In Celebration of the Journey:
Salem Presbyterian Church Venedocia, Ohio 1848-1998
Chapter 1: "Beginnings"
A preview of the history of Salem Presbyterian Church

Our original intention had been to have a history ready for the St. David's Day Celebration in 1998. When it became clear that was not possible, we thought surely we'd be done by the Gymanfa Ganu. Yet by June we had to face the reality that even this would not be possible. In our work on this book, we have discovered that our delay does have a precedent within our history. The report of the building of the new chapel was delayed until May of 1902 (the building was completed in September of 1898). Rev. Edward Roberts explained the delay: "We aimed to bring the Report out earlier, but we were waiting for a few who had not fulfilled their pledges; and when we started collecting these pledges, saw it was a bigger task than we anticipated."

We are not waiting for anyone to complete their pledges, but we do sympathize with Rev. Roberts discovery that the task was bigger than he had anticipated! We have received much wonderful information, and in the interest of presenting the most complete and accurate history we can, we are delaying the publication of our book. We present to you the first chapter of our book, along with a form on which you can indicate your interest in purchasing a copy when the completed version is available (soon, we hope!). We don't anticipate our task taking as long as the report on the building of the new chapel did. By the way, we don't guarantee that this version of our first chapter is the final version. As we have received additional information and made new discoveries, chapter one has grown and changed many times. While we hope it is now complete, we have learned not to proclaim it complete.

David H. Evans
Wendy S. Pratt,
c 1998 Salem Presbyterian Church All Rights Reserved.

The book will also include information on Zion, Horeb, and Bethel Churches, and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church, the original denomination of Salem and the other churches. Appendices will include lists of the elders of Salem Church, organists, choristers, and choir directors; information on some of the missions and missionaries that have been supported by the congregation over the years, and various other historical documents. The book will have many pictures.

If you would like us to send you an order form when the book becomes available, please complete the form below and use "copy" and "paste" to email it to Salem Church's pastor Wendy Pratt or send the requested information via US Mail to

History Book
Salem Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 678
Venedocia, OH 45894



City, State_________________________________

Phone # ___________________________________

Tentative number of copies ___________________

Chapter 1 ... Beginnings

Wales was a land blessed with a richness of music and literature, and burdened by the rule of the English. The English were determined to impose their language and culture upon the Welsh, and the Welsh were even more determined to hold on to their own cultural richness. In 1536 the law in Wales read: "No person or persons using Welsh speech shall have or enjoy any manner or office or fees either in the realm of England; Wales; or other in the realm of the King's Dominion." The Welsh fought desperately to preserve what was theirs, and when they were not able to defeat the English in battle, began to explore other options for preserving their heritage.

As new continents were open for settlement, the idea of starting a Welsh Colony that was free to hold on to their language and culture was explored. Welsh settlements were established in North America, South America, and Australia with this goal in mind. There were other factors that influenced them to emigrate, and in 1906 it was written that at about the time of the Napoleonic Wars the farmers and workers were having a lean time and there was not enough work on the small Tawelan farm for the father and two sons. So Edward Bebb, "decided to emigrate to America and with that in view he asked Miss Roberts, the sister of the Reverend John Roberts, the Independent minister to go with him, but she refused.. It was a very serious thing at that time. They took about two months to get across with their own packed up food and many ships were wrecked on the way and the passengers never heard of again. So Miss Roberts refused to go and he went by himself." He left on July 11, 1795, and was accompanied by Miss Roberts brother, George. In 1795, Edward Bebb arrived in the United States after 13 weeks on the voyage. He arrived in Salem, Massachusetts. Eventually he walked to Ohio, and with Ezekiel Hughes, was among the first in line at the Cincinnati land office when federal land was made available for purchase in April of 1801. He was the first purchaser of land in Morgan Township, near the southwest corner of Ohio. When Edward Bebb went to secure his newly purchased land, he found a squatter, Aaron Cherry, had already cleared it and raised two crops of corn. Cherry moved on, shrugging at Bebb's offer to pay him for clearing the land. Bebb planted his crops and walked back to Pennsylvania, intending to journey back to Wales in search of a wife.

Following Edward Bebb's departure for America, Margaret Roberts had been urged by her family to marry Rev. Mr. Owens. She had married him, and in 1801 the young couple decided to do what had seemed too frightening to young Margaret just six years earlier: emigrate to America. They were accompanied by Margaret's older sister, Grace, and Grace's husband and two children. They had a difficult passage, and the husbands of the two women and Grace's two children all died on the voyage over. One story has the officers of the ship poisoning the men and children because they wanted the women for themselves. The women left the ship in Philadelphia by sliding down a rope at the bow and fled to the house of their brother, George Roberts. Edward Bebb arrived at the Roberts home two days later on his quest for a bride. Edward Bebb and Margaret Roberts Owens were married on February 2, 1802. The wedding was witnessed by her two brothers, John and George. They returned together to Ohio, and their son, William, was born December 8, 1802, the first white child born in Butler County west of the Great Miami River.

William Bebb married Sarah Shuck in 1824, while teaching school at North Bend. Sarah was also a teacher, and the two of them established Sycamore Grove School on Edward Bebb's farm. It was a boarding school, educating thirty to forty boys between the ages of ten and fourteen. The boys came from Cincinnati and the South, and also included a few local day boys. The students went on to do well, and included several attorneys and a later governor of Ohio, William Dennison. In 1831 William Bebb passed the state bar examination, and in 1832 closed down the school and moved into practicing law full time in Hamilton.

By 1837 Bebb was encouraging Welsh families to move to Ohio. He wrote a letter dated November 1, 1837, to the Rev. Michael Jones, of Bala, Merionethshire, whose daughter, Mary Ann, had safely arrived in America. The contents of the letter are described:

She [Mary Ann] was quoted as saying: `Oh, if father and mother were to come to America we would buy land in the new country and build us a little cottage in the middle of the forest and there we would live so happy.' Bebb then discussed the climate, soil, public works, and educational system of Ohio at great length and eventually acknowledged that he for several months had been contemplating `a design' to bring Welshmen to the New World. While professing to describe America impartially, he, nevertheless, used such tempting phrases as: `No man is a beggar here from necessity.' `You would bid a last farewell to tythes, lords, and beggars.' `Your taxes would be comparatively nothing and your poor rates literally nothing.' And in conclusion he requested: `Show this to my cousins Roberts and Bebbs and other relatives at Llanbrynmair and present them my love.'

Bebb became an active Whig politician, and campaigned for Harrison and Tyler throughout the state. In 1846 he was nominated for governor by the Whig party, and was elected governor of Ohio. He was the 19th governor, the 14th elected governor, and the third native Ohioan to hold the office. He found himself in a position to help the Welsh realize their dream of preserving their culture and heritage in a new land.


By May of 1847 Bebb's earlier letter to Rev. Michael Jones was bearing fruit, as three families left Wales to begin a new life in the United States. The families included Mr. & Mrs. William Bebb, and their children from Rhiwgriafol, Darowen, North Wales; Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Morris, and their son from Dolygweiddil, Trefeglwys, North Wales, and Mr. & Mrs. J. R. Jervis, who were expecting their first child, from Llanbrynmair, North Wales. It took them six weeks and 3 days to cross the Atlantic and arrive in New York. Interestingly, one of the motivating forces for the Bebbs' decision to emigrate was a controversy over music. It is reported that William Bebb was very musical, and was teaching the children of their district of Wales to sing in four part harmony. The more traditional people of the local church apparently objected, insisting that all singing within the church be in unison, going so far as to threaten excommunication if they did not stop the part singing.

They spent another two weeks traveling to Cincinnati and Paddy's Run (Shandon), Ohio, where they settled in temporarily with the Welsh community there. William Bebb connected with his cousin, William Bebb, who was governor of Ohio, and the two of them set off in October of 1847 on a tour of Allen and Van Wert Counties in search of land for a settlement. Their expedition was a success, and in April of 1848 these families journeyed up the Miami and Erie Canal to Delphos, which was located eight miles from their land. The Bebb and Morris families started out from Hamilton, so they reached their new home before the Jervis family, which came from Cincinnati. By the time the Jervis family arrived, there was a log cabin for shelter and about a quarter of an acre of land had been cleared.

Throughout the rest of Governor William Bebb's life, he was active in helping the Welsh establish settlements in the United States. In the middle 1850's he visited Wales, and upon his return established a land company that purchased 100,000 acres in eastern Tennessee for the purpose of establishing a Welsh colony. He moved his family there in 1860, but with the outbreak of the Civil War, he was no longer welcome in Tennessee, since his support of Negro equality was well known, having been part of his successful gubernatorial campaign in Ohio. He died in Rockford, Illinois in 1873.

The Jervis family remembered their first night in their new log home, for they were frightened by the sound of animals scratching at their door and then the clay chimney. They finally summoned their courage and went out to face the animals, Mr. Jervis carried his gun, and Mrs. Jervis provided support by carrying a candle to light the way. They saw two animals, and fired, hitting one of them. The animals that had given them such a scare were porcupines.

This was the beginning of Venedocia. There are at least two stories about the meaning of the name "Venedocia." The first is that it means, "To this place I came." Noticing the similarity to "Venodotian," the dialect spoken in North Wales, the second story has it meaning North Wales. Yet another theory states that the meaning is "From whence I came." Since the first three families came form North Wales and were seeking to preserve their culture and language, it is very possible that they named their new home after the home they had left behind. This theory is further supported by a glossary that lists "Venedotian" as meaning "North Wales." A poem written by Eunice Edwards about 1890 includes a stanza which reads:

Governor Bebb baptized it
North Wales he gave for name
No name he could find better
Than that from which he came.
This poem certainly supports the theory that Venedocia was intended to mean North Wales, and it may be the source of the theory that the name meant "from whence I came."

The area was wild, with thick woods and swamp land. There were panthers, wolves, and wildcats in the area, and the settlers’ sleep would often be interrupted by the sound of animals scratching at their houses as they sought to reclaim their wilderness home from the human intruders. The Jervis’ log home was ¾ of a mile away from the lodging that the Bebbs were sharing with the Morris family.

The families faced many hardships as they sought to carve out their living in this new land. Going to Delphos to trade their goods or take grain to the mill was a two day expedition, one for the journey there and one for the journey home. They were literally clearing the trail as they went, so they made the journey armed with axes, and often had to unload the wagon when it became mired in the mud that was so much a part of the undrained land. A story is told that demonstrated the challenges of crossing through the Black Swamp:

A man was trying to cross [the Black Swamp] and his team and wagon became hopelessly mired down. Just at that moment a minister rode up on horseback. The man asked him, "Is there a bottom to this `mud hole'?" "Oh, yes," replied the minister, "You just haven't reached it yet!"

From the beginning, they relied upon God to see them through. Mr. Jervis notes on their first night in their new home that they gave thanks to God and prayed for God's protection. From their first Sunday, the three families gathered to worship God. They began with a preaching meeting at 10:00 in the morning, with Mr. Bebb and Mr. Morris taking turns reading sermons from volumes they had brought with them from Wales. Both Mr. Bebb and Mr. Morris had served as deacons in Wales, so they were the natural leaders of this new congregation. At 2:00 they had Sunday School, with Mr. Bebb taking a leadership role in this. He had previously been involved in organizing Sunday Schools in Wales under the supervision of Rev. T. Charles, who had established the first Sunday School in Wales.

At 6:00 they held a prayer meeting, and again the men took turns leading the various portions of the service. Wednesdays at 2:00 was reserved for a church society meeting, and the children would recite their memory verses. They saw the church society meeting as serving three purposes: "First to give an expression of our religious experience and to tell what God has done for our souls; second, to take notice of the outward circumstances of the church; third that it was essential for the success of the religious cause to keep church discipline in the forefront and that to neglect this would be like an opening in the wall for the enemy to come in like a river." These meetings were an opportunity to give encouragement during the difficult days, and to remind them of the blessings that would come if they would remain faithful to God.

During these early days, the settlers provided the leadership for the congregation, with help from an occasional visiting minister. Rev. Michael Jones of Bala was the first, preaching on a Sunday night in June of 1848. In April of 1849 Rev. Howell Powell visited, staying for about a week. This was an eventful time in the life of the community and the young congregation. He baptized Margaret Ann Jervis, the first Welsh child born in Venedocia. He also carried with him to the Calvinistic-Methodist Gymanfa in Newark, Ohio the request of the Salem Church to be accepted in to the Gymanfa. The request was granted, and the church began with 15 members: Mr. and Mrs. William Bebb and three children, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Jervis, Mr. and Mrs. David Owens, Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Morris, Mrs. Richard Jones, and Mr. David M. Jones. Mr. David M. Jones courted and married Miss Laura Bebb, giving them the distinction of being the first couple married in the young community. Within two years of the arrival of the first three families, eleven more families had arrived and settled in the community.

In October of 1850, William Bebb wrote a letter to Griffith Owen in Wales (possibly his brother-in-law), in which he described how things were progressing:

I am able to inform you once again that we are all alive and well.. We have almost completed the building of our mills, one saw mill and one corn mill. There is only sufficient water for about a quarter of the year so we can expect few advantages but convenience. We had in past years and we have in this year sown about twenty acres of wheat. We have about 120 acres of clear land, the remainder being woodland. As yet there are only twelve Welsh families here near us but others have bought land and will soon come, and there are others at a little distance from here. We have about fifty persons amongst whom are 22 Methodist members, and practically all of us are abstainers, having recently renewed the pledge. The town (Delphos?) about eight miles from here is growing very rapidly, both as regards size and trade; one may often see as many as a hundred wagons there in one day, selling wheat etc. This will probably be a pleasant country before long, and although the Welsh came here but slowly, yet there is a large number of Englishmen. A farm, partly cleared, together with buildings, can be obtained for eight or twelve dollars per acre, and woodland from two and a half to five dollars per acre, but prices are rising near here. The children have grown very much, William is powerfully built, Dafydd taller than I am and Margaret almost as tall as Lowry (Laura?), while Martha is fast following her; Jane is the smallest for her age, but she is quite healthy. Last year was very dry so the crops were light, but with good "ears" and the potato crop was good. We are still in much the same state as regards religious meetings, prayer meetings and school etc. Two Methodist ministers have visited us, and Robert Williams [of] Oak Hill has promised to come soon. We lately received a letter from Richard Herbert Montgomery promising to come here in the spring if we still continue to send for him and make the promises we made previously. We replied that we were prepared to do so.. Give me too, a detailed account of yourself, and as much as possible of the news of neighborhood and the best cause in the county. Your sister will be very pleased to receive news of her old home and her old friends. Give our very loving regards to everyone who enquires about us, especially to the preachers and the church there and at Dolgelly. Do not delay in giving us much news from there; good news from a far country is like cool water to a thirsty man.
By 1850, there was talk of building a church, and by the end of 1851 a frame building measuring 30 by 20 feet had been completed. (Some sources place the date of this first building as 1853.) This first building was built on the east side of Main St., directly across the street from the current building. The community was rightfully proud of the fact that so quickly after settling here they had been able to build a church without any outside help. They built this first building with an eye toward the future, making it much bigger than what they needed at that time. In fact, there were those who thought that they were making it so large that it would never be filled. As they prepared to build their church, they received a preaching appointment, but unfortunately Rev. Hugh Edward Rees was ill when he arrived in Venedocia, and died within a few days.


In the spring 1850 Jonestown was settled by the families of Hugh F. Jones, Abraham Jones, Thomas Hughes, and Griffith Goodwin. Mr. Abraham Jones had purchased 160 acres for himself and Mr. David Breese, and the land was divided between them when Mr. Breese arrived in 1852 as part of the second contingent, which also included Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas and her three children, John W. Hughes and his family, and Mr. Richard W. Owen and his family. Sunday School was initially held in Abraham Jones' log house. While Sunday School was held in Jonestown, the people apparently came to Venedocia and Salem Church for at least some of their church activities until Zion Church was officially formed in 1863, with 21 members. Mr. Abraham Jones was active in Salem Church as a deacon prior to the formation of the Zion Church. Zion was a "Union Church" and connected with both the Congregational Church and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church.

It was 1853 or 1854 before the congregation finally secured the services of a minister. Rev. Hugh Pugh, a native of Merionithshire, North Wales arrived and was remembered as a faithful, industrious minister who served well for very little pay. He had been born August 22, 1812, and came to America in 1850. He originally settled in the Youngstown area, where he began to experience a call to ministry, but there was no Methodist Chapel there at that time. In 1852 he was accepted as a preacher by the Ohio Assembly at Palmyra, Ohio. For two years he was involved in ministry with the Palmyra congregation. In 1854 he was ordained and moved here in response to the call of the Salem congregation. Around 1863 the Pughs' daughter died, and Rev. Pugh himself was very ill. The Rev. H.P. Powell, a young man just beginning in ministry, was visiting at the time. He was asked to officiate at the funeral of the Pughs' daughter, his first funeral. While praying with the family, he asked that Mr. Pugh's life be spared for another fifteen years, for the sake of the community and the family. His prayer was answered and Rev. Pugh died in 1878, in Putnam County, Ohio. His body was brought back to Venedocia for burial in the Venedocia Cemetery.

References for footnotes within the text:

William, Peter N., A Brief History of Wales, Brittannia Internet Magazine, a1995, 1996

Bebb, Herbert, Bebb Genealogy: The Descendants of William Bebb and Martha Hughes of Llanbrynmair, Wales December 1944

Havighurst, Walter, Ohio: A Bicentennial History, a 1976

Williams, Stephen Riggs, The Saga of The Paddy's Run. Evangel Press, Nappanee, Indiana. 1945.

Bebb, Herbert, Bebb Genealogy: The Descendants of William Bebb and Martha Hughes of Llanbrynmair, Wales December 1944

Ohio Historical Society, The Governors of Ohio, a 1969

Shepperson, W. S., British Emigration to North America Projects and Opinions in the Early Victorian Period. Basil Blackwell, Oxford. 1957.

Ohio Historical Society, The Governors of Ohio, a1954

Monroe, Beryl Pepple "To This Place I Came" Van Wert Times Bulletin, May 13, 1968.

The number of children in the Morris family is not certain. It is known that the Bebbs had four daughters and two sons, and that the Morris' had a son who was 4 years old when they arrived here in Venedocia.

Bebb, Herbert, Bebb Genealogy: The Descendants of William Bebb and Martha Hughes of Llanbrynmair, Wales December 1944

Ohio Historical Society, The Governors of Ohio, a 1969

Monroe, Beryl Pepple "To This Place I Came," Van Wert Times Bulletin, May 13, 1968

Rowlands, William A. Anglesey, Wales A Research Reference a1991

Edwards, Eunice (Mrs. Rees F.) "Venedocia" see the appendix for the complete poem.

History of York Township, 1836-1976 pg. 12

Roberts, Edward "Pwyllgor Adeiladu Capel Newydd," 1902

Jervis, Richard in "Y Cyfaill" 1894.

Letter from William and Margaret Bebb of Van Wert County to Mr. Griffith Owen of Merionithshire, N.Wales. Dated October 10, 1850. The letter was written in Welsh and is in the possession of Wyn Evans of British Columbia. Her grandfather translated them into English, and they are posted on the Bebb Family History Page on the internet.

Jervis, Richard, ibid and History of Van Wert and Mercer Counties 1882.

Roberts, Edward "Pwyllgor Adeiladu Capel Newydd," 1902.

Jones, W.T. Article written for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Zion Church

Roberts, Edward "Pwyllgor Adeiladu Capel Newydd," 1902

Roberts, Edward, ibid

Jervis, Richard, "Y Cyfaill," 1894

Return to the Venedocia Home Page