1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rebecca Riots

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[ 949 ]

REBECCA RIOTS, the name given to some disturbances which occurred in 1843 in the counties of Pembroke, Carmarthen, Glamorgan, Cardigan and Radnor, after a slight outbreak of the same nature four years previously. During a period of exceptional distress the rioting was caused mainly by the heavy charges at the toll-gates on the public roads in South Wales, and the rioters took as their motto the words in Genesis xxiv. 60, “And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.” Many of the rioters were disguised as women and were on horseback; each band was led by a captain called “Rebecca,” his followers being known as “her daughters.” They destroyed not only the gates but also the toll-houses, and the work was carried out suddenly and at night, but usually without violence to the toll-keepers, who were allowed to depart with their belongings. Emboldened by success, a large band of rioters marched into the town of Carmarthen on the 10th of June and attacked the workhouse, but on this occasion they were dispersed by a troop of cavalry which had hurried from Cardiff. The Rebeccaites soon became more violent and dangerous. They turned their attention to other grievances, real or fancied, connected with the system of land-holding, the administration of justice and other matters, and a state of terrorism quickly prevailed in the district. Under these circumstances the government despatched a large number of soldiers and a strong body of London police to South Wales, and the disorder was soon at an end. In October a commission was sent down to inquire into the causes of the riots. It was found that the grievances had a genuine basis; measures of relief were introduced, and South Wales was relieved from the burden of toll-gates, while the few rioters who were captured were only lightly punished.