History – Mordecai Family

The Mordecai family have been associated with Treoes for many years, but where did they come from and what was their background?

It was possibly the woollen industry that first brought the Mordecai family to Treoes. The earliest record is of an Edward Mordecai (Genealogy website mytree.net) who was born in LLangan in 1751,   When he was just 15 years old Edward married Gwenllian (John) Popkin, 11 years his senior in 1766.  They had four children: Thomas born in 1771, Mary born in 1776, Edward born in 1778 and William born in 1781.  There is no explanation of the use of the name John by Gwenllian, it could be possible that she had been married before marrying Edward Mordecai, or that she was given the Christian names of Gwenllian John.

Gwenllian came from an ancient Welsh family, reputed to be descended from Rhodri Mawr. Her father was Sir. Esq. Thomas Popkin born 1695 in Forrest in the Parish of Llansamlet. He owned an Ironworks in Llansamlet and also had a lease of coal mines in Lougher.

The following is an extract from The History and Antiquities of Glamorganshire and its Families:–

There were Popkins of Ynys Tawe and Forrest, both of the same lineage, the former, the senior line and both now extinct. They claimed descent from Rhodri Mawr King of Wales, through his eldest son Prince Anarawd (succ.AD877) Gruffydd Gethin, the first named in the pedigrees as an Ynys Tawe, ninth in descent, had a son Hopkin ap Gruffydd, and he a son David ap Hopkin of Ynys Tawe, who married Eva daughter of Jenkin ap Leyshon of Avan, of the race of Iestyn ap Gwrant. Hopkin ap David ap Hopkin followed, and had a son David ap Hopkin whose son Hopkin David of Ynys Tawe had an eldest son: David Popkin, who finally fixed the patronymic as a surname. He married Jennet daughter of Robert William of Court Rhyd-hir, and with other children, had a son and successor John, second son of ………”

The Forrest junior line begins with Hopkin, second son of the above Hopkin David of Ynys Tawe and continues at Forrest near Neath for ten generations. This line seems to have held a higher position in the county than the senior. Thomas Popkin of Fforrest was Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1718 and his son Thomas held the same office in 1755.

Tracing Edward Mordecai’s ancestry is not easy. There is a record of an Edward Mordecai who died in Llansamlet in May 1715. His son, William Mordecai, was born also in Llansamlet a year earlier, in 1714. Could the Edward Mordecai born in Llangan in 1751 be their descendant?. There is a possible connection here, as Gwenllian’s family also originated in LLansamlet.  

The name Mordecai appears to have Jewish origins and during periods of anti-Semitism, family members could have used the alias of Mort or Morton or Moreton. There are local records of Mordecai being used as an alias. For example, in mytree.net,, we have a reference to Mary Mort alias Mordecai.  Other references to the name of Mort in the Parish are contained in St Canna’s parish records between 1836 and 1847 and of Moreton in 1887.

The Family Tree shows the death of Edward Mordecai as Feb 1782, whilst significantly St Canna’s Parish records show both Edward (buried 7th Feb 1782) in the name of Mort and Gwenllian (buried in 1815) with the name of Mort and the alias of John.

Another significant use of the name Mort is the name change of David Mordecai, born in Margam and married to Ann nee Llewellyn, who changed their name from Mordecai to Mort in 1871. Their son Thomas Mort migrated to the Ukraine, where he married Rachel Thoas and had six children. He returned briefly in 1905 before emigrating to the United States of America.

 It does not take a far stretch of the imagination to associate the Mordecai family with Gwenllian Walsh and Watcyn or Watkin Morton who lived in Goston in the 14th century and their possible descent from Rhodri Mawr via Princess Nest as well as the claimed descent from Rhodri Mawr via Gwenllian Popkin.

The following is a contract drawn up between Thomas Mordecai, Edward Mordecai and William Mordecai to maintain Gwenllian their mother. (From the Glamorgan Archives)

Be it remembered that it is contracted this 19th day of April 1809 & between Morgan Philip, Churchwarden & Tho’s David Overseer of the Poor of Llangan, & of the one part. And Thomas Mordecai, and Edward Mordecai, Weavers of the Parish of Llangan and William Mordecai Weaver of the Parish of St Mary on the other part, do hereby agree to maintain Gwenllian John a parishioner of the above said Parish of Llangan, at our proper cost and charges, find and Provide and allow, our cause to be found whatever necessary to her the said above named Gwenllian John their mother – now chargeable to the above named Parish. They the sons Thos. & Edwd. Mordecai, and Wilm. Mordecai, being to pay thus Thos. Mordecai is to pay one half and Edwd. Mordecai is to pay one Third and Wilm. Mordecai is to pay one Third unto the Overseers hands or cause to be paid whatever sum or sums that shall be wanted for her necessary relief- likewise Morgan Philip the Churchwarden and Thos. David the Overseer of the Poor allow her sixpence weekly towards Gwenllian John’s relief and also allow her sixpence towards John Thomas’s lodgings, and the house is to be jointly occupied by both of them.  Signed in the presence of Edmund Jenkins, Thomas Mordecai the mark of Edward Mordecai, Rees Jones, William Mordecai.”

As Thomas Mordecai, Gwenllian’s son had married Catherine Thomas it is possible that John Thomas Gwenllian’s lodger was Catherine’s father.

Descendants of Edward and Gwenllian and their son Thomas who are still residents of Treoes, as are the Mordecai family of Ty-Phillip and the family of the late John Richards son of Ivor Richards and Alice Mordecai, late of Great House.

Descendants of Edward and Gwenllian and their son Edward who are still residents of Treoes are the Jenkins family, by way of the marriage of Cecilia Mordecai (granddaughter of Edward) to Evan Jenkins and their son George Miles Jenkins.

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