Richard Jones (c.1712 – 1785)

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“.

Dolgelley, Gwynedd, Wales Illustration Townscape

Dolgelley, Gwynedd, Wales

Richard Jones (c. 1712 – 1785) – Family Founder
While it’s impossible to know much about the specific personality or life experience of a person so remote from our own time and culture, I believe it is possible to draw reasonably safe conclusions from the facts we do have at hand.

The facts we have are few. We know Richard was the heir to three substantial pieces of property; Y Tyddyn Du (the Black Cottage), Y Bont Du (the Black Bridge), and Ty’n-y-buarth (the Black Yard), near Dolgellau, in Marionethshire. We know he was considered a “well-to-do Church of England man”. [9]We know that he Anglicized his name and that of his sons for the church and court records; probably the first in his generation to do so. We can safely assume his father’s name was John (or Ion, in Welsh), and that Richard’s neighbors knew him as Richard ap John (or Richard ap Ion, i.e. Richard, son of Ion.)

The following is a very general picture of this earliest documented Jones ancestor, Richard Jones, which I have recreated based on these few facts.

Richard’s father and mother were well-established yeoman farmers who owned their own land which they worked as a family unit in company with their children. They may have been semi-literate – just able to read and write the rudiments of their native language – but they probably didn’t own more than one or two books; one of these was likely one of the many Welsh translations of the Bible. Richard was reared into the Anglican tradition in Wales, possibly attending semi-regular church services that were given in English (a language he almost certainly did not completely comprehend) and Sunday school classes given in Welsh. He may very well have been able to both read and write in Welsh at an elementary level, as it became (by the mid-18th century) the custom to teach even rural, country children the basics of reading and writing Welsh in Sunday School. His command of written Welsh would have been better than that of his parents, who probably had very few letters.

With the closing of the commons, the establishment of private property, the use of the English language in the courts of law and in contracts, and the increasingly widespread use of fiat money (as opposed to barter or payment in kind), Richard came of age in a Wales that looked and functioned somewhat differently than the world his parents and grandparents had known. It was increasingly Anglicized with the old Welsh traditions rapidly falling out of favor.

We know that by the time Richard was an adult he was operating at least three farms in the vicinity of Dolgellau. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to conclude that Richard was ambitious, intelligent, and hard-working, despite having the benefit of what we would consider to be only a basic education. We know that in order to operate three farms; he functioned in his community as an employer rather than a tenant farmer.  As such, his farms would have produced a surplus beyond the needs of his immediate family which he would have been able to sell. This surplus would have taken him to markets at Dolgellau and  Barmouth, perhaps even as far as Pwllheli, expanding his geographic horizons and social and business contacts beyond what his parents had known during their working lives.

It’s also safe to assume, based upon the fact that he chose to send his own sons off to school [10] to receive a formal education under the tutelage of Goronwy Owen [11], that he was a reasonably successful businessman in the operation of his farms, and therefore financially more comfortable than many of his peers of the same generation and background. Compared to most of his countrymen, Richard would have been considered almost wealthy. This wealth, however, was relative and tenuous. One failed agricultural season could have completely reversed his fortunes.

Richard was a bit of a visionary. He saw the writing on the wall. Wales was changing – and fast. Industrialization, particularly in the south (coal, lead, copper, and iron ore mining, water and even steam-powered textile milling) were emerging, changing the landscape, and moving the population off farms and into towns.  In his youth, he saw (or at least heard about) the first waves of what would become tremendous social change and unrest. Cities were forming where there had once been only hamlets, and inside them the formation of the first labor movements, wage strikes and riots, inflation, and food shortages. He saw what the English thought of him and his countrymen (lazy, ignorant, drunk, and immoral.) And he saw that the only reasonable backstop against the imminent threat of crushing poverty (which was a very real and constant experience in 18th century Wales) was the acquisition of land (which equated to wealth), and attainment of education (which assured that his sons at least, would not be swindled out of their birthright in English run courts, or ridiculed by the wealthy and powerful for their ignorance of the English language and custom.)

His ambition, as it so often is, was less about his own comfort, and more about the long term well-being of his sons and subsequent generations. This ambition, the efforts and dedication put forth for the benefit of future generations, is a theme that will recur again and again throughout the Jones story.

It’s possible – even likely – that Richard’s ambition for his two sons included an old-fashioned aspiration that through the acquisition and consolidation of land through purchase or advantageous marriages, that they or their sons might eventually climb into the gentry class. This notion is reasonable given his geography, generation, and limited world view. From his perspective, this aspiration would have seemed the only rational way to improve the family’s circumstances.

What Richard could not have foreseen is that his simple decision to send his two boys, David Ellis Jones and William Jones, to the grammar school at Pwllheli – a town more than 20 miles (30 KM) distant from their isolated home at Tyddyn Du – would draw them into a world and a society much more expansive than anything he might have ever imagined. This decision would color the course of Welsh nationalism, politics, literature, religion, labor relations, and history in Wales, and would also carry across the Atlantic Ocean to the North American continent, it’s influence sallying fourth straight up through the 21tst century – and perhaps beyond.

That’s all very grand. What’s most important to me, however selfish this may seem, is that this simple decision to send William and David Ellis to Pwllheli, into the care and under the tutelage of Goronwy Owen [12] (a simple school teacher then, but a man who turned out to become one of the most renowned intellects of 18th century Wales) ensured that I would be born with poetry, prose, and the love of books, encoded into my DNA.


Primary Source:  The Baby Book | William Ellis Jones Family History, By William Ellis Jones (1936)

9] Printing and Printers in Wales to 1810… A History of Printers and Printing in Monmouthshire to 1823, by Ifano Jones, (1925) Cardiff | William Lewis Printers (Limited), pp. 160.

10. “…Richard and Ann Jones had two sons: David Ellis and William…” (who) received a classical education at Pwllheli under the instruction of the Rev. Gorony Owain…”
The Baby Book | William Ellis Jones Family History, By William Ellis Jones (1936)Note 10, par. 3 and par. 6.
[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.]

11 ibid.

12. Goronwy Owen, (b.1723-d.1769) was one of Wales’s most important poets of the eighteenth century and a master of the cynghanedd. Goronwy attended Friars school, Bangor where he learnt Latin and Greek to a high standard. His development as a poet was encouraged by Lewis Morris (of the prominent family of Pentre-eiriannell.) Following a short period at Jesus College, Oxford, he was an assistant teacher at Pwllheli prior to 1745. He immigrated to Virginia in 1757, briefly working at William and Mary Collage, and finally settled at his tobacco farm in Brunswick County, VA, where he died in 1769 and was buried.

See: Goronwy Owan (1722 – 1769) – Welshman, Poet, Scholar, Friend

See Welsh Biography Online:

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