Grave Issues and Errors

“Ffwl-la-la, ffwl-la-la, ffwl-la-la-la-la-la-la,/ Ffwl-la-la, ffwl-la-la, ffwl-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!”

Yes, you guessed it………I made it to Granville. The pull to go there was very strong, but a  good downpour of rain at NYC was eventually the catalyst that made us head towards Penn Station and up the Hudson River courtesy of Amtrak. And I’m so chuffed that we did!

I’ve already told you how I connect Ben Thomas’s line with how the Slate Valley is the place “lle mae mwyniant y byd yn disgleirio” for me, but it was certainly hammered home during my flying visit as I got to renew old acquaintances with people very dear to me and got to meet new faces at last at the museum in Granville. All done on a whim, but very much valued.

Around the same time in 1883, my great-great-grandfather, Rhys Wyn Jones made the same journey. I’ve a copy of an American newspaper article of the period that states that he arrived in NYC around the first of May before travelling up the same valley in order to settle in Middle Granville. He would have been hopeful of a new life and existence in the Green Mountains and he left a wife and two young daughters back home in Wales awaiting his call for them to join him across the Atlantic. It was a voyage they never took.

The family home was an end terrace house in Penmachno called Ael-y-Don, the crest of the wave, though here the name spoke of the River Machno’s flow about fifty yards below their dwelling.

Ael-y-Don, the old family home

In April 1883 Rhys Wyn must have walked out of the front door above and head off down the road, possibly turning round once to wave farewell to his beloved wife, Elen, aged 33 and to his two young daughters, Alice (my great-grandmother) aged 9 and Leah aged 5. They never saw each other again.

Rhys Wyn was shot and killed near Middle Granville on the second day of August 1883 and though his body lies miles away from his loved ones the stone that records the name of his wife’s death in Wales also has his name on it like some desperate attempt to remember his existence in case he became a forgotten soul across the ocean. The stone incorrectly records his death as the fourth of August, which was in fact the day in which he was buried. The distant miles and the lack of information was starting to blur the memory of him.

Rhys Wyn's name on his Welsh gravestone

“Middle Granville, U.S.A.” became a mystical unknown place in a far-flung corner of a vast continent for us and no one in the family would have had the means to visit. The erroneously carved gravestone in Penmachno would have to suffice.

Gwern, my son, by his great-great-great-grandfather's grave in Penmachno yesterday

 But a memorial stands for him in Middle Granville. A fine looking gravestone that stands at the far end of Elmwood Cemetery, the paupers’ section. The stone was erected by the endeavours of many hard-working Welsh exiles in the Slate Valley and there was most certainly no financial contribution made by the family to pay for it. The family would have been too poor to pay for such an expense.

Recently I found an article in an old Welsh-American newspaper that recorded that three Welshmen who lived in the Slate Valley had put up a gravestone of a new design to grace the resting place of my ancestor. A fund was raised to pay for a gravestone. It had cost $25 with a further 50cents added to cover the carting of the stone to the cemetery. The three in charge were J.R. Peters, a native of Machynlleth, who was a foreman of stonecutters at the Penrhyn  Slate Company in Middle Granville; Richard Roberts, a native of Anglesey who was a proficient singer who went also by the name of Llew Dulas; and finally Owen T. Davies, known as Owain Machno, a poet of Penmachno, Rhys Wyn’s home village. No doubt Davies would have been acquainted with Rhys Wyn since childhood. Therefore on 16 May 1885, two years after his death, my great-great-grandfather was given a permanent marker on his grave that would await 113 years before I became the first family member to visit his place of rest.

The grave at Elmwood Cemetery, Middle Granville

The gravestone was further honoured by having an englyn (pron. eh-ng-linn) written upon it by another Welsh-American who was very prominent in poetic circles in the old and new country. David Owen Morris was more well-known by his bardic name of Dewi Glan Dulas and his name and poetry are found on many gravestones in the Slate Valley. A native of Beddgelert, Dewi was often asked by grieving relatives to compose an eloquent elegy to be inscribed on the  gravestones of the deceased. These laments traditionally took the form of a short Welsh metrical poem called an englyn of which there is an abundance in the Slate Valley. As I walked in the cemeteries last week examples of his work were found everywhere though I was most concerned to note that some of them were becoming weathered and close to unreadable since my last visit. Now here is a project I would love to take on………….recording the Slate Valley’s englynion before they are lost forever! I doubt very much that people realise the treasure trove of literature found on these stones! Ironically enough, Dewi Glan Dulas also died alone in 1895 in West Pawlet and had a similar campaign by local Welsh-Americans to pay for his gravestone at Mountain View years after his death.

Even so, it was very important for me that my children came to pay their respects to their great-great-great-grandfather, Rhys Wyn Jones. It is never too late to do so. Had he not been shot and killed that fateful day in August 1883 my three children would not have been born. (And I’ve another one on the way this August!) Neither would I have been born! Nor my father! Nor my grandmother! Confused? Well…..had he not been shot…..the family would have come over to be with him……. so that solitary bullet caused many births by that one death.

Lois, Gwern and Iolo at Elmwood

It was a long wait for Rhys Wyn before his family was able to visit, but we know where he is now…………..and he is amongst friends.

Tan tro nesa’!

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About slatevalleymuseum

This year, Slate Valley Museum celebrates its 15th year of exciting range of programs, exhibitions, and special events that share its mission to collect, catalogue, conserve, exhibit, and interpret materials, artifacts, machines, and information that demonstrate the geology of slate and the history of slate quarrying and the quarrying community in the Slate Valley of New York and Vermont. We invite you to join us and... explore... exhibits of historic artifacts from the area's renowned slate quarries and mills displays revealing the science and art of slate quarrying, and its influence on the Slate Valley culture a quarry shanty, complete with all the machinery and tools used in traditional slate quarrying a geological display illustrating the natural history of slate examples of how slate has been used in the structure and decor of local buildings and as an inspriration for artworks in various media and our new multi-media exhibit HEAVY LIFTING: A Human and Technological History of Moving Slate from Quarry to Market, 1850-Present
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