The reasons for leaving were many. The potato famine
that hit Ireland affected all of Britain and much of mainland Europe.
Added to that, the mines in Cornwall were coming on hard times. Ore
from other countries became much cheaper and the world market collapsed.
The mines in Cornwall were getting so deep that it was too expensive
to bring the ore up. Mines were closing down and there was no work
to be had. Incredible poverty and poor living conditions were endemic.
There were no social programs and neither Church nor Crown seemed
to care about the plight of the people.
As the first Cornish came into Southwest Wisconsin,
word of both mining and farming opportunities got back to Cornwall.
(The Land Office opened in Mineral Point in 1834). It was appealing
to the immigrants that they could work for themselves and not have
to pay the mine owner or landed gentry (or the Church) most of what
they earned. One side effect of the influx of Cornish into the lead
and copper mining areas of the United States was that for every boatload
of Cornish miners that went to work over here, it made a negative
impact on the mining economy in Cornwall.
By 1850, the number of Cornish in the Upper Mississippi
Valley lead region totaled between 7,000 and 10,000, with 6,000 of
them living in Grant, Iowa and LaFayette Counties in Wisconsin. By
then large numbers had already left the area for the California gold
fields. It is recorded that 700 people left Mineral Point. On one
particular day, 60 wagons left, headed west. Many Cornish from this
area also went to the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
and the iron range of Minnesota.
After more than 170 years, the Cornish influence
is still very evident in the old lead region. A stroll through Shullsburg,
Platteville or Mineral Point with their stone buildings and winding
streets will take you back generations. The phone books and cemeteries
are filled with names still familiar in Cornwall. Those visiting
Cornwall marvel that it seems like they never left home. Cornish
visitors are astonished at how familiar it feels here. Traditional
Cornish foods such as pasty, saffron and tea biscuits are regular
fare at restaurants, bake shops and in many homes of Southwest Wisconsin
and Northern Illinois. If your ear is tuned to it, you might even
hear an old saying that comes down through a family, the people themselves
maybe not being aware of the origin. The Pendarvis State Historic
Site in Mineral Point gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like
for the early miners and their families.
There are many Cornish Societies throughout the
world that keep Cornish descendants in touch with each other and
with their heritage. The Southwest Wisconsin Cornish Society serves
those of the old lead region. The list of members shows addresses
from all over the United States, some in Canada and Cornwall. A newsletter
is published quarterly and several meetings are held for the membership
through the year.
For information about the Southwest Wisconsin Cornish
Society, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Jewell, founder of the Southwest Wisconsin Cornish
Society also started the annual Cornish Festivals that take place
in Mineral Point the last weekend of September