Welsh Baptists till 1653.
The Baptist Quarterly,
THE religious developments in Wales between 1639 and 1669 have been most carefully investigated by Mr. Thomas Richards, M.A., of the Secondary School at Maesteg. He has studied manuscripts at Oxford, Lambeth, the Record Office, the Museum, Sion College, the House of Lords; while scores of printed works are catalogued as further sources. The value of his work has been recognized by the National Eisteddfods of 1918 and 1921 awarding prizes for two works. And he has placed English readers under deep obligations by publishing in English. The first volume is in print as "A History of the Puritan Movement in Wales from the institution of the church at Llanfaches in 1639 to the expriry of the Propagation Act in 1653." Arrangements for publishing the second are pretty well advanced. Meantime we take advantage of the author's permission to use the first volume freely. First we present a summary of his conclusions in general; then we select the chief facts relating to Baptists, who played quite a minor part at this period.
The first stage of the Puritan revolution in Wales lasted till March 25, 1650. During that period there had been two civil wars, of forty-two months and of five months. The two Houses of Parliament and the committee for Plundered Ministers dealt very freely wIth parishes at that time, in Wales as in England; and details are given of 132 ministers. who were installed afresh or were approved by their authority. They diverted the revenues of sinecure livings to maintain
a.a preaching ministry; they provided suitable spheres of labour for the Puritans of the Llanfaches school; they acknowledged
the claims of their Welsh language; they deprived the bishops, deans, etc., of all power and revenue.
For the next three years a Commission was given to 71 laymen to govern the clergy and schoolmasters of Wales, ejecting those who were delinquent, scandalous, malignant or non-resident. Their places were to be supplied by men approved by a panel of twenty-five prominent Puritans, chiefly ministers, and the new men were to be paid not more than £100 for a minister, £40 for a schoolmaster; ministers might bewales either settled or itinerant. In practice the Commission came to exerCIse far more powers than ecclesiastical, and Mr. Richards sums up that Wales during their term of office was govuneci by a military middle class. He shows that it included many Englishmen, and many who were able io make their peace with Charles II.
In their three years they left untouched 127 ministers in South Wales, and many in North, but ejected 278. To replace them they found 63 itinerants, including some of the 25 "approvers"; and they supplemented them with about two dozen ministers and lay preachers. Admittedly they could not provide enough, but when one opponent charged that there were seven hundred parishes unsupplied, he really shows how bad was the shortage or the pluralism before the Commission began, more than four hundred parishes having been neglected. The numerous gaps were supplied unofficially by some unpaid ejected ministers, by sectarians specially paid, by men like Erbery who on principle declined state pay, "and by a growing school of Baptists who deplored the relation between Church and State." The three years thus saw the growth of private meeting-places which app'ear as the conventicles of the Restoration period; the suggestive origins of church meetings, Sunday schools, and set scriptural studies, which became marked features of later Nonconformity; and the popular expedient of open-air preaching which was imitated by many of the Methodist revivalists a century later. The Commission also introduced the new type of Puritan preaching schoolmaster, State subvention of learning, sixty schools free for all classes, and a restrIcted experiment in the co-education of the sexes.
How a third stage of the Puritan period saw Triers and Trustees, and how the Anglican tide submerged all these reforms, will be told in another volume. And we hope that, Mr. Richards will have leisure to investigate, and that another National Eisteddfod will give the opportunity to publish, a further instalment of such int-eresting and accurate history. Meantime we take from his pages the story of the Baptist movements in Wales down to 1653.
There is scarcely any evidence to support Joshua Thomas
stating that Baptists began in 1633 at Olchon. The two leaders, Vavasor Powell and William Erbery, were not Baptists in this period, and both appear as opposing Baptists publicly.
In after days Powell himself evolved, and so did some of the men and the churches that he influenced. It must therefore be borne in mind that he was busy in Radnor before 1642,ihen became an army chaplain, went to Dartford for thirty months, published a concordance and a Bible, accepted a position as one of the "approvers" and took pay derived from tithes, proved the guiding spirit under the commission, recruited, commanded a troop of horse, disarmed Royalists, evangelized widely, and became marked for revenge. Yet this was deferred, and when the act ran out in 1653, Powell and Major-General Harrison were able to secure the "rule of the saints" for the rest of the year. He preached premillennial and high Calvinist doctrine, but did not become Baptist till 1655, after which he adopted to some extent and temporarily the Baptist plan of Association meetings for ecclesiastical and political ends.
Hugh Evans is less known, and so is the movement he began. He belonged to Llanhir, was apprenticed in Worcester, joined the General Baptist church in Coventry which is known as early as 1624. Moved by the thought of his native land so scantily supplied with the gospel, he went back about 1646, accompanied by Jeremy Ives, who stayed some time. They worked over Radnor, Brecon and South Montgomery, and were presently helped by Daniel Penry, Rees Davies, Evan Oliver, John Prosser, John Price, and William Bound. Evans accepted an appointment as Itinerant, with state pay, and thus excited some misgivings. Another worker was Thomas Lamb, the famous General Baptist from Colchester and London; his help was perhaps due to Jeremy Ives, who belonged to London. After itinerating in this district, he accepted a lectureship at Brecon in 1651 and 1652. Next year the Quakers appeared, and as usual they badly damaged the General Baptist churches. Evans died in 1656, and after a visit by George Fox next year, John Moon attacked Evans in print; this led to a spirited defence by two of his friends, Price and Bound, to which we owe our knowledge of this movement. It still survived when Henry Maurice wrote in 1675, but is not to be confounded with the more southerly declension from the Calvinists which evinced itself sixty years later, and resulted in one or two Unitarian churches.
David Davies was invited by the parishioners of Gelligaer to fill the vacancy created by the death of Robert Covey; about 1648. He became Baptist, under the influence of John Miles, but he continued to use the parish church and take the
tithes. Joshua Thomas long ago published an account of his tactless doings in the Association, and how be became pastor of a Baptist church known first as Llanharan, then Llantrissant. At the latter place he held a debate with Erbery. He undertook work under the Commission, itinerating chiefly: in Glamorgan, Brecon and Carmarthen. In March 1654-5 he settled down again at Neath, while Griffith Davies six months later settled at Gelligaer. He is not to be confused, as he was in our Transactions, vi., 166, with David Davies whO was instituted by parliament to Tremaen in June 1646, and was ejected by the Commissioners for the Propagation.
John Miles was the greatest driving force. He may have been in the army, and have settled down in Gower. Certainly he Was baptized in London in the spring of 1649 at the Glass-house church, which abounded in soldiers. Within six months he had founded at Ilston a Baptist church, which In later days was associated with Swansea. He accepted the post of Approver under the act, with the pay appertaining. But he was a Baptist first and last, winning Davies and Prosser, organizing churches, linking them into an Association over four counties, guiding their meetings, publishing their minutes, finding his bitterest opponents in the Quakers. He had to defend himself against the Abergavenny church for taking state pay, but was so sure of his ground. that after his Approvership had expired, he accepted another post as lecturer at Llanelly.
Jenkin Jones, another Approver, who like Miles had matriculated at Oxford, differed from him on the question of open communion. Month by month he broke bread in the parish church of Merthyr for all who came. For his services there he declined all pay, and his influence was seen twenty years later in the great number of people still assembling in conventicle. He did not hesitate to enlist troops in 1654, like Powell. After some six or seven years itinerating, he settled down in 1657 as rector of Llanthetty, being at the same time pastor of a Baptist church: despite all the troubles afterwards, he lived to take out a licence in 1672 to teach at Cilgerran in Pembrokeshire.
Of other Welsh Baptists there are glimpses. Evan Bowen. a mason, could hardly understand English, but was useful as an Itinerant in Brecon and Radnor, then settling at Llanafanfawr; but there is no sure evidence he was Baptist. Anthony Harry, elder at Abergavenny, dealt in the endowments at Llanvapley. Morgan Jones, though of "dry tongue," proved competent to take charge round Swansea when Miles went to America. Edward Prichard had remarkable evolution; in 1645 he had entertainned the king at his house in
Llancaiarch, he was made Commissioner in 1650; governor of Cardiff, and then became an ardent Baptist. Another prominent layman, Christopher Price of Ahergavenny; was appointed solicitor to administer the commissioner's decisions in Monmouth. The church at Mynyddislwyn sent out many lay preachers, for whose services handsome payment was made.
Admittedly there was no indigenous Puritan movement except on the border. It was English influence that planted Puritanism; and even more stress might be laid than by Mr. Richards on the fact that it was English military influemce. It is worth noticing that several Englishmen came to stay for awhile. The cases of Abbott and Tombes are well known; glance at a few laymen.
Colonel Thomas Harrison was head of the whole Commissionn; but his life needs no re-telling, and he was not Baptist at this stage. William Packer, Esquire, is the famous officer who in the early days of the civil war was cashiered by a Scot because he was a Baptist; and his case called out a smart rebuke from Cromwell, who said that his faith should be no bar: there is however no evidence in these pages that Packer took any very active part in administering Wales. Hugh Courtney was made Quartermaster-general and governor of Holyhead, so his work both ecclesiastical and military lay mostly in the north-west. He was a Fifth-Monarchy Baptist, so after December 1653 he distrusted Cromwell as untrue to the light within: after repeated quarrels, he was bidden retire to his native county of Cornwall, and at the Restoration he had to go into permanent exile. Another Fifth-Monarchy Baptist, in a much obscurer post, gives perhaps a more average case. Richard Goodgroome was appointed in 1650 as usher, or second master, in the school at Usk. This new fact, made known by Mr. Thomas Richards, is the key to the whole Baptist movement there, which has hitherto been unexplained. For it had a strong Seventh-day tinge which was to be traced even fifty years later, and we could not account for it. But Goodgroome was a Fifth-Monarchy man, and the same literalism which led to those views, led in every district to Seventh-day views, once politics ceased to be a possible pursuit for Baptists. Goodgroome indeed left Usk soon, for he was with the army at Waterford in 1654 and 1656, publishing on political matters, then was evidently dismissed for his opposition. On the fall of the Cromwells, he was re-commissioned, and towards the end of 1659 he joined in a petition that evinced Fifth-Monarchy tendencies. He became chaplain with Monk in Scotland, and was regarded as sufficiently dangerous to be imprisoned at the Restoration in Hull, and kept
there for seven years at least. In 167I he was ardent enough to preach on London Bridge, prominent enough to be thrown into the Tower, military enough to excite the intercession Of Colonel Blood. He now proves to have given the bent to the Baptists on and near the Usk, which resulted in the Millmans holding by the Seventh-day, and attracted a Stennett to the district.
While we have to thank Mr. Thomas Richards for the new light on General Baptist and Seventh-day Baptist origins in Wales, it ought to be said that his work has no narrow scope, but is a thorough and wide study of the whole movement in the Principality which began its conversion from Papal ignorance, till it became ultimately the stronghold of the Free Churches.
[Baptist Quarterly, January, 1923, pp. 228-233. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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