Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, John (1821-1892)

THOMAS, JOHN (1821–1892), independent minister, son of Owen and Mary Thomas, was born in Thomas Street, Holyhead, on 3 Feb. 1821. Owen Thomas [q. v.] was an elder brother. At the age of seventeen he left the Calvinistic methodist church in Bangor, with which his family was connected, and joined the independents, among whom he began in August 1839 to preach. After keeping school for some time at Penmorfa, Carnarvonshire, and Prestatyn, Flintshire, he entered the dissenting academy of Marton, Shropshire, and subsequently that of Froodvale, Carmarthenshire. In March 1842 he accepted the pastorate of Bwlch Newydd in the latter county, where he was ordained on 15 June 1842. His next pastorate was that of Glyn Nedd, Glamorganshire, whither he moved in February 1850. In March 1854 he became minister of the Tabernacle Welsh independent church, Liverpool, in which town he spent the remainder of his days. His vigorous intellect and energetic spirit made him for half a century a prominent figure in his denomination and in Welsh public movements generally. While a successful pastor and powerful preacher, he was even better known as a journalist, lecturer, organiser, and political speaker. He edited the ‘Gwerinwr,’ a monthly periodical, in 1855 and 1856; the ‘Anibynnwr,’ another monthly, from 1857 to 1861; and the ‘Tyst,’ a weekly newspaper of the independents, jointly with William Rees [q. v.] until 1872, and thereafter as sole editor until his death. He had a large share in the 1662 commemoration movement which led to the building of the Memorial College at Brecon; and he twice visited the United States, in 1865 and in 1876, in the interests of the Welsh independent churches established there. He took a keen interest in the total abstinence movement from its beginning in North Wales in 1835, and was one of its best known advocates. In 1876 he received the degree of D.D. from Middlebury College, Vermont. He was chairman of the Union of Welsh Independents in 1878, and of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1885. He died on 14 July 1892 at Uwch y Don, Colwyn, and was buried in Anfield cemetery, Liverpool. On 23 Jan. 1843 he married Mrs. Eliza Owens, widow of his predecessor at Bwlch Newydd.

The following is a list of his published works: 1. A volume of essays and sermons, Liverpool, 1864. 2. ‘Memoir of Three Brothers,’ viz., J., D., and N. Stephens, independent ministers, Liverpool, 1876. 3. ‘History of the Independent Churches of Wales,’ written jointly by Thomas and Thomas Rees (1815–1885) [q. v.], 4 vols., Liverpool, 1871–5. 4. A second volume of sermons, Wrexham, 1882. 5. ‘Life of the Rev. J. Davies, Cardiff,’ Merthyr, 1883. 6. ‘History of the Temperance Movement in Wales,’ Merthyr, 1885. 7. ‘Life of the Rev. Thomas Rees, D.D.,’ Dolgelly, 1888. 8. Fifth volume of the ‘History of the Churches,’ written by Thomas only, Dolgelly, 1891. A novel, ‘Arthur Llwyd y Felin,’ was published posthumously (Liverpool, 1893). There is a portrait in oils of Thomas in the Memorial College, Brecon.

[Information kindly furnished by Mr. Josiah Thomas, Liverpool; articles in the Geninen (October 1892) and Cymru (October 1892).]

J. E. L.