The Welshpool Cup Case Study: Thomas Davies and his family

Thomas Davies and his family

In Y Cymmrodor in 1935 E. Alfred Jones published what he had discovered about the family of Thomas Davies.[1] His father was Richard Davies (1583/4-1661), his mother Margaret, of Ceunant on the west edge of Welshpool, a prosperous Montgomeryshire market town overlooked by Powis Castle, seat of the powerful Herbert family which was to play a key role in the East India Company’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history.[2] Remarkably the house survives, a relatively modest example of a lobby-entry house, the commonest traditional Montgomeryshire type.

Ceunant near Welshpool, family home of Thomas Davies

Figure 7. Ceunant near Welshpool, family home of Thomas Davies. Reproduced from Y Cymmrodor, vol XLIV, with permission of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.

Jones searched the records of the Company of Royal Adventurers into Africa (established with royal support in 1660) but could find nothing about Davies’s African career. He did, however, find his will, signed and sealed on 18 August 1664.[3] This, interestingly, describes Davies as ‘of the Island of Barbadoes’, of which more below.

Davies’s will required his executors to erect a cenotaph for him in the parish church at Welshpool ‘as near as possible to where my mother Mrs Margarett Davies is buried, with an inscription thereon giving an account of my life and travels.’ Sadly this no longer exists and only a tantalisingly partial record of it seems to survive, in the St. Asaph diocese’s Report on Rural Deaneries of 1749 from which we learn only the probable original value of Davies’s gold cup.[4] Nonetheless it shows that Davies not only wished to make a permanent visual and spiritual impression in his home town but was also conscious that his own career had been remarkable enough to merit a fixed record for posterity.

The will’s beneficiaries include Davies’s brother Esau (Isaiah) (d. 1691), who was rector of Lathbury, Buckinghamshire, from 1656 to 1691. Their father Richard was buried in Lathbury church and commemorated there by a brass plate on the north wall of the chancel bearing the Davies arms and this inscription:

RICHARD DAVIES OF KYNANT, IN THE COUNTY OF MONTGOMERY,

GENT., HEERVNDER BURIED, HEE DECEASED AT THE

HOWSE OF HIS

SON, ISAIAH DAVIES, THEN MINISTER OF THIS PARISH, 20TH DAY

NOVEMBER 1661, AGED 77 YEARES.

HIS SON THOMAS DAVIES, ESQUIRE, AT THAT TIME BEING AGENT GENERALL

FOR THE ENGLISH NATION VPON THE COAST OF AFFRICA,

CAVSED A CŒNOTAPH TO BE ERECTED IN THE CHURCH OF

WELCHPOOLE, THE PLACE OF HIS BIRTH, TO THE PIOUS MEMORY

OF HIS FATHER, AND THIS SMALL MEMORIALL FOR SUCH CAMBRIA-

-BRITTAINES AS SHALL THIS WAY TRAVAILE

This is further evidence not only of Davies’s concern for his posthumous reputation but also of the sense he retained of being Welsh and not English. The latter is particularly noteworthy in a period when it is normally difficult to identify with certainty individuals of Welsh origin active in the context of the British empire.[5] It shows, too, that he was not the only member of the Davies family to move from their relatively modest roots in mid-Wales in search of a successful English career. Interestingly Esau’s son, another Thomas, in his will dated 10 March 1677/78 and proved 1 July 1678, records himself as a surgeon (‘chyrurgion’) in St Philips parish, Barbados, having inherited part of an estate in the parish from his uncle Hugh Powell.[6]

Another beneficiary in the will was a second brother, Edward, resident in ‘Surranam’. Edward must have been a member of the short-lived colony established in Surinam in 1652 when Lord Willoughby of Parham (bap. 1614, d. 1666), governor of Barbados, led 300 Barbadian colonists to settle between the Maroni and Surinam rivers. Like Thomas, Edward not only had interests in Barbados but was another Welsh pioneer of the growing British empire.

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[1] Jones, ‘Gold Chalice of Welshpool’.

[2] William Herbert, 1st baron Powis (1573?-1655); Percy Herbert, 2nd baron (1598-1667).

[3] National Archives, PROB 11/326/561, proved 22 April 1668.Details of a copy of the will in the Barbados Department of Archives, RB4/15, p. 514, proved 24 July 1667, are recorded in Joanne McRee Sanders, Barbados Records: Wills, 1639-1725, 3 vols (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1979-1981), vol. 1, p. 98: English Settlers in Barbados, 1637-1800 on-line database, interactive.ancestry.com(accessed 26 November 2013).

[4]See ‘The Welshpool gold cup’ (previous section), note 11. Davies’s cenotaph was presumably removed as part of the remodelling of the church in 1773-1777.

[5]Andrew Mackillop, ‘A ‘reticent’ people? The Welsh in Asia, c.1700-1815’ in H. V. Bowen (ed.), Wales and the British overseas empire: Interactions and influences (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011), pp. 143-167; H. V. Bowen, ‘Asiatic interactions: India, the East India Company and the Welsh economy, c.1750-1830’ in Bowen (ed.), Wales and the British overseas empire, pp. 168-192.

[6]Barbados Department of Archives, RB6/13, p. 489: Sanders, Barbados Records, vol. 1, pp. 97-98 (accessed 26 November 2013). Powell was ‘brother’ (perhaps brother-in-law) to the older Thomas Davies and one of the executors of his will.