Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rees, Josiah

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REES, JOSIAH (1744–1804), Welsh presbyterian minister, born on 2 Oct. 1744 in the parish of Llanfair-ar-y-Bryn, near Llandovery, was son of Owen Rees (1717–1768), the first nonconformist minister in the parish of Aberdare, by Mary his wife, who lived to complete her hundredth year (see Monthly Repository, 1818, p. 142). After attending the grammar school at Swansea, he entered about 1762 the presbyterian college, Carmarthen, and became minister-elect of the church at Gellionen in 1764, but pursued his studies at the college for two years longer, supplying his pulpit meanwhile at stated intervals (ib. 1818, p. 142). Among his fellow students was his lifelong friend, the Rev. David Davis [q. v.], of Castle Howell (ib. 1827, p. 693). To his pastoral duties Rees added, until about 1785, those of a successful schoolmaster. He soon became known as a polished preacher, and published some scholarly sermons. His chapel was rebuilt and enlarged in 1801. In 1785 he declined the offer of the principalship of the presbyterian college then at Swansea, but gave a year's course there of divinity lectures. He died on 20 Sept. 1804. He was twice married, and by his second wife was father, among other sons, of Thomas Rees (1777–1864) [q. v.] In literature Rees's earliest and most important venture was the Welsh magazine, ‘Trysorfa Gwybodaeth, neu yr Eurgrawn Cymraeg,’ which was the first sustained effort of the kind in Wales. A similar magazine, entitled ‘Tlysau yr Hen Oesoedd,’ or ‘Gems of Ancient Times,’ projected in 1735 by Lewis Morris (1700–1765) [q. v.], only reached one number. Rees's ‘Trysorfa’ was ‘projected and conducted at his own charge’ (Thomas Rees, Beauties of South Wales, p. 670). The first number—32 pages at 3d.—appeared on 3 March 1770; it was published by John Ross of Carmarthen. Fourteen fortnightly numbers followed. The design was discontinued with the fifteenth number, on 15 Sept. 1770, for want of adequate support. With every number were given eight pages of Caradoc of Llancarfan's ‘Brut y Tywysogion,’ or ‘Chronicle of the Princes.’ Complete copies of the fifteen numbers are rare; two are in the public library at Cardiff. Rees's ‘Collection of Hymns,’ 1796, some from his own and his father's pen, and a ‘Collection of Psalms,’ mostly after Dr. Watts, 1797, were in use for many years in the unitarian churches of South Wales; they were not entirely displaced until 1878. A third edition was published in 1834. Rees's translations into Welsh included a ‘Catechism (1770) on the Principles of Religion,’ by Henry Read (?); John Mason's ‘Self-Knowledge,’ which passed through numerous editions, and is still in vogue in Wales; and a ‘Doctrinal Treatise,’ published in 1804 under the auspices of the Welsh Unitarian Book Society, of which no copy seems now known; it evoked from Joseph Harris (1773–1825) [q. v.] a vigorous defence of the proper deity of Jesus, entitled ‘The Axe of Christ in the Forest of Antichrist.’

[Rees's and Thomas's Eglwysi Annibynol, iii. 588, iv. 327, 346; Jones's Geiriadur Bywgraffyddol, ii. 674; Ymofynydd, 1873 pp. 106–10, 1888 p. 104, 1889 p. 209; Penny Cyclopædia, art. ‘Welsh;’ Dr. Beard's Unitarianism in its actual Condition, p. 205; Edwards of Bala's Traethodau Llenyddol, p. 505, &c.; Jeremy's Hist. of the Presbyterian Fund (index); Dr. Thomas Rees's Beauties of South Wales, pp. 650, 670 n.; Universal Theological Mag. 1804, i. 228; Monthly Repository, 1818, p. 143; Christian Reformer, 1837, p. 717; Rowlands's Cambrian Bibliography; Welsh Supplementary Bibliography in Revue Celtique, 1873, p. 36.]

R. J. J.