Rebecca Riots

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The attack on Efailwen




 






On 13 May 1839, the tollgate at Efailwen, on the border between Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, was attacked by a large group of local men.  It was the first of a series of attacks that lasted until 1844 and became known as the Rebecca Riots.



 



Demonstrating their unhappiness at their situation, the protestors chose to target the symbol of economic oppression: the tollhouse.  A series of poor harvests had caused prices to fall sharply and despite the hardship this caused among farmers, they were still subject to high rents, tithe payments, poor rates and turnpike tolls.




Further protests




 






Following a few attacks during May 1839, including a tollgate on Water Street in Carmarthen, the rioters disappeared for a few years.  They returned in June 1842 with an attack on the gate at Llandilo Rwnws near Nantgaredig and through the winter of 1842-43 other communities followed their example.  During this period, activity spread across south west Wales to Glamorgan, Monmouthshire and Brecknockshire.  Their targets were not only tollgates but landlords’ properties, workhouses and other symbols of economic oppression.  By the end of activity in 1844, there had been almost 300 attacks, including one on the large workhouse at Carmarthen.




Who was Rebecca?




 






It is uncertain how the protestors came to be known as the Rebecca Rioters, or Rebecca’s Daughters.  The farmers were disguised as women with blackened faces and one story claims that ‘Rebecca’ was a woman who lived near the original group at Efailwen whose clothes were large enough to fit the burly men.  It is generally accepted, however, that the name derived from a verse from the Bible which speaks of Rebecca’s descendants (Genesis 24:60).




An end to the riots




 






Their actions bore significant resemblance to the rural Welsh tradition of Ceffyl Pren, a form of ‘mob justice’ in which costume and ritual played a large part.



The activities of Rebecca came to an end in 1844, largely because an amendment to the Turnpike Trust Laws in Wales lessened the burden of the tollgate system.  Rebecca’s uprising was successful in this respect and the remarkable tale remains alive today.