Additional Family History of Thomas Howells (1831-1883): Wales
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Additional Family History of Thomas Howells (1831-1883): Wales

(Note: This piece was written in 1931 by John James, who served for a quarter century as President of the Salt Lake Cambrian Association. Born in Pembroke, Pembroke, Wales, and subsequently immigrating to Utah as a young man, he was a Welshman through and through. The accompanying picture and article appeared in the Deseret News, March 2, 1951, one day following his 87th birthday.)

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An Essay about Welsh Contributions to the Founding of America, by John James

Among the places I visited in Wales was Aberystwyth Cardiganshire, a most beautiful seaside resort, whereat the College of Wales, situated in a section of that historic town, I became acquainted with Professor J. P. Williams, Professor of History.

He took me for a hike up a nearby mountain, from the top of which we could see a great distance, north and south. He outlined in skeleton form the contribution of Welshmen to America in statesmanship, education, industry and religion. After naming each of the 12 counties of Wales, six in the north and an equal number in the south, Professor Williams said:

“Mr. James, we proudly refer to this little section of country as the ‘Cradle of Liberty.’”

Pointing his finger in a circular direction, he said:

“Over yonder was born Howell DDA (Howell the Good), a Welsh King, the great lawgiver of the 10th century. Howell’s laws, among other regulations, provided for the protection of life, liberty and property from arbitrary spoliation; trial by jury, and the right of a wife not to be compelled to testify against her husband. They also redressed numerous grievances connected with laws then in force in the principality of Wales and elsewhere. Howell’s laws became part of the Magna Charta, the great charter granted by King John at Runnymede, June 15, 1215. And the man who forced King John to sign his name on the ‘dotted line’ was none other than William Marshall of West Wales, Earl of Pembroke. As you perhaps know, the Magna Charta was written into and became part of the American Constitution.”

Pointing again in the direction of Snowdon, North Wales, my friend continued:

“In that farm house, away over there to your right, was born Peter Jefferson, the grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote your Declaration of Independence and who later became president of your great country.

“Jefferson said: 'The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.’

“Over yonder is Tyn-Ton, where, on the 22nd of February 1723, was born Richard Price, son of a dissenting minister (Protestant). In 1776, Mr. Price published his ‘Observation of Civil Liberty, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America.’ Richard Price, as I have before informed you, was born at Tyn-Ton, Llangeither, Glamorganshire, South Wales, February 22, 1723, and died in London, England, April 19, 1791.

“He probably gave as much, or more, constructive service, counsel and help to the struggling American Colonies, and during the formative period, to the nation—than any man that ever lived. He chartered the course, blazed the trail, and pointed the way for the early Americans to follow. Dr. Price was a preacher of the Gospel of Human Liberty and human rights.

“Benjamin Franklin held him in unbounded admiration, and said it was Richard Price who precipitated the America Revolution by advising that if King George put that tax of a penny a pound on tea in the Boston Harbor, the colonies should rise in their might and dump the cargoes in the sea. So you will observe that the famous ‘Boston Tea Party’ had its origin, not in a Massachusetts’s indignation meeting, as people were led to believe, but in the quiet precincts of a humble Welshman 3,000 miles away, and almost under King George the Third’s nose in London.

“Tom Paine wrote ‘Common Sense’ and the ‘Age of Reason,’ but it was Price’s ‘Civil Liberty’ that roused public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic and determined the 13 states to take issue with the then King of England, George the Third.

“Jefferson said it was Price who convinced the world of the iniquity of George the Third. That little booklet of Dr. Price’s, 'Civil Liberty,' found its way across the Atlantic and was circulated throughout the length and breath of America. It inflamed the whole people of your land, and in Britain transformed public opinion to an extent which divided parliament.

“It was Richard Price who forced the issue. Price’s little book was the most powerful deciding factor in determining America to declare its independence. He advised both Jefferson and Franklin to call a congress or convention, and announce to the world their position, their reasons and their purposes. The result was the Declaration of Independence, the 4th of July, and the birth of your great nation.

“On October 6, 1778, the American Congress resolved as follows: ‘That the Honorable Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee and John Adams be directed forthwith to apply to Dr. Price and inform him that it is the desire of Congress to consider him a citizen of the United States, and to receive his assistance in regulating their finances; that if he shall think it expedient to remove with his family to America and afford such assistance, a generous provision shall be made for requiting his services!’

“So you see Mr. James that this ancient and forgotten tale of America’s greatest and best friends puts a new phase on things. Franklin declared that the resolution I have just read to you was the very embodiment of the voice of wisdom and was the call of the United States to the ablest man of the day to come to your country and assist in the formation of a government which would establish the policies of equal justice and the fundamental rights of the people, together with a sound, conservative yet constructive financial policy.

“A little north of where Mr. Price was born is the birth place of Robert Morris, financier of the War of the Revolution, of whom General Washington said, he doubted if the Revolution would have carried had it not been for this same Morris.

“South of us was born in 1599 Roger Williams, founder of the State of Rhode Island, who gave America its first law on the ‘Liberty of Conscience.’ That law held the power of the Civil Magistrate only to the bodies, goods, and outward state of men, and not to their souls and conscience.

“Roger Williams founded the city of Providence in 1635, and established there a government which served as a model for the form of government which was ratified by the American Colonial Fathers nearly 150 years after. It is not generally known, but a fact nevertheless, that Williams was aided by four other Welshmen, namely: Thomas Harrier, Richard Williams, William Reynolds, and Thomas Hopkins.

“These men showed their inherited love of liberty all through the years which followed in Rhode Island’s history. I use the word ‘inherited’ advisedly, for I know with the Welsh people the love of liberty is born and bred in the bone.

“A certain writer said: ‘If Welsh influence in New England had been that of Williams only, the nation he represented might well feel proud, and the nation he served might well be thankful.’ (Williams first served as a religious reformer in Wales.)

“From the same section of country which gave you a Jefferson, came William Penn, who stands the first among the law givers whose names and deeds are recorded in history. He founded Pennsylvania, and I think you will agree with me when I say that no other state in the American Union can boast of such an illustrious founder; none began their social career under auspices so honorable to humanity.

“The ancestors of Patrick Henry came from yonder village. Henry is accorded the place in history of being the greatest and most eloquent of American orators. One of his speeches made in the year 1775 is on a par with that of Caractacus, the great Welsh Chief, given before the Roman Emperor Claudius, 54 AD.

“Patrick Henry asked, ‘Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’"

My companion went on in this strain, naming the great educators Wales had given America, and said:

“One of the greatest of your American universities, Yale, bears the name of its Welsh founder, Elihu Yale, of Plas Newydd, North Wales. His body reposes in yonder churchyard (Wrexham).

“Benjamin Harrison, a native of South Wales, published the first newspaper in America in 1679 and received a commission from the Governor of Massachusetts in 1692 to print the laws of that state.

“I came almost not mentioning that among the Signers of the Declaration of Independence were 17 men who were of Welsh birth or origin. I might also mention that of your 31 presidents, 7 were of Welsh ancestry. Let me give you their names: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, James A. Garfield, and Benjamin Harrison.

“Thus I could go on ad-infinitum. I believe, however, that I have given you sufficient historical data to prove what I said to you at the outset, that Wales, or the portions of it that I have pointed out to you, is justly entitled to what is claimed for it, to be known as the ‘Cradle of Liberty.’”

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