Dr Richard Price: A Friend of Liberty.

It is WalesOnline's Welsh History Month and this year's theme is 'What has Wales given the world?'

"That's the question asked by History Research Wales academics in Welsh History Month 2015 run by WalesOnline and our partners, Cadw, National Museum Wales, National Trust Wales, National Library of Wales." - Wales Online. 

It will come as no surprise to most of you who I have chosen to write about. I and many others regard this individual as one of the most influential gentlemen that Wales has given the world.

Two engravings of Dr. Richard Price

Rev Dr Richard Price D.D F.R.S was an influential moral philosopher, economist, preacher, and theologian. He is best known for what some would say his mathematical genius and influence on both the French and American Revolutions.

It is important to know the religious background and surroundings Dr. Richard Price was born into. The Act of Uniformity 1662, when clergymen who could not, for conscience sake, subscribe the Articles of the Church of England were ejected from their livings and forced to ministers their services in barns and sheds.

Brynllywarch Farm House

One of these ejected ministers was Rev. Samuel Jones of Llangynwyd.  He has been described as "in many respects the most eminent of all Welsh Nonconformist ministers of the seventeenth century". Samuel was appointed Vicar of Llangynwyd on 4th of May 1657.  Under the Act of Uniformity of 1662, he was ejected and retired to Brynllywarch. It was at Brynllywarch that he established a Nonconformist Academy. Rice Price, the father of Dr. Richard Price was a pupil at the Academy. On the death of Rev. Samuel Jones, he succeeded him in both his ministry and Academy.  Rice was heavily involved in the establishment of the Meeting Houses in Bettws and Newcastle Hill. Bridgend. He gave his services to congregations in both Bridgend and Bettws.

Richard Price was born at Tynton, Llangenior on the 23rd of February 1723. He was the son of the Rice Price and his second wife Catherine Richards. Catherine Richards was a daughter of Dr. David Richards of Oldcastle. Caroline Williams describes her as a very beautiful and delightful woman.

It is known that in his father's eyes Richard was destined to become a merchant but from a young age Richard had shown more interest in books and this was encouraged by his tutors. There is a story which tells of an instance when Rice found his son reading the sermons of Dr. Samuel Clarke and flung it into the fire.

Due to his fathers 'connections' Richard was able to benefit from the very best education that Welsh Dissenting Academies had to offer. He attended one school at Neath and another at Llanon, Carmarthen. By 1738, Richard was attending Vavasor Griffiths Academy, Talgarth. In the June of 1739, while Richard was studying at Talgarth Academy, his father Rice Price died suddenly at Tynton. At the death of his father, Richard then aged 16, was left the sum of £400 which he quickly gave to his  two sisters. Catherine Price and her two daughters were removed from Tynton to “an old house at Bridgend on the banks of the river.” 

Tingle's View of Bridgend.

Although somewhat difficult, Richard was able to continue his education at the academy in Talgarth for another year. Tradition states that he was boarded and educated for £5 per year.  He occasionally walked from Talgarth to Bridgend to visit his mother and sisters. He even did so during the severe snow of 1740 – at that time his mother Catherine was gravely ill.

On the 4th of June 1740, Catherine died at Bridgend, aged 47. She only survived her husband one year. Catherine Price was buried in the Old Churchyard of St. Mary's, Nolton but her gravestone can still be seen today.

It is thought that the loss of his mother inclined his entry into the ministry. During this time of difficulty, Richard sought the advice of his uncle Samuel Price who was the co-pastor to Dr. Isaac Watts in London. Without secure means of getting to London, Richard's half brother came to his aid by the loan of a horse to ride for twenty miles of the journey.

“Dick, your situation gives you some claim to my assistance; my horse is at your service for the first twenty miles of your journey.” - John Price

From Cardiff, Richard proceeded on foot and perhaps getting a lift in a passing wagon from time to time. It is known that he was aided on a part, of his journey by a lady who observed him walking and gave him a seat inside her carriage.

Within days of reaching London, his uncle admitted him as a student to the Academy founded by William Coward, which was situated in Tenter Alley, Moorfields. As a result of his uncle's generosity, Richard was able to take lodging above a barber's shop in Pudding Lane. He continued his studies here from 1740 – 1744, taking a brief sabbatical during 1741 owing to the “thick air of the city” resulting in deterioration of his health.

Flourishing in his studies, he became a Dissenting  Minister like his father before him. He preached at Edmonton and became chaplain to one of the most wealthy members of his congregation. For the next twelve years, Rev. Price lived with Mr. Streatfield and devoted  himself to those ministerial duties.

With the death of Mr. Streatfield in 1756, Richard Price inherited a handsome legacy. The house where Richard had lived with Mr. Streatfield became the property of Lady Abney. Later the same year Samuel Price died at the age of 80 and left his nephew a house in Leadenhall Street.

One of many satirical engravings of Dr. Richard Price

Richard Price married Sarah Blundell of Belgrave in Leicestershire, on the 16th of June 1757.
Sarah Blundell was the daughter of a gentleman, who had lost quite a lot of money during the South Sea Bubble. Throughout the marriage, Sarah remained a communicant of the Church of England. In the year following their marriage, Richard and his wife Sarah moved to 54 Newington Green, where he became the minister of the local dissenters' chapel. The house that they resided in were built in 1658 and are now known as the oldest surviving block  of brick terraced houses in London.

It was here that Richard Price became friendly with many well-known men of science and mathematics. He had a passion for these subjects from a very young age and was now becoming more and more surrounded by like-minded people. His first important world was entitled 'A review of the principal questions and difficulties in Morals'. It was published in 1758, at that time Richard Price was 35 years old.

This work introduced Richard to the highest of intellectual society. Notable friends of his included: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Earl of Stanthorpe, William Pitt, - Adam Smith, David Hume and Samuel Rodgers.

In 1761, Dr. Price was elected a member of Mr. William's Turst which enabled him and his ministry to be recognised. That same year, Rev. Thomas Bayes died and his papers came into the possession of Richard Price. He quickly realised the importance of these papers, prepared and submitted them to the Royal Society in 1763. On the 5th of December 1765, Richard Price was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He earned the degree of Doctor of Divinity from The Marischal College, Aberdeen on the 7th of August 1767.

As well as delivering afternoon sermons at Newington Green, In 1770 Richard Price became the morning preacher at Gravel Pit Chapel, Hackney. In the same year, he began to carry out various duties in Old Jewry Street, London.

'Observations on Reversionary Payments' was published by Dr Richard in 1771 and said to have laid the basis for the whole principle of life assurance worldwide. The next year he published 'An Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the National Debt' which heavily influenced William Pitt and his economic policies.

The title page of one of Dr. Price's most noted works - another satirical engraving of the Doctor. 

' Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America' was published in the February of 1776. It sold  60,000 copies in the first year of its publication. It is what he considered "one of the best actions of his life".

This publication secured Dr Richard Price the Freedom of the City of London and the inevitable gold casket to the value of £50. The pamphlet was translated into serval European languages. The translations of the first pamphlet led to Dr Price being acquainted with such people as Turgot, Necker and Condorcet of France. In later life, Dr Price helped advise and support the triumph of  French liberty.

In 1778 'Two Tracts on Civil Liberty' was published. The document contained forecasts and ideas regarding European Federation and Untied Nations.

To show their appreciation, Congress gave Dr, Richard Price honorary citizenship of the United States. Congress asked for his assistance in regulating their finances, but Dr Richard Price declined  to owe to his advancing age. Though he declined this offer, he accepted an honorary doctorate of Laws from The Univeristy of Yale, that was conferred upon himself and George Washington alone in 1781.

A year after the death of his wife, Sarah Price in 1786, Richard removed from his Newington Green residence which had been his marital home for nearly thirty years. Thinking that a change of scenery might divert his thoughts of grief, he moved closer to his congregation and  took up residence at the neighbouring village of Hackney. Not long after the his moving into his new home, his recently widowed sister Mrs Morgan, came to live with him in Hackney. She took it upon herself to help/manage Richard's household.

In later life, Richard lost the ability of the sense of smell and was unable to enjoy his much loved recreational activities which included two/three hours of horse riding every day before dinner. He would also enjoy a cold bath three/four times a week. Owing to constant pain in his back and legs he was even unable to walk any great distance – these ailments began to dampen his spirits.

"Disorders of his body, however much they might have depressed his spirits, never had the least effect in impairing the faculties of his mind." - William Morgan F.R.S

He was a keen supporter of the French Revolution and used every opportunity he could to express his support for the cause. On the 4th of November 1789, Dr, Richard Price preached his last controversial sermon entitled “A Discourse on the Love of our Country”  at Old Jewry, London.

In this sermon, Dr Price presents his views on the “dawning of the millennium through the spread of liberty and happiness over the world.” He spoke of this in reference to the then current developments in France. He soon consented to the publication of the sermon which when through edition after edition in London, Boston, Dublin and Paris. The appendix of the published sermon contains letters of thanks from French patriotic bodies which all exclaim fullest sentiments of liberty.

This sermon formed and was a target of Burke's'  famous political pamphlet entitled “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) – This is described by William Morgan F.R.S as “torrents of abuse” against Dr. Richard Price.

On the 14th of July 1790, a dinner was held at the Crown and  Anchor Tavern in the Strand, London to celebrate the first anniversary of the Revolution. Guests at this dinner were known as 'Friends of Liberty' and the 'Friends of the Revolution in France'. This dinner would be the last of Dr. Price's public exertions in supporting civil and religious liberty.

In the August of 1790, Richard took his annual excursion to Newton, Glamorgan. Here he spent time visiting his relatives at Bridgend and as usual this elevated his spirits. He returned to London in October and began to write his memoirs.

In the February of 1791, Richard became ever more fragile and a few weeks later he was seized with a bladder complaint which left him bed-bound for the last month of his life. Rev Dr Richard Price D.D F.R.S died a few minutes before three o'clock on the morning of the 19th of April 1791.

On the 26th of April 1791, Rev Dr Richard Price D.D F.R.S  was 'deposited' inside the tomb of his wife Sarah and his Uncle Rev. Samuel Price at Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London. The funeral service was performed by his intimate friend Dr. Kippis. His funeral procession consisted of “twenty mourning coaches of his family and friends and a train of thirty gentlemen's carriages”.

His friend Dr. Joseph Priestly delivered a funeral sermon at the Meeting House at Gravel Pit, Hackney on the 1st of May. Dr. Price and his two nephews, William Morgan and George Cadogan Morgan, were all Fellows of the Royal Society – a rare distinction within one family.

Derby Mercury - 28th April 1791.

(Sources: LLGC - Dr. Randall - UKUnitarians - C.Williams - Maurice Ogborn - Wellcome Images - William Morgan F.R.S)


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