The Rosser Family of
Brynmawr, Wales (Gellifelen)
Scranton, Pennsylvania

by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Jane Rosser James was the daughter of David and Gwenllian Rosser of Gellifelen near Brynmawr, Wales. She was the wife of Robert J. James and is mentioned in an 1897 publication titled, Portrait and Biographical Record of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, Chapman Publishing Co., New York, as follows:

MRS. ROBERT J. JAMES, formerly Jane Rosser was born in Breconshire, South Wales, April 15th, 1848. Her late husband was born in Glamorganshire, South Wales, March 7th, 1825, and died October 6th, 1879 at Hyde Park, where he had lived since January 1866. He came to America in August, 1863, and located in Schuylkill county, Pa; was engaged in mining until 1872; general agent of the Cambrian Mutual Insurance Company of Hyde Park until 1876, when he was elected clerk of the Luzerne county courts. In 1866 he organized a musical society - The Cambro-American Choral Society-" of which he was leader until his death.

Although the entry above primarily concerns Robert, it gives us enough information about Jane to allow her and her family to be tracked both in Wales and in America. Jane Rosser was born in Gellifelen, near Brynmawr on 15 April 1848, and she makes her first appearance in the 1851 census for Llanelly Parish as follows:

1851 Census, Gellifelen, Llanelly Parish, Crickhowell District, Breconshire, Wales

Name Relation Sex Age Occupation Birthplace
ROSSER, David Head M 35 banksman Breconshire, Llanelly, Gelli-felen
ROSSER, Gwenllian Wife F 34   Breconshire, Llanelly, Gelli-felen
ROSSER, Henry Son M 9   Breconshire, Llanelly, Gelli-felen
ROSSER, Jane Daughter F 2   Breconshire, Llanelly, Gelli-felen
JONES, John Lodger M 23 coal miner Flintshire

Before the decade was over, like hundreds of other families in the region, David Rosser made the decision to leave Wales in search of a better life in the coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania, and in the 1860 U.S. census we find that the Rossers had settled in Blythe Township in Schuylkill Co., Pennsylvania, as follows:

1860 Census, Blythe Township, Schuylkill, Co., Pennsylvania.

Name Age Sex Occupation Value/Real Estate Value/Personal Property Birthplace
David Rosser 45 M Coal Miner 600 200 Wales
Gwen Rosser 44 F       Wales
Henry Rosser 18 M Coal Miner     Wales
Jane Rosser 12 F       Wales
John Jones 22 M Coal Miner   100 Wales

As we can see, after arriving in America the Rosser family settled initially in Schuylkill County, which is a considerable distance south of Scranton. In 1860 Scranton had not yet reached its status as the region's primary mining community, and many Welsh miners who ended up in Scranton got their start in the coal fields further to the south. The 1860 census gives us the same combination of family members as the returns of 1851. The returns indicate that David, his son Henry and John Jones were all working as coal miners. David Rosser apparently owned his home which was assigned a value of $600.00, and was likely one of the typical small miner's cottages common throughout the region. Jane is 12-years-old in the returns, making her final census appearance as part of her parent's household. It is also interesting that John Jones apparently came to America with the Rossers, which is perhaps an indication that he was somehow related to either David or Gwen.

The next time we see Jane Rosser is in the 1870 census of Scranton, by which time she had moved from Schuylkill County to Scranton in Luzerne County, Pa., and married the aforementioned Robert James. The biography above tells us that Robert had been a resident of Hyde Park since 1866, and it would appear that this was around the time he and Jane married. The chain of events by which Jane came to Scranton and married is unknown, however since her mother Gwen was living with her daughter in the 1870 census (see below), we can assume that David Rosser died prior to 1870. In fact, records from the Washburn Street cemetery in Hyde Park confirm this notion, as a tombstone there recorded that a David B. Rosser, husband of Gwenllian Rosser, died 1 May 1870 (born 3 Mar 1817). That means that Jane's father David died just before the census was taken that year. The 1870 census also reveals that there was a Henry Rosser (miner) living in Scranton's 5th Ward (Hyde Park), an individual who very much fits the description of Jane's older brother Henry. All of the above make it clear that David and Gwen Rosser and family moved to Scranton, probably around 1865, and soon after, Jane married Robert James.

1870 Census, 4th Ward, Scranton (Hyde Park), Luzerne Co., Pa.

Name Age Sex Occupation Value/Real Estate Value/Personal Property Birthplace
James, Robert 45 M Miner   450 Wales
James, Janie 22 F Keeping house     Wales
James, Hector 3 M       PA
James, Lulu 1 F       PA
Rosser, Gwen 55 F at home     Wales

With the significant difference in age between Robert and Jane, we have to wonder about the circumstances of their marriage. Had Robert been married previously, and if so, did he have any children from his first wife? Also, what would compel an 18-year-old girl to marry someone more than twice her age? At this point in time I can't answer either question. Robert and Jane had at least two additional children before Robert died in October of 1879, Robert, born ca. 1873 and Edith, born ca 1878. In the 1880 census we see the widowed Jane living on Jackson Street in Hyde Park, with her children Hector, Lulu, Robert, and Edith, as follows:

1880 Census, 5th Ward, Scranton, Lackawanna Co., Pa.

Name Relation Marital Status Sex Age Birthplace Occupation
Jane James Self W F 32 Wales Keeping House
Hector James Son S M 13 PA at school
Lulu James Dau S F 11 PA at school
Robert James Son S M 6 PA  
Edith James Dau F F 1 PA  

Jane's mother Gwen Rosser, present ten years earlier in the 1870 census, is not living with her daughter in this set of returns. It appears instead that Gwen returned to Schuylkill County, where we find her living in Ashland Township with 55 year-old John Phillips (coal operator) and his daughter Mary Ann. Here Gwen is listed as 64-year-old Gwynnie Rosser, John's sister. As such, we can now assume that Gwen's maiden name was Phillips, and that some of her family also emigrated from Brynmawr to Pennsylvania. According to her grave marker in the Washburn Street cemetery, Gwenllian Rosser, wife of David B. Rosser, died in November of 1890. The marker gives her date of birth as Aug 1817, making her 73 years old at the time of her death.

Although I have been unable to find Jane in the 1900 census, by 1910 she had moved to the community of South Abington, just north of Hyde Park/Scranton. There the 62-year-old Jane is listed as the head of a household that included her daughters Lulu Wilkins and Edith Bowman, and their children, but not Lulu or Edith's husbands. The returns state that Jane was the mother of four children, three of which were still living in 1910. The census also shows us that son Hector and his wife and children were living in Scranton's 17th ward, therefore, since Hector, Lulu and Edith are all accounted for in 1910, that means Robert has to be the child who had died.

I have found no trace of Jane in the 1920 census, however I did find Jane's son Hector James (widowed) and his children living in California, where he was working as a machinist in a Los Angeles Iron Foundry. The 1910 and 1920 returns tell us that Hector's children were been born in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio, an indication that his family was frequently on the move. In 1920 daughter Edith Bowman (also widowed) was still living in Scranton with her children. Since there appears to be no trace of Jane in the 1920 census, and since she was 62 years old in the 1910 census, it seems likely that she died before 1920. Although ten years later there is no trace of Hector James, the 1930 census reveals that sisters Lulu Wilkins (widowed) and Edith Bowman (divorced), and their families were living together on Lafayette Avenue in Hyde Park. Their presence tells us that some 75 years after David and Gwen Rosser emigrated to Pennsylvania, their descendants still lived in Scranton. With the Washburn Street cemetery as their final resting place, David and Gwen Rosser joined John J. Thomas, his wife Elizabeth Davis, Evan Hughes, and many other former residents of Brynmawr who had chosen Scranton as their adopted homeland.

So again we see how another family from Brynmawr put down roots in America via the coal fields of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Jane Rosser came to America as a young girl just as the eastern Pennsylvania coal fields were greatly expanding, and she and her family were part of the remarkable transformation of Scranton from a sleepy hollow into an industrial giant. She married and raised a family of four children in Scranton, where we know she lived for at least 45-50 years. I would be interested in hearing from any of her descendants who may wish to contribute additional information to this record.

Jeffrey L. Thomas

Below: general view of the "old Welsh" section of the Washburn Street cemetery in Hyde Park, final resting place of David and Gwen Rosser.

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