Press Releases

Humble travel trunk returns to Museum for the first time In 100 years!

American Dreams exhibition

7 JULY 2008 - 31 JANUARY  2009

A small wooden travel trunk that carried the personal belongings of a Welsh quarryman’s family all the way to the USA at the turn of the last century has returned home for the first time in 104 years to take a starring role in a new exhibition at the National Slate Museum.

The exhibition - American Dreams - looks at some of the issues of emigration such as leaving your family, adopting a new way of life and keeping in touch with those back home as well as touching on some of the stories of  the brave quarrymen and their families who went out to the USA at the turn of the last century to find a better life for themselves and their families. As Curator Cadi Iolen explained:

Escaping economic instability in Wales, Welsh quarrymen and their families emigrated to the Slate Valley in the USA from the 1850s through to the 1920s. The trunk is representative of this in that it belonged to John and Mary Davies, who travelled from Liverpool over to the USA on the SS Cedric in 1904. This was the aftermath of the 3-year Penrhyn strike in Bethesda and it would seem that Mr Davies failed to get re-employed as a quarryman after the strike and the newly married couple emigrated to the USA. The trunk then passed down to Gwyneth Wood, their daughter. It was later sold at auction and then donated to the Slate Valley Museum in Granville.

The themes and stories contained in the exhibition are a culmination of the twinning process that has been going on for the past three years between the National Slate Museum and the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, New York State. Part of this process was an appeal in 2006 for local people here in north Wales to tell us their stories about relatives who had emigrated  to the USA. Mary Lou Willits, Executive Director of the Slate Valley Museum in Granville said: “The Welsh brought with them their families, customs, and traditions. In doing so, they had a profound impact not only on the slate industry in America but also the social structure of the towns in which they settled. It is natural that we have formed a relationship with the National Slate Museum and to know the trunk has crossed the water again for the first time in over a hundred years really makes the connection stronger.”

Today, descendents of John and Mary Davies are delighted to see the trunk back in Wales. Ieuan Wyn and Megan Francis are the great great nephew and great niece of Mary Davies.

Mr Wyn said: "It is a strange feeling for us as relatives of John and Mary Davies to see this chest – which would have held all their worldly goods - back in Wales after all this time … It’s essential to remember that they had to leave their native country after being unable to find work here in north Wales due to the oppression of capitalistic landowners who refused to reinstate workers who had been on strike over their rights.

Said Megan Francis: “I remember several stories my mother told me about Mary leaving for the USA, most notably her father waving her off in the morning knowing he would never see his daughter again. A very sad thing but they made a life there and then we go to know Mary and John’s daughter Gwyneth very well following visits by her to this country and our visits to the USA.

Also available to see in the exhibition is a multilayered slate plate made by the late craftsman Mr Bill Rice of Blaenau Ffestiniog, with layers of slate from different areas of north Wales and Vermont, USA. There are also two commemorative plates to celebrate the twinning of both museums donated  by the Slate Valley Museum in Granville.

The exhibition runs until 31 January 2009 at the National Slate Museum and is FREE of charge to all visitors.

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates seven national museums across Wales. These are National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

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For further information, please contact Julie Williams, Marketing Officer  tel: 01286 873707

Notes to Editors

The process of bringing the two museums together began over three years ago via correspondence between the National Slate Museum’s Keeper, Dr Dafydd Roberts and the Director of the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, New York, Mary Lou Willits.

In May 2006 the National Slate Museum launched an appeal for information from local people about relatives who had emigrated to the USA.

On 19 May 2007 the National Slate Museum celebrated its ‘twinning’ with the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, underscoring the lasting ties between the people of the United States of America and Wales. The event highlighted the significant cultural and historical ties between the people of the slate quarrying communities of north Wales and those of the slate region in the USA – known as the slate belt.

Families conducting research into their Welsh roots can consult the Hughes-Jones Collection of Articles of Interest to Researchers of Welsh-Americans from the New York/Vermont Slate Communities, 1873-1936. The two-volume collection (353 pages) was produced by John A. Jones, Middle Granville, and Iwan Hughes, Rhuthun, Wales, who translated early Welsh-American newspaper articles and other documents into English