The crossdressing Robin Hoods of real history:1839-43 #transgender #history #queer
Rebecca was a small army of gender transgressing folk heroes that numbered in the thousands. Rebecca fought for justice against an oppressive legal system that crippled the ability of common people to live fruitful lives.
A Note From Rebecca:
I, with one of my daughters, have recently been on a journey to Aberayron, and amongst other things have heard many things respecting you, namely, that you have built a schoolroom in the upper part of the parish, and that you have been very dishonest in the erection of it, and that you promised a free school for the people, but that you have converted it into a church, and that you get £80 by the year for serving it. Now, if this is true, you may give the money back, every halfpenny of it, otherwise if you do not, I with 500 or 600 of my daughters will come and visit you, and destroy your property five times to the value of it, and make you a subject of scorn and reproach through-out the whole neighborhood. You know that I care nothing about the gates, and you shall be like them exactly, because I am averse to every tyranny and oppression.
The Rebecca riots took place in the rural parts of west Wales, including Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire, and Carmarthenshire, in 1839-43. They were a series of protests made by tenant farmers against the payment of tolls (fees) charged to use the roads. Turnpike Trusts, or groups of businessmen, owned most of the main roads. These men fixed the charges and decided how many tollgates (turnpikes) could be built.
During the riots, men disguised as women attacked the tollgates. They called themselves ‘Rebecca and her daughters’. This is most likely to be after a passage in the Bible where Rebecca talks of the need to ‘possess the gates of those who hate them’ (Genesis XXIV, verse 60). People at that time knew the Bible well.
Tolls were a big expense for small farmers, who used the roads to take their crops and animals to market, and also to collect lime (a chalky mineral). Lime was used to improve the quality of the soil so farmers could grow better crops. It could cost as much as five shillings (25p) in tolls to move a cart of lime eight miles inland. The people of west Wales did not want to pay to use their roads.
The main trigger for the Rebecca riots came from farmers having to pay high tolls to use the roads, but there were other reasons for their discontent. Wales had seen a population increase since the start of the 19th century. This increased competition for land and jobs and added to unemployment and poverty.
Most of the farmers in these areas were small holders who grew enough to support their families. They rented their land from wealthy landlords. The landlords wanted to make more money and started to reduce the number of smallholdings available to rent. They created larger farms that could only be rented at a much higher price.
The income of tenant farmers was further reduced because they had to pay tithes. Tithes were payments made for the support of the parish church. These payments were made in kind, for example crops or wool. Tithes were paid to the Anglican Church in almost all Welsh parishes once a year. In 1836, an act was passed replacing payment in kind by a money payment that was fixed by the vicar or sometimes by the local landowner. As 80% of the population of west Wales was Non-Conformist, they resented having to pay tithes to a church that was not their own.
Another cause for discontent was the new Poor Law set up in England and Wales in 1834. The rioters attacked workhouses (poorhouses) as well as tollgates. The law meant that poor relief (money) was no longer paid to the able-bodied poor. Instead, they were forced to live in a workhouse where conditions were deliberately made harsher than the worst conditions outside (the government believed that the cause of poverty was laziness or a bad character).
Poor harvests in 1837 and 1838 increased shortages and poverty. There was a good harvest in 1842, but the benefits of this were lost because that was a year of economic depression, so industrial workers could not afford to buy agricultural goods.
For more information on the Rebeccan Riots: