Select Rees/Reese Miscellany

Here are some Rees/Reese stories and accounts over the years:

Sir Rhys ap Thomas

Llandeilo's most famous son is Rhys ap Thomas.  Not many towns can boast someone who has killed a king of England in battle (if "boast" is the appropriate word in this context).  But Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire can. That is exactly what Rhys ap Thomas was said to have done when, according to legend, he killed King Richard III with a poleaxe on Bosworth Field in 1485.

Folklore has it that after Henry Tudor's return to Britain in early 1485, Rhys had sought out the Bishop of St. David's to absolve him of his prior oath of fealty to Richard.  The bishop suggested that Rhys fulfil the strict letter of his vow by lying down and letting Henry step over him.  The way this in fact worked was that Rhys lay in hiding under Mullock Bridge while Henry marched over. 

Even before they had met, Henry seems to have indicated that Rhys would be his chief lieutenant in Wales if Richard were defeated.  Henry's favor to Rhys immediately after Bosworth and their intimate relationship throughout Henry VII's reign suggest that their collaboration in 1485 was well prepared.  Rhys served King Henry as a powerful landowner in south Wales and as a skilled soldier there. 

Rhys ap Thomas died in 1525 and his tomb can still be seen today in St Peter's Church, Carmarthen, after being moved from Carmarthen priory where he was originally buried.  His story is told in Ralph Griffiths' 1993 book Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family.

Rees Population Distribution

Rees is a name of south Wales.  Its main concentration in the 18th century was in Carmarthenshire.  By the time of the 1891 census that had shifted to Glamorgan.

Numbers (000)
Rest of England and Wales

Today Rees is the second most common name in Neath and Merthyr Tydfil and the fifth most common in Carmarthenshire and the Vale of Glamorgan.

John Rees and the Murderer Will Manney

In his capacity as a magistrate in Carmarthenshire, John Rees of Cilymaenllwyd had been responsible for bringing the murderer Will Manney to justice.

Manney, a domestic servant at Court Farm in Pembrey, was considered to be a man of ill repute who was suspected by the locals of being a footpad and a ship wrecker.  Local tradition has it that Manney terrorized the Pembrey Mountain and Kidwelly Road during the 1780's.  An old woman was found barbarously murdered in her lonely cottage.  When she was discovered she still held a scrap of cloth in her hand which was believed to have been torn from her attacker's clothing during the struggle.

Magistrate squire Rees arranged for Will Manney's garden at Pwll to be dug over and a blood-stained coat was uncovered.  At the trial which took place in May 1788 a tailor, who was the chief witness, identified the coat.  Manney was gibbeted in chains on Pembrey Mountain near the scene of the crime.

"Enroute to the scaffold Manney shouted obscenities at the jeering crowd lining the way.   On arrival there he continued to shout obscenities and was reported to be behaving like a madman.  He then refused the ministration of the chaplain." 

Manney in particular cursed John Rees.  But it was the magistrate's grandson, John Hughes Rees, who seemed to have borne the brunt of the curse.  Three of his daughters died before him, two by drowning and one as a result of a fall.  They left no children.

Two Rees Brothers - One in Wales and One in America

William Rees, the father, had left his family in Bettws Newydd in mysterious circumstances sometime around 1840.  But two of his sons, William and John, made something of their lives - one in Wales and the other in America.
The story began when the older son William apparently stood bail for someone, with the bail to be repaid on the man’s release (this must have been sometime in the 1850's).  However, when this man was released, he skipped bail and fled to America.   William and his brother John followed him there; and when they found him they were able to extract the bail money from him. 

William then returned home to Wales.  He did well.  He left behind his life as a farm laborer, became a stonemason and then a master mason.  He helped to build that grand gothic building, the Workman’s Hall, in Blaenavon.  He built and owned two rows of workers’ terraced houses and opened a grocery shop.  When he died in 1902, his shop passed onto his son Albert who made a good living - especially at a time when the majority of workers in Blaenavon were poorly paid coalminers.

Brother John returned to America.  After marrying Sarah Steed in Bettws Newydd, they emigrated in steerage on The City of Paris, landing in New York on April 1 1866.  John, like his brother, aspired to better things.  In his obituary in April 1913, the Scranton Tribune-Republican in Pennsylvania described him as: “a respected old resident…the deceased was a man of noble character and high standing among his people.” John’s son, John Steed Rees, went into his own business, opening the Rees Coal Mining Company.

Thomas Rees in Iowa

Thomas Rees and his wife Mary were the first settlers in Palo Alto township in Jasper county, Iowa.  Thomas had moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio in 1840, left Ohio with his wife in the summer of 1848, and arrived in Iowa that November.  Their first log cabin was 18 feet by 20 feet and their second in 1853 not much larger.

Thomas did not live to see his dream of a Presbyterian church in Palo Alto come true.  He died in 1865.  But his son Rowland who farmed there did.  Rowland is believed to be the builder of the Rees log cabin that now stands in Maytag Park.

William Gilbert Rees in New Zealand

William Gilbert Rees, a cousin of the cricketer W.G. Grace, has long been one of the genuinely romantic figures of New Zealand’s history.  He had arrived at the shores of Lake Wakatipu in Central Otago in 1859, one of the first white men to do so.  By the next year he was running sheep on the land near what is now Queenstown.

Rees’s rural peace was shattered in 1862 when two of his shearers, Harry Redfern and Thomas Arthur, found gold on the banks of the Shotover river Rees had discovered.  News of this got out and the Otago gold rush was on.

In the early days of the rush Rees performed the vital role of feeding the hungry miners.  The picture most New Zealanders have of him is as a big bearded run holder, holding off hungry miners with a loaded revolver as he carefully rationed out inadequate supplies of precious flour.

Rees and Reese Populations

The table below shows the current numbers of Rees and Reese in the English-speaking world.

Numbers (000's)
Reese Total
  1   48
 22   27

New Zealand


Reese (i.e. Rees with an "e") is clearly an American development.

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