He was the son of Joseph and Maria Ellis (Watmough) Reed. He married Elizabeth White, daughter of Enos Bronson of Philadelphia.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he was admitted to the bar in 1829, and entered into practice in Philadelphia. He became Assistant Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania in 1831; Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, 1834-54, and Vice-Provost, 1845. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1838. He assisted Wordsworth in an arrangement of an American edition of his poems in 1837, and wrote a preface to the volume and an article on Wordsworth in the New York Review in 1839. He was lost when sailing in the Steamer Arctic, in September 1854. His editions included: Alexander Reed's Dictionary of the English Language (1845). He was the author of Lectures of English Literature from Chaucer to Tennyson (1855); Lectures on English History and Tragic Poetry us Illustrated by Shakespeare (1855).
The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, vol. 9, p. 54. Who Was Who in America, Chicago, 1963, p. 435.