A Formidable System of Agrarian Intimidation, Violence, and Outrage

An editorial dated from the Monmouthshire Merlin tells us a bit about the Rebecca movement (and a lot about the opinions of the editor):

South Wales.

Since our last publication, we have been at the “seat of war” against toll gates and toll exactions, and regret to find that an extensively organised and formidable system of Agrarian intimidation, violence, and outrage, is rapidly spreading.

The Government are adopting prompt and vigorous means to repress and punish those engaged in violence and outrages, and to enforce obedience to the laws.

Official persons of intelligence have been sent down from head quarters to the Principality, and a considerable military force, under active officers, are at hand, to carry out the measures deemed necessary to be adopted by the civil authorities.

We trust, however, that the just and prudent course of investigating the causes of this deep and general dissatisfaction in Carmarthenshire and the neighbouring counties, will be forthwith adopted, with a view of an immediate and searching redress of those grievances, which every unprejudiced person, conversant with the state of large portions of South Wales, admit, are oppressive and unjust to the poor. Confidence in being able to crush with the strong arm of military power, should not induce an apathy to the complaints of the people. Whilst riotous farmers are hunted down, the unjust farmers of tolls and trustees of roads, should not be suffered to plunder the poor with impunity.

Wherever you turn, with whomsoever of the rural classes you converse, in the disturbed districts, sad complaints of the inflictions upon the struggling poverty and honest industry, reach your ear; whilst the outcries against road trustees, charged with illegal toll exactions, and the “unfeeling plunderers” of the small farmers (a class exceedingly needy in Carmarthenshire) by side bars, are so general as to induce a conviction on the mind that a great wrong has made Rebeccaites of the great bulk of the population.

With the existence of such a feeling and such sympathies over the length and breadth of whole counties, it is easy to assign good cause for the Government declining to send Rebecca rioters for trial by Carmarthenshire juries. It is easy to account for the extreme difficult of obtaining evidence against the nocturnal Guerrillas. It is easy to account for the effectiveness of spies on the movements of the military, and the vigilance which protects what is deemed the popular cause, against the surprise of a preventive force. An intelligent correspondent writes thus:–

Although the dragoons are on the saddle every night, scouring the country, they happen to be always in the wrong place, and the work of outrage continues not only undiminished, but with increased and increasing audacity. On Thursday, for instance, the dragoons started with Captain Edwards, of Rhydygorse, a magistrate at their head, and proceeded to Llangewilly; but while they were thus engaged the Rebeccaites entered the ancient town of Kidwelly, eight miles from Carmarthen, where they had previously pulled down the gate, and at which a temporary one with iron bars had been erected; they broke down the iron posts, destroyed the gate, and then proceeded to demolish the toll-house. Having finished the work of destruction, they piled up the timber which had been used in the building of the toll-house, and placed the broken gate upon it, set fire to it and burned it to ashes. This was done in the precincts of the town containing hundreds of inhabitants. The outrage was perpetrated by comparatively a very small number of persons, and yet not a single inhabitant interfered to prevent the work of destruction. While this was going on at Kidwelly, Prendergast-gate, situate at Haversfordwest, was destroyed in the most daring manner, while the military were in the town, but not a single person gave them the slightest hint of what was going on.

And again,

Intelligence having been received (says the writer) that it was intended to make attacks on several gates during the night, and that the village of Porthrhyd had been threatened to be set on fire, Colonel Love immediately issued orders for the Dragoons to patrol the whole of the roads leading to the places threatened, and for this purpose they were divided into six section, who at once scoured the roads from Llandovery, Llandillo, and around Carmarthen. The troop had not, however, traversed more than three miles on the road from Carmarthen, before it became evident that they were watched from the hill tops, and shortly after two signal guns were heard. Within an hour after the troop of Dragoons had passed through the Bethania-gate, which is almost immediately above the hill called Pumble, on the road leading to Llanon, a sky-rocket was sent up from one of the hills in the neighbourhood, and in a few minutes several large bonfires were lit on the various hills around, as answers to the signal given by the firing of the rocket. The consequences of these signals soon manifested themselves to the inhabitants of the surrounding country by the almost instantaneous appearance of about 1000 men, colliers and others, who appeared to be in a well-organised condition.

It will be seen that the followers of Rebecca have commenced the levelling system in Glamorganshire, and that in the execution of a warrant for the capture of a person charged with a participation in the pulling down of Bwlgoed and other toll-gates in the neighbourhood of Swansea, a violent and savage assault was committed on a most meritorious office and his assistants, in the discharge of their duty. As we have given details of the event in this paper, we shall not dwell further, at present on the nature of popular discontents in Wales, but proceed to one of the great causes of our adversity…

Here, the editorialist returns to a favorite topic: decrying the government’s stubborn tariff policy, which has made it impossible for local Iron to compete on the international market.