Thomas Rees

1815-1885. Welsh religious historian. He was born at Penpontbren, Carmarthenshire. His only formal education was three months of elementary school. He became a coal miner at Aberdare in 1835, but soon gave it up and opened a school. He was ordained in 1836 minister at the Congregational church at Craig-y-fargod, Merthyr Tydfil, and supplemented the stipend of ten shillings a month which he received from the twelve members of the church by opening a shop. This proved a failure, and he suffered a week's imprisonment as a debtor. His fortunes revived, however, and his subsequent career as a minister was a distinguished one. He ministered at Aberdare, Siloa (Llanelli), Beaufort, and finally at Ebenezer, Swansea (1861-85). He was twice elected to the chair of the Union of Welsh Independents and, in 1885, to the chair of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, but died before taking up his duties.

He was a prolific writer, but his most substantial contribution was in historical studies. He is best known to English readers for his History of Protestant Nonconformity in Wales (1861, extended in the 1883 edition). He was also coauthor with John Thomas of Liverpool (1821-92) of a four-volume history of the Welsh Congregational churches (to which Thomas added a fifth volume in 1891). When it is recalled that Thomas Rees was virtually self-educated, his work as a historian is outstanding. He had a gift for discovering manuscript sources at a time when their significance for historical study was not generally appreciated. Unfortunately he was cavalier in his use of them. He would abbreviate or omit passages without warning as the whim took him, and his strong prejudices in favor of Congregationalism and moderate Calvinism often tempted him to interpret evidence in a tendentious fashion. But when all his faults are admitted, his historical writing is still of great use and interest to the student of modern Welsh religious history.

Rees possessed a winsome personality and was in great demand as a preacher whose sermons never failed to move the hearts of the large congregations that loved to hear him. His hymns still find a place in the collections of the various churches.