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Until the invasion of Julius Caesar in 55BCE, the history of Britain is almost a blank, though the Phoenicians of Cadiz are supposed to have traded with Devon and Cornwall for tin, &c., some centuries before the Christian era. The Ancient Britons, in the south of England, had made some little progress towards civilization when Caesar invaded the island. They were divided into various tribes and nations, and their religion, which formed part of their free monarchical government, was druidical.
The British Druids exercised their utmost authority in opposing the usurpation of the Roman invaders, who, fired with equal resentment, determined to secure themselves by exterminating the Druidic Order. In ancient times, Devonshire produced greater quantities of tin than Cornwall, and the method of mining was then of the simplest description, by "shoding and streaming". There are numerous stream works on Dartmoor and its vicinity, which have been forsaken for ages. In the parishes of Monaton, Kingsteignton, and Teigngrace, are many old tin works of this kind. That the Druids abounded in Devonshire, and were conversant particularly with Dartmoor Forest and its neighbourhood, is evident from the cromlechs, logan-stones, rock basins, stone Pillars, circles, cairns, rocking stones, rude bridges, etc, still to be seen in the wild solitudes of the forest, and in the surrounding parishes of Drewsteignton, Manaton, Okehampton, etc
The religious and civil jurisdiction of the Druids prevailed all over Britain. They dispensed justice; not under any written code of laws, but on what they professed to be equitable principles - all their verdicts being determined by such sense as the assembled delegates entertained of impartial justice, and on discordance of opinion in the congress, appeal was made to the Arch-Druid, whose sentence was decisive. Their religious ceremonies were few, and nearly in unison with those of the ancient Hebrews. They worshipped on high places and in deep groves ; and were not so much addicted to idolatry as some authors have asserted, but adored the God of nature, and rendered him praise on the yearly succession of the seasons, which they kept as solemn festivals.
Though they dealt largely in allegory and symbolical representations, they practised but little priestcraft, and held not the ignorance of their votaries in the bonds of superstition; but they clearly explained the mysteries and symbols used in their ceremonies, to the initiated. To remove from the people all possibility of sophistry and innovation, their maxims of justice were taught orally; and the sons of chief personages were disciples in their ethic schools, where the rules of moral life were inculcated as the foundation of human wisdom. They studied medicine and the virtue of plants, of which the misletoe was their chief specific; and they held nothing so sacred as the misletoe of the oak, which they gathered with great pomp and ceremony on a certain day, appointed for their greatest festival.
In their civil government, capital offenders were sentenced to death, and publicly sacrificed on the altars of their temples; whilst those convicted of minor crimes were excluded from public worship, and excommunicated from all civil and religious benefits, till they had washed out, with the tears of repentance, the stains with which their guilt had branded them. Julius Caesar said the Druids inculcated the immortality and transmigration of the soul, and discoursed with youth much about the heavenly bodies. Great numbers of the druids were massacred by the Romans in the unsuccessful revolt of the Britons under Queen Boadicea, and from that period their power and splendour rapidly disappeared.
The wild solitudes of Dartmoor are the great store-houses of Druidical and other British remains in Devon, and it is even conjectured that the ancient oaks of Wistman's or Wiseman's wood, near Bairdown, or the hill of Bards, amidst the gigantic tors and the rude British remains of Dartmoor Forest, are the "posterity" of a Druidical grove.
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