Rees/Reese


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Rees is commonly considered a Welsh surname, although it has English origins as well.  The root is the Old English name Rhys meaning "ardor" or "fiery warrior."  The name appeared as Hris in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles for Cambridgeshire in 1052. 

Welsh Origin.  Rhys ap Tewder was the name borne by the last ruler of independent Wales.  He died in 1093 after unsuccessfully resisting the Norman advance.  A century later, there was Rhys ap Gruffydd, often called Lord Rhys, the Welsh warrior-prince.  Rhys in time became a common Welsh name.  It sounded like "Rheece" in south Wales and it was probably scribes who changed its spelling to Rees (although there were other lines that went to Rice and Price).

Origin Elsewhere.  The Rees surname can also be found in Germany and Holland.  The town of Rees in the Rhineland contributed the German Rees (now mainly to be found in Baden/Wurttemberg); while there were the van Rees in the Netherlands.  

Rees changed to Reese and sometimes to Reece on its arrival in America.  Today Reese outnumbers Rees in America by more than four to one.        

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Wales.  Rhys and Rees are names that are primarily to be found in south Wales

Carmarthenshire  In the days of Welsh patronyms and before the advent of English-type surnames, the Rhys name was associated with the ancient Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth and with the powerful family which made its home in the Tyvi valley at Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire. 

Their most prominent member was Sir Rhys ap Thomas.  He it was who fought with Henry Tudor in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was rewarded with lands and power in south Wales. 

"Owing to his enthusiasm for unconventional dalliances, Sir Rhys became father of a considerable number of natural children, most of whom found no difficulty in marrying aristocratic wives and founding families of their own.”

In Pembrokeshire there was one Rhys/Rees line that held the estate of Sandyhaven in Llanisan-yn-Rhos and another at Rickeston in Brawdy.  

Gruffydd ap Rhys was beheaded by Henry VIII in 1531 and had his lands confiscated.  His descendants in Carmarthenshire - who styled themselves Rice - were restored to some of their estates and were ennobled to the Dynevor peerage in the 18th century.  But most of the Rhyses in Carmarthenshire became Rees as English-style surnames came to be adopted.  There were early Rees in:

  • Cilymaenllwyd (near Llanelli).  The Reeses of Cilymaenllwyd were prominent local magistrates.  A CDROM The History of Cilymaenllwyd, which covers these Reeses, was released by the Llanelli History Society in 2009.
  • Llandovery.  The Rev. Owen Rees was a minister for Protestant dissenters here in the 1740's and his son Josiah a noted scholar and Unitarian minister.  William Rees was a cleric and antiquarian.  His son William started up the nearby Tonn printing press in 1829.
  • Llandybie.  The early Rees ministers here were Methodists.  Bowen Rees, the son of a stonemason, was a missionary to Africa in the 1880's. 
  • and Trelech (near Carmarthen).  Rev. David Rees was an early 19th century nonconformist preacher known as "the agitator."  The Reeses in Trelech lived on Pant-hywel farm.
This part of Wales had become active with religious nonconformity by the early 1700's.  Today the Rees name in Carmarthen is very much associated with Carmarthen ham.  Albert Rees's stall in Carmarthen market is run by the fifth generation of Rees butchers.  Their ham has been a particular favorite of Prince Charles.

Glamorgan  The Rees name spread east into Glamorgan in the 19th century as industry and mining developed there, initially probably into Swansea.  There were Rees sea captains who brought copper ores from Cuba and Chile back to Swansea in the early 19th century.  Many Reeses became coal miners in the Rhondda valley.  The Rees name has become particularly common in the towns of Merthyr Tydfil and Neath.

America.  Rees nonconformists and Quakers were in Pennsylvania by the early 1700's.  The Rev. Duffyd settled at that time in Lancaster county and his family, starting with his son William, adopted the name Reese in their new land, 

The descendants of the Quakers Thomas and Margaret Rees and Morris and Sarah Rees were to be found in Frederick county, Virginia and then, as Reeses, inland in Ohio and Indiana and south in Tennessee and the Carolinas.  Solomon Reese married a sister of Daniel Boone in Boonville, North Carolina and David Reese was a signer of the North Carolina Mecklinburg Declaration in 1775.

By that time, there were also German Reeses in Pennsylvania.  Reinhold and Christina Ries had arrived in Philadelphia from Wurttemberg sometime around 1760.  Their Reese descendants settled in Ohio.  The iimmigration data for the 18th and 19th centuries showed that approximately 60 percent of the Reeses in America had come from England and Wales and 40 percent from German-speaking lands. 

The 19th century saw further Rees Welsh immigration.  This time many of them were miners - as part of the 80,000 or so Welsh miners who migrated to the NE Pennsylvania coal mines between 1860 and 1910:
  • John Rees had arrived in 1866 with his wife Sarah and settled in Scranton. 
  • another John Reese came a year later.  But he soon developed a new line of work, healing athletes' injuries.  His nickname was "Bonesetter" and he gained national recognition as the doctor for major league baseball.   
New ZealandWilliam Gilbert Rees from Bristol emigrated to Australia in 1852 where he worked as a sheep farmer.  He later moved to New Zealand and was one of the early settlers in Central Otago.  He is considered the founding father of Queenstown.  The Rees river in central Otago was named after him.  A cousin, William Lee Rees, settled in Auckland where he was an MP.  His daughter Lily founded Cook County College, a girl’s school in Gisborne.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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Sir Rhys ap Thomas was the chief backer of Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and emerged as the most powerful man in south Wales.
Abraham Rees was an 18th century Welsh nonconformist minister and the compiler of Rees's Cyclopaedia.
H.B. Reese was the inventor of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and the founder of the Reese Candy Company.
Dai Rees was the Welsh golfer who captained the British side which won back the Ryder Cup in 1957.
Eberhard Rees was the German-born rocket engineer who in 1970 succeeded Wernher von Braun as the chief of American rocketry efforts.

Select Reeses Today
  • 48,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 32,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).



PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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