The National Library of Wales has created an on-line archive of Welsh newspapers. Naturally I had to go hunting for more details about the amazing Rebecca Riots, and I found dozens of examples.
Much of what I found was editorial tut-tutting or that evergreen response to anything newsworthy, which is to make it an opportunity to flog your pet cause. Only rarely could I find details about how the campaign was actually being carried out by the resisters.
The earliest example I’ve found so far comes from the edition of The Cambrian, which reproduces or excerpts an item it credits to the Welshman as follows:
Rebecca and her Daughters.
The lawless mob in the neighbourhood of St. Clears, have again committed a daring outrage. On , the magistrates for the county met at the Shire-hall, Carmarthen, to deliberate respecting the riotous transactions at St. Clears during , and to take measures for the apprehension of the ringleaders. The proceedings on that occasion were strictly private, but the result has been that a troop of the Royal Marines from Milford, commanded by Capt. Wilson, were stationed at St. Clears, and a great number of the old pensioners from Carmarthen, received orders to proceed to the same place; the reward for the apprehension of the offenders was also increased from 50l. to 100l. Notwithstanding these precautions, on , the rioters sent a message to the marines to the effect that they were about to pay a visit to the gates, and that they should be glad to meet them. , a detachment of 20 marines, accompanied by four officers, set out for the gates, to ascertain if the men intended carrying their threat into execution. When they arrived at Trevaughan [a.k.a. Trefechan] gate, it was found to have been levelled to the ground, and part of the toll-house destroyed. Not one of the rioters was however to be seen, they having dispersed in different directions after they had levelled the gates. On each of these excursions, the mob consisting of a large assemblage of men and boys, all of them well mounted, and most of them dressed in women’s clothes, and nearly all armed with guns, pistols, pitchforks, hay-knives, reaping-hooks, crowbars, or some other weapon, are invariably headed by Rebecca, who is described as being a remarkably strong tall man, well disguised, and who appears to have unlimited authority over the lawless crew who term themselves her children. The toll-keepers are dreadfully afraid of them, and the mob altogether is the terror of the surrounding country. The farmers in the neighbourhood have refused to be sworn in as special constables, and many of them have paid the fine of 5l. for such refusal. The whole of the peasantry of that part of the country appear to be in a state of the greatest excitement, and we fear the dispute will not be put an end to without the effusion of blood. We have just been informed that one of the mob can be identified, and will at once be apprehended. — A meeting of the representatives of the various neighbouring parishes was held on , when several resolutions were passed, which are to be printed, and circulated in the disturbed district.
When the first sentence uses the word “again” I think it is referring to tollgate destruction that took place in St. Clears three and a half years earlier, in a small precursor to the later Rebecca uprising that took place in . (I hunted for articles about those earlier tollgate destructions but didn’t find anything.)
This article is remarkable to me because although it is the first mention I have found in the English-language press of the Rebeccaite tollgate destruction, pretty much all of the pieces are already in place: the description of the mysterious “Rebecca” figurehead and her followers alike cross-dressed in women’s clothing; already the people of the area are refusing in sympathy (or fear) to assist in subduing the rioters; already the other tollgate keepers are described as quaking in fear.
It feels to me like the folks near the scene knew right away that this was not going to be a one-off sort of event.
Incidentally, more or less the same article appears in the Monmouthshire Merlin but it is yet more vague about the dates, and if I only had it to go on, I would have assumed all of the action described had happened a couple of weeks after it did. I think I’m going to have to do a lot of guesswork and cross-checking to verify dates in these articles.