Friday 23 September 2016

Welsh Immigrant Randall Peat

"God gave me every inch of the United States of America to live in.  And I have lived here now eighty two years.  I wouldn't want to live no place else." (Randall Peat)

Postcard of Colwyn Bay where wealthy English tourists used to vacation circa 1900 courtesy

Born and raised in Colwyn Bay, Wales on the Irish Sea, Randall Peat was the son of a miner.  When he was only one year old, his father was crushed to death in an avalanche of limestones in the mine. His mother became a live in maid at one of the mansions in town.  Little Randall was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather worked on a farm where he raised cows, pigs and horses and grew barley and wheat.  "[He] didn't live to make money; [he] lived to exist."

Randall's grandfather rented the land at one English pound per acre.  The area in which he lived had originally been owned by the farmers; however, the British government later took it and gave it to the wealthy who in turn rented it out to the same farmers.  Surprisingly, no bitterness existed between the tenants and the landowners according to Randall.  The latter knew that they depended on the former for a livelihood.  "That's why I'm in the United States...'with Liberty and justice for all,' explained Randall, referring to Britain's class system.

Randall worked on the farm sowing seeds by hand and pulling a team of horses to bury the seed.  Often, he and his siblings would eat bread crusts doused in pig's fat for flavour or an egg with tea for supper.  Randall would wear his brother's hand me down shirts which his grandmother patched up  At school, Welsh was forbidden; only English was spoken.  If you misspelled a word, you were flogged with a big stick.  "Despite this, we only had one one to live and that was happy."

To Randall, three things were important;  home, work and church.  The English only recognized one church, the Episcopalian or Anglican Church.  The Welsh in the area belonged to the Baptist church which was taxed heavily by the English.  "The practice of it was very hushed up, secretive."  Marriages in the Baptist church were not recognized by the English.  

It was at church that Randall first got the idea to immigrate to America.  He met a teenage boy who had just returned from New York where he had earned good money as a stable hand.  With only twenty pounds to his name, Randall didn't think he had enough money for his passage but the other boy said yes.  He recommended second rather than third class (steerage) ticket so that at Ellis Island, they would be questioned on board the ship rather than in the immigration station.  "It's worth the extra five pounds," he explained.

In 1914, Randall and his new friend, Dave, took a train from Colwyn Bay to Liverpool where they boarded the S.S. Baltic.  They were joined by immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Germany.  Overcome by seasickness, Randall just wanted to jump into the water.  Dave recommended a dose of whisky which seemed to do the trick.  At Ellis Island, officials boarded the ship and inquired if Randall and Dave had money in their pockets once they reached the mainland:  "You're not going to live on no relief."

Randall and Dave arrived in New York City where they took the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad to Utica, New York.  Randall rode in an automobile for the first time when Dave's uncle picked them up at the train station.  Randall was hired immediately to work at Borden's Condensery in Waterville where he shovelled coal.  Later he was promoted to the milk plant where he capped bottles.

Randall's boss gave him Sunday off so he could attend church, informing him about a Welsh congregation nearby.  When Randall arrived at the church, a friendly man introduced himself.  The minister was absent that Sunday and before Randall knew it, he was up at the front leading the congregation in a hymn.  Urged to continue, he read a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress to the congregation in Welsh.  Afterwards, people rushed up to shake his hand.  

A young girl from Colwyn Bay followed Randall to America.  Within six months they were married. They had a daughter and lived together for sixty two years.  To this day, Randall gets called upon to deliver a sermon once in a while.  He often recites the 23rd Psalm at funerals.  "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want..."

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