University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Letters of Morgan John Rhys

Volume II  · February 1947  ·  Number 2
Letters of Morgan John Rhys

The National Library of Wales acquired in 1940, among a large number of letters addressed to the London publisher William Owen at the end of the eighteenth century, ten hitherto unknown letters written by Morgan John Rhys, great-grandfather of Rush Rhees. These are printed in The National Library of Wales Journal for summer, 1942, a copy of which was recently brought to Mrs. Rush Rhees by her son Rush Rhees, Jr., now a lecturer in philosophy at University College, Swansea. Since these letters supplement in some respects the brief account of Morgan John Rhys's activities in Wales before his emigration to Pennsylvania, and of the early days of his Welsh colony at Beulah in the Alleghenies, a few extracts may interest readers of Rhees of Rochester. The first chapter of that book originally contained further details about Rhys, with interesting extracts from his journal of travels in the South and West in 1794-95, but the radical cuts required by the publishers in order to shorten the biography led to the omission of this material. Most of that information was taken from John T. Griffith's biography of Morgan John Rhys, in which the entire journal is printed, together with many details about the Cambrian settlement at Beulah. The letters show several facts about the varied interests of this remarkable man. He was, for one thing, much interested in Welsh lexicography and orthography, being agent for the sale of the Welsh dictionary published by Owen. He also knew the requirements of practical printing as to the proper make-up of a font of type adequate for the Welsh Magazine, which he founded. In America he followed with considerable interest the adventures of John Evans, a Welshman who explored the upper Missouri on an unsuccessful quest for white Indians, supposed to be descended from Welshmen whom the legend of Madoc represented as having discovered America in the twelfth century. Rhys did not believe this story, but he used his best efforts to protect Evans from hostile interference at St. Louis and from the savage tribes of the Northwest.

Rhys's printer at Trevecca, Wales, was Evan Roberts, who urgently needed more type. A letter to the London type-foundry of William Caslon's successors brought no answer, and the editor wrote Owen asking him to look into the matter. Part of the letter follows, the rest being taken up with specific estimates of the weight needed of each of various letters with the diacritical marks needed in Welsh printing:

Treveka Jan 11th 1793

Dr. Sir,
We are sorry to trouble you with a second letter, so soon. In yesterday's paper we saw that Caslon is a bankrupt, and it is highly probable he cannot furnish our order. We should esteem it as a peculiar favor if you could procure us a fount immediately from any of the letter founders large enough to compose 16 pages 8vo. If you cannot procure small pica body long primer Roman No. 1 Large face long primer or long prim. rom. No. 1 will do . . . . . . . . . . . as many of y, d, w, as they use to put of e to the english composition. a, r, t, u, i, c, b, about double the quantity and as much as will compose 3 or 4 pages of italics - with figures suitable to the font (or rather more). You may likewise order as much as will compose 3 or 4 pages 8vo of Brevier Roman No. 2 and as much as will compose 2 or 3 pages of English Roman No. 1. You may make the first application to Mr. Caslon's Mother (as we understand they carry on business separately) provided he cannot supply us immediately.
As we have been waiting for some time and in great hurry be as expeditious as possible (and remember to order the new letters as many as you think proper for improving the Welsh language). The money shall be remitted as soon as the fount is reed. Let it be directed to Messrs Roberts & Co. Trevecka Breconshire S. W. pr Gouldings waggon. We once more express our uneasiness for giving you so much trouble, but considering you as partly engaged in the work, we rely on your faithfulness and remain

Yrs sincerely
M. Rees - for the company.

Since Rhys was unable to get the "new letters proper for improving the Welsh language," he had to go to press without them, being doubtless somewhat "out of sorts" - a printer's phrase meaning deficiency of certain letters of the alphabet. With empty boxes in his lower case a compositor could hardly be blamed for impatience with Caslon for going bankrupt. The facsimile pages of the Welsh Magazine show that at least Roberts had plenty of double I's and y's, and with them much can be said in Welsh, including seditious utterances of which Morgan John Rhys was already suspected by the government.

A letter written after arrival in Philadelphia, following Rhys's southern and western journey but before the founding of the Beulah colony, is sufficiently interesting to be printed almost entire, with all its eccentricities of spelling and punctuation uncorrected:

Philadelphia Nov. 24th 1795

Dr. Sir,
No, you shall not say 'The Editor of the Welsh Magazine is gone! We shall hear no more from him!' I acknowledge I should have wrote sooner; but I wanted to give you some information concerning this country. I have now finish'd my tour, through the greater Part of the United States, the south & north western territories - In the course of last year I travell'd, at least, on this continent between 4 & 5000 miles - It would but spoil the story to begin a relation of it here should you at any future period wish to obtain any particular acct of this part of the world I shall be ready to relate, according to the dictates of truth.

You have heard I expect before this time that John Evans is at length gone up the Missouri. I was the beginning of last May within about 300 miles of him - I had a full account of his peregrinations to that time from G. Turner one of the supreme Judges for the North Western territory - who saw him at St. Louis N. West of the Mississipi 12 miles below the mouth of the Missouri. Poor John Evans had been imprisoned by the order of the Commandant of St. Louis - and had it not been for the interference of Judge Turner, his enterprising spirit must have died in that place. Turner pleaded for him to some purpose. He has obtained from the Commandant passports in Spanish french & English to go on his journey. He has likewise gone up the Missouri with the Indian traders with proper articles to introduce himself to the different tribes - According to his present directions he is to trace the Missouri to its source - to approach the burning mountain as near as he can - to follow the Western Waters to the passific - and whether he meets with the Welsh Madogians or not - he will receive on his return 2 or 3000 dollars from the Spanish government - I have heard many additional tales concerning what they call the Welsh Indians but as yet I have my doubts about them. I have conversed with the acting partner in the Missouri Co. He has been among more Indians than any other white man on this continent. He knows nothing of the Welsh language but by my conversing in Welsh - he could not recognize the words nor the idiom altogether among the Indians North of the Missouri - he thinks the Padoucas are out of the question. however I deliver'd him a Welsh Vocabulary & begg'd of him to give all the assistance he could to John Evans should he meet him. This man is to remain on the Missouri for 3 or 4 years to trade with the Indians. He has promised to write to me from time to time, and I do assure you it afforded me much pleasure to meet with a man of his disposition & information engaged in the Indian trade.

It is a confirmed fact that there are white Indians on the Missouri and in many places far west of the Mississippi. I have seen deer and buffaloe skins with various other articles dressed by them in a most capital manner. A frenchman has lately been up the Missouri for fifteen hundred miles and by what he could judge of the stream & country, that river must be about 2,400 miles in length. I have seen a map likewise of the Mississipi by actual survey to its source. It is no more like the present Mississipi on paper, than a cow is to a snake. It forms an elbow and runs westward long before it meets the line appointed for the limits of the United States. Every part of this continent affords sufficient proofs of a more civilised people having existed here than the present Indians - At the last treaty, North West of the Ohio, I had an opportunity of conversing with & seeing somthing of the manners of a great No of the tribes. There was between 6 and 700 of them together, among whom were a greater number of Chiefs than ever was seen together on this continent - I began a vocabulary of their different languages, the finishing part of which I was oblig'd to leave to the chaplain of the Army and one of the surgeons. I have heard from a freind in the north of England that another attempt is to be made to enlighten the Welsh people thro ye medium of a Welsh register - Should it be carried into execution, perhaps I may give some assistance by telling some Indian tales, or at some future time, I may transmit to you a description of the ancient fortifications, mounds, barrows, graves, & the curiosities found in them on the Ohio . . . . . . .

In the postscript of another letter to Owen, written from Philadelphia on December 5, 1797, Morgan John Rhys, who by that time was signing his name Rhees, conveys the following information:

P. S. The Cambrian Settlement goes on as well as the most sanguine expectant could anticipate: thirty houses have been built in Beula since last August . . . . In my next you may perhaps have a short history of its progress - knowledge & virtue being the hinges on which hang the felicity of Mankind I have endeavoured to provide means to obtain this and - by establishing a Public library for the use of the settlers - towards laying the foundation of which upwards of One thousand volumes are already purchased and I am in hopes of obtaining considerable donations to enrich our Cambrian Library: Here I intend to depose every valuable article which relates to my native country - that peradventure when the old Cambria is neglected & despised the New may commemorate its ancient glory and flourish under the auspices of a free & enlightened people.

These quotations are sufficient to confirm impressions already derived from the journal, that Morgan John Rhees was an active, enterprising, vigorous leader, of inquiring mind and strong love for freedom, and that he was solicitous for the safety of those in peril, and optimistic for the future of his adopted country. In all these respects Rush Rhees was like his great-grandfather. But he was a better speller.