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Gwenllian Price (1800-1869): Biography

This biography was compiled in January 2010 by W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah, using the facts currently at hand concerning the life and times of Gwenllian Price (1800-1869).

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Gwenllian Price (1800-1869) was born on 5 July 1800 at Ynysmedwy Isaf, Llan-giwg (or Llanguick) Parish, Glamorganshire, Wales, the first child of Rees Price and Margaret Jones. 1 She was christened Gwenllian Price at the Llan-giwg Parish Church 17 days later, on 22 July 1800. 2

When she was two years old, her father, a farmer and a Conformist [he adhered to the Established Church, the Anglican or Church of England 3], moved his family to Penderyn (or Penderin), Breconshire, Wales, when given opportunity by his uncle to lease a farm there. It was here in the Penderyn Parish Church between 1802 and 1817 that Gwenllian’s six siblings were christened, namely: Margaret (19 Sep 1802), Edward Watkin (25 Mar 1808), William (about Jun 1811), Morgan (5 Sep 1812), Thomas (22 May 1815), and Amelia (3 June 1817). Rees and Margaret then resided on this farm in Penderyn for the rest of their lives, prospering and able to provide [their] children with a good education. Moreover, in 1809, Rees served as a churchwarden in the parish. 4

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Concerning farms and farmers in the southern parishes of Wales during the first part of the 19th Century, a 1989 article by R. J. Moore-Colyer lists some interesting data:

Evidently, there were many tenant farmers in Wales at the time —with many functioning as freeholders, i.e., possessing life-long leases on their rented properties. (And judging from the records currently available to us, it would appear that both Gwenllian’s and her husband John Howells’ fathers fit into this latter category.) [Moreover,] local custom tended, in most cases, to ensure family succession to tenanted holdings….

The majority of the farms were apparently less than 100 acres in size and contained predominantly acidic soils (due to poor drainage, as well as the ravages of salt-laden winds sweeping in from the ocean), which augured for more pastoral pursuits such as raising sheep. [Thus,] pastoral farming continues to prevail and has been the principal source of farm income for the past five hundred years….

While most farm households had several, if not numerous children…lodgers might be taken in as a means of supplementing income and providing occasional help on the farm…. Even on those farms of modest acreage…, [there was] employed at least one, and frequently several, male and female servants who lived in the house or the outbuildings. Invariably young (with an average age of 16…,) these servants rarely remained on a given farm for more than a year after which they departed, in some cases to marry, and in others to seek a place of their own…. [In a number of] Welsh parishes, many of these indoor servants were probably themselves the sons and daughters of farmers who had been obliged to serve a period of ‘apprenticeship’ away from their family hearths. In many cases the aspirations and frustrations of indoor servants were equally those of the sons of the farm with whom they shared work, leisure and sleeping quarters and with whom they dined in the ‘boardroom’…. There appears… to have been no simple correlation between farm size and the number of indoor servants employed…. [It was] largely conditioned by the type and scale of farm enterprise…. [For example,] the livestock farmer’s success depended very much upon constant and careful supervision of his animals…, so he would require more helpers.

[Additionally, the farmers in the southern part of Wales] would have been presented with the immediate problem of clearing a vast spread of surface stones. Even today… stones can still present a serious impediment to husbandry. [Accordingly, the stones were used to form] crude walls… reinforced with gorse bushes or even hurdles. [Such stone walls can be seen today when traveling through the countryside in Wales, as well as in Britain.] Assuming that herdsmen were not permanently on hand to control the movements of grazing livestock, enclosures would have [also] served the function either of protecting arable plots from the visitations of animals or of concentrating the same animals on those plots after harvest in order to provide manure for a subsequent crop. 5

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So, in our mind's eye, perhaps we can visualize Gwenllian learning to work on her father’s farm, as well as attending school to gain an education. Likewise, her future husband, John Howells, growing up on his father’s nearby farm, also in the village of Penderyn, would have been doing similarly.

How did they meet? Was it in school… at church… perhaps as co-workers on one of the farms? We don’t really know. However, we can be pretty sure that their eventual courtship followed a traditional Welsh pattern:

In the days before mass literacy, reading, radio, cinemas, TV and computers young [Welsh] men had hours of free time on their hands and many would spend those evening hours carving [a love spoon] in the hope that it would be accepted as a token of love when presented to the object of his [their] affection. [Furthermore, the carving of a love spoon was apparently also encouraged by the young lady’s father, as it ensured that the young man’s hands were kept occupied! 6]

Carving of love spoons was not confined to Wales but was common in much of Europe, especially in areas with large Celtic populations. But what makes the Welsh love spoon different is the diversity and finesse of the carvings, for nowhere else has such a variety of symbolism….

The spoons are carved from one piece of wood which traditionally was sycamore, but ash, yew and wood from fruit trees like apple or pear were used too….

If the love spoon was accepted and the heart of the suitor was won their love spoon would be displayed at pride of place on a wall much like wedding photographs may be put on show today. 7

Undoubtedly, they also shared other Welsh experiences, such as food and customs:

Regarding food... although lamb has been the meat most often associated with Wales, in the past this was meat eaten only on high days and holidays. [It was] the pig [that] was the staple meat for the family…. Thus fresh vegetables from the garden, fish from the rivers, lakes or sea, and meat from the family pig, formed the basis of traditional Welsh cooking.

One traditional staple was cawl, a broth or soup made with bacon, cabbage and leeks. Made in an iron pot over an open fire, this classic one-pot meal often contained other local ingredients as well, depending on the locale. (Incidentally, the leek, the strong smelling member of the onion family, even centuries before Gwenllian’s and John’s time as well as today for reasons not exactly known, became the national emblem of the Welsh. Certainly leeks were used in cooking, but also as medicines, good-luck charms, and as a badge of honor worn on one’s clothing at special events. Today, daffodils serve a similar function when worn on one’s clothing in Wales. 8)

Laverbread, made from edible seaweed, warmed in hot bacon fat and sprinkled with oatmeal was a favorite, as was Caerphilly cheese. (Melted cheese, often seasoned, poured over toast was known as Welsh rabbit or rarebit.) A variety of cakes and bakery goods such as griddle cakes, scones, pancakes, breads, turnovers and oatcakes were also very popular at mealtimes. And loving teatime (the late afternoon or early evening snack time in Wales and Britain) as they did, various types of cakes often found their way onto the table, too: fruit, caraway seed, cinnamon, honey, and spicy Welsh cakes. 9

Regarding Welsh customs, Wales is a country steeped in tradition. Even the Methodist revival in the 18th century, whose stern Puritanism banished the ancient Celtic traditions, was unable to stamp out all remains of their traditions. For example, there were many superstitions in the country associated with the long-standing coal industry: Fridays were associated with bad luck; a bird flying around the opening of a mine shaft foretold disaster; and if a squinting woman was met on the way to work, the miner would go back home again. 10

Along with multiple traditions regarding holidays, there were also strange birth customs:

Expectant mothers in many parts of Wales had to be very careful what they did before the baby was born. For example, if she stepped over a grave, it was believed that the baby would die soon after birth or would be still-born. If she dipped her hands into dirty water, the child would grow up having coarse hands. If the child was born under a new moon, it would grow up to be eloquent in speech. If born at night, it would be able to see visions, ghosts and phantom funerals. During the christening ceremony, if the baby held up its head, it would live to be very old. If, however, it allowed its head to fall back or to rest on the arm of the person holding it, the child would die an early death. At some christening ceremonies, specially designed drinking glasses were used to consume prodigious amounts of liquor in toasts to the newly baptized infant. (To be fair, it has to be remembered that it is only in this century that most of the water supplies in Wales have become fit to drink, and beer was always not only considered a safe drink, but was also thought to confer strength.) 11

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Consequently, having been molded by the above customs, traditions and experiences, and of course many others, Gwenllian Price and John Howells were married in Penderyn Parish, in 1827. He was 34 years old, and she was 27. 12 Interestingly, the record states that they were married by license, rather than by banns, as was the usual custom.

Introduced in the 13th Century, banns meant that there was a public announcement of the forthcoming marriage in the couples’ church for three Sundays prior to the wedding. This gave opportunity for any objections to the marriage to be voiced.

Marriage licenses were introduced in the 14th Century: they were issued on payment of a fee and accompanied by a sworn declaration, usually from the bridegroom, that there was no just cause or impediment why the pair should not marry. There could be a number of reasons for a couple to obtain a marriage license—including marrying quickly and avoiding the three weeks delay by the calling of banns; or since a license required payment, they might choose to obtain one as a status symbol. Generally, these licenses were not retained and were simply destroyed following the marriage.

However, after 1837 in England and Wales, civil marriages became a legal alternative to church marriages. Thereafter, all marriages were duly recorded by a civil registrar, rather than just on the parish records—and marriage certificates were then issued. 13

It is not known why John and Gwenllian chose to obtain a marriage license rather than to be married according to banns. Nonetheless, following their union, they took up residence on the farm in Penderyn that John as a tenant farmer had inherited from his father, Jenkin Howell (1758-1830). 14, 15 Here they began their family, which eventually numbered six children: Margaret (1829- ), Thomas (1831-1883), Rees (1834- ), Gwenllian (1835- ), Jenkin (1836-1902), and Amelia (1838-1915). Supportive documentation for the children, as far as is known, can be viewed in the document section of this file. 16

Gwenllian’s husband, John Howells, died at Penderyn of unknown causes on 22 July 1840. 17 One year later, the status of Gwenllian and her young children was confirmed in the 1841 Census for Breconshire County, Wales, where she is listed as a farmer’s widow. 18

From her son Thomas’ subsequent missionary journal, we learn that the bereaved family farmed the land but a few years more:

She continued in the farming business for several years after my Father’s death. Being that we were so young and unprofitable to keep servants, she sold all of the stock and implements of husbandry, and put the money in the bank, and we children had to seek other employment besides farming.

Then, eight years later, in 1849, Thomas was unexpectedly baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and immigrated to Utah the following year. All of this created a family crisis, which still seethed unresolved even a half century later. 19

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We have but few hard facts concerning Gwenllian’s subsequent life. We do know that she married again. Nine years after John Howells died, she married John Davies, a sexton and widower, in Penderyn, on 23 April 1850. 20

However, in the 1861 Welsh Census, a little over a decade later, at age 61, she was again shown as a widow. Obviously, her second husband, John Davies, had passed away sometime previously. She was living with her daughter, Amelia, age 22, an unmarried dressmaker. Interesting, too, in the census, is the notation that Gwenllian was receiving relief [? rent] from property as source of her income. 21 Was this income in part a result of the money she had placed in the bank at the time the farm livestock and implements were sold, as mentioned in her son Thomas’ autobiography quoted above? Was it possibly income derived from rental of the Penderyn farm property itself? We don’t know.

At any rate, Gwenllian died on 1 June 1869 at Penderyn, apparently of a heart attack. She was 69 years old. 22 She passed away only a few days before her son Thomas returned to the area as a missionary; they had not seen or communicated with one another in twenty years. 23 She was bitter and evidently held an unrelenting, unfavorable attitude towards him for many years after he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and immigrated to Utah. Nonetheless, there appears to have been a softening in her attitude at the end of her life, as was noted by her grandson, John Francis Howells, Thomas’ son, when he served as a missionary in Wales, in 1892:

As I was gazing on the stone that marked the place where his bones [were] deposited [John Howell, TPH’s father/JFH’s grandfather] I thought of the night when father came home to his mother’s house [Gwenllian Price, then a widow with her six children, of whom TPH was the oldest son] in the village of Penderyn, in his wet clothes, where he had been to be baptized into the true fold of Christ. [I compared] the spirit that actuated his heart upon that occasion to the one that was in his mother’s and in her house when they found where he had been and what he had done. Some of his brothers and sisters condemn him for that act to this day. But I am told that his mother’s heart was turned to him, or at least it was her heart’s desire to visit him before she died. But, for some reason, her desires weren’t granted her. (3 August 1892) 24

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In conclusion, having now reviewed the life of Gwenllian Price as far as it is known at present, it seems to me that both Gwenllian and her husband John Howells were very religious people: they both descended from devout backgrounds.

For centuries, Wales had been undergoing spiritual transformation. 25 Gwenllian’s family had remained Conformist. Her father, Rees Price (1772-1850) served as a Churchwarden in the Established Church, and at least one of her uncles was a minister. 26

On the other hand, her husband John Howells’ family was just as devout in their convictions. John’s father, Jenkin Howell (1758-1830), had become a Non-Conformist in 1829, only one year before his death 27, and his brother, Richard was a Baptist Minister. 28

Thus, with such a background and with such a perspective, Gwenllian must have greatly abhorred experiencing any further religious division within her family.

Consequently, it was obviously a very repugnant surprise for her to learn of her son Thomas’ baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Moreover, the stock or estimation of the Mormons was very low in Wales during the first half of the 19th Century 29, especially whenever the topic of polygamy came up. Embarrassment to the family would have certainly followed, coupled with verbal abuse and social ostracism in the tight little Welsh community directed at Thomas. 30 Undoubtedly, too, with Thomas’ conversion and eventual migration to Utah, it was clear that an extra pair of hands was being lost, which could have assisted the widowed Gwenllian and her family in making ends meet.

So, the softening in her attitude after many years, as quoted from her grandson’s missionary journal above, came as a healing balm and suggested an apparent change of heart.

As a result, I suspect that now in the hereafter, with a full understanding of what transpired on earth, she has made peace with her son, Thomas, has saluted his courage and convictions—and has gone on to embrace the truth in its entirety.

Indeed, necessary temple sealing work has been completed for her and her loved ones. 31

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Sources of Information:

1. See Research Paper: Ancestry of Gwenllian Price…, found in the Additional Family History section of this file.

2. See 1800 Gwenllian's christening record, 22 July 1800…, found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file.

3. See the discussion of the Non-Conformity Movement in Wales, found in John Howells (1793-1840): Biography, on this website.

4. Op. Cit.: See Research Paper: Ancestry of Gwenllian Price

5. R. J. Moore-Colyer, Farmers and Fields in Nineteenth-Century Wales…, found in the National Library of Wales Journal, 1989, Summer, Volume XXVI/1:

6. Traditions and Folklore of Wales:

7. John Howe, Welsh Love Spoons a Traditional Love Token…2008,

8. The Leek—the national emblem of the Welsh:

9. A Taste of Wales:

10. Op. Cit.: Traditions and Folklore of Wales:

11. Welsh Culture and Traditions: Birth Customs:

12. See 1827 (age 27) Gwenllian's and John Howells’ marriage record, 9 November 1827…, found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file.

13. Marriage License, United Kingdom:

14. See Jenkin Howell (1758-1830) in the World Connect section on this website.

15. See 1961: 27 January 1961, part 1 and part 2 letters from the Genealogical Society…, found under Subsequent Events in the Document section of John Howells (1793-1840), on this website.

16. See Selected Documents for Gwenllian’s and John Howells’ Children, found in the Document section of this file.

17. See 1840 (age 39+) Certification of the death of Gwenllian's first husband John Howells, farmer, age 47 on 22 July 1840…, found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file.

18. See 1841 (age 40) Wales Census for Upper Ystradvelltey, District 1, Breconshire County..., found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file

19. See John Howells (1793-1840): Biography, on this website.

20. See 1850 (age 50+) Certification of the marriage of Gwenllian, nine years following the death of John Howells, to her second husband John Davies…, found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file.

21. See 1861 (age 61) Census for Wales, showing … Gwenllian Davies, age 61, widow…, found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file.

22. See 1869 (age 69) Certification of Gwenllian's death, at age 69, on 1 June 1869 at Penderin, Wales…, found under Life Happenings… in the Document section of this file.

23. See Abstraction of Her Son Thomas Howells’ Missionary Journal … (p.3)…, found in the Additional Family History section of this file.

24. See Abstraction of Her Grandson John Francis Howells’ Missionary Journal … (3 August 1892 entry)…, found in the Additional Family History section of this file.

25. Op. Cit.: See the discussion of the Non-Conformity Movement in Wales…

26. Op. Cit.: See Research Paper: Ancestry of Gwenllian Price

27. Op. Cit.: See 1961: 27 January 1961, part 1 and part 2 letters

28. See Abstraction of Her Son Thomas Howells’ Missionary Journal … (p.4)…, found in the Additional Family History section of this file.

29. Ronald D. Dennis, The Welsh and the Gospel, found in Truth Will Prevail…, Editors Bloxham, Moss and Porter, Intellectual Reserves, Inc., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987, chapter 8, pp. 236-267.

30. See Thomas Howells (1831-1883): Biography, on this website.

31. See 1969: Extraction of 13 February 1969 Salt Lake Temple Sealing Records..., found under Subsequent Events… in the Document section of this file.

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