The early days of America, surprisingly enough, begin in this tiny Flintshire town. Caerwys had a reputation already, as the smallest Welsh town with a Royal charter, but in 1682, a Caerwys doctor, Thomas Wynne, took its influence even further. He sailed to America with Quaker William Penn, who had been given 45,000 square miles of land by English king Charles II. Penn wanted to call this new land New Wales – Charles II overruled him, calling it Pennsylvania – but the street plan for its largest city, Philadelphia, was based on Caerwys.
Wynne’s home, Bron Fadog, two miles away from Caerwys in the village of Ysciefiog, is Grade 2-listed, and still stands today.
Waunfawr, Caernarfon, Gwynedd
This is the home village of John Evans, an ambitious and eccentric 26-year-old explorer who set out to America in 1793. An album and film by the Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys about him, American Interior, was released in 2014.
Evans’ reasons for his trip were unusual: to find Welsh-speaking Native Americans. A medieval legend suggested that a Welsh Prince, Madoc, had been the first European to discover America in the 12th century. He had met with a tribe of Mandan Indians there, who had learned to speak Welsh. Evans was determined to find out if this was true.
His trip involved him crossing mountain ranges alone, boating for hundreds of miles, getting imprisoned in St Louis – and eventually finding the Mandan, who didn’t speak Welsh at all. Tragically, Evans died ravaged from his adventures and homeless in New Orleans in 1799.
A memorial in his village by local sculptor Meic Watts shows him with a low boat in front of him, his soul being brought back to Waunfawr.
Plas Yn Ial, Llanarmon-yn-Ial and St Giles’ Churchyard, Wrexham, Clwyd
Yale University is named after the hugely wealthy merchant trader Elihu Yale, whose surname is a corruption of the Welsh word 'ial'. His family were named after their ancestral home, Plas Yn Ial in Llanarmon-Yn-Ial west of Wrexham – a place you can stay today, in beautiful self-catering accommodation.
By 1649, when Elihu was born, his family were living in Boston, Massachusetts, but they kept their connection with their home country. Elihu returned to Wales later in life, living between London and his grandfather’s home, Plas Grono, on the Erddig estate. He was buried in St Giles Churchyard in Wrexham, where his tomb is still easy to visit today. It bears the legend 'Born in America, In Europe bred'.
Banc-Y-Llain Farm / Jabajak Vineyard Restaurant and Rooms, Llanboidy, Carmarthenshire
Four centuries before it was the site of Jabajak, a gorgeous five-star restaurant with rooms and vineyard, Banc Y Llain was a farm where the great-grandfather of America’s second President, John Adams, was born. He became a tenant farmer here, in a home known locally as The White House, before leaving Wales behind to seek his fortune in America. His great grandson would be the first person to live at the house’s rather larger namesake in Washington. John Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, also became the sixth President, making his reputation as a staunch opponent of slavery.
Bryngwyn, Ysbyty Ifan, Conwy, Clwyd
Abraham Lincoln's great-great grandfather John Morris was brought up in the Bryngwyn farmhouse, now long derelict, located in remote foothills south-east of Betws-Y-Coed. John’s daughter, Ellen, emigrated to America with the Quakers, and over there she met her husband Cadwaladr Evans, from Bala. Lincoln stays close to his Welsh roots: in his 1860 election campaign, he had 100,000 election pamphlets printed in the Welsh language.
Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, South Wales
The first sitting President to visit Cymru was a President with a Welsh ancestor. Barack Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Perry, was born in Anglesey. In 2014, Obama came to Wales for the 2014 NATO summit, and stayed in one the Hunters’ Lodges in the Celtic Manor Resort. So can you, although you’ll have to bring your own security.
Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea, South Wales
Hillary Clinton’s great-grandfather John Jones was a miner from Llangynidr who moved to Pennsylvania in 1879. Her great-grandmother, Mary, was believed to come from Abergavenny. Clinton talked of her warmth towards her Welsh roots in 2017, when she received an honorary doctorate from Swansea University. Their College of Law and Criminology was renamed the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law. She also stayed in the Gower’s Fairyhill restaurant with rooms, and even had her photo taken with the staff afterwards.
Pwll, Carmarthenshire, and Amelia Earhart Obelisk, Burry Port, Carmarthenshire
The first woman to complete a flight across the Atlantic landed in Pwll, our small coastal village between Llanelli and Burry Port. Her plane was towed into Burry Port Harbour, and nearby on Stepney Road, the 20-foot Amelia Earhart Obelisk commemorates the full journey. It even has a weather-vane on top, in the shape of her seaplane.
Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen, Llandysul, Ceredigion
The story of one of America’s most pioneering architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, began in Yr Hen Gapel, a tiny chapel in rural Ceredigion. This is where his mother’s family embraced the radical branch of Christianity that inspired them to cross the Atlantic, moving to Wisconsin. They didn’t forget their Welsh roots, and neither did Frank, who named the groundbreaking estate that he built on their land Taliesin, after the Welsh bard. Taliesin became a National Historical Landmark in America in 1976, and is being considered to be an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Horton Beach, Gower, Swansea
On this beautiful beach at Horton Beach, among others on the South of the Gower Peninsula, thousands of American GIs practised for the D-Day Landings. The troops also lived in our seaside villages, and the dancehalls of Wales still hold memories of their effects on their communities. Today, Horton is a spacious stretch for families and lovers of watersports, with a lifeguard on duty from May to September, and an accessible car park only 100m away.
Find out more
If you're interested in researching your Welsh ancestry, local archives are a good place to start. The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth holds extensive archives and has a fantastic online search facility.
You can also do bespoke family history tours with Cambrian Routes and Dragon Tours.