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Reeds I Want to be Related To

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Oct. 20, 2021 - 2:59 PM

Reeds I Want to be Related To

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at

Genealogy may be the only area of study in which (excuse the joke) “everything is relative.”

Using a popular ancestry service, I submitted to a DNA test and learned that I am 49 percent Scottish, 28 percent Germanic European, 8 percent Irish, 8 percent English and 7 percent Norwegian. No big surprises there. But I hit a brick wall in the early 1800s. I can’t identify anybody on the Reed family tree further back than that.

Two people I really want to be related to are Joseph and Esther Reed. They lived and died in the 18th century, resided in my native state of Pennsylvania, and were notable for their contributions to the cause of liberty in the American Revolution.

Joseph was 33 when the war with Great Britain began in 1775. At the personal request of Gen. George Washington, he departed his successful law practice in Philadelphia to become a colonel in the Continental Army and an aide-de-camp to Washington himself.

1778 proved extraordinary in Joseph Reed’s life. He was elected both to Congress and to the high post of President of Pennsylvania (equivalent to Governor of the State). His tenure saw American troops stave off complete disaster at Valley Forge, the abolition of slavery in the state and the ultimate American victory at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 (in which he played a key role).

Joseph Reed’s British-born wife, Esther, whom he married in 1770, was every bit as fascinating as he was. Before her death only a decade later, the Reeds would bring six children into the world. Esther’s London upbringing did not prevent her from blossoming into one of the most revered female patriots of the American cause.

For the Reeds, the war meant long periods of separation. Esther and their growing brood of children fled the family home when the British threatened Philadelphia. The hardship she endured, however, paled in comparison to that of soldiers in the Continental Army. She resolved in 1780 to do something about it.

Esther teamed up with Benjamin Franklin’s daughter, Sarah Bache, and formed the Ladies Association to support the troops. It proved to be the largest private fundraising campaign of the war.

Esther and Sarah called for every female in Pennsylvania to come forth with “offerings” of money to help the war effort. Letters between Esther and Gen. Washington (email me if you want a link to see them) indicate that she initially wanted to give the money directly to the soldiers at two dollars each. But Washington, concerned that the men might spend it on liquor, urged her to use it instead to buy cloth, and then enlist volunteers to sew it into clothes.

Quickly, the Ladies Association raised more than $300,000 from over 1,600 Pennsylvanians, an astonishing sum in those days. Esther had each volunteer embroider her own name into the shirts and pants she sewed. The effort was an inspiration, leading to the formation of similar groups from north to south.

Esther did not live to see America achieve the independence for which she had worked so hard. She died of dysentery in September 1780, at the age of 34.

What an honor it will be if I someday learn I’m related to Joseph and Esther Reed!

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at