Sunday, October 19, 2014

52 Ancestors #42: Doctor or Gold Digger?

Ancestor Name: William Reid RICE (1826-1890)

William Reid Rice was just another box I added to my family tree after a DNA match sent me searching for the ancestors and relatives of my great great grandmother, Barbara Ann Mitchell (1841-1890). I discovered he was a second cousin of my great great grandmother's. He really came to life, though, after my very used copy of Rice and McGhee Families of Bedford County, Virginia, by Virginia Rice Biggerstaff, arrived in the mail.

Dr. William Rice with some of his children; photograph courtesy of
Virginia Rice Biggerstaff's book, Rice and McGhee Families of Bedford
County, Virginia

The book included a partial transcription of the will of Professor Frederick Speece, father of William Reid's second wife, Ann Booker Speece.

"I was soon informed by letters of their unhappy situation. Among other doleful facts, my daughter stated to me, "Doctor Rice is as poor as poor can be." I was surprised and grieved at this, for I did not know his character, and he had told me of his full practice through a good many years. I wrote him to bring his wife back to my house, which he shortly did. I then proposed to him the following: Take all my property into your possession and enjoy it, work the farm and give me half the proceeds. To this he agreed and took possession. I delivered to him three negro men, at that time strong, and hogs sufficient for the family. My table was well furnished with wares of every description, with silver spoons and other plate to the amount of twenty-five pieces. My house was furnished with bedding, chairs, etc., some of them elegant...

From that time up to this, Doctor Rice's sole object has been to get all he could from me by fair means or foul...Within two years my hogs were extinct. The horned cattle were...nearly all destroyed. Two work horses were worked to death. My table furniture within two years was almost broken up, the silver plate was made a plaything for the children, black and white, and was soon reduced to seven or eight pieces...At this time I am almost without clothes of any description. My son-in-law and my daughter, Ann, have refused me any but the coarsest. I have been begging for a pair of half soles for my old shoes for the past two months and have been refused...

Doctor Rice and my daughter are the laziest people that I ever knew. He does nothing from a consciousness that he is the greatest man in the world and must not compound his dignity. She is completely negative and from long habit has become physically a dead flat. At least half her life she is asleep...My daughter, the wife of Doctor Rice, is not much better than he is, but she has some excuse as he treats her tyrannically; so much that she has begged to be divorced, and parted from him forever. This he told me himself not long ago...

That my helpless, hapless daughter, Ann, may not in any extremity be without a roof over her head, I hereby give to her under certain conditions 90 acres of land including the home house and all its her during her life and at her decease to her children in perpetuity. The conditions of the above bequest are these: I have good reason to believe that William R. Rice will present heavy claims against my estate for medical service rendered to my family and also for his supervision of my negroes, farm, stock etc...No such claims shall be paid. Should he or his wife make such a claim, the above bequest of land to my daughter and her children shall be cancelled, revoked, and be utterly null and void...I hereby sign seal and deliver said will in presence of witnesses this 10th day of November 1865. (signed) Frederick Speece (seal)

Now that is some will!

Frederick Speece died in 1866 and his daughter Ann Booker (Speece) Rice died the following year on 10 March 1867. She was buried in the Callway-Steptoe Cemetery in Bedford County, Virginia, where her father is also buried.

Historic marker for the Callaway-Steptoe Cemetery where Ann Booker
(Speece) Rice was buried; photograph courtesy of
member Rebecca

William Reid Rice married this third wife, Elizabeth Frances McGhee on 27 August 1867, just five short months after the death of Ann. Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel Henry and Margaret (Rice) McGhee. Elizabeth and William were second cousins. Elizabeth's father, Samuel Henry McGhee gave his daughter $10,000 in gold, two farms, and a three-story mill at Montvale as wedding presents.

The counterpoint to Professor Speece's description of William Reid Rice's character comes from his daughter, Margaret Lucy Rice, who was a product of his third marriage. She told her niece and the author of the book that her father had married three wealthy women -- each wealthier than the previous wife. But he went through all three fortunes -- giving it to the needy patients of his practice.

William Reid Rice's headstone; photograph courtesy of
member Dacanta

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

William Reid Rice was born on 16 October 1826, likely in Bedford County to Rev. Samuel Davies and Sarah Dodridge (Mitchell) Rice. He was a medical doctor by profession. He married Sally Nowlen and they had two sons. Sally developed cancer at quite a young age about 1857. A year later he married Ann Booker Speece, the daughter of Frederick and Ann Booker (Morton) Speece. Her father was a retired Greek and Latin teacher from the New London Academy near Liberty, Virginia. Together William and Ann had two daughters. Ann died in 1867 and five months later, William married his second cousin, Elizabeth Frances McGhee. They had seven children. William died on 12 January 1890 in Roanoke, Virginia. He is buried in Montvale, Virginia, at the Montvale Presbyterian Church Cemetery. His third wife died on 17 December 1921 and she is also buried in Montvale, Virginia.

Margaret Rice McGhee and the Staunton Lunatic Asylum


  1. What a shameful character, but then he gave to the poorest, so.....I don't know what to say. I do have a Rice line from Virginia. It was a very interesting story and I felt sorry for Frederick Speece - and why he felt the need to give away what he did to this man - truly he didn't really know him. His daughter seemed truly distressed also, very sad.
    Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

  2. What a strange and shocking story to come up in your family! All kinds of questions pop up that make me wonder more about the circumstances.......