“Remembering Cornish Heritage – Making the Connection”
The 16th International Gathering of Cornish Cousins in North America
To be held from 10th—14th August 2011 in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, USA
As part of the renewed understanding about their Cornish heritage in those many countries around the world, where people from Cornwall have migrated over the past 3 centuries, Cornish associations and societies have been formed in the past 30 years.
Much of the initial interest was in family history but along with that came interest in the culture and history of Cornwall and how that influenced the on-going heritage the Cornish left in their countries, as well as the conditions of Cornwall yesterday and today.
Rather than be inward looking these groups have done what their ancestors did – set up networks, arranged gatherings, and travelled.
One of the largest targets for migration was of course North America. Those Cornish felt the need to arouse awareness of our heritage, among all, no matter how fractional their link, as few can claim to be 100% Cornish. These Cornish immigrants, both as individuals and as a population, participated in the activities and enterprises that built the continent. Cornish-American political figures, scientists, artists, and others have made a huge difference in North America. This needs to recognized, pride taken in it, and some noise made for and about the Cornish in North America.
Gatherings of the Cornish in North America
The Cornish American Heritage Society (CAHS) was founded in 1982 (see web site). The biennial “Gathering of Cornish Cousins”, sponsored by CAHS, take place every two years near a place of Cornish settlement somewhere in North America. Talented speakers and performers from Cornwall and throughout North America bring their own expertise to share with the 300+ in attendance.
From a first weekend “Gathering” in 1982, the Gatherings now consist of four or five days of workshops, talks, music, singing, dance, a pasty picnic, Cornish church service, banquet, tours and various other activities.
That first “Gathering of Cornish Cousins” was held in suburban Detroit, Michigan, USA in 1982. Enthusiastic Cornish descendants from all over the United States and Canada took part. There were talks, singing, a pasty dinner, lots of genealogical information exchanged, and support to organize a society to bring Cornish descendants from North America together.
Gatherings since have been held in the USA at places as far apart as Calumet Michigan, in Pennsylvania, Grass Valley California, and also at Vancouver and Toronto, in Canada. These have become international gatherings with visitors from Cornwall, Australia, NZ and anywhere around the ‘Cornish World’. The 15th Gathering was held in 2009 in Grass Valley & Nevada City, California, USA.
The 16th Gathering
10th—14th August 2011 in Mineral Point, Iowa County, Wisconsin, USA
The 2011 CAHS Gathering theme, “Remembering Cornish Heritage – – Making the connection”, is very relevant to the Cornish settlement of the Mineral Point area.
The Iowa County Cornish of the 19th century were very familiar with Grass Valley, California; Calumet, Michigan; Butte, Montana, the Tennessee copper basin, the mines of Nevada; Arizona; Colorado, British Columbia, and others.
The locals either had family or friends who had re-located and got word back home about these places. It is likely that when Cornish gathered in North American mining areas they would discover connections with not only Cornwall but this continent as well. They made good use of a networking system long before the technological aids of today.
It wasn’t just miners who were tempted away to other pockets of settlement. Merchants, trades people, farmers, blacksmiths, also made use of their Cornish connections.
It is a small Cornish world and the August 10-14 Gathering in Mineral Point will be a wonderful time to celebrate our heritage and most certainly we will realize more connections.
What is now Southwest Wisconsin – and northeast Illiniois – was a significant stop for many Cornish who came to America in the 1800s. Many stayed. Some moved on to other ‘holes in the ground’, notably the gold fields of California and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Mineral Point is tucked in the rolling hills of Southwest Wisconsin in the area described as “driftless”. Located about half way between Madison, Wisconsin and Dubuque, Iowa – just off of Highway 151 exits 37 and 40. Left untouched by the glaciers, minerals at the surface of the land could be readily discovered. Prospectors, miners and adventurers swarmed the hills and lived in crude shelters known as “badger holes”, from which Wisconsin got it’s nickname: The Badger State. The discovery of lead gave rise to the first “mineral rush” in the United States and Mineral Point grew to be the largest, most important settlement in the area. In the 1830s, news of the lead mining rush reached Cornwall, and the Cornish miners and their families started arriving in Mineral Point. These immigrant Cornish miners brought advanced hard rock and deep mining skills along with a distinctive stone building tradition to the area. The Cornish character of the community remains prominent to the day, in large part because of the many limestone and sandstone buildings constructed by these early immigrants.
Experienced Cornish miners were attracted to the lead mining opportunities in Mineral Point, and by 1845 roughly half of the town’s population had Cornish ancestry. The original dwellings of some of these early Cornish immigrants have been restored at the Pendarvis Historic Site in Mineral Point. Lead continued to be produced in abundant quantities by the Cornish miners, and in 1847, the Mineral Point Tribune reported that the town’s furnaces were producing 43,800 pounds (19,900 kg) of lead each day.
Mining activity in Mineral Point began to decline in the following years. In 1848, the same year that Wisconsin achieved statehood, gold was discovered in California. Many experienced miners left Mineral Point to look for gold, and in all, the town lost 700 people during the California Gold Rush. While the lead industry in Mineral Point continued into the 1860s, the town never recovered its former importance.
In the 1840s, thousands of people from Britain immigrated to Iowa County. Approximately 15,000 of them came from the mining areas of West Cornwall, centred on Redruth, creating a strong Cornish heritage. In recognition of that heritage, a Twinning Association has been established which links the City of Mineral Point with the City of Redruth. This was formally instituted in Redruth in the spring of 1996 and then at the Gundry House, Mineral Point, July 1997.
Just a few minutes from Mineral Point are two other communities with strong Cornish roots, the city of Dodgeville and the village of Linden. These three towns shared common Cornish heritage values and family connections. This “Cornish circuit” involved the welcoming of new immigrants from Cornwall, sometimes financial assistance to help a new Cousin Jack and Jenny get started and a sharing of culture that helped make the transition to a new and strange land a little easier.
These three Cornish towns, close together in Southwestern Wisconsin, also brought a custom from Cornwall- sibling rivalry. Mineral Point was the early center of mining and had the County seat. In the 1850’s a movement took place to transfer the center of local government and at the start two other Iowa County towns were in the running—Dodgeville and Linden. It would soon be a two way race between Dodgeville and Mineral Point with Dodgeville winning a bitter feud. Otherwise the rivalry between the towns has been more of a good natured source such as in the athletic arena.
The Linden athletic teams, both high school and amateur teams, were known as the Cornish Miners. One summer baseball game in 1927 pitted Linden against Dodgeville in the Southwest Wisconsin baseball league; both teams were tied for first place when they met at Linden. The headline in the Dodgeville Chronicle read, “Cornish Miners knock locals from top notch in league and now lead all other teams.” Cornish surnames abound in the details of the game. Curtis “Koo-Koo” Faull went the distance for Linden while Dodgeville sent Pascoe, Johns and Bishop to the mound. It was reported, “The feature of the game was a near riot each inning between opposing players.”
Later that same year the Dodgeville High School football team’s main game was with their rival Mineral Point, a sports rivalry that stretched all the way back to 1895. The Dodgers were led by coach Trewyn and defeated the Pointers 12-6. Both Dodgeville touchdowns were scored by Herby and Norman Harris, whose father emigrated from Cornwall to Dodgeville.
These three Cornish towns also served as jumping off points for resident Cornish to areas we are all familiar with today due to past CAHS Gatherings. Some of the early Iowa County Cornish had stopped in Pennsylvania before coming here. Others living here were tempted by greener grass and deeper mine shafts elsewhere.
If you are coming to the 16th CAHS gathering in Mineral Point, WI on August 10-14, 2011 be sure to allow an extra day or two to visit the other areas of Cornish settlement nearby.
The Upper Mississippi valley Lead-Zinc district operated continuously from the 1820’s until 1979 when low zinc prices and restrictive new mining laws by the state of Wisconsin ended an era of Cornish involvement. The mining district extended into Dubuque, Iowa and Northwest Illinois.
The Cornish, of course, were not all miners. There were Cornish farming neighborhoods, tradesmen of all kinds, and of course Cornish preachers. It was mining, however, that first attracted the Cornish families here.
Other web links for Mineral Point:
Cornish groups around the world:
9th November, 2010
Compiled by Chris Dunkerley, on behalf of the Cornish American Heritage Society
[The material in this article relies very heavily on the writings of James Jewell]
Concerning The gathering of Cornish Cousins in North America. My grandfather’s boat Building business in Porthleven, Cornwall failed in 1909 and many shipwrights were put out of work. My grandfather found work in Devonport Dockyard and I have heard that other shipwrights and their families went to Camden in New Jersey, across the River Delaware from Philadelphia. I have wondered for many years whether that is true and did they find work and success in the USA. I would be interested to know?
Best wishes Tom Bowden