prayer. The settlers were urged to gather in their respective places of worship and humbly ask for divine intervention and deliverance from the plague of insects. The day of prayer was observed in all of the Welsh churches in the area, some extended it to three. All businesses and schools were suspended as people gathered in their respective houses of worship. Soon afterwards the number of insects dwindled. On June 10 there was a record heavy frost. Finally, by August 1877, nearly all of the locusts were gone. Many Welsh settlers from that time believed implicitly that the end of the plague was in direct answer to prayer.


It is not known if there was an understanding that Rev. Jones would return when conditions improved, or if he received a second call, but he did return to Minnesota again in December 1880 and resumed his work as pastor of the Jerusalem and Salem churches for the next 11 years. The two small churches grew considerably in an era of comparative prosperity. Not long after his return, Rev. and Mrs. Jones purchased a farm near the neighbouring village of Lake Crystal, Minnesota. He was not alone among pioneer preachers who lived on and worked their own farms with the help of their families. There are reports of these pastors being criticized for combining things of the world and things of the spirit, but the fact is that the pastors were hard pressed to support their families on the pitifully small salaries the congregations in these small rural churches were able to afford. IOWA The first sermon, delivered in Welsh of course, in the First Presbyterian Church in the village of Lake Crystal was preached by the Rev. Jones on May 25, 1885. I was baptized at this same church in 1951 and it is still in operation to this day.


Several years of relative tranquillity passed until Mrs. Jones died in 1911 at age 62. Rev. Jones retired to his farm near Lake Crystal where he died two years later, at the age of 68. Both husband and wife, my great great grandparents, are buried at the Jerusalem Church cemetery in Judson, Minnesota.

About the Author - Mary Daniel

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