Activist men in drag: the Rebecca Riots
1839 The Rebecca Riots began, Efailwen, Wales
Led by a huge, 33-year-old man named Thomas Rees, aka Twm Carnabwth, a group of men dressed in women's clothing, calling themselves the Merched Beca ('Daughters of Rebecca'), burned down a hated toll-gate at Efailwen (Yr Efail Wen), Carmarthenshire, Wales. A few weeks later they destroyed the toll-gate at Maesgwynne.
The Rebecca Riots, as they were known, were direct actions by poor Welsh tenant farmers and farm workers against turnpikes – gates set across roads to prevent passage until a toll had been paid. Until that time, most tollkeepers had allowed locals to pass through for free, but now Thomas Bullin, a wealthy turnpike owner, made sure that all who passed through, paid.
There had been a bad crop that year, as well as a rapid increase in population and the imposition of a money economy upon a rural society dominated by a small landowning class. The tolls were the last straw ...
Why the protesters were known as 'daughters of Rebecca' is not known, but it is probable that the following Biblical verse provides the derivation, as these were devout Protestant men protecting their livelihoods, and because of the reference to 'gate':
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.
Genesis 24:60 ...
Categories: activism, direct-action, british-history, poverty, uk, history, wales