Sunday, January 20, 2019

Abednego Rising

My order of the great historical losses in the word:
1) the Library of Alexandria;
2) the Library at Raglan Castle, Wales;
3) the 1890 US Census, and;
4) the 1831 Merthyr Tydfil Petition of 11,000 signatures to save the life of Dic Penderyn.

Some of those 11,000 on the petition to Lord Melbourne may have joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840s. We think we know one of them.

There's some irony that during the longest federal shutdown, being locked out of work, I've read The Merthyr Rising, by Gwyn A. Williams (University of Wales, Cardiff 1978). The Rising came about because of the Ironmasters conspiring to lower wages and shut-down work making it very difficult for the families of working poor in the ironworks, the coal, ironstone, and limestone mines, and processing mills to feed their families.

"Bara gyda caws!" was the shout of the crowd for "bread and cheese" in front of the Castle Inn when the 93rd Highland Regiment fired on the crowd killing two dozen and wounding dozens more. It only gave the leaders of the town and small contingent of soldiers an opportunity to escape to Penydarren House, which was more easily defended.

The workers held the town for a few days in June 1831. They even held off the Highlanders' relief troops from Brecon at the steep slopes of Cefn Coed just north of Merthyr Tydfil. However, within a few days, the gentry militias and soldiers of the King converged on the town and the workers went back to the mines and furnaces. The British Parliament and the ironmasters were smart enough to establish some reform.

We found a newspaper article from 1833 that Elinor Jenkins Vaughan's son-in-law, Abednego Jones (1811-1890), appears to have participated in the Rising. The book confirmed my source. Here's how Professor Williams lays it out in his Preface about the stories he heard growing up in Merthyr:
It was astounding to me, or to be more accurate, it became astounding tome in retrospect, how often the talk curled back to 1831. One story lodged in my mind like a limpet intruder. They would shriek with laughter as they told of a young boy, Abednego Jones, who went about Merthyr during the Rising carrying a huge white banner as big as himself (by the end of the evening, it would be twice as big) and piping in a shrill, choir-boy treble: 'Death to kings and tyrants! The reign of justice for ever!'
     I did in the end find one 'huge white banner': it was carried by workers on the  march to the Waun Fair which started the rebellion. The young boy I never found. But once, quite by accident, I came across a court case in the Merthyr Guardian for 1833. A miner sued two others for cheating him out of his stall, won, and was then exposed as a man who had 'carried a banner during the Merthyr Riots'. This phrase recurs constantly in obituary and other notices; it evidently marked a man out. The judge read the offender an appropriate sermon. His name was Abednego Jones. [footnote to the same article that I found.] In 1833, he was no boy. Perhaps he was short. The Merthyr Rising, at 14.

So, there it is. It is of importance to note that it was a white flag and not the red flag dipped in calf's blood at Waun Fair that was ultimately heralded by the Socialist movement as the first of their red flags. Although, it could have been a white flag on the way up to Waun Fair that was then dipped in blood.
The faces of authority at the windows of the Castle Inn were ... anxious as they watched, on 30 May, while hundreds of men, behind a great white banner inscribed Reform, marched through Merthyr and headed out to the Waun. Id. at 101.
It was for Reform, not Socialism which had hardly been invented by 1831. And reforms did come. But not until after the red flag at Merthyr; and not until after Richard Lewis, AKA Dic Penderyn died a martyr's death on the gallows in Cardiff for the crime of stabbing a British Soldier. The evidence was questionable at trial. The petitions post-trial to spare his life failed. Historians today generally believe that he was Lord Melbourne's scape-goat for the Rising. A sacrificial lamb.
"O Arglwyd, dyma gamwedd!"
["O Lord, here is injustice!" - Dic Penderyn's last words.]

And what of Uncle Abednego?

He was 19, not a child, at the time of the Merthyr Rising. But 19 is still young and perhaps he was short as Prof. Williams speculates. Legends exaggerate in the retelling. But there is nearly contemporaneous documentation of Abednego carrying a flag. Prof. Williams and I found the same source.

There is no other match for Abednego Jones that I can find in the genealogical records. Jones is the most common surname in Wales, but Abednego is rare, even for biblical Wales. I just wish we had the 11,000 names of the petition to spare Dic Penderyn.

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