Geraint Bowen, Former Archdruid of Wales

Bowen, Geraint. Foreword to Prophet of the Jubilee, Ronald D. Dennis, ed., (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), xi–xxiv.

The church of the Latter-day Saints launched its English mission in 1837. Three years later the missionaries James Burham and Henry Royle were active in Cheshire and on the Welsh border and succeeded in establishing a branch at Overton in Flintshire, east of the river Dee, on the 8th of October. The earliest Welsh-language newspaper, Seren Gomer, reported in 1841 the simple fact that a “new sect of American missionaries” were active in Cheshire. The editor refrained from further comment, omitting any reference to their success at Overton which by that time was a fairly anglicised village. He expressed no unease, knowing that these non-Welsh-speaking missionaries had no chance of gaining converts further west in the Welsh-speaking towns and villages and in the countryside of the northern counties of Wales. Indeed, the American missionaries themselves soon discovered that further penetration into Wales would not result in converts without the aid of Welsh-speaking missionaries. The Mormon newspaper, Millennial Star, founded by Brigham Young and Parley P. Pratt in 1840, was an effective medium for the English and the anglicised communities in the border areas, but of little use further west.

The missionaries William Henshaw and John Needham, both non-Welsh speaking, had by 1843 succeeded in gaining a few converts in the linguistically mixed industrial community of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales and had established a Mormon branch at Penydarren. This success did cause some alarm among Nonconformists, and Seren Gomer in 1844 issued a warning to its readers describing the Mormons as a “plaid gyfeiliornus” (heretical sect). The editor of Seren Gomer was the Reverend Joseph Harris, a Baptist minister. His priorities were the propagation of Welsh Nonconformity and its defence when challenged, though loyalty to local chapels was not always based on Biblical belief and morality but frequently on the fact that they provided a venue for social and cultural activity. Denominational differences had resulted from the right of individuals to pick and choose from Biblical teaching. There was throughout Wales, both in agricultural and new industrialised areas, a high proportion of the population who remained uncommitted—not having embraced any religious belief—a fact frequently ignored in most history books.

In the new industrial areas at the heads of the Glamorgan and Gwent valleys the old established parish churches failed to catch up with the increasing population, and there was an upsurge in the variety of Nonconformist chapels following the inflow of newcomers who had earlier established a relation with the different denominations in the rural areas. In the mid-nineteenth century seven out of every ten of the churches of Wales were Nonconformist, the Baptists being the third strongest denomination, and eight out of every ten of its population were members or supporters of Nonconformist chapels. A new missionary campaign by a strange sect was regarded as a challenge to the Nonconformist establishment.

It was in these Welsh Nonconformist chapels and their Sunday schools that the Welsh people had learned to read their own language. It was through the medium of that language that they had been made familiar not only with the Bible and its imagery but also with emotional congregational hymn singing and passionate preaching.

The increase of literacy had led to an increase in the demand for Welsh reading material. Another newspaper, Yr Amserau, also a staunch supporter of Welsh Nonconformity and radicalism, was established in 1843, serving mainly the tastes and needs of Independents, Baptists, Wesleyans, Unitarians, radicals and social reformers. Undoubtedly other newspapers would have been established were it not for the cost of distribution and the fact that all newspapers had to pay stamp duty, which greatly increased the cost of production. When the stamp duty was abolished between 1853 and 1861 the Welsh people witnessed an increase in the number of Welsh newspapers and magazines, denominational, literary and political, such as Udgorn Cymru, Y Gwladgarwr and Yr Adolygydd.

The late thirties and early forties was a period of great depression in Wales when hundreds of workmen in the industrial south were reduced almost to starvation, and in 1842 the workers in the Merthyr Iron Works, the leaders of the Welsh industrial economy, went on strike. Their wages in 1848, during the trade depression, were reduced by a fifth. A third of the Welsh population were employed on the land and the wages of agricultural laborers employed by the landed gentry were as low as seven pence to one shilling a day.

The Welsh people (who had for centuries learnt to live with denial), having lost their national independence, and having no political means to bring economic and political changes since only property owners could vote and stand for Parliament, resorted to other means of addressing the situation. Merthyr became the centre of the militant Chartist movement in Wales and it was its Merthyr leader, Morgan Williams, together with David John, both Unitarians, who published the Welsh magazine Udgorn Cymru which appeared in 1840 to gain support for their less militant campaign for reform after the initial failure of the Chartists.

The Chartist movement had in 1839 submitted a petition to Parliament signed by a million-and-a-quarter demanding the abolition of the need for parliamentary candidates to have private property, calling for universal suffrage, secret ballot, constituencies of equal size and salaries to Members of Parliament. The Westminster Parliament refused the Petition. This refusal led to the Chartist Riot in Newport on the 4th of November 1839, the banishing of its South Wales leaders, John Frost of Newport and Zephaniah Williams of Nant-y-glo, the death of twenty-two campaigners and the wounding of fifty. Zephaniah Williams was earlier responsible for establishing a Welsh society called “Y Dynolwyr” (The Humanists) which sought, amongst other things, to have Welsh taught in schools and to give Welsh speakers the right to hold managerial posts in the iron and coal industries, as there was a tendency for new English entrepreneurs in most cases to introduce Englishmen to manage their industries.

In its pages Udgorn Cymru condemned, amongst other injustices, church tithes, the Poor Law, the financial upkeep of royalty, advocated the disestablishment of the Anglican Church and campaigned for temperance. With the failure of the second petition submitted in April 1842, Udgorn Cymru ceased publication in July 1842.

The campaign for the disestablishment of the Church was continued by The Liberation Society, which was launched in 1844 and which published The Eclectic Review with the support of Seren Gomer and Y Diwygiwr.

Political frustration, social injustices, landlord oppression, church tithes, unemployment and poverty led some Welshmen to believe more than previously that their only hope of justice was to emigrate to the New World. After all, America, they had been made to believe, was discovered by a Welshman, Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, in 1169, and according to another Welshman John Dee (1527–1608), Queen Elizabeth’s astrologist, it followed that the New World was the property of Britain. The myth grew that descendants of the Madog crew had settled in the New World, and that there was an Indian tribe in the upper Missouri who spoke Welsh. This myth was given wide publicity and general credibility with the publication of the tale by the historian John Williams in 1790. One of the conditions of membership of The Gwyneddigion, a London Welsh Society founded in 1770, was the belief that Madog did discover America, and a collection was made to finance John Evans of Waun-fawr on an expedition in 1792 to discover the Welsh-speaking Indians. Having failed in his quest, he settled in New Orleans as cartographer in the service of the Spanish authorities.

Thomas Stephens, a Unitarian, antiquarian and critic, living in Merthyr Tydfil, competed in the Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858 for the essay prize on “Madoc: an Essay on the Discovery of America by Madoc ap Owen Gwynedd.” According to the adjudicators, his essay was by far the best entry, but as he had convincingly proved the falsehood of the whole tale, the prize was withheld. By this time Captain Dan Jones, equally taken in by this tale, had already completed his vain adventure in Southern Utah in search of the Welsh-speaking Indians, and had published a full report of his journey.

Some individuals with industrial experience had begun to emigrate to North America to work in the new iron mills there as early as 1817. From 1830 the discovery of coal in the eastern states attracted hundreds of Welsh coalminers. Samuel Roberts, an Independent Minister in Llanbryn-mair and the editor of Y Cronicl, sought from 1850 to encourage impoverished farmers and agricultural workers in mid-Wales to emigrate to Eastern Tennessee, and a group of them emigrated in 1856. Similarly a company of Welshmen emigrated to Brazil in 1851.

Other popular myths provided the downtrodden Welsh gwerin (commoners) of the period with a national and social uplift. Jeffrey of Monmouth, author of Historia Regum Britanniae, in his attempt to explain the name Cymru (Wales), had stated that it was derived from the name Camber, the son of Brutus, the Trojan hero, who had after the fall of Troy settled in Britain, a name, so he claimed, derived from Brutus. This link with the classical world was a real boost to the Welsh identity. Later Latin writers coined the noun Cambria for Wales, together with the adjective Cambrian. William Vaughan sought to establish a Welsh colony as early as 1616 in what was later named Newfoundland and called it Cambriol. Similarly, Morgan John Rhys, a Baptist minister and editor of the short-lived monthly, Cylchgrawn Cymraeg, spurred on by prospects of religious and political freedom in the new independent America, founded a Welsh colony in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania in 1794 and called it Cambria. Captain Dan Jones, in his introduction to his Welsh translation of Brigham Young’s Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles published in 1845, refers to the Welsh people as “Cambria’s sons” and the Welsh Mormon provisional settlement in Kanesfield was proudly called the “Cambrian Camp.”

Other similar fabrications found a way into Welsh magazines and history books and into the minds of the Welsh. John Bale, the author of Index Britanniae Scriptorum (1557), started a myth that the Welsh were the descendants of Gomer, the son of Japheth, the son of Noah, and that the Welsh language, “Gomeraeg,” as he called it, was the language spoken by Gomer. This alleged ethnical connection with the patriarchs was welcomed by all Welsh church and chapelgoers including the Welsh Mormon missionaries, who were more than happy with the Biblical connection and ready on all occasions to address themselves as the “the sons of Gomer’. The first Welsh newspaper, mentioned earlier, had been given the name Seren Gomer (Star of Gomer).

The early nineteenth century witnessed an upsurge in cultural activities, the publication of a large body of early Welsh literature and the spread of interest in the traditional Welsh poetic art. This can be attributed to the multiplicity of literary and philanthropic societies and the spread of the eisteddfod (literary competition) movement throughout Wales. The London Gwyneddigion Society published the works of the famous medieval Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym and The Myfyrian Archaeology, hoping to draw the attention of scholars to some of the most important Welsh literary treasures. They also became patrons of the eisteddfodau held in the taverns of North Wales,where the Methodist, Dafydd Ddu Eryri, Bardd Cadeiriog Gwynedd, ruled the poetic roost and was mentor to a number of Gwendotian poets. Edward Williams (Iolo Morgannwg), another Unitarian, founded the Gorsedd of Bards, claiming that it had an unbroken record dating back to the Brythonic period. This movement and the Provincial Eisteddfod Society, established in 1818 by Bishop Burgess of St. Davids and other Established Church adherents to give the Church body a less anglicising image in the eyes of the Welsh, had a profound influence on the development of Welsh literature. Only one Nonconformist was allowed on the central committee of this Provincial Society, namely Iolo Morgannwg who was regarded by his contemporaries as a trustworthy authority on Welsh history and literature. Later generations found this opinion to have been grossly misconceived. Iolo had once stated that the rules of the Welsh poetic art were set forth by the poets Taliesin, Aneirin and Myrddin at a meeting of the Round Table in King Arthur’s Court at Caerleon in Gwent. This claim, a stroke of fantasy, led to the establishment in the seventies of the literary society called Urdd y Ford Gron (Order of the Round Table), founded by the popular and romantic poets Ceiriog and Mynyddog.

In Merthyr Tydfil and district in the opening decades of the century there were numerous Welsh literary and philanthropic societies which met in the only nonreligious places of assembly available at the time, namely public houses. These were numerous and included The Vulcan, The Lamb, The Bush, Y Gwladwr, The Swan, The King’s Head, The Plough, The Boar, The White Horse, and The Boot. The most famous of these literary societies were Cymdeithas y Cymreigyddion, Cymdeithas Llenyddion Merthyr, Cymmrodorion Merthyr, and Cymdeithas Cadair Merthyr. The aim of Cymdeithas Cadair Merthyr, which was founded in 1823, was to instruct young poets and harpists in the traditional poetic art. Frequent eisteddfodau were arranged, and in 1825 a gorsedd of bards was held in Twynyrodyn (a suburb of Merthyr), conducted by Taliesin ab Iolo, the headmaster of a local school and contributor to the Merthyr Guardian. The poetic works of the Merthyr poets were published in such anthologies as Blwch y Cantorion (1816) which contains the works of eighteen local poets, Awenyddion Morganwg, Awen Merthyr Tydfil (1822) and Awen Gwent a Morganwg (1824).

Myfyr Morganwg, watchmaker, Independent lay preacher, poet, exponent of eastern religions and self-named Archdruid of the Isle of Britain, formed in 1850 a Welsh druidical fellowship to hold eisteddfodau and practice rituals within a circle of stones arranged on the lines of the serpent temples of the Middle East. At the outset he had a good following, but criticism from local Nonconformist ministers led to its decline. Nevertheless, Myfyr Morganwg continued to practice these rituals on the Rocking Stone in Pontypridd four times a year for almost twenty years, ending we are told with associates who were mainly non-churchgoers.

In the Aberdare valley, at Trecynon, a Cymreigyddion Society was regularly held in The Red Stag, a tavern owned by William Williams, under the leadership of David Williams (Alaw Goch), a coal mine owner who in 1860 was appointed first treasurer of the new Council of the National Eisteddfod of Wales. He, together with William Williams and Abraham Mason, was also responsible for publishing Y Gwladgarwr to fight for the rights of workers and to defend the Nonconformist cause. In 1854 an anthology of verses composed by members of the society appeared under the title Gardd Aberddr.

Abergavenny in Gwent had also by the thirties become an important centre of Welsh cultural activity. Under the patronage of Lady Llanover (Gwenynen Gwent), wife of Benjamin Hall, M. P., a Cymreigyddion Society was established in 1833 which aimed at holding Welsh Sunday schools, teaching Welsh in the local schools and holding eisteddfodau for poets, authors and harpists. The first eisteddfod was held in the Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, in 1834. Earlier in the same year Gwenynen Gwent had been made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards at a meeting held in Pontypridd having been awarded a prize for literature at the Cardiff National Eisteddfod held earlier the same year.

The philanthropic societies of the region were similarly functioning in Welsh and acting as patrons of the Welsh language and culture. The Druid Order, for example, was a keen supporter of the Abergavenny eisteddfodau, and in Swansea the local branch was solely responsible for holding an eisteddfod in 1841. The Oddfellows published a Welsh magazine known as Y Gwron Odyddol. Its editor, the chaired bard Cawrdaf, served on the staff of the radical Merthyr and Cardiff Chronicle, which was printed in Merthyr. Both Cawrdaf, a Wesleyan, and Josiah T. Jones, the owner of the paper and press, on account of their radicalism, were ousted from the town by Sir Josiah John Guest, also a Wesleyan, husband of Lady Charlotte Guest, the translator of the Mabinogion, a collection of famous Welsh medieval tales. Sir John was not only Conservative member of Parliament for Merthyr but also manager and part owner of the Merthyr Iron Works where he employed as many as 12,000 workers. Cawrdaf moved to Cowbridge and continued to publish Y Gwron Odyddol. There he was instrumental in holding an eisteddfod and gorsedd under the auspices of the Cymreigyddion Cadair Morganwg.

Captain Dan Jones reached the radical cultural cauldron of Merthyr Tydfil and its neighbouring towns in 1845, apparently after a short mission in North Wales, determined that “Cambria’s sons” would get Brigham Young’s “timely warning in their national tongue.” He realised that unless he did so his mission would be a failure and the Welsh people would lend a deaf ear to the Mormon message. Dan Jones undoubtedly had the charisma, the conviction, the genius, the loyalty to the Mormon vision, and the understanding of the Welsh mentality and national ethos, and most important of all, a mastery of the Welsh language to ensure the success of the mission amongst the Cambrian Hills. After a short while he was in a position to assure his leaders in England that the missionaries were preaching in almost every county in Wales, that he himself had travelled round every county in Wales but one, preaching every night in the largest towns, and that he had already published twelve Welsh-language treatises explaining and defending Mormon principles.

According to a report on the Manchester Annual Conference held in May 1846 published in Prophwyd y Jubili (August 1846) Dan Jones had been sent from America by the highest authority in the church to preside over all the districts throughout Wales, and his duties were to organise all matters within them and to take the best measures to further the work.

Earlier non-Welsh-speaking missionaries belonging to other denominations had experienced failure in Wales and had learnt the lesson. In 1800 Thomas Coke, a non-Welsh-speaking native of Brecon and leader of the Wesleyan mission, after experiencing such failure, persuaded the British Congress to send two Welsh preachers to North Wales. This resulted in the establishment of the first Welsh Wesleyan cause, that of Ruthin in Denbighshire. In 1809 the Welsh magazine, Yr Eurgrawn Wesleyaidd appeared, followed in 1825 by Trysorfa V Plant, a religious monthly for children.

Richard Wright, the Unitarian missioner who visited Wales in 1816 and 1819, discovered to his dismay that his Unitarian mission had made little progress in Wales not only because he had not been allowed to publicise his meetings, as was his experience in Tenby, but also because he had no knowledge of the Welsh language. He wrote:

I recommend the publication of a small periodical written in the Welsh language which might produce important effects; a missioner should be constantly employed which can preach to the Welsh people in their own language and tracts liberally circulated.

The Unitarian Society of Wales had earlier published sermons and treatises, original and translations, and a number of hymn books, but it was not until 1847 that their periodical Yr Ymofynnydd appeared.

The Calvinistic Methodist or Presbyterian Church of Wales, established in 1811, was from the outset a Welsh movement. Its missionary problem was, contrary to that of the other denominations, that of providing English churches in the partly anglicised towns of Wales. Attempts to meet the demand, known as the “English causes,” resulted in much controversy within the denomination. This movement, the largest of all the Welsh denominations, had been enriched by the contribution of the Welsh revivalists Daniel Rowlands and Thomas Charles and that of the hymn writers William Williams Pantycelyn and Ann Griffiths. The greatest benefactor of the Calvinistic cause at the time of the Mormon mission was Lewis Edwards, who in 1845 launched Y Traethodydd, a high-standard quarterly magazine dealing with theological, philosophical and educational matters.

Such was the situation in Wales when Captain Dan Jones was preparing the first number of his Welsh magazine, Prophwyd y Jubili, Seren y Saint (The Prophet of the Jubilee, Star of the Saints), dealing, as he stated, in a letter to Wilford Woodruff concerning his first publication, with “the order of the Kingdom set up in the days of the Apostles & illustrating the first principles, the immutability of the Gospel . . . in the Welsh language of course.” In the “Greeting of the publisher to his compatriots,” printed in the opening pages of the first number (July 1846) of Prophwyd we find sentences such as these:

Let the inhabitants of the earth rejoice, and let every Welshman give a hearkening ear to the good news of great joy that is sounded through this last trumpet . . . No prophet has ever striven on behalf of truth more than this one shall strive, according to his ability and his advantages, and he takes pride somewhat in the latter also, because of his link with the source from whence his elder brothers drew the sweet streams which made their vineyards fruitful and green, and which shall yet adorn the tops of the mountains of Wales until they blossom down to the bottom of the vales like the garden of paradise and drip honeycombs from each flower to all who accept him for their use.

In the section “Greeting of the Prophet” (p. 3) we read:

My mission—oh, wonder of wonders—is good news. It is a mission of peace that I offer to every Welshman who will hear me. Something new and strange has been wrought on the earth in these latter days!—something very few of you have understood yet, because it has not been put before you.

The dual title, Prophwyd y Jubili, Seren y Saint, was undoubtedly an attempt to convey the meaning suggested by the title Millennial Star, the English mission’s periodical which was launched earlier by Brigham Young.

Prophwyd y Jubili served as expositor of Mormonism and its apocalyptic expectations and was a platform for defending the Saints against onslaughts on their Biblical teachings by denominational ministers. Later more space was given to the foundation of the New Jerusalem in California and to emigration matters, prospects and plans. As in all Welsh magazines of the period, poetry in the free and traditional strict meters found place in nearly all numbers.

Even in the first number (p. 22) Captain Dan Jones refers to what he calls the unfair attitude of the Welsh denominational press towards the Mormon mission, another reason why a Welsh organ was so essential, especially as these papers would not allow opportunity for the Mormons to defend their cause in their columns. He mentions some of these by name:

Amongst others, not the least are the Star of Gomer, the Times, the Baptist, the Educator, etc. . . . It is sad to say, indeed, that such people have polluted even the Welsh press, staining its fine vestment.

In the December 1846 number (p. 148) of Prophwyd, specific reference is made to the editor of The Baptist:

We implored earnestly and humbly for the opportunity to clear ourselves from the villainous filth with which we were plastered without provocation; but, as usual, the answer we received from him was a shameless refusal.

Little by little the idea of emigration was given a more prominent place in Prophwyd and more details were given in each issue. In the June 1847 number (p. 87) we find the statement:

It is on the American continent that God commanded his people to build a city of refuge [the New Jerusalem] for those of his children who gathered there.

The following January the Welsh converts were told:

Now, you dear Saints throughout Wales, here is the news that you have waited long to hear. Behold the place, yes the refuge for deliverance has been found, the one which from now on will be the counterpoint for all the children of Zion from every nation, tongue and people to gather to—who is ready to get under way? (P. 8)

And in the February 1848 number (p. 29) further details are given:

The center point of the gathering is the valley of the mountains near the “Salt Lake” in California. The recommended way is through New Orleans, up the Mississippi river and the Missouri to Council Bluffs, and from there overland in wagons to the end of the journey.

In the September number (p. 141) we read in the “Proclamation” written by Dan Jones:

Our intention is to emigrate to California next January or February.

And in the October number (p. 153):

We wish to inform the Welsh Saints, that president Pratt has entrusted to our care the preparation for the emigration of the Saints from Wales, and we intend to obtain a shipload of Welsh to go with each other, if there are about three hundred ready by January.

As the emphasis on emigration to Zion increased it was thought appropriate to change the name of the periodical from Prophwyd y Jubili to Udgorn Seion (The Trumpet of Zion), a name reminiscent of the Chartist magazine Udgorn Cymru (The Trumpet of Wales) which ceased circulation in 1842. If the call of the Chartists’ trumpet had fallen on deaf ears, there had been already promising signs that the Mormon trumpet would be heard and thousands would answer its call. Captain Dan Jones, the president of the Welsh mission, preacher, editor of its monthly, and publisher of twenty Welsh pamphlets and a hymn book, made known his intention to lead the Welsh emigration party. He appointed John Davis, an experienced printer, to take over the editorship of Udgorn Seion. After five years of editing, writing and publishing numerous Welsh pamphlets and hymn books, and translating such works as The Book of Mormon, Davis himself, on the return of Dan Jones on his second visit to lead the Welsh mission and embark on another series of publications, also emigrated to Zion, where he served on the staff of the Mormon newspaper Deseret News.

In many Welsh history books dealing with the religious movements of this period one finds no reference to the religious works of either of these prolific authors. One hopes that this additional contribution by Dr. Ronald Dennis to Welsh Mormon writings will go far to remedy this omission.