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Erin Ann Thomas

A Coal Miner’s Daughter

Margaret, who was only ten when her father died, worked as a nanny for the wealthy households of Merthyr to help support her family. She learned to read and write while tending the children of a superintendent from one of the local mines. “Let me help you with your schoolwork,” Margaret said when the children came home from school. Understanding her meaning, the children taught her to read from their schoolbooks. During this time, Margaret was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church), a young and fledging religion only thirty years old in the United States. Dan Jones, a Welshman who had joined the Mormons under the leadership of Joseph Smith Jr. in Kirtland, Ohio and stayed with him the night before Smith’s murder, had returned to his native land to convert his countrymen to this new gospel.

 “Captain” Dan Jones, as they called him, enthralled audiences for three hours at a time, bringing them alternately to tears and laughter. He is reputed to have converted an entire Protestant congregation with one sermon. He led missionary efforts in Wales between the 1840s and 1850s, converting a total of 5,600. My great-great-grandmother joined later in 1861 at the age of thirteen—to the dismay of her mother and relatives, who like most Welsh, regarded the religion with suspicion.

 When Margaret was sixteen, she was offered a job weighing and selling coal by Mr. Lewis, a local mine owner. This was a technical task that involved a great deal of skill and precision. Although only the poorest working women were employed in the mines, Margaret was excited by this job because it showed that Mr. Lewis trusted her. While working there, she remained active in her new religion and attended worship meetings that were held in the houses of members. At one of these cottage meetings, where religious feeling was high and Welsh voices lilted in the deep beauty of hymns, she met Evan Thomas. Four years later, they decided to marry. When Margaret informed Mr. Lewis that she was quitting her job, he reputedly told her: “My son is very fond of you. He was thinking of asking for your hand in marriage. If you will give up this silly religion and that young man you are planning to marry, I will fill your apron full with gold. My son will someday own this mine and you will never want for anything. Your life will be a success, and your home the envy of every girl in Glamorganshire.”

 Margaret instead married her poor LDS miner on February 21, 1870 in Saint Tydfil’s Church. According to the Merthyr Express, the hills and rooftops were covered with snow that day and “Poor Tom the Cabby” was trampled by his horse and killed after “having passed successfully though more than one ordeal.” There is no notice of the wedding, but it is evident from the contents of the paper that since George Borrow’s visit, Merthyr had gentrified.

 

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