East Tennessee History CenterEast Tennessee History Center
McClung Historical Collection 601 South Gay Street, Knoxville, Tennessee
Across the street from the Tennessee Theatre

Saturday, November 10 and
Saturday, November 17, 2007

See below for photos of scholars who spent their Saturday morning at the East Tennessee History Center
in downtown Knoxville helping with the research.

We met at the East Tennessee History Center on 601 South Gay Street in Knoxville Saturday, November 10th and Saturday, November 17th to review the newspaper archives and mined other old records. 

For whatever reason, the English viewed the Welsh as second-class citizens.  In 1847, British Parliament even went so far as to ban the use of the Welsh language, attributing all the ills and backwardness of Wales to its language and culture.  When it became a crime to worship in their native tongue, thousands of Welsh families left Great Britain.

Britain’s loss was Tennessee’s gain, for the American Civil War had wrought devastation.  East Tennessee saw the development of its coal, iron, zinc, and copper reserves as the way to rebuild, but lacked the skill to do so.  Welsh miners and industrial workers provided that expertise and they taught native Tennesseans those skills.  The Welsh, or y cymry (‘e come-ree’) as they called themselves, found the freedom in America to practice and preserve their native language, traditions, and culture at a time when those in Wales could not, and they wrote extensively about what they saw and experienced in their new home. 

Knoxville Iron Company Foundry
after the Civil War


Engineers Barry Thacker, (L) and Welshman Dr. Eirug Davies (R) celebrating after finding the headstone of the old Welsh coal miner, Rees R. Thomas


Dr. Eirug Davies of Harvard University is writing a book about the Welsh miners and iron workers who came to Tennessee after the Civil War.  He has translated into English an array of Welsh narratives preserved from post-Civil War Tennessee which offers a fresh, contemporary account of the times from the viewpoint of coal miners, iron workers, ministers, and farmers who cherished education, abhorred mistreatment of minorities, and knew how to communicate and celebrate at their eisteddfod cultural festivals.  Key figures in his book are the Welsh miners David R. Thomas and his father Rees R. Thomas of Coal Creek who donated a large collection of those Welsh language books and newspaper articles to Harvard University’s Widener Library.   

The contributions of the y cymry in preserving their native language while helping Tennessee rebuild from the Civil War have been forgotten both in America and in Wales, but how were they perceived by native Tennesseans in the mid- to late-1800s?  Your assistance is needed to help answer that question by researching Knoxville newspaper articles from that time period and compiling documentation.

Students and teachers gather outside the Briceville Church built by Welsh immigrant coal miners in 1888

Click on image to see photos of scholars who spent their Saturday morning helping with the research:

Barry Thacker gathers books off shelves for review by scholars Jennifer and Cassie Phillips assist with research

Coal Creek Scholar Ricky Bailey reads through old news stories
Kyle Leinart and Tyler Vandergriff gather microfilm for review (L to R)  Jenna Bullock, Lori Bullock Njeru, Kimberly Carroll, and Jessica Hayes work the microfilm stations Tyler and Kyle check for articles on microfilm

If you are interested in volunteering to help, please contact Carol Moore at 865-584-0344 or

Jessica, Kimberly and Jenna check out one of the great displays at the East Tennessee History Center in Knoxville

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