Rees/Reese Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Rees Meaning
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.

Resources on

Rees/Reese Ancestry

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

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
1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was rewarded with lands and
power in south Wales.

to his enthusiasm for
unconventional dalliances, Sir Rhys became father of a considerable
of natural children, most of whom found no difficulty in marrying
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
    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
    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

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.  Some Reeses in Tennessee spelt their name Reece.

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 immigration 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

  • John
    Rees had arrived in 1866
    with his wife Sarah and settled in
  • 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 Zealand. William 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.


Rees/Reese Miscellany

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

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 fulfill 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.

County Numbers (000) Percent
Glamorgan   12.5    47
Carmarthenshire    4.4    17
Monmouthshire    1.7     6
Pembrokeshire    1.6     6
Rest of England and Wales    7.1    24
Total   26.3   100

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
An old woman was found barbarously murdered in her lonely
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
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

Manney in particular cursed John Rees.  But it was the
magistrate’s grandson,
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.

Reader Feedback – Reece in Tennessee.  I have traced my Reece family back to the north west and eastern Tennessee area to the 1760’s or so. However, they have been very distinct that they spelled their name with a “c” and not the “s”.

A family story that has been passed down through the generations is that there were three brothers who arrived in that area. However, one of the brothers took an Indian wife and there was a split. So one began to spell his name with a “c” while the other’s kept the “s.”  I am inclined to think it is a folktale but have never been able prove or disprove it. Have you ever heard of this story?

Tom Hudson (

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
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
romantic figures of New Zealand’s history.
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
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

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

Numbers (000’s) Rees Reese Total
UK   47   1   48
America    5  22   27
Canada    2   1    3
Australia    6    6
New Zealand    1    1
Total   61  24   85

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


Select Rees/Reese Names

  • 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 Rees/Reese Numbers 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).


Select Rees and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.







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