Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, Joshua

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THOMAS, JOSHUA (1719–1797), Welsh writer, was the eldest son of Morgan Thomas of Tyhên in the parish of Caio, Carmarthenshire, where he was born on 22 Feb. 1719. In 1739 he was apprenticed to his uncle, Simon Thomas, who was a mercer and independent minister at Hereford, and was the author of numerous works both in Welsh and English, mostly printed at a private press of his own, one of which, a popular summary of universal history, entitled ‘Hanes y Byd a'r Amseroedd,’ ran through several editions (Ashton, p. 159). In 1746 Joshua married and settled in business at Hay, Breconshire, where he preached occasionally at the baptist chapel of Maesyberllan, of which church he was appointed co-pastor in 1749. In 1754 he undertook the pastorship of the baptist church of Leominster, where he kept a day-school until his death.

Thomas translated into Welsh several works dealing with the doctrines of the baptist denomination, including the following: 1. ‘Dr. Gill's Reply to the Arguments for Infant Baptism, advanced by Griffith Jones of Llanddowror,’ with some additions by Thomas himself, 1751. 2. ‘Tystiolaeth y Credadyn am ei hawl i'r Nefoedd,’ 1757. 3. ‘Samuel Ewer's Reply to Edward Hitchin on Infant Baptism,’ with additions by Thomas, Carmarthen, 1767, 12mo. 4. ‘Robert Hall's Doctrine of the Trinity,’ Carmarthen, 1794.

But Thomas's most important work was his history of the baptists in Wales, published in 1778 under the title ‘Hanes y Bedyddwyr ymhlith y Cymry, o amser yr Apostolion hyd y flwyddyn hon,’ Carmarthen, 8vo. A supplement of corrections and additions was also issued in 1780. The author's own manuscript translation into English of this work, with additions thereto, is preserved in the Baptists' Library at Bristol. Thomas subsequently wrote, in English, ‘A History of the Baptist Association in Wales,’ which first appeared in the ‘Baptist Register’ between 1791 and 1795, and was published in book form in the latter year (London, 8vo). These two works still form the chief sources of information as to the early history of the baptist denomination in Wales. A new edition of the Welsh history, with additions, was brought out by B. Davies of Pontypridd in 1885. Thomas died at Leominster on 25 Aug. 1797.

As many as eleven members of Thomas's family entered the baptist ministry. His son Timothy Thomas (1753–1827) was for forty-seven years pastor of the church at Devonshire Square, Bishopsgate. Two of Joshua's brothers, Timothy (1720–1768) and Zechariah (1727–1816), were successively pastors of Aberduar church, Carmarthenshire (Seren Gomer, 1820, p. 361; cf. Davies, Echoes from the Welsh Hills, p. 338). The former was the author or translator of several doctrinal works in Welsh, the best-known being ‘Y Wisg wen Ddisglaer’ (1759), and a small volume of hymns (1764).

There was another Joshua Thomas (d. 1759?), who was born early in the seventeenth century at Penpes in the parish of Llanlleonfel, Breconshire. He became curate of Tir Abbot in the same county in 1739, vicar of Merthyr Cynog 1741, with which he also held, from 1746, the living of Llanbister, Radnorshire, till 1758, when he became vicar of Kerry (D. R. Thomas, St. Asaph, p. 324). In 1752 he published a Welsh translation of Dr. John Scott's ‘Christian Life,’ under the title ‘Y Fuchedd Gris'nogol,’ London, 8vo. This has been described as ‘in every respect one of the best Welsh books published in this period’ (Rowlands, Cambr. Bibliography, pp. 431, 439–9).

[J. T. Jones's Geiriadur Bywgraffyddol, pp. 565, 571, 573, 575, 579, 591, 595; Ashton's Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymreig, pp. 289–95; Rowlands's Cambrian Bibliography, pp. 445–6, 588; Williams's Eminent Welshmen, pp. 486–8; information from St. David's Diocesan Registry.]

D. Ll. T.