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Edwards, Thomas (1793) - Biography

Thomas Edwards, Jr.

Thomas Edwards, Jr. was the first child born to Thomas and Mary Davis Edwards. They lived in the sparsely populated Rhondda Valley. He was born in January of 1793 in the parish of Ystradfodwg, at the hamlet Ystrad Rhondda (meaning a shallow valley in the Rhondda), which is only a few miles south of Aberdare. He was christened on December 7, 1794. He was almost four years old when his parents married on December 23, 1797.1 Many times couples had to wait until they could afford a church wedding or have their children christened. Thomas and his sister Gwenllian were both christened at Ystradfodwg Parish (Church of St. John the Baptist). Edward Edwards, the youngest brother was baptized in Llanwonno (now Llanwynno) Parish in 1807, which is south of Aberdare parish. Mary Edwards the youngest sister was christened in Penderyn in 1816.

Thomas Sr. moved to a different ironworks as a collier within the Merthyr district (from Ystrad to Llanwonno). The following description aptly describes any of the mining areas in Wales:

The Valley of Aberdare in the Cynon Valley had become a trough full of human beings, as its bottom, deep underground is full of superior steam coal. At certain hours, the "pits", all but bottomless, belch out their myriads of grimy, blackened human forms, each with a Davy lamp in hand, who hasten to their humble homes to wash, feed and rest.2

This description summed up the life of Thomas Sr. and his sons who became slaves to the mines. In 1811, the population of Aberdare was just under 3,000. As the mining industry grew, Aberdare’s population grew to over 30,000. At the age of 22, Thomas Jr. had been working as a collier with his father for a number of years. At age 50, Thomas Sr. died in 1816 and was buried near Aberdare. His wife Mary was pregnant at the time but Thomas Jr. took over as head of the family.

After his father's burial, Thomas Edwards moved the family to Penderyn.

Thomas Jr. had to fill his father's shoes as head of the household; his younger brothers were only 13 and 9. His youngest sister Mary Edwards was born in Penderyn.

By 1784, there were four large ironworks within a two-mile radius of Merthyr.

1. Dowlais (pronounced dough-luss) was the first ironworks near Merthyr; it was started in 1748 by John Guest. By 1830, Dowlais Ironworks was the largest in the world with 17 furnaces.

2. Richard Forman became Mr. Homfreys partner in 1786 at the Pen y Darren Ironworks.

3. In 1786, Richard Crawshay took control of Cyfarthfa Ironworks with 11 furnaces.

4. In 1786 Richard Hill took over Anthony Bacon's Plymouth Ironworks.

Originally, Thomas Jr. probably worked at the Ironworks at Hirwaun. Where he worked in Merthyr is unknown but it could have been any of the giant dynasties. As an ironstone miner, Thomas earned about 12 shillings and a sixpence.3 The majority of the labor force in the ironworks were Welsh. Peace in Europe in 1815 caused a depression in Wales, which had supplied munitions for the long wars against Napoleon. The Corn Laws were passed in Parliament, which kept the price of bread artificially high to benefit wealthy farmers. Unions began to form in the Valleys of Glamorgan. During the early 1800s there were many strikes and riots in south Wales because of the poor living conditions and cuts in wages. The Anti-Truck Act of 1831 improved some conditions but a combination of a rising population, fluctuating prices and growing awareness of the need for political change brought calls for reform. When a new Reform Bill came out in 1832, it fell far short of the demands for universal suffrage by ballot. This caused the ranks of the Chartist movement to grow and when a petition with over a million signatures was rejected by Parliament, the Chartist Riots broke out in northern England and south Wales. The demonstration in 1838 in Newport, Wales was disastrous; over 20 men were killed and their leader was captured. Chartism spread to the iron and coal towns and villages. Originally the Chartist movement had begun with tradesmen and skilled workers protesting against low wages but as it spread to the valleys, it recruited more and more workingmen. Public houses were often used as centers for Chartist meetings. Employers started to refuse to employ Chartists and some shopkeepers refused them service.

Chartism continued in a weakened form for 20 years and was buoyed up by the Rebecca Riots in 1842 and 1843. The men involved in these riots disguised themselves by dressing as women, therefore, being known as Rebecca. In 1842 the Mines Act was passed in Parliament banning women and (boys under the age of 10) from working in the underground mines.

Times were hard and Thomas Jr. was in his thirties before he married Elizabeth Emphouse. In 1828, they had their first son whom they named David Edwards. A Welsh custom was to name the first-born son after the grandfather. In 1829, a depression set in that lasted for three years. During these depression years, Thomas Edwards first wife died and in 1830, his sister Gwenllian Edwards Williams died.

Elizabeth Lewis was born on April 15, 18044 to Rees Lewis and Gwenllian Hopkins. They lived in Aberavon, Glamorgan, Wales. She was born in a monumental year when the first steam locomotive made its outing on February 13, 1804 at the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Merthyr. Before the steam engines developed, the rail cars were pulled down the rails by horses.

When Elizabeth was 32 years old, she met Thomas Edwards who was 10 years her senior. He was a widower with one son David Edwards who was 24 years old. They had two sons before they were married on December 31, 1836 by banns at the Aberdare parish. Banns were notices that were read weekly for three weeks in the Parish. Aberdare is a town, a parish and a sub-district in the district of Merthyr-Tydfil in Glamorgan County.

The family lived in Aberaman, which is a village at the influx of the Aman Rivulet or stream to the Cynon River, being two miles southeast of Aberdare (Aberdar. Welsh). Their first child was born the year before they married. Most of their children were born in Aberaman.


Rees Edwards

17 Nov 1835


David Edwards

17 Sep 1836


Elizabeth Edwards

26 Jun 1837


Margaret Edwards

26 Jun 1837


Mary Edwards

12 Oct 1839


Margaret Edwards



Janet Edwards

20 Feb 1844


Elizabeth Edwards



Thomas Edwards

15 Mar 1849


Sarah Edwards

8 Jan 1852

Just after they moved to Merthyr Tydfil in 1844, Janet Edwards was born. Methyr derived its name from Tudfil, a daughter of Byrchan, Prince of Breconshire. She along with her father and brother were murdered there by a party of Pagan Saxons and Irish Picts in the 5th century. She was considered a martyr and a church was dedicated to her called St. Tudfil or Martyr Tudfil. The valley of Merthyr had plenty of room for a growing city unlike the Rhondda Valley. Merthyr originally had a populace of 40 but grew to 7,705 and by 1871 the population had risen to 96,891.

The true center of the "black country" of Glamorganshire was Merthyr Tydfil, which was described as a congenial home for the mines, smelters and industrial revolution. "Nature seems to have sacrificed all her external ornaments to lay up wealth for the ages to come in her deep subterranean coffers. The surface soil is lean and clayey, pinching the life out of plant and animal, and making one wonder what kind of inhabitants these regions nurtured before the days of mining and manufacturing came round." Because of the squalid living conditions in Merthyr especially in the section nicknamed China where Irish immigrants lived, all types of diseases began to spread. In 1847, there was a large epidemic of typhus, a disease that is carried by lice. In 1848, an outbreak of smallpox, which is highly contagious, hit the area. Then in 1849, there was a devastating epidemic of cholera in Merthyr, which took the lives of 1400 people. It was the second highest death rate in Britain. Another outbreak of cholera hit in 1854 with a death toll of 424. It was the highest death rate in all of Wales.

In 1843, a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was established in Merthyr Tydfil. Most of the miners in the area spoke only Welsh. Very few people living there spoke English. By 1844, the church had published a pamphlet in the Welsh language on the first principles of the gospel.

The Edwards family could not abide the filth and started searching for a better way of life. William Jones baptized Elizabeth Edwards into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in December of 1850. Thomas investigated the church quite a bit longer before he committed to baptism. Miles Williams baptized and confirmed Thomas a member on August 17, 1851. This new religion changed their lives especially after they left Wales. Thomas became a stalwart member of the church and began saving his money to leave Wales so that his family could live with the Saints in America. The family attended the LDS Glamorgan East Conference and Thomas was a witness in 1852 to the misconduct of another member5.

Merthyr Tydfil was a disgrace to humanity. Because of the mining, the population grew from a small farming community to a large town that did not have the facilities for a large town (no water-except the River, no plumbing for human waste, no infrastructure of streets and housing). It became one large shantytown where plagues of cholera and other diseases flourished. Cholera is a water-borne disease and fresh water was a major problem in the area. Thomas and his family were anxious to leave the country. A vivid description was given by the author of "How Green was my Valley":

There were rows of houses where the filth of the collieries lives. The half-breed Welsh, Irish and English did the jobs that colliers would never do and they were allowed to live and breed because the mine owners would not spend money when they could get their services so much cheaper. For a pittance, they carried slap and muck, they acted as scavengers and lived their lives in that manner.

Their children were put to work at 8 or 9 years of age so that more money could come into the house. Most of them lived only to drink. Their houses were pigsties.6

The members of the LDS church encouraged the Edwards family to leave Wales to join the Saints in America. After saving for a number of years for this voyage, Thomas took his family to Liverpool, England, booking passage on on the Clara Wheeler. This ship was a three-decker ship with a square stern and a billet head at the bow.7 Captain J. F. Nelson reported that there were 422 LDS passengers. Elder Henry E. Phelps and his two counselors, Elders John Parsons and James Crossley presided over the Saints. On Thursday, November 13, 1854, the Edwards family of seven boarded the Clara Wheeler. The next day the ship left dock and lay out in the River Mersey. It continued to lie in the River for the next two days and finally on Monday November 27, 1854, they set sail at 3 PM. They had not been able to clear the Irish Channel because of the incessant head winds against the ship and very rough weather.8 All of the passengers suffered considerably from seasickness. They returned to port after three days. After taking on more provisions, they waited seven days for the wind to change. On December 6, the saints held a fast and prayed that their voyage could continue. The next day on December 7, at 1 PM a tugboat retrieved them and pulled them past all of the docks. The Captain of the ship finally returned to the ship and they sailed onward and cleared the Irish Channel in three days. One child was thrown overboard and lost at sea. Soon after leaving port, measles broke out among the passengers (20 children and two adults died at sea). It was very painful to watch. When the children died, they were sewn up in a bag and tossed into the ocean for burial. The journey was one of sickness and sorrow. Neither the president nor his counselors held meetings or gave instructions to cheer the passengers. Brother Franklin D. Richards said that every passenger would have three pounds of butter and two of cheese and when it was given out, the butter was 160 pounds short and the cheese was a quarter pound short to each adult. There were a total of 22 deaths, one birth and 8 marriages on board the ship. Upon arrival at New Orleans on January 12, 1855, one more child died. After finally setting sail, it had taken five weeks to get to New Orleans.

From the Deseret News, dated April 4, 1868:

When the Edwards family came across the ocean in 1854, they booked passage on November 18. They set sail for the New World November 27, 1854. Those included in the company were Thomas Edwards, who was a collier, age 56.9


Elizabeth Edwards


Reece Edwards


Mary Edwards


Janet Edwards


Elizabeth Edwards


Thomas Edwards


Sarah Edwards


In this company, there were 294 adults, 107 children under 14 and 19 infants under 1, this making 421 souls in the company. Henry E. Phelps was President of the company. Bal. Paid November 20, 1854: 28 s. 10 do. The Clara Wheeler was the name of the ship in which they made the voyage.

On January 13, the day after their arrival in New Orleans, the Edwards family boarded the steamer Oceana heading up the Mississippi to St. Louis, Missouri, which was a distance of 1200 miles. The fare was $3.50 for each adult and children were half fare. Nearly one-half of the company had not the means wherewith to pay their passage to St. Louis; but the more well-to-do Saints who had more money than they needed themselves, were influenced to lend to those who had none, and thus all who desired to continue the journey were enabled to do so.10 The steamer worked hard to get through the ice on the Mississippi River. They arrived in St. Louis without any mishaps and were met by Apostle Erastus Snow on January 22, 1855. The Edwards family remained in St. Louis, found work and saved money to buy supplies for their trip to cross the plains. Many of the saints were taken to Gravois where they were able to work in a coal mine to save money for their trips west. It is not known if Thomas worked there or not but it is very possible since many other passengers from the same ship were taken there to work.

When Thomas Edwards (age 68) left Florence, Nebraska in 1861, his wife was 57, Reece was 26, Janet was 17, Thomas Jr. was 12 and Sarah was 9 years old. They traveled with Job Pingree11 and arrived in Salt Lake on August 24, 1861.

An independent company of emigrating saints in Captain Job Pingree’s charge arrived in Salt Lake City. This company had left Florence, Nebraska on June 7, 1861. Among the names given from memory by Job Pingree in 1916 were Thomas Edwards and family. Our company was a St. Louis Company of Saints mostly. There were 33 wagons and 3 carriages. No deaths occurred in our company while crossing the plains, but there was one birth and taking it all together, our trip was very pleasant. No accident to speak of occurred and there was but little loss of cattle. It was an ox tram though three of our rigs were drawn by horses.12

Robert McQuairce rebaptized both Thomas and Elizabeth after they arrived in the valley. Thomas began farming in Ogden, Utah. The family attended Ogden’s 1st Ward, which was organized in 1856. On November 5, 1866, Thomas and Elizabeth went to Salt Lake and took out their endowments and their marriage was solemnized for time and all eternity in the Endowment House. In 1891, Thomas Edwards was ordained a High Priest.13

From the Deseret News (17:79):14 Brother George D. Keaton, of this city (Salt Lake City) writing under date of April 4, 1868:

Thomas Edwards of Ogden City was born in Wales in the month of January 1793, and is therefore in his 76th year. He has lately had a new set of double teeth growing in his head, not having lost the front ones. He cut the new teeth about the same as children generally cut theirs, his gums swelling and being very painful during the period of dentation. His hair still retains its natural color of jet black. Brother Edwards came to America about 14 years ago and has been in Utah nearly seven years. He is a man of regular habits of life. He works regularly in his farm, has general good health and is the father of 10 children. He walked from Ogden to this city last fall, a distance of 40 miles to attend General Conference. He is a praying man, and tries to live the life of a saint.

Elizabeth Lewis Edwards died on April 13, 187915 and was buried in the Ogden Cemetery. She lived to be 77 years of age having had 10 children, five of which she buried. Her hair never turned gray but continued to stay dark brown until she died. On Saturday morning, April 19, 1870, The Ogden Junction (a forerunner of the Ogden Standard Examiner) a Death notice wrote:

Death Notice16

Edwards—In this city April 18, 1879, of old age, Elizabeth wife of Thomas Edwards, aged 77 years. The funeral will take place today at 2 PM in the First Ward Schoolhouse. Friends of the family are invited to attend.

Thomas outlived his wife by 14 years. As he grew older and needed a little looking after, his daughter Mary Edwards Hymas took him to her home in Liberty, Idaho. She took care of him until he died on April 7, 1893 at the grand old age of 100 years and 4 months. There is no stone left in Liberty with his name on it but a cousin who lives in the area confirmed the burial site.

1. LDS TIB. Book F. #603.

2. Nicholas, Thomas.

3. Rowlands, John & Sheila. 73

4. LDS Endowments of the Living.

5. LDS Glamorgan Branch.

6. Lloyd, Richard D. V. Llewellyn. "How Green Was My Valley".

7. LDS "Saints on the Seas". 106

8. Mormon Immigration Index CD -- #1040. 172-89; Customs #261.

9. LDS "Early Church Records". 18. (Elizabeth Edwards age was incorrect).

10.  LDS Saints on the Seas, 106. Millennial Star, 1855.

11.  Pioneers & Prominent Men of Utah. 953

12.  Emigration. #1044. 181-189.

13.  LDS Ogden First Ward. 13.

14.  LDS General Church History 1848. 6.

15.  Ogden City Cemetery. 270.

16.  Ogden Junction 1872 - 1879.


Edwards, Thomas

Lewis, Elizabeth


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