The history of the Reeses is brief. It is free from anything particularly sensational, spectacular or thrilling. It does not appear that there are any outstanding bright lights to illuminate the pages of the past. There seems to be lacking anyone to whom one may point and say here is one who was head and shoulders above his fellowmen in the intellectual world, or in the promotion of any great enterprise for the welfare of humanity. Neither does there appear any from whom one might turn away in contempt. The name Rees does not furnish one who has blackened the pages of history or stood in the way of progress or been a burden to his race. As there are no illustrious crowns there are also no grievous crosses. It seems that there have been no political aspirants, no candidates for alderman of a ward or for the president of the United States, and so the history of the Reeses has not been brought to light. If we try to search out the past there are no landmarks to point the way. Possibly it is well that the full story remains untold. When Mark Twain started out to trace his ancestry he had not gone far until he discovered one among them hanging to a limb of a tree by one hand and at once decided that he had gone far enough.
There is a saying that the name Rees is from a Saxon word meaning Giant. If this is true, and there is no reason to doubt it sonce it came from the word of our father, we have good reason to believe that our ancestors were among the hardy inhabitants of Northern Europe. We may conclude that the Reeses were large of stature among a people who were larger and more powerful physically than the other people of their day. Our knowledge of the representatives of those who bear the name leads us to believe that there was among our forefathers a lineage of men of large proportions physically. The six footers of the present day are probably degenerate representatives of a much larger ancestry. Indications are also to the effect that they were a long lifed people. It is definitely recorded that one Thomas Rees lived to the good old age of 105 years.
This same Thomas Rees may well be called the Abraham of the Reeses. He heard the call to get him out of Wales and journey to a country that he knew not. So he took unto himself a wife, Miss Mary Boen, and they set sail for America when America was a country of Indians and forests and prairies and unknown possibilities. Upon their arrival they settled near Richmond, Virginia. They became the parents of four sons, William, Robert, Solomon, and David, and these names have come down through the generations, and Thomas the emmigrant became the founder of the tribe. We will onely try to trace the lineage of William.
William, the eldest married Charity Dillon of Irish ancestry. They were the parents of seven children, Moses, William, James, John, Mary, Margaret and Susan.
William, the second son of this family, with Saxon and Irish blood coursing his veins, married Susanna Jones, a native of Virginia, thus uniting the Saxon, the Irish, and the Virginian bloods. They migrated to Green County, Tennessee. They were the parents of eight children, Mary Bales, Rachel Rees, Charity Dillon, Deborah Rees, John Rees, James Rees, Janes Weeks and William Rees.
This family of rugged Tennesseeans heard the call of the west again and migrated to Vermillion County, Illinois. They came out of Tennessee again like Abraham out of the Chaldean, seeking an inheritance.
Picture, if you please, the taking off. There was the old log cabin home among the hills and its primitive surroundings. There were the cattle pasture, the fruit-laden orchard themilk house at the spring, the well beaten pathway to the neighbors, the friends, the many humble homes, as humble and as happy as their own. There was life and love and happiness, and ties of friendship. These were to be broken or left behind never to be united or seen again. But the fields were small and difficult for cultivation and life there was circumscribed by limited possibilities. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to picture the father like a patriarch of old, gathering the family about him as he read from the Family Bible and invoked divine guidance and protection as they launched upon the journey of adventure and swung loose from the ties that moored them. There was the creaking covered wagon, the cattle, the horses, the hickory hand made rocking chair, the walnut bureau, the homespun garments, the kettles, pots, and pans, the hand made shoes from home tanned leather, the boys and young men and young women. There was Deborah leaving her betrothed and cleaving like Ruth of old to her people, there was William, the youngest, a boy of eleven, busy with his dog and the cows. There were farewells and tears, and an unknown destination. A patriarch of the olden type journeying with his household. Fit timber for the foundation of the race.
Out of Tennessee they came. Out of Tennessee into Kentucky. Out of Kentucky into Ohio, out of Ohio into Indiana, out of Indiana into Illinois. Journeying westward, westward. Days passed into weeks, and weeks into months until at last they halted on a plot of ground just south and east of the present Yankee Point School house in what is now Elwood Township, Vermilion County, Illinois.
Here a log cabin was erected and preparations were made for the coming winter, and the winter came, and such a winter! the winter of deep snow. Ever thicker, thicker, thicker froze the ice on lake and river. Ever deeper, deeper, deeper feel the snow on field and woodland. Food was scarce and the wild deer came to eat fodder with the cattle. Woolves howled near at hand, and the trusty old flint lock rifle was brought into use for securing meat and for protection against the wolves. As it runs in my memory, the crust on the snow became so hard this first winter that they drove their horses and sleds on top of the snow over the fences. Sometimes I wonder how there happened to be any fences and then the dates seem to get tangled.
Were there hardships? Surely, and enough. Neighbors were separated by miles. There were no roads, there were no markets, and there was nothing to market. Schools, there were none. Social life a thing unknown. Ah! Such were the testing of the early days.
On November 7, 1843 the youngest son of this migrating family, William, was united in marriage with Rebecca Hester. They took up a claim on an eighty acre tract of land just north of Ridgefarm, paying the government $1.25 per acre for the land. Here they made a home, and a troop of children came along in course of time to make life real--a burden or blessing--which?
Such is the lineage of William down to the Fifth generation. There remains Dr. William Rees of Portland, Oregon in the sicth, and Orin William Rees of the University of Illinois in the seventh. It was said in the beginnings of this sketch that there were no brilliant stars to mark the lineage. Let us consider. We can not go into the other lines of decent founded by other members of the early families. So far as we are able to say there are none who have won national fame. There are however, some whose names are worthy of mention in passing.
We are led to wonder, for instance, just where the name of Emory Rees will stand on the Pages of the future. The man who can give a race of people a written langrage must rank among the leaders of his day. Livingston blazed the way into Africa, but Emory Rees has charted the way whereby Africa may guide herself from the darkness that has hung over the continent from the dawn of history. Livingston's name is immortal, and who can say where our kinsman's name may be written?
We have our own Levi Rees, who was an outstanding character in his day in so far as the Friends church is concerned. His name has been familiar to Quakerdom for the last three decades.
There is Bertram Rees, who is remembered and loved in his circle of teachers and pupils, and who stamped his personality upon a wide circle of friends. Bertram Rees was principal of the Georgetown Schools the first year I taught there (1922-23) Mariam C- [Mariam Elizabeth Clements nee Harrold, Grace's daughter]
There is a host of lesser lights scattered from coast to coast of our continent. Men and women strong of character, firm and unmovable in principle, of such as form the very bone and sinew of society.
OUR OWN FAMILY
The Wm Rees family lived in Vermilion Grove. I knew all of them, they were first cousins of my father Thos. Clarkson Rees. Levi Rees was a Quaker minister. He preached my mother's funeral in Ridgefarm. Perry and Bert were school teachers. Thomas was Alice Rees's father. I think they belong to the sixth or seventh generation and so do we. I'm sure Mariam knew some of this family at Georgetown. (Handwritten note in Grace Rees Harrold's handwriting probably added in the late 1960's)