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Cornish Americans

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Cornish Americans
Total population
2 million (estimated)
Regions with significant populations
California, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin
Particularly in the cities of Butte, Duluth, Hibbing, Marquette, Mineral Point, Sault Ste. Marie/Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
English (American English dialects), Cornish
Related ethnic groups
Cornish, English Americans, Welsh Americans, Breton Americans, Manx Americans, Scottish Americans, Scotch-Irish Americans, Irish Americans

Cornish Americans (Cornish: Amerikanyon gernewek)[2] are Americans who describe themselves as having Cornish ancestry, an ethnic group of Brittonic Celts native to Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, part of England in the United Kingdom. Although Cornish ancestry is not recognized on the United States Census, Bernard Deacon at the Institute of Cornish Studies estimates there are close to two million people of Cornish descent in the U.S., compared to half a million in Cornwall itself and only half of those Cornish by descent.[3]

Cornish surnames and personal names remain common, and are often distinct from English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Manx names, although there is a similarity to the related Welsh and Breton names in many instances. Similarly, the majority of place names in Cornwall are still Brittonic. The Cornish language had died out as a primary spoken language by the end of the 18th century, but a revival of the tongue has been ongoing since the early 20th century.

Cornish immigration to the United States[edit]

Tangier Island is an island in lower Chesapeake Bay in Virginia: some inhabitants have a West Country accent that traces back to the settlers (including the Cornish) who arrived there in the 1600s.[4]

The coincidence of the decline of the mining industry in Cornwall in the 19th century and the discovery of large amounts of mineral deposits abroad meant that Cornish families headed overseas for work. Each decade between 1861 and 1901, a fifth of the entire Cornish male population migrated abroad – three times the average for England and Wales. In total, the county lost over a quarter of a million people between 1841 and 1901.[5]

Large numbers of Cornish people moved to the United States, and while some stayed in New York City and other East Coast ports after arriving, many moved inland to mining areas in California, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. One such area was Mineral Point, Wisconsin, in which the largest group of immigrants were Cornish miners attracted to the lead mining opportunities, and by 1845 roughly half of the town's population had Cornish ancestry.[6] Today the Cornish town of Redruth is twinned with Mineral Point.

Cornish culture in the United States[edit]

A "Cousin Jack's" pasty shop in Grass Valley, California

Mineral Point, Wisconsin serves Cornish food, such as pasties and figgyhobbin,[7] and Cornish pasties are sold at ex-Cornish mining towns in America, especially in Butte, Montana[8] and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In California, statues and monuments in many towns pay tribute to the influence of the Cornish on their development.[9] In the city of Grass Valley, the tradition of singing Cornish carols lives on and one local historian of the area says the songs have become "the identity of the town". Some of the members of today's Cornish Carol Choir are in fact descendants of the original Cornish gold miners. The city holds St Piran's Day celebrations every year, which along with carol singing, includes a flag raising ceremony, games involving the Cornish pasty, and Cornish wrestling competitions.[10] The city is twinned with Bodmin in Cornwall.

Cornish culture continues to have an influence in the Copper Country of northern Michigan, the Iron Ranges of northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Butte, Montana.[8]

There were many famous Cornish wrestling champions from the U.S.[11][12][13][14] including many world champions.[15][16][17][18][19][20]

Cornish immigrant miners are depicted in the TV series Deadwood, speaking their native language, even though Cornish had died out in the 18th century before a revival in the 20th century; the actors in the relevant scenes are, in fact, speaking Irish, a fellow Celtic language, but not mutually intelligible as Irish/Gaelic is from a different branch of the Celtic languages, whereas Cornish being much closer to, and a part of the same branch, as the still thriving Welsh and Breton, and the now extinct Brittonic languages of Great Britain such as Cumbric and Pictish.[21]

Legends of the Fall, a novella by American author Jim Harrison, detailing the lives of a Cornish American family in the early 20th century, contains several Cornish language terms. These were also included in the Academy Award-winning film of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins as Col. William Ludlow and Brad Pitt as Tristan Ludlow.[22]

Notable people[edit]

Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate
President Truman, possibly a Cornish Tremaine

Several notable Americans were either born in Cornwall or have family connections to the county.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Immigrants from Cornwall, Great Britian, in Marquette County
  2. ^ Rogerson, Sam (November 4, 2020). "Online Translation Request Service". Cornwall Council.
  3. ^ Deacon, Bernard; Schwartz, Sharron (July 2007). "Cornish identities and migration: a multi-scalar approach". Global Networks. 7 (3): 289–306. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0374.2007.00170.x. hdl:10036/26432.
  4. ^ "The tiny US island with a British accent". BBC.
  5. ^ "BBC - Legacies - Immigration and Emigration - England - Cornwall - I'm alright Jack - Article Page 1". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  6. ^ Nesbit, Robert C. (1989). Wisconsin: A History. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-10804-X.
  7. ^ "Shops & Restaurants - Pendarvis". Pendarvis.wisconsinhistory.org. Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  8. ^ a b "The Butte Pasty - The Foods of the World Forum". Foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  9. ^ "Missing - Thebannerofpiran". Archive.is. June 28, 2007. Archived from the original on June 28, 2007. Retrieved January 9, 2018.[dead link]
  10. ^ "Grass Valley's St Pirans Day Celebration". Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  11. ^ Letters from the Transvaal, Cornishman, 13 May 1948, p4.
  12. ^ Delbridge, James: Delbridge's guide on grab hold, or Cornish style of wrestling, (Michigan), 1879, p1-28.
  13. ^ News from foreign mining camps, Cornishman, 16 November 1905, p3.
  14. ^ Over the Northwest, Camulet News, 30 July 1898, p8.
  15. ^ Gotch Wins Handily, The Morning Astorian, 12 April 1904, p1.
  16. ^ B William versus Rowett, Camulet News, 21 February 1910, p8.
  17. ^ Wrestling in the limelight, just now, The Minneapolis Journal, 19 August 1906, p28.
  18. ^ Cornish wrestling will be feature, The Tacoma Times, 25 April 1912, p2.
  19. ^ Sid Varney was good wrestling coach, Oredigger (US)— 4 April 1921 p3.
  20. ^ Rydholm, Fred: Harlow’s Wooden Man, Winter 1984.
  21. ^ "Deadwood South Dakota Blog: RECAP HBO: Deadwood, Episode 25: "Tell Your God to Ready for Blood"". Archived from the original on August 14, 2011. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  22. ^ Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (2007). The Celtic Languages in Contact. p. 204. ISBN 9783940793072. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  23. ^ Payton, Philip. The Cornish Overseas, 2005.
  24. ^ "Trevorrow Name Meaning & Trevorrow Family History at Ancestry.co.uk". www.ancestry.co.uk. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  25. ^ Kent, Alan M. Cousin Jack's Mouth Organ: Travels in Cornish America, 2004
  26. ^ Eastman, Dick (April 8, 2012). "Last Friday's Who Do You Think You Are? with Edie Falco". Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  27. ^ "Edie Falco, Who Do You Think You Are?". April 8, 2012. Archived from the original on December 13, 2022. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  28. ^ Butler, Gillian; John Butler; Ren Kempthorne (2000). Karanza Whelas Karanza, The Story of the Kempthornes, 1300-2000.
  29. ^ Trethewey, Natasha (2007). Native Guard. New York, USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-618-60463-0.
  30. ^ "Photos from the May 8, 2007 celebration to honor Natasha Trethewey for her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry, Native Guard". The Creative Writing Program at Emory University. Emory University. Archived from the original on August 14, 2011. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  31. ^ "Cornish Surnames - extensive A-Z list". Ancestry.com. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  32. ^ Sawyers, June Skinner Famous Firsts of Scottish-Americans Pelican Publishing, 1996; p. 11
  33. ^ "ROOTED IN HISTORY: The Genealogy of Harry S. Truman". Truman Library. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  34. ^ Ancestors of American Presidents, Gary Boyd Roberts, Published by Carl Boyer III, 1995, Santa Clara CA, p 44
  35. ^ Ancestors of American Presidents, Gary Boyd Roberts, Published by Carl Boyer III, 1995, Santa Clara CA, p275

Further reading[edit]

  • Cornish, Joseph H. The History and Genealogy of the Cornish Families in America. Higginson Book Company. 2003. ASIN: B0006S85H6.
  • Ewart, Shirley. Highly Respectable Families: the Cornish of Grass Valley, California 1854-1954 (Nevada County Pioneers Series). Comstock Bonanza Press. October 1998. ISBN 978-0-933994-18-8.
  • Magnaghi, Russell M. Cornish in Michigan (Discovering the Peoples of Michigan Series). Michigan State University Press. October 2007. ISBN 978-0-87013-787-7.
  • Payton, Philip The Cornish Overseas. Cornwall Editions Limited. April 2005. ISBN 978-1-904880-04-2.
  • Rowse, A. L. The Cornish in America. Redruth: Dyllansow Truran. June 1991. ISBN 978-1-85022-059-6.
  • Todd, Arthur C. The Cornish Miner in America: the Contribution to the Mining History of the United States by Emigrant Cornish Miners: the Men Called Cousin Jacks. Arthur H. Clark (publisher). September 1995. ISBN 978-0-87062-238-0.
  • White, Helen M. Cornish Cousins of Minnesota, Lost and Found: St. Piran's Society of Minnesota. Minnesota Heritage Publications. 1997. ASIN: B0006QP60M.

External links[edit]