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Joseph Madison Rees.

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Rees, Joseph Madison (1844–1909)

By Matthew J. Lucio


Matthew J. Lucio, MDiv. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan). Lucio currently pastors in Peoria, Illinois, and has previously pastored districts in Tennessee and Iowa. He has presented several academic papers on church history for the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS), and also hosts the Adventist History Podcast. 

First Published: January 29, 2020

Joseph Madison Rees was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, literature evangelist, and administrator. Though born in Greene, Tennessee, Rees was raised near Kokomo, Indiana, and joined Company G of the 89th Indiana Regiment during the American Civil War.1 The 89th was usually based in Vicksburg and Memphis, and it saw enough combat to lose a quarter of its men (mostly to disease). As the war moved east, the 89th became an occupation force and faced the peril of guerrillas. Private Rees mustered out on July 19, 1865.2

After the war, Rees married Melvina Seward on June 28, 1866. Melvina, a Sabbath-keeper since 1859, quickly led her husband to accept the Adventist message. Together, they had one son (D. D. Rees) and three daughters, two of whom survived (Pearl and Ada).3

The newlyweds lived with her parents in Indiana. Joseph worked as a merchant until, in 1877, he began preaching. Ordained the following year, he pastored locally until 1886. He was then called to the presidency of the Tennessee Conference (based in Johnson City and Springfield) and given responsibility for North Carolina, which had 75 believers.4 Rees’s work in North Carolina led to him planting a church with 13 people at a McBride’s Mills, something he would continue to do the rest of his life. In addition to being a successful agent for the International Tract Society, Rees became Tennessee Conference president in 1888.5

Working in the South where Sunday laws were strictest, Rees bemoaned the “spirit of persecution” that dogged his ministry. On one occasion, he reported that “men acted the spy” to catch him working on Sunday. Finding nothing, they chased him through the woods, firing a dozen shots at him. Rees reported that in the fourteen engagements he had faced in the Civil War, he had never been in greater danger than he was in that moment.6

Melvina’s health began to decline in the late 1880s, and the Rees family returned to Indiana. Rees pastored in Kokomo from 1889 to 1893. From there, he was appointed to a series of conference presidencies: Arkansas (1893–1895); Oklahoma (1895–1897); Colorado (1897–1899); Missouri (1899–1904); Southern Illinois (1904–1906). D. D. Rees became his father’s secretary-treasurer when he took the presidency of Oklahoma Conference.

Health reasons again forced Joseph and Melvina into an Indiana retirement, where he encouraged the churches. In December 1907, Joseph Rees accepted the presidency of the West Virginia Conference. Rees’s daughter Pearl served as the treasurer-secretary. There he remained until his sudden death in a trolley-car accident in 1909. Melvina, bedridden for years, passed away shortly after her husband. This concluded three generations of Reeses where husband and wife both passed away within months of each other. Joseph Rees served in active ministry for thirty-two years—twenty of them as a conference president. Joseph and Melvina Rees were buried in Kokomo, Indiana.7

Joseph Madison Rees’s unique heritage as a son of both South and North shaped his ministry as a pioneer of equal significance in Tennessee and Indiana. Through his numerous conference presidencies, Rees helped develop church organization and unity, often in fields with a fragile Adventist presence.


“89th Indiana Infantry in the American Civil War.” Civil War Index. Accessed November 12, 2018,

“Eighty-Ninth Indiana Infantry.” Civil War Index. Accessed September 26, 2018,

General Conference Daily Bulletin. November 18, 1887. Adventist Pioneer Library, Ellen G. White Writings. Accessed September 26, 2018.

Transcription of minutes of GC sessions from 1863 to 1888. General Conference Archives. Accessed September 26, 2018.

Wilcox, Francis M. “The Death of Elder J. M. Rees.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 22, 1909.


  1. “Eighty-Ninth Regiment Infantry” soldier roster, Civil War Index, accessed September 26, 2018,

  2. “89th Indiana Infantry in the American Civil War,” Civil War Index, accessed November 12, 2018,

  3. Francis M. Wilcox, “The Death of Elder J. M. Rees,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 22, 1909, 16.

  4. Twenty-Fourth Annual Session, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Fifth Meeting, November 20, 1885, Transcription of minutes of GC sessions from 1863 to 1888, 274, General Conference Archives (GCA), accessed September 26, 2018,

  5. Wilcox, “The Death of Elder J. M. Rees.”

  6. “Fifth Day’s Proceedings, “General Conference Daily Bulletin, November 18, 1887, 174, Adventist Pioneer Library, Ellen G. White Writings, accessed September 26, 2018,

  7. Wilcox, “The Death of Elder J. M. Rees.”


Lucio, Matthew J. "Rees, Joseph Madison (1844–1909)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed February 27, 2024.

Lucio, Matthew J. "Rees, Joseph Madison (1844–1909)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access February 27, 2024,

Lucio, Matthew J. (2020, January 29). Rees, Joseph Madison (1844–1909). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 27, 2024,