The Rey Family - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the April 1998 Juniper Berry Magazine

The Rey Family

The first of the Rey family came to Middle Village in l847. Jean Baptiste de Rey was born in l80l in Toulon, France. He attended the University of Toulon and earned a degree in chemistry. With his wife, Elizabeth Lorraine, he immigrated to America in l830. They entered through Ellis Island and settled on l4th Street in lower Manhattan. Jean Baptiste became a real estate agent but he longed to have a piece of land and a garden as his family had in France. He used to take the Williamsburg ferry across to the open countryside of Long Island (the trip cost two cents at that time).

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Finally, he found four acres to his liking in Middle Village on the south side of Metropolitan Avenue between 73rd Street and 78th Street. It had a pond and reminded him of his father's orchard. He was determined to go into business for himself and erected a two-story factory where he began to produce chocolate for the bakers' trade as well as elixirs and remedies from recipes that he had brought with him from France. The necessary machinery was run by a one-horse-power treadmill.

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The family moved to Middle Village in l847 to a two story house that was part of Scheinfeld's Department Store. From the cupola atop that house, the family could watch the 4th of July fireworks going off in lower Brooklyn. Jean Baptiste De Rey, was very happy in the open countryside that was Middle Village. His business prospered and he had his garden planted with grapes and young fruit trees.

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The De Rey Family (now Rey) was growing: J.D. was born in l844; J. Rodolphe in l845; George Washington in l86l. Later, George owned a hardware store in Maspeth and helped the Mt. Olivet Cemetery to get started by supplying the tools.

The second son, Rodolphe, was two years of age when the family moved to Middle Village. When he was sixteen, the Civil War was on and he ran off to join the Grand Army of the Republic to fight for the Union. He enlisted in the l02nd Infantry Co. of the New York Volunteers at the recruiting office in Cypress Hills. His mother knew what he intended to do but did not try to stop him. She gave him a Bible and her blessings.

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Rodolphe fought through every major campaign of the Civil War. He served under Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain where l50 men were lost; he was in the second battle of Bull Run; at Antietam in October of '62; with Greens' Brigade in the Chancellorsville campaign in '63. At Fredricksburg he dug trenches with his bayonet, the only tool at hand. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he fought at Culps Hill which was on the left flank of General Meade's command. He was part of the pursuing Union Army that chased Lee's armies south through Harper's Ferry all the way to Tennessee. He was in the Battle of Chattanooga and at Lookout Mountain, Georgia where the mists were so heavy that they couldn't even see the enemy.

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In November of l862, Abraham Lincoln was re-elected President. The old campaigner, Rodolphe Rey was able to vote for him because he was now eighteen years of age. In December of the following year Lincoln asked all the Union volunteers to re-enlist until the end of the war. Those who answered the call were given a furlough in Washington and were greeted by President Lincoln. Rodolphe Rey was amongst them.

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In l864, the l02nd joined the Atlanta campaign under General Sherman. They fought through the battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Peach Tree, Georgia. They lost 55 of their men and the l02nd had to be consolidated with the 78th Company. Sherman's army spread out over a fifty mile width, laid siege to Atlanta. Rodolphe was now a Corporal. After the Confederate forces finally withdrew from Atlanta, the New York Volunteers returned home.

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On April 9th, l865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate forces to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appamattox court house. The Civil War had ended and Rodolphe Rey had survived. By the time he returned to Middle Village his mother had passed away. His experiences during the war led him to seek a place for spiritual growth and he found it with the Methodist congregation right across Metropolitan Avenue from his home. He became active in the church and on November 30, l870, he married Adelaide Losee whose father worked as a stone cutter in Middle Village and whose mother was a Remsen, one of the first families to settle on Long Island. The Remsen family cemetery, l735 to l790, is situated just off Woodhaven Boulevard near Metropolitan Avenue. Colonel Remsen was Commander of the American forces at the Battle of Long Island during the Revolutionary War.

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Now that he was home, Rodolphe worked in the family business preparing hooping cough medication and an effective pile remedy but the new Food and Drug Administration began limiting access to some of the ingredients, such as morphine, so the production of remedies and elixirs was discontinued and a macaroni factory was established at l06-l08 Furman Avenue.

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Rey's macaroni factory may have been the first one of its kind to be established in America. An l895 price list shows that 25 pounds of packaged macaroni sold for 5 l/4 cents and 25 pounds in bulk was 4 l/2 cents. When Jean Baptiste died around l895, at the age of 96, Mr. Rey was the oldest inhabitant in the village.

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Rodolphe Rey carried on the business. During l0 months of the year that the factory was in operation, he used about 2,000 barrels of flour. Each pound of flour made a pound of macaroni, so that fully 392,000 pounds of the food was shipped every year to wholesale dealers exclusively.

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Rodolphe and Adelaide had four children, Frank, Adelaide, Bertha and Joseph Rodolphe, Jr. Rodolphe, Sr. became a Trustee and Superintendent of the Sunday School, a position he held for over 50 years. He also taught the senior boys class and could hold the teenagers enthralled with his stories of the Civil War.

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Adelaide Rey passed away in l905. Rodolphe lived until l926. He finally was awarded his Civil War pension of $50 a month in l920 and received it for the last five years of his life.

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J. Rodolphe Rey, Jr. married Helen (*Nellie) Wesser and they had three sons; Durwood, Alfred and Milton. At first, they lived on 79th Place but in l924 Rodolphe, Jr. built an extension onto his father's house on 79th Street and the young Rodolphe Rey family moved into the newly created two family home. Al Rey had vivid memories of climbing up on the roof where you could see the open countryside for miles around. He remembered going to Juniper Swamp to shoot muskrats for which he was paid l0 cents a piece. He remembered the huge turtle that was found in the swamp and carted it off to Niedersteins to be made into turtle soup. He also remembered the trip on the trolley to Batterman's Department Store in Williamsburg. Al worked each summer from the age of l2 until he was l5 years old for a Mr. Wilson who owned a ten acre farm on 80th Street across from P.S. 87, not a part of St. John's Cemetery.

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When he was old enough, Al learned the plumbing trade but he developed an interest in being a fireman, perhaps because of the admiration for his uncle, Fred Wesser, who drove the horse drawn fire wagon for the Fearless Hook and Ladder Company #7, located on Metropolitan Avenue across from the Lutheran Cemetery.

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Al married Josephine Giel in l938 and in l937 he became a fireman. He retired in l970 after 32 years of service. Al and Josephine had three children; Thomas, Mary Ann, and Daniel. Thomas and Daniel both became firemen. Daniel died tragically, in the line of duty, in October l966. After this tragic loss, Al Rey was transferred from his active duty as a fireman to the post of Curator of the Fire Museum at l04 Duane Street in Manhattan. There his life-long interest in history was put to very good use in the service of the Fire Department and the City of New York.

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Our thanks to Nancy Schneider who wrote the history of the Rey Family.