Mathias Family Archives

The James Connection


Wednesday, May 24, 2000


All Photographs and text and sound copyright ©2000 Dennis Mathias

    R everend John Thomas James (b.1827 d.1907) was a Welsh Baptist minister who came to the United States during the Civil War. He worked in coal mines near Pomeroy Ohio helping supply war coal to the North and undoubtedly faith to the dominions. After the war In September 1865 Rev. James and his friends Caleb Reese, David N. Jones, and Edwin Williams left Pomeroy Ohio to examine land in  Nebraska after reading reports from other Welsh in the area in the Y'Drych newspaper printed in New York. They contracted to buy 600 acres of land for $5 an acre eventually sailing from Pomeroy down the Ohio River to St. Louis then up the Missouri making landfall at Aspinwall Nebraska.  The four men drew straws for their choice of quarter sections of land within a mile of Shubert, NE.
    Prior to his leaving permanently,  his wife Mary Ann died leaving their six children Benjamin, Elizabeth, Hellen, William, Jenkins and Thomas under the father's care. His wife's dying wish was that he take the children to Nebraska to grow up on a farm instead of in a coal mine. Reverend James and 12 other families left on a barge down the Ohio River, to the Mississippi River, and finally up the Missouri River making landfall in July of 1866.
       Reese was allegedly mistaken for a wolf one evening at dusk and killed by a couple of drunken soldiers on their way to Ft. Leavenworth Kansas shortly after he moved his family to Nebraska that fall. 
       Rev. James' wife was largely responsible for his western movement, as she had lived on a farm in Wales. She died in December 1865. Her wish was that Rev. James raise his sons on the farm. He arrived with them in the summer of 1866.
       At this time the nearest railroad was St. Joseph, MO. and Brownville, NE the most important river point.
      There was a big grove known as Hargler's on Rev. James' farm.  The Indians had been in the habit of holding councils and camping here and took precautions to protect it from fires. Prairie fires were frequent  and very few trees survived.  This timberland was valuable along the Missouri where the "half  breed line" was established.  This allotted the boundary of lands was set off by the Treaty of Prairie du Eluen for "half breeds" and their decedents including those from the Otoe, Sioux, Ponca and Omaha. The Line was between the two Nemahas, ten miles from their mouth at the Missouri.
       Rev. James at one time lead the pulpit at the Prairie Union Welsh Baptist Church
    near Shubert.Nebraska.  But some rift took place possibly over the "Laying on of Hands" or the use of the Welsh language.   In fact apparently seven families including Rev. James' were expelled from the Prairie Union church and this gave rise to the creation of the Penuel Church .  Rev. James was instrumental in organizing the Welsh Baptist Church of Penuel and his adopted son W.W. James (mayor of Shubert) gave an acre of his farm for the location of the Penuel church and cemetery.  The church burned down but the cemetery remains.
       With the passing of the activity of the elder Welsh the Church ended.
        J.T. James sailed back to Wales many times to spread the word about the New World and recruit other Welsh. He was instrumental in establishing the Welsh Baptist Prairie Union Church and later another, the Penuel Church, in Richardson County Nebraska.

Amazingly the newspaper Rev. James read is still available!