The Reas of Mecklenburg County, NC

June 4, 2013

The Rea Family Book is Done!

Filed under: book, genealogy, Old Pictures, reunion — Tags: , , , , , — marimann @ 12:49 am

Book Cover - hardback

Not to discourage anyone who has aspirations for writing a family history, but this family history took about thirteen years to complete.

We recall joking that it could take ten years.

Back Cover

Back Cover

If you are going to the Rea Reunion this year (June 9th, 2013), you can buy a hardback copy there.

Hardback and paperback copies can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Back Cover closeup

Back Cover closeup

The Rea ancestors, some of whom are pictured above, must feel honored by the tremendous effort and the continuing interest in following their lives and and the generations of their families. The Rea Book Committee, Lee M. Rea, Betsy Rea Blankenship, Virginia Alexander S. K. Bjorlin, Eleanor Bass Hayes, Doris Alexander, and Donave Alexander Hargett, working with Righter Publishing Company, have produced this long-awaited book. Lee Rea, at this year’s reunion, can breathe a sigh of relief, and the rest of us, who have been awaiting the publication of the book, can applaud the completion of this work.

It is a large book of about 460 pages in an 8 1/2 x 11 format with Part I containing the early history of the family, biographies of our ancestors, more than 85 photographs and an Appendix containing articles of interest. Part II contains the remaining 275 pages and is the Genealogy
Section showing the kinship of 2345 Rea family descendants.

This was all written from the perspective of this Mecklenburg County, NC, group of hangers-on who just didn’t have the gumption to leave a pretty decent set of circumstances. Histories could be written about those adventurous Reas who heard the call of “Go west young man, go west.” It might have been north to Indiana or south to Georgia, Alabama or Arkansas but the promise of greener pastures or open land was hard to resist. It is unfortunate in so many cases that that open land was won by forcing Native Americans to leave it for reservations or unfamiliar territory. They were in the way. Let us try to keep a balanced view of how all this Anglo expansion happened, including the Rea/Ray/Rhea Family.


June 10, 2012

Rea Family History Book Update

Filed under: genealogy, Old Pictures, reunion — Tags: , , , , , , — marimann @ 3:05 am

At this year’s Rea reunion, June 10th, 2012, the Book Committee (Lee Rea, Betsy Blankenship, Virginia Bjorlin) will make an announcement regarding the progress of the family history book. Final proofs will soon be on their way to the publisher and so here, to whet your appetite for the book, are some excerpts from the narratives and some of the photos as well.

1959 Rea Reunion


John and Martha Rea

1767–A Year of Prosperity and Tragedy

          In the beginning of 1767 everything looked very well for the John Rea family. After arriving in Mecklenburg County four years earlier, they were at last getting a deed to their property. In Deed Book 3, page 328, it is recorded in the Register of Deeds for Mecklenburg County that George Augustus Selwyn deeded John Rea 306 acres on the waters of Four Mile Creek, adjoining Moses Craige and Andrew Rea. This deed was dated 21 January 1767. John gave a mortgage deed to McCulloh recorded in Book 5, page 23. Later maps showing a portion of the property later conveyed to others describes the southern boundary as being “The Old Baronial Line.” This line ran due east and west and was probably originally described in a land grant to a certain degree of latitude. It is uncertain which land baron was involved. but it may have been that John’s property was on the southern boundary of Selwyn’s Tract. This point is significant in that most of the land in the western part of the county was sold by deed from Selwyn and land grants from the King were more common in the eastern part which is now UnionCounty.

Andrew Rea, who is believed to be John’s brother, obtained a deed from Lord Selwyn one week prior to John’s purchase. His land was for 200 acres adjoining John’s land and also bordering land owned by Henry Downs. Meanwhile, John and Martha’s family continued to grow. In 1767 Martha gave birth to their fourth son who was named Andrew. The exact date of his birth is unknown. In about October of 1767 John Rea suddenly died leaving his wife Martha and sons: David, 10, Robert, 5, John, 3, and the infant Andrew. There is an element of mystery about his death. Did he die of natural causes, or was he killed by violence or accident? It was more common in those days for younger people to die young because of sickness than it is today. We know that John did business in Charleston, South Carolina. In the early colonial days, South Carolina, became known as a haven for outlaws and people expelled from other colonies. Could he have been killed while in route along the market road? We can find no record of the circumstances of his death or where he was buried. There are many graves in the older part of the Providence Presbyterian Church cemetery that are unmarked today. Is John’s grave among them? If he died of sickness or of other means while near Mecklenburg County, his grave site is probably in the unmarked section. From his estate records we know that Martha had a gravestone erected and, at one time, she paid William Small to “peel around his grave.”

This does not indicate if the grave was nearby in the church cemetery or was in some remote location. If it is at Providence, the family did not maintain the gravestone over the years and its location is unknown.


Deed from Lord Selwyn to John Rea

John Rea’s Estate

          We don’t know the exact date that John Rea died but it is believed to be a short time before 20 October 1767 when the following document was filed in Probate of Records and Wills:

“1767. October 20th, Letter of Administration,

Granted to Martha Rea of Mecklenburg

County, on the estate of John Rea.

Henry Downs and John Ramsey securities,

Bond of 250 pounds, court of October.

Robert Harris, C.C. [Clerk of Court]”

For Martha, the settlement of her husband’s estate must have been a daunting task. John left no will, thus placing the court in charge of settling the estate according to colonial law. John’s financial matters were very complicated, and Martha had received no formal education. Women in those days were taught domestic skills but were not necessarily taught how to read and write. Martha signed all of her estate papers by making her mark resembling a crudely made M. Obviously, she had to have help as Administrator of the estate. It was probably John’s brother Andrew who helped her in the beginning.

Nothing tells us more about John’s life and character than his estate papers.  Under colonial law of that time, when a man died without a will, as in this case, the widow received a lifetime interest in 1/3 of the land for her maintenance. At her death her share reverts to the “heir at law.” All of the remaining 2/3 of the land was directly inherited by the heir at law. If the deceased has a son, then the heir at law was the oldest son. In this particular case, David was only 10 years old and would not receive ownership until 1778 when he reached the legal age of 21. As for the personal property, the widow received her 1/3 share and the remainder was divided equally among all the children after all expenses were paid.

An inventory of John Rea’s personal property was as follows:

          3 beds and furniture                                           1 cutting knife box and steel

            Dresser and furniture                                          1 rifle and pistol

            3 iron pots                                                         2 Bibles, some sermon books

            1iron skillet and brass kettle                                       and other books

            1 iron griddle and grid iron                                  1 man’s saddle and saddle bags

            1 box iron                                                          2 hogsl’q’r (hogshead liquor,

            Wooden vessels belonging to home                      1 hogshead=52 imperial gallons)

            9 chears (chairs)                                                   and other barrels

            2 chiets (chests) and one trunk                            2 augers and 1 drawing knife

            1 long looking glass                                               and hammer

            Knives and forks                                     1 flax hekle and one pair wool

            2 candle sticks                                                   cards

            2 iron pot crooks                                                3 brass cocks (for barrels)

            1 pair fire tongs and shovel                                 A parcel of corn, wheat and rye

            1 frying pan                                                        1 spinning wheel

            1 loome (loom) and gear                                    1 log chain

            His waring cloaths (his suit of clothes)                  1 pair maul ring and 1 wedge

            Earthernware and bottles                                    1 spaid (spade) and matuer                                                                                                                                

            5 seaps of beer (may be seah which was 13.5 liters)

            7 horses in hand and 3 out                                  1 flax brake and flax

            12 head of cows kind (female)                             2 clouth sadle housands (saddle

            2 sheep                                                             blankets)

            2 Indian blankets                                                6 yards of oznibrgo

            5 large hogs about 8 or 10 smaller ones               

            2 firkins of butter                                                3 yards of chintz

                           (1 firkin – ¼ barrel)                                         3 yards ofblue lining (blue linen)

            24 deerskins 16 dressed                                     1  woman’s bonet

            2 wagons and gears                                           1 velvet cap for child

            1 handsaw                                                         A quantity of sewing thread

            1 plow and tackling                                             5 or 6 pairs of garters

            2 axes and 2 hoes                                              1 bolt of nunsopurty (cloth)

            1 pair of steelyards (scales)                                4 or 5 papers of pins

            A parcel of horse bells                                        4 fine tooth combs and three

                                                                                                  riding combs

            Several pair of shoe buckles                                6 pairs of sleve buttons

            1 lb. of brimstone (gunpowder)                           1 whip

            1 yard striped flannon (flannel)                            4 gimbles

            1 cutters knife                                                    1 pair women’s gloves

            1 powder flask                                                   1 cut wigg

(The paragraphs above are excerpted from the Rea book; the outcome and continuation of John and Martha’s lives as it is known is continued in the book.)


The Organization of the Providence Presbyterian Church

It would not be until April of 1778 that John’s oldest son David would inherit his father’s property and would be in a position to convey the church parcel to representatives of the church. The deed for this transaction was thought to be lost from the records, but in fact it had been recorded in the Register of Deeds office all of these years. The deed in Book 15 page 25 was made and recorded on10 April 1778 after David reached the age of 21. What made this deed so obscure was that Providence Presbyterian Church was not mentioned at all. The deed was made to Andrew Rea, Archibald Crocket and John Flenniken, trustees of the church. In 1778 America was two years into the Revolutionary War and the outcome was very much in doubt at that time. No one knew what the future held for this new dissenting church. Would it always be a dissenting church subject to government control? To make matters more complicated, John’s property was encumbered with a mortgage to Henry E. McCullough. The handwritten deed is faded with time and is difficult to read. Its wording indicates that the matter was handled by an attorney.

When John purchased the 306 acres from Selwyn, it is evident that he intended for 6 acres to be provided as a place of worship.

Even though the church had only 206 members in 1834, a decision was made to acquire more property. History does not indicate why this was done, but a deed dated 12 May 1835 and recorded in Book 25 page 160 of the Mecklenburg Register of Deeds is for the sale of 5 acres of land on the west side of the road and on the opposite side of the road from the cemetery. This was sold for $62.50 by Silas Rea to the elders of Providence Presbyterian Church. This property had been acquired by Silas Rea from his father, David Rea, and was also part of the same land in John Rea’s estate.

For a number of years nothing was done with this newly acquired property. In 1858 a complaint by one of the slave members prompted the start of a new building program. In the antebellum days it was common for slaves to attend worship also. Sam Parks, servant of Moses A. Parks, came before the session acting as a spokesman for the slave members. He requested that better accommodations be provided for them because the balcony in which they sat was so low that a tall man could not stand upright. This ignited interest in building a large church building. At a cost of $2800 the new church building was completed in that fall and winter of 1858. This building is still in use today.

Providence Presbyterian Church

 (More information on the history of the church, the Presbyterian religion and the Reas role is continued in the book.)


The Rea Family in the War for Independence

The military service records for the Revolutionary War show that John Rea, Esq. served thirty-one days in the militia during 1782 under General Marion and that he supplied sundries during 1781 and 1782. Young John who was eighteen in 1782 must have been impressed with General Nathanael Greene and light Horse Harry Lee because in 1798 he named his second son Green Lee Rea. The names of these two Revolutionary commanders have continued to be passed down in the family, although not many are aware where the names came from. John’s oldest son, John Morgan Rea, was named after General David Morgan, hero of the Battle of Cowpens.

David Rea, the oldest of the Rea boys, volunteered to serve one month in November of 1775 and February of 1776 both times serving under Captain John McKee and Colonel Thomas Polk. Again in June of 1780 he served two months with no regular troops and engaged in no battles. This was during the British march to Charlotte. David volunteered again in 1781 and served two months with Captain Richard Springs and Captain Timmkin. A notation indicates that he may have served with Colonel Davie for seven months but no date is given.

Robert Rea enlisted in May of 1780 and served seven months under Captain Wiley and Colonel Harris of the North Carolina regiment. He enlisted again and served three months in the same regiment. The South Carolina roster indicates that he served in the light dragoons under Captain Samuel Martin, Lieutenant Colonel Polk and General Sumpter in 1781. General Sumpter, who was commander of the South Carolina militia, told his troops that they didn’t have money to pay them but they would be given a slave instead. Robert was discharged on12 April 1782.

(A very complete and thorough discussion of the Revolutionary War, the part that the Rea’s played in it, and the effect on the Charlotte area to be found in the family history book.)


The “Rea-Polk” cabin, part of which is a cabin said to have been built by the earliest John Rea.


John Rea, Esquire 1794-1843


John Rea, the third son of John and Martha Rea, was born7 August 1764 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. About three years after his birth he had a younger brother, Andrew, born about the same time their father died, leaving the widow Martha with four small sons. Since all of the sons were young children, their father’s estate could not be settled until the oldest brother David reached the legal age of 21. Their mother, Martha, married again to Robert Lewis, and concern was expressed as to whether or not the children’s inheritance was in jeopardy. The matter came before the courts, and it was ordered that the three youngest boys be indentured to learn a trade. In 1774 the court made the following order:

   Ordered by the court that John Rea, another orphan son of John Rea, deceased, be bound unto Ambrose McKee until he arrive at the age of 21 years to learn the art and mystery of a tailor, he being ten years of age the 7th of August next, and the said Ambrose McKee agrees to pay the said John ten pounds prov’n money at the expiration of the term aforesaid and further comply with the Act of Assembly.

John married Nancy Secrest, the daughter of Jacob Secrest who was a German (or Swiss) immigrant. John and Nancy made their home in the Twelve Mile Creek drainage area in what is now western Union County. The deeds for land in this area describe it as being on Cedar Branch of Twelve Mile Creek. On present day maps we have been unable to find exactly where this was located. .

John Rea was referred to as John Rea, Esquire. This title was given because of his service in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 1817 to 1822. He also served locally as a Justice of the Peace.

(Excerpted from John Rea, Esquire’s life and genealogy contained within the book.)


Green Lee Rea, 1798-1890

          Green Lee Rea, the son of John Rea Esq. and Nancy Secrest, was born 22 Dec 1798 in Mecklenburg County,NC and died there 9 Mar 1890 at age 91. On 28 Feb 1826 he married Levicia Laney (1808-1865), daughter of John Laney and wife Martha Secrest. He owned four plantations, two in Mecklenburg Countyand two were in present day UnionCounty. He was involved in a number of business operations, including the Rea gold mine. Its 1880 location was in the vicinity of Sardis Road, and it was the first industry in the town of Matthews. In later life Green was blind, according to the census. The censuses also list various relatives living with him. His prominence is confirmed by his large land holdings and numerous listings in wills as witness or administrator. He had very deep affection for his large extended family and took care of many of them. Both Green and Levicia are buried at Providence Presbyterian.

(Excerpted from Green Lee Rea’s life and genealogy contained within the book.)


Christmas 1898 with John L. Rea and family

John L. Rea, 1827-1915


John Laney Rea (1827-1915), the firstborn of Green Lee Rea and Levicia Laney Rea, was born and died in Mecklenburg County, NC. In 1846 he married Sarah Elizabeth “Betsy” Smith (1829-1873), daughter and  only child of Dr. Samuel Harris Smith (1798-1847) and wife Levinia Wren Smith (1793-1833). They lived for a number of years on Kuykendall Road, where most of their children were born.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

            About 1872 John Laney Rea bought the Grier-Rea house on the curve on Rea Road (at the corner where now Colony Road comes into Rea Road) and reared his family there. The house known as the Grier-Rea house was in the Rea family for 130 years. In 2002 the house was acquired by the Landmarks Commission and moved down Rea Road to the corner of Providence and Alexander Roads. John Laney Rea farmed and owned land in both Union and Mecklenburg Counties. We think he served in the Confederate Cavalry briefly as a farrier. Tradition has it that during the war he hauled goods, such as salt, sugar, yarn, from Virginia to Charleston. He is thought to have joined the army again during the last year of the war.

John L. Rea’s 1865 pardon from the US gov’t.

(Excerpted from John L. Rea’s life and genealogy contained within the book.)


The following photographs are just a sample of those to be found in the completed book:

Ada Rea, one of the daughters of Harris Green Lee and Isabella W. Peoples, and her husband Parks Irwin

Mary Rea and Samuel Alexander

Sam and Mary Bass and muddy wagon wheels

February 24, 2010

Picture Mystery Response from Don Venable

Filed under: genealogy, Old Pictures — Rod Mann @ 2:26 pm

A cousin, Don Venable, came to the Rea Reunion last June for the first time. His grandmother was Amanda Rea Hartis and Don came into possession of very old, framed portraits of Green Lee Rea and his son John L (I am not saying John Laney here because of some recent discoveries). He brought the portraits to the reunion and it was quite a treat to see the images that are as close to the originals as we will probably ever get.

Anyway, Don is very interested in pictures and after examining our Picture Mystery post decided to offer his take on the mystery and sent a very nicely put-together PDF file as an email attachment a couple weeks after the reunion. But when we tried to post it on the blog, the PDF file just would not take. I tried to convert it into another format and that wasn’t working. Well, here it is months later and we finally find something that works and now anyone who visits this blog can see what they think of Don’s analysis. I think I recall that he had some expert help, too.

There is a mistake in the dating. If Don is right and the wedding picture is of John L Rea and Isabelle McAuley, then the date would be May 1880 making John 53 and Isabelle 30….which probably fits their appearance even better. This could very well be the solution to our mystery. Something that still bothers me though is the apparent differences in the nose toward the tip, that lump. The angle and the lighting of the 2 pictures on the bottom is so similar that it is hard to explain why the noses would be different. Maybe one nose was retouched and the other was not? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more than one picture of Green Lee Rea?

September 20, 2009

Seeking Old Family Sayings

Filed under: genealogy — Rod Mann @ 9:58 am
Many of the Rea children went to the Providence Church School which later became the Downs School

Many of the Rea children went to the Providence Church School which later became the Downs School

 We have tossed around the idea of adding short little tidbits in the book about family life from years ago in the form of family sayings. If you grew up in a Rea family that came from North Carolina would you please do us the honor of sharing as many family sayings as you can remember and tell us who said them and any other details that seem important.  Of course tell us who you are as well. Just use the comments link below. For encouragement we include another fine old picture. This of the Downs School children in about 1905. Zeb Rea is on the far left, middle row. All 10 of his children are still alive and are greatly responsible for the continuation of the annual family reunions. 2010 will be the 75th annual reunion.

August 1, 2009

Map of Rea Sites

Filed under: maps, reunion — marimann @ 11:51 pm

When Rod and I first attended a Rea reunion in 1995, we had never been to the Pineville- Charlotte area together.  We were fortunate in that Rod’s cousin (once removed) Betsy Blankenship was kind enough to drive us around the area to see the old remaining Rea houses and land that was once owned by the Reas.  Not everyone who comes to the reunions, or just comes to the area to see where their ancestors and family used to live, is able to have their own personal tour guide. So with this in mind, at this year’s reunion (2009), we introduced a map of Rea sites in the area, a sort of “drive-it-yourself” tour on a printed map.  We only had a few available so here is a similar map, via Google Maps:

Click on View Larger Map to see the map larger and to see the explanation of the symbols used.

If you would like one of the printed maps, leave your request here in the comment section or send us an email at reaclanbook(at)gmail(dot)com

June 29, 2009

74th Rea Reunion

Filed under: reunion — Rod Mann @ 1:38 am

It wasn’t cool, but this year no one was complaining about the heat or lack of rain. Often it seems like the weather picks the Rea Reunion weekend to try out its summer muscles. Of course in the air-conditioned Fellowship Hall at the Providence Presbyterian Church no one has really suffered from the weather for many years now. The biggest concern every year is setting up all the tables and chairs needed for 100+ family and a lot of food. Willie Rea is usually in charge of that but this year he had an unusual conflict of dates and couldn’t be there. Fortunately his brothers John and Ralph were willing to step in and see that a crew was formed. Ralph also, being a former choir director, had a group of family men prepared with a song like he usually does. There seemed to be more than the usual number of children or young people in attendance, which is always nice to see, since family reunions in general seem to appeal to the older generation.

 The youngest of the family in attendance this year was little David Gutkin Huntley, baby son of George and Emilia Gutkin-Huntley, born on March 28, 2009.  He got his silver dollar as did our oldest attendee from the Coffey side of the family, Margaret Elisabeth Coffey Outen, who is 89. We have a picture.

Margaret Outen with David Huntley and his father, George Huntley

Margaret Outen, David Huntley and his father, George Huntley

 Speaking of pictures – one of the side rooms at the Hall has in recent years been used as the display room for historical family pictures and documents, many blown up to large sizes for easy viewing. There has been a lot of progress made in the last 3 years in identifying our ancestors in these pictures many of which were taken in the 1800’s. This year we had two very special portraits displayed that were the original framed copies of the two patriarchs we have the earliest images of – that is Green Lee Rea and his son John Laney Rea. They were brought by Don Venable who attended his first Rea Reunion with his wife. He is from the Hartis side of the family. During the presentation part of the reunion after everyone had eaten, he was asked by MC and co-chairman, Margaret Harrelson, to come up and tell the story of how he became the owner of these rare originals. In another post we hope to bring you his own description of that process and how it relates to our “Mystery Picture” problem.

 Also in the presentation a book report was given by Lee Rea explaining why the Rea Family book was still not in print. Last year he really thought it would be ready and he secretly considered an escape trip to Patagonia or someplace very far away rather than to have to explain, again, why it is not ready for print. It comes down to the sense of responsibility the book committee feels about the accuracy of the information and putting it out in book form that others will then use as a a source of authority. The research and editing process is still too frequently revealing something new or unexpected that has to be correlated with the whole. No one threw eggs or tomatoes (which were available) when Lee was finished. There was, however, positive book news in the family.

 Eleanor Bass Hayes, grandaughter of Mary Rea Alexander Bass, published her memoirs this year entitled “Memoirs of Gramflakes“. It has many Rea family memories and stories that go as far back as to what life was like in the 30’s in Mecklenburg County, NC, and can be purchased on . After the reunion Mari and I even drove to one of the old family land holdings (now a housing development called Rea Woods) and went down to McAlpine Creek where Eleanor remembered so fondly the best swimming hole around. Mari had designed a brochure for the reunion folks with a map showing where many of the old Rea family sites can be found.

Margaret Harrelson and Eleanor Bass Hayes

Margaret Harrelson and Eleanor Bass Hayes

 With all the growth and development that has taken place, nothing is like it used to be, but it is still interesting to see the area and what has become of what was basically farmland. Two or three exceptions, perhaps, to the changes are the church sanctuary itself, much of the cemetery and the restored John Laney Rea house which was purchased and moved to a prominent corner by the Charlottte-Mecklenburg Historical Landmarks Commission. It is now known as the Grier-Rea House and is the featured property on their website as of 6/21/09 – The commission purchases and restores historically significant properties and then sells them with certain agreements attached.

We hope you were able to come to this year’s reunion, and if you didn’t, we hope you will be able to attend next year’s, which will be the 75th year and should be something special.  At the very least, there will be food.

See what you missed if you didnt come?

See what you missed if you didn't come?

May 11, 2009

Rea Reunion 2009

Filed under: maps, reunion — marimann @ 1:03 am

It’s Rea Reunion Time!

Date: Sunday, June 14, 2009

Time: 12:45pm

Place: Providence Presbyterian Church, 10140 Providence Church Lane, Charlotte, NC   28227

Bring all your family members and join your relatives for an afternoon of food and fellowship.


(Click on “View Larger Map” above to see this map in a larger format and to get directions from your location)

If you have attended Rea Reunions in the past or are in contact with the Reunion co-chairs, then you know that every year they send out a form so that any changes in the family can be recorded or updated in the family database.  If you have family history to add, or have some changes to make and don’t have the form, please bring a COPY of your information to the reunion, or leave a comment here and we’ll get in touch with you. 

There will be a brief memorial given at the reunion.  If you know of the passing of one of our relatives since June 2008, please let us know (leave a comment or send us an email at reaclanbook(at)gmail(dot)com).

Read about the history of the Mecklenburg County, NC, Rea reunions here.  Not sure if you are related to these Reas or not?  At this year’s reunion we hope to have copies of the family database available for viewing and for purchase.  Or, contact us (leave a comment or send an email) and we’ll try to see if you are a leaf on our tree or not.

March 17, 2009

The History of the Rea Reunions

Filed under: reunion — marimann @ 1:20 am

History was made in the year 1935, but not many folks could tell you what happened that year in America that has had such a lasting effect on its citizens.  The stock market crashed 6 years earlier and we were more or less in the depths of the Great Depression. It would be 4 more years before World War II began in Europe with Germany’s invasion of Poland; so what was so important about 1935 that we should remember?

 The most lasting legacy of our president Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was the establishment of Social Security – in 1935.  And for the Rea family in North Carolina, perhaps the most lasting legacy was the establishment of the annual family reunions – in 1935.  After almost 75 years meeting in the same place at Providence Presbyterian Church in Mecklenburg County, NC, the reunions still draw between 100 and 150 relatives and there is still too much food.

 The Rea family gave the land for that church which was established in 1767 and generations later many family members still attend and consider it their home church. That seems like a good reason to have the reunions there, though much of the family has spread out and attend other churches. The present sanctuary of Providence Church has changed little since it was erected in 1858. The balconies for the slaves are still there as are the incredibly tall windows that allowed air to circulate top and bottom during those hot summer months.

 Two cousins got together and organized that first big reunion, inviting all branches of the family. There were many surnames and many branches by that time and those first two leaders were Neil Alexander and Frank Abernethy. Their mothers were Reas. W. Reid Rea was soon appointed as secretary/treasurer with Neil Alexander as President for that first year. In later years, Neil’s brother Sam would become a president.

 We might wonder at the motivation for an Alexander and an Abernethy to initiate annual reunions for the Rea family. For example, Franklin Abernethy’s father, John Wesley Abernethy, was a prominent Methodist minister-not a Presbyterian as were most of the Scots-Irish Reas. Perhaps it was because his mother, Martha Ann, far outlived all the Rea daughters of Green Lee Rea and was a great influence on the family. But we have learned through a grand nephew, Bruce Abernethy, a family bible shows that when Franklin’s father married Martha Ann Rea, the wedding took place in a Rea home and virtually all the guests were Reas. The Abernethy side was completely absent. One could surmise that there might have been a split with his family or they were at a great distance.

 We have much more information to work with when it comes to Neily Ormond Alexander.

 Neil, although he went off to college at North Carolina State in Raleigh as a young man, it could be said, never left home. He lost his father there in a freak accident. He lost his oldest brother in a freak train accident out West. His grandfather, William Almarine Alexander, died young and he never knew him. He lost his mother for awhile, when she remarried, but she came back. Then the house burned down and they lost a good part of their history in the fire. That must have been the last straw for Neil. One could fairly draw the conclusion that he wanted to do whatever he could to bring together the family in a consistent way and thus preserve the history and ties that in his experience had been a very fragile thing indeed.

 Prior to the reunions the core Rea family had not infrequently gotten together for special occasions. Just the year before, in 1934, Neil’s Uncle, HGL Rea and his wife Isabella celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary. All but one of their 11 living children had come from as far as from the state of Washington. So there was a strong sense of family on the Rea side. When the first annual Rea Reunion took place the following year, HGL and Belle were celebrated as the oldest Rea’s present. Every year since, the oldest, the youngest and whoever has traveled the greatest distance have been honored.

1936 reunion picture taken in front of Providence Presbyterian Church

1936 reunion picture taken in front of Providence Presbyterian Church

 At the second reunion in 1936, our secretary/treasurer, Reid Rea, reported that $12 was collected from about 100 relatives present the year before and the expenses had been $5 which left $7 to apply to the current year’s expenses. The presidency was passed on to Dr. Green Lee Rea who was the superintendent of the Charlotte Health Dept. for many years and carried his father’s name. This isn’t easy to explain, but he was much younger than HGL Rea but was HGL’s uncle. In jest, he was called the grand, old uncle. Frank Abernethy was chosen vice president with Reid continuing for several years as secretary-treasurer of the reunions. Mrs. J.L.(Eunice) Rankin was chosen historian. Our data shows that she died in the fall of 1937 and in 1938 the program shows that Miss Janie Matthews and Mrs. Ralph R(h)one gave the history report. But after that and for years hence HGL’s son, Dr. Calvin Rea, was known as the family historian. He was a veterinarian as was Dr. Samuel Alexander who filled the role of president a few times. Calvin put together the first book of family history in 1952.

 Looking back over the documents we have about the first few formal reunions, which are far from complete, one notices what seems like an odd choice from our current perspective. The reunions were held not on Sunday or even Saturdays, but Thursdays. How could you ask relatives to come from miles around to attend a reunion on a weekday? In answer, we first have to remember that in the 1930’s most of our family members were still farmers, not people with jobs in towns. For a Scots-Irish Presbyterian farmer, Saturdays and Sundays were spoken for. Saturday was market & supplies day and Sunday was for church. The weekdays were much more flexible.

 However, by 1940, the reunions started shifting to Saturday. More folks were working in mills and factories by then and it was hard for them to get off during the week. Eventually the reunions were held on Sunday after the church service. Roads were better, travel was faster.

 After the war and into the 50’s, group pictures were often taken at the reunions, but the participants were not necessarily identified on the prints. In the last couple of years those early pictures have been displayed at the reunions in the hopes that the older generation can identify most of those faces of 60 and 70 years ago before it is too late. Some of the older folk squinting at those tiny faces on the prints are looking at themselves as children and trying to recapture how they felt then and what they thought of such a big group of folks and being told “This is your family”.

 Please leave a comment here or send an email to reaclanbook(at)gmail(dot)com

This post written by Rod Mann.

June 16, 2008

The Picture Mystery

Filed under: genealogy — marimann @ 1:55 am

We have talked about the problem of getting the data correct or corrected with our ancestors in the family tree.  The surest way of checking on the correctness of a record is to go to original documents like census records or the will of the person in question, which is not necessarily an easy thing to do.  But in the case of family pictures there may not be any written record anywhere that reveals the identities or date taken of the image you see in front of you.  If it is a group picture you may recognize two or three faces from other pictures that have better notation or childhood memories or word of mouth verification from relatives.  One of the earliest Rea Family pictures we have of what might be called a patriarch, Green Lee Rea, has come under question because of a more recent discovery.

For years an image has circulated in the family and been shown at reunions of a clean-shaven Green Lee Rea who looks slightly cross-eyed and with sagging neck, quite advanced in years (above).  Lee Rea says he can remember this picture hanging in the house of HGL and Belle Rea who were his grandparents.  In our search for pictures to use in the book which has been engineered by Betsy Blankenship, she came up with a much less known photograph of Green Lee marked on the back as he and his second wife Adaline taken in 1874 (below).  Our records say that there was 40 years difference in their age and the picture seems to bear that out.  Another point of verification is that the clothing worn seems to correspond with fashion of the 1870’s period.  So everything seems to verify the notes on the back of the picture.

The problem is that the man in the latter picture looks nothing like the Green Lee Rea in the picture that has been accepted as the standard for maybe half a century.  The first impulse is to reject the newer picture as a mistake of some kind.  But when you examine the older picture you can see that it has been heavily doctored by an artist or retoucher in the process of making a copy from what was probably an original photograph.  In those days the only way to get a copy of an older photograph was to have it copied by an artist.  The photographer might have been itinerate or out of business and there would be no way to get a copy from him.

This is a close-up cropped out of the above marriage portrait for easier comparison to the clean-shaven touched-up or doctored image.

Between the obvious retouching and the possibility of, say, a ten year span between pictures, it is quite possible that both pictures are truly of Green, one hirsute and the other not.  If any one of you visiting this blog have any insights on this mystery of the two Green Lee Rea’s, please let us know by leaving a comment or sending an email to Reaclanbook (at) gmail (dot) com.

To read more about this mystery picture, click here.

May 18, 2008

Welcome, Rea Clan members and families!

Filed under: welcome — marimann @ 11:05 pm


Please read our About page first, if you haven’t already, to learn about the story of the Rea Clan family history book.  It’s been a long journey, and some have probably wondered if there is any end in sight.  We hope, through the medium of this blog, to provide those interested with information on the progress of the book, as well as some insight on the book’s beginnings, its authors and compilers, and on its contents. 

Creating a book of this type (maybe of any type) is a challenging experience.  Part of the challenge of this particular book has been that it was begun with no clear vision of it’s future- but what it did have was a fairly clear and relatively detailed picture of it’s past.  Previous family members had painstakingly compiled what they knew of the family’s history and its people- the earliest known ancestors and their descendants- and had written down and passed on what they learned.  

The present committee members took this research and built on it, adding research of their own and utilizing the emerging power of the computer and the Internet to expand their knowledge and facilitate their record-keeping.  Sometimes, this created problems that were unforeseen, like the learning curve required when the archivists in the family began to enter all the hand-written information into the Family Tree Maker program, and glitches that popped up through its use.  Increased access to data like past census forms, military records and birth and death rolls, through sites like, revealed inaccuracies in the family’s records.  All of these problems took time to be addressed, and are still being resolved as of this time.

As the book began to take shape, it became clear that it would be best presented in two main sections- the first section to contain biographies of the earliest ancestors on down through chosen lines, along with pieces written by the committee that will illuminate the time periods and the lives of these people.  The second section will consist of the Family Tree Maker data that has been compiled over the years, edited to reflect the lines of the Mecklenburg Reas; primarily those that stayed in the area or in contact with the Mecklenburg Reas.  This data (for those of you familiar with this software) will be in two software-generated reports called the Outline Descendant Report and the Genealogy Report, along with an index that will pertain only to the Family Tree Maker data.

Much of the genealogical data has come from Rea family members who have filled out and returned the update sheets that are sent out at the time of the yearly reunions.  At this time, the family database contains nearly 4600 individuals, and more continue to be added.  Because this is a history which will by necessity have a cut-off point in the Rea family timeline, all of this data won’t be included in the book.  It will, however, continue to be gathered, entered and saved in the database maintained by the family.  Like this database, we hope that the book and this blog will be enhanced by contributions, comments and suggestions made by you, the members, families and friends of the Rea Clan. 

We also hope that you will frequently visit this blog and leave your comments, suggestions and any contributions to the family lore that you may have.  You can also request to be placed on a list to be notified when the book will be available, either by leaving a comment here or by sending an email to reaclanbook (at) gmail . com.

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