Welcome to Swansea

"The Other Swanseas"

Contributed by Leonard James - The original article was published in the South Wales Evening Post as part of a 32-page supplement, 21-Nov-97 (http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk)

Unique research undertaken by the South Wales Evening Post has revealed the existence of 12 'Swanseas' in America, 10 in Canada, two in Australia, one in South Africa and one in Jamaica.

Cape Swansea and Swansea Point in Arctic Canadaare just two of 26 places around the world which share their name with the Welsh city. The Arctic Circle is a place few people would want to make their home. The only human feet which have passed through are those of Inuit hunters, explorers and scientists, all more than happy to leave when their tasks are completed. With temperatures plummeting to minus 45 degrees centigrade, the only obvious sign of life in this forgotten place, which lies in complete darkness for half the year, is the odd polar bear or walrus.

Some of the most interesting finds include two American ghost towns called Swansea, Lac Swansea in French-speaking Quebec, Mount Swansea in British Columbia, Swansea Island in Ontario and Swanzey Beach Park in Hawaii.

Towns called Swansea can be found in Illinois, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tasmania and New South Wales.

 


 

Most of the overseas Swanseas were named after the Welsh sea port, reflecting the city's industrial past.

Swansea in California, now a ghost town, used to smelt silver ore from nearby mines which was then shipped to the Welsh town for refining. At that time Swansea, Wales was one of  the main metallurgical centres in  Britain. Similarly, Mount Swansea, in British Columbia used to boast a copper ore mine, the contents were shipped back to Swansea ,Wales.

Swansea, Arizona, another mining ghost town named after the home town of its  founder George Mitchell, who was also responsible for its demise.

Religious persecution was the reason behind the setting up of the first overseas Swansea in Masssachusetts, USA.  In 1663 the Rev. John Myles left his church in Illston, Gower, with about 15 members of  his congregation for a new life in America. Four years later they were given a grant of land  south of Rehoboth, and called the  settlement Swansea.

Some of the overseas Swanseas were named because of their resemblance to the Bntish  sea port such as Swansea a suburb in Toronto, Canada. The  hilly  area  overlooking  Lake Ontario was once a village in  its  own right . It is believed to have been named by a Welshman  named James  Worthington. who owned the area's bolt works and rolling  mills, two major employers.

This town is thought to be the first overseas Swansea to be named after the Welsh community. The most well known of  the namesakes. its origin is directly related to John Myles who preached at Ilston, Gower. a rural area bordering Swansea, Wales.

Born in Herefordshire in 1621, the Oxford graduate went to London in 1649 where he entered into the Baptist faith. After replacing an Anglican clergyman as rector of Ilston, Myles organised the congregation into a properly regulated Baptist Church, the first of its kind in Wales. Such was his stature, W. Myles also effectively supervised four other such churches at Hay, Llantrisant, Carmarthen and Abergavenny from  Ilston.

 Membership of  the group soared to 261. The rise of the Baptists, however, was dampened with the Restoration of  the monarchy under King Charles II in 1660, which re-introduced the rites of  the Church of England.

Myles had to leave the church for refusing to read the Book of Sports - a law dating from the time of James I - from the pulpit. He moved his church to Trinity Well in the Ilston valley.

But, as far as the government was concerned, Myles's cards were indelibly marked for being a Dissenter.

In a bid to secure freedom  in speech and religious thought, Myles and about 15 members of  his congregation, left for New England in 1663, taking the Ilston church records with them. They landed at Boston, Massachusetts, and crossed to Plymouth colony. Myles became the leader of a group with Baptist beliefs, and a church was established at Rehoboth in 1663. Four years later other churches took legal action against Myles and some of his associates who were fined for setting up a public meeting without the approval of the General Court at Plymouth. They were advised to move to an area which would not encroach on another parish's finances. The settlers petitioned for a town grant. and in October 1667 the court granted them  land south of  Rehoboth in an area of  Sowams  known as Wannamoiset.  There they  established a settlement which they called Swansea.  Everyone was satisfied - the Baptists because the grant enabled  them  to draw  closer to the Baptist settlements in

Providence and Newport, the Rehoboth settlers because it got rid of  the Baptists who drew on the parish resources, and the General Court because it gave Plymouth a frontier outpost to take the first shock of any invasion launched by the powerful Native American tribes from the west.

Swansea's house of worship became the first Baptist church in Massachusetts, and the fourth in what became the USA.

The settlement became a working town through the efforts of Captain Thomas Willet, an original Pilgrim, who had been the first English mayor of  New York City. Swansea became unique in its official acceptance of religious choice. Neighbours lived and worked together but went to separate churches. then unthinkable in neighbouring Boston.

After the death of his first wife  John Myles married Anne Humphrey. whose father was magistrate of  the colony of Massachusetts. and later became the town's schoolmaster.

The Native Americans, exasperated as more and more colonists enclosed land which they had previously freely roamed, began attacking the English settlement in 1675. Swansea was the first in the firing line.

The attackers prepared for their onslaught while people were at worship.  Several Baptists who were on their way home from a meeting were killed and their heads stuck on posts. The church building and part of the town was burned.

Myles's home became a garrison for colonial troops.  During the latter part of the war which dragged on for two years, Rev Myles moved to Boston.  He set up a church there and was arrested for holding unauthorised meetings, but escaped with a reprimand.

With the uprising crushed - and the so-called King Philip's severed head exhibited at Plymouth - Swansea was rebuilt and a new church erected. Myles agreed to return.

He died in 1683 at Barrington, Rhode Island and his grave is a revered historic monument.  Myles's son John, a Harvard scholar, became Swansea's first town clerk. The records of Ilston Church are preserved at the University of Providence, Rhode Island. Swansea was mainly farming country until the early 19th century when it became known as a shipbuilding area.

 


 

Personal thoughts of an old Swansea resident who, at the time of writing was 96 years old...

From my house, I can look across the street and learn what is happening besides the usual routine. The library, a place where we whispered in my youth, is boiling with activity. Students, as well as their parents and grandparents, make constant use of the modern equipment and the resources for research in many fields.

During a visit to the library one is sure to meet an old or new friend. It is an inviting place.

The town hall was designed for use as a place for meetings, various social occasions and school graduations.

In around 1950 the main hall was fitted with two rows of offices and a corridor dividing them. Right there you can meet a friend complaining about the size of his tax assessment, an old lady surprised to get a rebate on the tax on her car which she sold,  residents getting marriage licenses, pet lovers getting dog licenses and sportsmen getting fishing or hunting permits. You are bound to meet somebody you are glad to see, and perhaps somebody you are not. The atmosphere is warm and  friendly in every office, even if a dispute is in progress.

One of the most densely populated areas in Swansea is Ocean Grove on Coles River, which empties into Mount Hope Bay and thence into Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

Formerly farmland with fishermen's shacks at the water's edge, its population began to burgeon only in this century. The first people to arrive came mainly by train from Fall River, Pawtucket and Providence. They came to build small homes and enjoy the beach.

Before many years there was a cinema, a dance hall, restaurants and stores. Now the dance hall is a place where the elderly go for functions and several groups hold celebrations there.This area has developed from humble beginnings to a place of many streets filled with pleasant homes and convenient businesses used by the community-minded residents.

Another old section of town is Touissett, a tongue of land between Coles and Kickemuit Rivers, where year-round inhabitants have followed summer dwellers to make permanent homes. They have, however, allowed the development of the shopping malls and industry to proceed along the highways.

The term "suburban" applies to Swansea, wedged between the cities of Fall River and Providence, and not too far from Massachusetts' capital, Boston. The town has become the home of hordes of people who travel daily to their work in the cities.

The once productive farm land has been taken over by real estate developments providing homes for people.

The population of about 1,800 in 1900 has grown to snore than 16,000 today, in a land area of only a little over 22 square miles.

The children go to school while the mother; and fathers go to work. Of course they have fun along the way.

Activities in the schools are excellent. The theatre department does outstanding performances. In fact a group performed a Stratford-on-Avon, in England, not long ago.

The sports programme has a wide range and good coaching for boys and girls. The 14-year-old girls' softball team of 1997 qualified for the national play-offs in Illinois.

The parents use the school as well by enrolling in adult education courses offered in the evening.

Life is not dull in Swansea. Parents follow the sports teams, sailors take advantage of the rivers and the bay. There are colleges o national fame and respected research centres nearby.

I was born here and here I have spent most of my life, many years of it in the house  built  by my grandfather. Although I have been to every state, except Hawaii, I still feel contented in Swansea, Massachusetts.

 


 

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