From the Monmouthshire Merlin, comes this interesting collection of news about the Rebeccaites. Curiously, the analysis of the nature of the tollhouse grievances had to come to the paper third-hand, via the London Times.
On , or early in the morning of , a number of Rebecca’s daughters proceeded to Bridge End Gate, at the entrance of Llangennech, and in the usual way totally demolished the gate and part of the toll-house. they again commenced their depredations in destroying the Forest Gate, between Pontardulais and Llaneddi, which they burnt to the ground.
Very early on morning, a party on foot, of Rebeccaites, in number about 20, dressed in white frocks, and headed by one horseman, made their appearance at the New Inn Gate, near Llandilo, and politely requested the toll-collector (a female) to leave the place. She instantly complied with their request, and removed her goods and chattels from the house, the party gallantly rendering her every assistance, regretting that their sense of public duty obliged them to act as they did. They then commenced the work of tearing down the toll-house, gate, &c., amidst shouts and the discharge of fire-arms. All was destroyed within a very short period
Causes of the Outbreak.
I must first state that the tolls of the highways of this country are farmed out to contractors, the highest bidder becoming the farmer of them, as I believe is usually the case with the collection of turnpike tolls. The chief tillage of this county is lime, and a great number of limekilns are erected in different places, often with by-roads to them; and it is the custom of the farmers to buy their own stone, and often their own coal, and carry them to these kilns to be burned into lime, and then convey away the lime to their lands. Often the farmers of a district were enabled to get to these kilns without going through any turnpike; on which the toll contractors complained to the trustees that they could not continue to pay the full amount of their contract price of the tolls, unless toll-bars were erected on these by-roads. These applications have been listened to, and there are scarcely two miles of road or high-road without a turnpike. The consequence is, that where heretofore the farmer paid one shilling for a load of stone which he had taken from the quarry with his team, he is now compelled to pay one shilling in addition for turnpikes, another shilling toll on his coal, and, again, has toll demanded on bringing away his lime. This, therefore, has become a very serious tax upon the farmer, and has greatly enhanced the cost of the tillage for his land. Again, it has been the custom if ever a bridge had to be built, a road to be made less circuitous, or a hill to be cut down, to erect a turnpike to defray the cost of the improvement. These new and additional turnpikes have been continued and tolls exacted long after the cost of the bridge or other improvement has been over and over again defrayed. In other places parishes are compelled to repair the roads at their own cost, and the farmers who have contributed to this cost, contend that it is unjust that they should be called upon to pay toll as well. From these several causes, incredible as it may appear, I have been informed by several persons likely to be acquainted with the fact, that, taking the whole county of Carmarthen, on an average there are not three miles of road without a toll bar. From Pontardulais bridge, the boundary of the county, to this town — a distance of only nineteen miles — I myself counted no less than eleven toll bars, or rather ten, and the clean-swept foundation where one stood last week. The farmers of the county, a most peaceable, quiet, and orderly population, were roused to such a pitch of indignation by this abuse, that at length, under a leader more daring than the rest, who assumed the name of “Rebecca,” several of these newly set up gates were pulled down. It is a remarkable fact, and proves it is their sense of justice only which is outraged, that none of the old-established gates originally placed on the road have been meddled with. — Correspondent of the Times.
“Since my last communication to you on Saturday night, I have met numbers of Rebeccaites, and conversed with several respectable farmers engaged in the outrage at the Carmarthen workhouse on . One intelligent farmer, who tole me that he was actually inside the workhouse gates when the dragoons charged amongst them, and who got outside in the confusion, stated to me that he was compelled, most unwillingly, to go there; for having refused to join one of the toll bar expeditions, he had had his stable fired, and a threat was held out to him that if he did not join the procession on , his house would be destroyed. He accordingly did join the procession, but refused to disguise himself by turning his coat and blacking his face as they wished him. His statement fully bore out my first communication to you, that the distress of the small farmers is at the bottom of all the mischief. By his account, never over well off, they have now, by the depreciation of prices, and the unabated amount of rents and tithes and taxes, and the increased amount of poor rates and tolls, become at last hopeless and utterly reckless. “,” said he, “the price of oats in this country was 2s 6d the Winchester bushel; now the farmer can only get 1s 6d and 1s 8d. The regular price of barley was, , 4s a bushel, and sometimes they were enabled to sell it as high as 5s and 5s 6d; now they can only get 3s, and were frequently compelled in winter to sell it for 2s 6d a bushel. The average price of wheat was about 8s a bushel; now the price is 6s; butter which used to sell at 8½d and 9d per lb., is now selling at 6½d; cheese, which used to fetch 4d per lb., now sells at 2¼d. Two year old cattle, which two years ago used to fetch £8 each, are now selling at 50s, and you may pick the very best for £3. Colts rising two years old, which formerly readily fetched £8 or £9 each, now cannot be sold for more than £3.” — Ibid.
Every gate between Carmarthen and Llampeter, a distance of 24 miles, has been destroyed, besides Llandarrag gate on the Swansea road; Port Newydd, across the Towy; Drefach gate, on Brechfa mountain; and New Inn gate, on the road from Llandilo to Talley. Meetings have been held by the magistrates, and special constables sworn in. A very active and influential magistrate has, however, publicly stated it as his opinion that they are useless, using these emphatic words:– “I do not believe that a single constable could be found in the county who would or could execute a warrant.”