Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Surname Reece and Early Reece Families in Union

Recently a person I met who descends from a Reece family that settled in Union County when the county was new asked me to write about this pioneer family. He said he had much research already done on the family, and promised to share a disk filled with information with me for research purposes.

That important information has not yet arrived for my perusal, but having whetted my appetite on finding out about the Reece/Reese surname, and those who were early settlers in Union County, I did a bit of probing on my own.

Reece/Reese, the surname, is derived from the Welch, Rhys. Various members of the ruling class in Wales bore the name Rhys. The name goes back to the ancient Celts, also known as the Britons, that once lived in the moors and hills of Wales. The name Rhys in its later versions was spelled not only Rhys, but Rice, Rees, Reese and Reece. The meaning of Rhys and its subsequent renderings meant one filled with ardor, zeal or enthusiasm.

The Reece family crest bears the motto, “The hope of a better age.” And, to bring in that better age, those bearing the Reece family name worked zealously and with ardor to bring about that hope. Like other families coming to America, the earliest Rhys/Reese/Reece/Rice families looked for land, work and freedom. They seemed to have a tendency to establish factories and/or businesses of one form or another in the new land, and certainly many of them were agriculturalists. Henry and Jane Reece settled in America in 1663, Richard Reece settled in New England in 1668, and Barbara, Jacob, Matthew, Thomas and William Reece settled in Philadelphia between 1840 to 1870.

In Union County, Georgia in 1834 when the first census of the new county was ordered, there was only one Reece family. We know little about this family from the census except that the head of household was named John and his family consisted of two males and one female. Ages were not given in that census.

By 1840, three Reece households were in Union. These were John Reece, probably the same John who was in the 1834 census. In his household were two male children, one under five and one between five and ten, and John himself who was between thirty and forty. Two female children, one under five and one between five and ten, and John’s wife, who was between twenty and thirty.

In the second Reece household were the head of household, James, age between 20 and 30, and his wife, also between the age of 20 and 30.

In the third Reece household in 1840 were William, head of household, age 20 to 30, and his wife between the ages of 15 and 20. A search of the Union County Marriage Records reveals that the first Reece marriage in Union County was of this couple which occurred June 18, 1839 [Note: In family records, the marriage date is listed as 06.18.1837]. William Reece married Mary Daniel. They had gone to Justice of the Inferior Court Thomas M. Hughes to have their marriage ceremony performed.

By the time of the 1850 census, the family of James Reece was not listed in the Union records, but we find the households of John Reece and William Reece. Since more information is given in the 1850 census, we learn more about John’s family who appears to be the one who had been in Union since 1834 or prior to that, maybe even in 1832 when the county was formed. In addition, the other Reece family was the couple, William and Mary, who married in 1839 [or 1837?].

In the John Reece family was this farmer as head-of-household, age 41, and born in South Carolina. His wife, Mary, was 37, also born in South Carolina. Their children still at home, all born in Georgia, were listed as Jefferson, 19; Martha, 16; Elizabeth, 14; John, 12: Carroll, 10; Willborn, 6: James, 5; Burton, 3; and an infant, age two months, not named when the census taker visited the John Reece family.

William Reece was 30 in 1850 and listed his birthplace as South Carolina. His wife, Mary Daniel Reece was 25, and was born in Alabama. They had five children: Sarah, 11; Quiller, 7; William, 5: Josiah, 3, and Nancy, 1. Living in the household of William and Mary was her mother, Sarah Daniel, age 70, who was born in North Carolina. Looking again at the Union Census, we find the household of Josiah Daniel was in Union County in 1840, with 5 male children under age 15, and 2 female children under age 10. This was the family of Mary Daniel Reece.

It has been reported that William Reece and his brother James settled first in Habersham County before moving on to Union County. Did they go there to mine gold when the gold rush began soon after the discovery of that precious metal at Duke’s Creek around 1828? Whether that was the case or not, it is known that William Reece searched for and mined some gold after he came to Union County. That story will be in the next column.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 14, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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