Rebecca Is Every Man Who Earns His Bread by the Sweat of His Brow

Excerpts from an article in the Cambrian:

Great Meeting of Farmers

A grand demonstration among the Farmers of tie several parishes of Llandebie, Llanarthney, Llanfihangel-Aberbythych, Llanedy, and Beltws, in the county of Carmarthen, took place on a hill called Garnfig, between the parishes of Llanarthney and Llanfihangel-Aberbytliych, about a mile distant on the Llandilo road from Cross Hands, Carmarthenshire. The meeting had been announced for eleven o’clock, at which time there were comparatively few persons on the field, but the numbers continued increasing until twelve or one o’clock, when the number present was estimated at three thousand individuals, nearly all of whom were fanners or agricultural labourers…

Mr. [Hugh] Williams then said, that… it had been his lot to have been called upon to state the object for which the meeting had been convened. It was known to all that they had numerous grievances to complain of, which they had long suffered. One was the turnpike-toll grievance, which was well known to them. The great multiplicity of gates had given rise to outrages of the most desperate character, which he hoped would be soon discontinued, and the country return to its former peaceable state. It also appeared that the agriculturalists were reduced to such a state of poverty as scarcely to be able to pay for the conveyance of manure.…

Other complaints on the agenda included:

  • The new Poor Law, which the speaker characterized as having been designed by the upper classes for their financial benefit, and as burdening rural parishes particularly, while at the same time making things worse for the poor.
  • The “Tithe Commutation Act” which had ended up increasing tithes.
  • An increase in the expense of local government.

I’m going to mostly omit the discussion of those and stick to the parts that dealt with the tollgates and with Rebecca’s activities.

He (Mr. W.) regretted to find that, notwithstanding the resolutions agreed to at the Mynydd Sylen meeting [condemning Rebeccaism], great outrages and excesses had been committed, and they had thereby lost the assistance of several gentlemen who would have helped them. They perceived the effect of those outrages that day. He thought it would certainly have been desirable to have the company of those gentlemen. He was exceedingly sorry to find that private pique had been carried so far as to cause the destruction of property. He was not aware that Mr. Adams, of Middleton-Hall, had in any way so stepped beyond the pale of his Magisterial duties, as to give rise to such a feeling of antipathy against him. A man, having any regard for his oath, must perform his Magisterial duties. Another gentleman had been most unjustly accused of turning round — he referred to Mr. Wm. Chambers, jun., than whom a more honourable gentleman did not exist. It had been reported that he took an unworthy part in the suppression of the outrages at Pontardulais. Now he (Mr. W.) attended the examination at Swansea, and took notes of the evidence of the police and others, which proved that Mr. Chambers was entirely free from having attempted to make an onslaught upon the people. Mr. Williams here entered into the details elicited at the examination of the prisoners, to prove that Mr. Chambers was not near the spot when they were fired upon. He (Mr. W.) made those few remarks, to prove that Mr. Chambers was entirely guiltless of the charge brought against him, and he hoped that notion would be dissipated, and that his property would not, in future, be subject to destruction and depredation. With those observations, he would read the petition to the Queen. It was in the power of any one to assent or dissent from its prayer, or any portion of it.

Our space will not permit the insertion of the petition at length — we give the substance. The first part relates to turnpike-tolls, which are complained of as being very heavy, and prays that all turnpike-trusts may be consolidated, and placed under one management, which would regulate the distances at which gates were to be placed from each other.…

Mr. Williams informed the meeting, that when seeking a seconder of the petition, a letter had been given him from Mr. Chambers, jun., stating his reasons for not attending their meeting, which he hoped, with the explanation he had given, would satisfy them. The letter, which was read, repelled the false report that Mr. C. had shot one of the rioters at Pontardulais, a charge probably arising from his having procured the wounded man some water, after the affray was over. Mr. C. also maintained that he had faithfully kept all the promises made by him. He said he would oppose nightly meetings, and would always do so. He also stated that he was amongst the first landlords who lowered their rents, and recommended others to do the same. He also offered to pay the police-rate for his tenants, and never failed to grant them an extension of time for the payment of rent when asked to do so. He had also kept his promise relative to the Three Commotts Trust. The writer asked the meeting if they thought they would have their grievances redressed by firing people’s property — was not that the method of aggravating the distress? Let the tenants of, and the labourers employed upon, the three farms which had been burnt, bear testimony. He had had written the letter to satisfy himself and not the wretches who had devastated his property. His life had been threatened, but let the miscreant who had done so beware, lest he be paid for his temerity, as he (Mr. C.) was resolved to do his best to defend himself.

A Man in the crowd said, it is Mr. Chambers’s own neighbours who complain of his conduct; they would not have so bad an opinion of him, if he had acted up to his promises.

Mr. Williams did not think so; but were that true, it was no reason that his houses should be burnt down.

Several remarks were made by Persons in the crowd, some of whom treated the letter with levity and jeers.

Mr. Stephen Evens proceeded. He did not know who Rebecca was, and why she always hatched at night; but he would make one remark with reference to her. He knew that if old women in making broth did not take it off the fire in time, the potatoes would get “potch.” He thought it time for Rebecca to take off the pot, or she would create a “potch.” Something very much like that had been created at Pontardulais lately. No person who understood what he was about would burn property, as the loss might be recovered from the hundred [district].

Mr. Wm. Evans, of Pontyberem, then addressed the meeting in a very animated Welsh speech. He said that everything was either a cause or an effect. A good deal had been spoken of outrages; but they unfortunately were but effects produced by a cause, and the cause was that the country was oppressed to a greater degree than it could bear. Like a horse greatly overladen, the burden must be lessened or he would break down. Let the cause be removed, the effect would soon cease. The Speaker then entered upon the toll grievance. It was not enough to make the farmer pay for travelling on the parish roads, but they were actually compelled to pay toll on private roads leading to their farms.… Still, he did not like to see ricks of hay burnt. That would not improve their conditions. Letters had been read to the meeting vindicating the conduct of some parties. He remembered rending, that even the devil had endeavoured to defend himself. (Hear.) It had been asked who Rebecca was. He had never seen her; but he thought that Rebecca was every man who earned his bread by the sweat of his brow. (Cheers.) [emphasis mine –♇]

Mr. William Thomas, of Rhosfawr, Llanon, addressed the meeting.… The Turnpike Trustees, where were they? was there one in the meeting? If so, let him come forward and reason upon the subject. They were met to legally discuss their grievances in the middle of day. He knew three gates — he would name them, Rhydyffynon, Fairfach, and Rhydytruscog gates, within a mile-and-a-half of each other, and at all of which toll must be paid. (Cries of “Quarry-fach gate.”) Yes, that was another gate within a very short distance; but thanks to Becca for pulling them down, though he would prefer her having done so during the day. Reference had been made to boiling potatoes. He thought they might take the pot down for Carmarthenshire, and, if necessary, let it boil on for Glamorganshire. The speaker concluded by entering at some length into the details of the turnpike-toll grievance.

One speaker expressed cynicism about petitions (“There had been thousands of petitions sent from the people, until the table actually groaned…”), but the meeting unanimously approved another one anyway.