Sunday 29 January 2012

President Davis

After a refreshing swim at the gym (bright sunshine but the air temperature is below freezing) I drive back and hear a programme on Radio 4 about the battle of the Alamo (1836). Now this blog has a record of exposing famous people as Welsh but it is a departure to reveal a Welsh presence at a famous event...

So step forward Lewis Johnson of Ystradgynlais who stood shoulder to shoulder - and then died fighting - with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at this iconic event in the history of the USA (well, actually they were fighting for the Republic of Texas but let's not split hairs).

We shouldn't be surprised as the Welsh played a huge part in the founding of the US. George Washington no less said that the Welsh made great Americans - I'm afraid what he meant was that they were northern European Protestants without great loyalty to the British crown - and as many as a third of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were Welsh so they certainly featured strongly among the elite - more on this below.

So what happened to them? There are some desultory Welsh societies in the States but they make no real noise, certainly less than the Irish and Italians for example who are very recognisable groups in the US today.

The reason I believe is that they did so well that they don't feel the need to rally around their old flag and they live comfortably at the top of the meritocratic (or culturally determined - take your pick) American class system. There is some evidence for this theory: for example there are lots of Welsh grandees among of the leaders of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. I have also previously noted the success of one of my recent ancestors in Arizona (see here).

Another sinister bit of evidence for Welsh hegemony in North America is the disproportionate number of black people with Welsh surnames. This is not always, but usually, because slaves took the names of their owners. And of course the one unambiguously Welsh President over there was Jefferson Davis: President that is of the, ahem, Confederacy (1861 - 1865) which rebelled in the cause of preserving slavery and precipitated one of the bloodiest civil wars in history.

All this might disappoint those who espouse the theory that the Welsh are radical by nature but it's no surprise surely. Like everybody else Welsh people can be radical when the circumstances provoke it but given the opportunity they can ruthlessly seek self-advancement and then protect their success in conservatism. It would be mature to recognise this at a time when the responsibility for our success or failure is increasingly in our own hands following devolution.


I check the Alamo story when I get home and it transpires that Mr Johnson may actually have been a Tennessean. But then reliable sources suggest that Davy Crockett (John Wayne in the 1960 film which he directed) actually surrendered (!) at the Alamo and was then shot out of hand by the 14 year-old Mexican conscripts who had stormed the place at great loss. Best stick to the myth.