David Ellis Jones (c.1733 – unknown)

AUTHORS NOTE: Since drafting the entry below, new facts have come to light which COMPLETELY DEBUNK several ideas put forth here in. Rather than “erase” or delete my mistakes, as if they never happened (which occurs all too frequently on the net), I have chosen to “redact” them by crossing through the patently false, or overly speculative portions of the text. In addition I have added a note of correction to the quote from the “Baby Book”. For more information, please refer to my post “Epic FAIL | Confessions of a highly speculative genealogist“.
Old Books

David Ellis Jones (c. 1733 – unknown) (Baptized April 3, 1758 –  d. unknown. Source: Dr. Lewis William Lloyd, “A Merioneth Family of Printers of Wales and the U.S. A.”, from the Merioneth Historical and Records Society Journal, Vol XII (iv), 1997.)

Of the specifics of the lives of David Ellis and William Jones, we have very little information beyond what was uncovered by my grandfather, and recorded in The Baby Book. Here’s what he said about Richard’s eldest son; David Ellis Jones (parenthesis for correction and clarification are mine.):

“…David Ellis… received a classical education at Pwllheli under the instruction of the Rev. Goronwy Owain (See Note Below.)… (he) apprenticed himself at Pontddu to learn the dyer and fuller’s trade. After this apprenticeship was over, he married Catherine, daughter of William Hughes of Pontddu in November 1793. Soon after his marriage he gave up his trade and removed to Caernarvon where he taught school. By his wife Catherine he was the father of nine sons and four daughters, among them; Wm. Ellis who wrote under the bardic name of Gwilym Cawrdaf; (John) Ellis who became a printer at Caernarvon; …and Thomas Norcliffe who immigrated to Virginia (in the United States.)”[4]

[Note: This statement, “David Ellis… received a classical education at Pwllheli under the instruction of the Rev. Goronwy Owain…” is completely false. It was a conjecture adopted by the “Baby Book” author, based upon the inference of an association that Goronwy Owen had with the grammar school, proffered by a college professor who translated the biography of William Ellis Jones (aka “Gwilym Cawrdaf”.) It has subsequently come to light that it would have been impossible for the boys, David Ellis and William Jones to have had any contact with Goronwy Owen, because he was already exiled to Virginia before they were born.]

David was the eldest son. Whether or not his father Richard entailed his estates to him is unknown, but under the custom of the period it would have been normal for David to inherit his father’s property intact, and benefit exclusively from its income. This practice would have assured David a level of lifetime security and financial comfort that his younger brother was not as well assured of. I believe that I am correct in this assumption of David’s circumstances based upon the following known facts:

First, after his education at Pwllheli was concluded David was apprenticed out to learn the trade of a Fuller. This makes complete sense given that his father almost assuredly received the greatest portion of his income from the raising and tending of sheep for the wool trade (Wales number one commodity product, and the primary agricultural focus of the Mawddach Valley at the time.) If David was to take over his father’s business, he needed a hands-on, practical understanding of every aspect of the craft, and the expert preparation of wool for cloth making was an essential component for turning a good profit in this competitive field.

Second, the date of David’s marriage is actually quite revealing as to his financial and professional circumstances. A careful examination of the dates sends up red flags all over the place. Initially, I even considered that my grandfather had gotten something terribly wrong (like missed an entire generation of ancestors!), until I considered the responsibilities and obligations – as well as the limitations – imposed upon an eldest son. Let’s look at the facts:
–     David was born about 1732.
–     He left for Pwllheli about 1742 at about 10 years of age.
–     After returning from Pwllheli, he was apprenticed to learn the trade of Fuller, until he was about 16 years of age.

My grandfather’s statement in The Baby Book makes it sound as if David immediately got married, quit his trade, and removed to Caernarfon to become a school teacher. But the following facts contradict this reading of the family history:
–     His wife, Catherine Hughes, birth date is recorded as 1766.
–     Their marriage date is recorded as 1793.
–     The birth of their first child is recorded as 1795.

Assuming all these facts are correct, and there is no reason to believe they are not, then what they reveal is as follows:
–     David practiced his trade, on or near his family home at Tyddyn Du, until he was sixty-one years old!
–     He married a woman (Catherine Hughes) who was thirty-four years his junior. (She was twenty-seven years old at the time of their marriage.)

From a conventionally modern point of view, these facts seem extraordinary. Why in the world would a young man with a good education, who came from a reasonably well-established family, choose to wait so long to marry? Why would he marry a woman so much younger than himself, but who was in her own right, nearly an old maid already?

In order to answer these questions we have to consider the customs in England and Wales at the time. Among them we have to consider the fact that while David Ellis was “of age” from our point of view, and legally could do exactly as he pleased, his reality was far different than what we might suppose. His father Richard, while he lived, was master. He owned all the property that supplied his and David’s living, and he controlled how that property was to be disposed of after his death. But that’s not all. If David wanted to marry, his father’s consent was required; at least as far as giving David the ability to marry a respectable woman whose own family’s consent was dependent upon the consent of the grooms’ father. (This was a complicated world.) The cooperation between the consenting families was considered essential if the children produced as a result of the marriage were to be considered legitimate heirs (which was the only reason to marry in the first place in that era.) Richard Jones’ goal in his eldest sons’ marriage would have been strictly ambitious; David had to marry a woman who brought property, or status, or preferably both into the contract. If this could not be accomplished, then there was no point in marriage at all. Apparantly this goal could not be accomplished, at least not to Richard’s satisfaction.

David’s options were limited. He was not considered “independent” enough to marry at a young age. It was only upon the death of his father Richard, when David became sole owner of the properties at Tyddyn Du, Bontddu, and Thy’nyburth, that he was considered, and considered himself, independent enough to marry and start a family of his own.

By this time, David was at least sixty-years old. As you may imagine, this posed an altogether different problem. How many respectable young ladies would have been interested in marrying a man so much older than themselves? (He was reasonably well-fixed financially, but he wasn’t filthy-rich by any means.)

David’s options were limited. We need look no further than between the pages of Jane Austen’s most popular novel Pride and Prejudice for a reasonable answer to his quandary. Austin’s character Charlotte Lucas, the sweet, plain, twenty-six year old daughter of a family of good reputation, but no great financial means, consents to marry the older, fastidious, unattractive, but reasonably well-fixed Mr. Collins. Her words spoken to her friend Elizabeth sum up her situation;

“ …when you have time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance at happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”

Charlotte Lucas’s greatest worry in life was of becoming an undue burden on her family, surviving her parents, and ultimately becoming an impoverished old maid. Up until the early-20th century, this was the fate of unmarried women without generous male relatives to support and protect them. Women were barred by custom and law from holding professions or owning property in their own right until very recently.

Our Catherine, at twenty-seven years of age, probably considered herself lucky to secure an engagement with David Ellis Jones, even if he was thirty-four years her senior. She no longer had to contemplate a future of impoverished destitution. She would have children, a comfortable home, and a good income. That was all a reasonable woman could ask for in the 18th century.

The fact that Catherine gave David thirteen children is testament to the quality of the match. She probably bore her last child when she was well into her forties, and the fact that she survived all this, and lived to at least eighty-five years old is testament to her vigor and strength.

This is what we know of the practicalities of David and Catherine’s life. But what about his intellectual life? Once again we must return to The Baby Book. The facts are few – but telling:

“…Soon after his marriage he gave up his trade and removed to Caernarvon (Caernarfon) where he taught school…”

For a thorough analysis of this, we have to jump ahead a bit and look at a few facts associated with David’s younger brother William. What’s crucial to know is that unlike David, William married somewhat earlier and had sons earlier. His eldest son, Lewis Evan Jones (b. 1786), became a printer in Caernarfon. We know that Lewis Evan was apprenticed at twelve or thirteen years old to Thomas Roberts at Caernarvon from 1798 to 1814, after having worked in his father’s shop up until that age. It’s a relative certainty that David’s decision to go to Caernarfon, and his nephew’s occupation in Caernarfon, were closely related.

The larger question is this: What drew one or the other or both of them to Caernarfon to begin with (given its distance from the rest of the family’s establishments near Dollgelau and Bryntirion)? But first, let’s consider David Ellis’ decision to teach.

He’d been a farmer and fuller for more than forty years. He owned a good deal of rural property in the Mawddach Valley. What would motivate a man to leave his farms, his rural life, and become a school teacher in town at the age of sixty-one? It’s possible that the answer to this question harkens back to his days at Pwllheli, his lifelong friendship with Goronwy Owen, and the academic or literary career he never had due to his responsibilities to his father and the farms at Tyddyn Du.

Despite all those years spent on the farm, David Ellis never gave up his love of learning, his devotion to poetry and literature, and his desire to do more than just be a farmer. Once his destiny was in his own hands, he rapidly began making decisions different than the ones his father, obligations of custom, and finance had forced upon him up to that point. It’s clear that David retired into school teaching, most likely leaving his properties under the care and supervision of a trusted steward. He took his new bride out of the country and settled in one of the most cosmopolitan towns in Wales to raise his growing family; a place that had an active and expanding literati, a community of well-educated, intelligent men, and even a long-established gentry class of potential patrons.

As for why William Jones may have sent his eldest son Lewis to Caernarfon, we have just one clue in addition to all the aforementioned reasons. For this clue, we have to go back to the history books.  Next –>


4]  The Baby Book | William Ellis Jones Jr.  Family History, By William Ellis Jones (1936), Note 10, par. 3 and par. 6.


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