Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Life, Words and Actions of Spottswood Rice - Freedom Fighter (Part 2)

Pension Index Card indicating that Spottswood Rice filed for and receive a Civil War Pension

In the previous post I shared information about Spottswood Rice, a man who authored a touching letter to his children and a fiery letter to the woman Kitty Diggs who continued to hold his daughters in bondage. 

In my search to find out more about Spottswood Rice the man--I have been amazed.

Hoping to only learn if he and Mary his beloved daughter were ever reunited, I learned so much more about the life of this remarkable man.

Some background:  He was a slave of Benjamin Lewis in Missouri. His wife and children were enslaved by Kitty Diggs and he was only allowed to see his family two days a week. When the Civil War came, he had the chance to enlist in the Union Army, along with others from the same area. He enlisted near Glascow Missouri. Soon, after being stationed at Benton  Barracks some of the family joined him there, with hundreds of other contraband ex slaves who had freed themselves.

Some details about his life were shared in the 1930s when his daughter Mary told her story in one of the WPA Slave Narrative interviews. It was so revealing that Mary Rice Bell's story was re-enacted by living historians of Iron Gate Theatre.

Slave Narrative Re-enactment of Mary Bell, daughter of Spottswood Rice

Mary Rice Bell's interview does deserve to be read in it's entirety. The links to the seven page are below. 

She describes what her father Spottswood's life was like before Freedom. The slave holder Benjamin Lewis was a vicious and cruel man, but Spottswood's spirit was never broken. 

His daughter Mary also explains the arrangement and how the family was split between two households, and two slave holders. The Rice family suffered greatly at  the hands of both slave holders.Benjamin Lewis tormented Spottswood physically, and Mary, her mother and her siblings had few comforts under the hands of Kitty Lewis.  

However, in her interview, she also answered a major question for me---she explains how Spottswood learned to read and write. 

"His owner's son taught him how to read and dat made him so mad because my father read the emancipation to de other slaves and it made dem so happy dey could not work well and de got so no one could manage dem when dey found out dey were to be freed in such a short time.

She points out that one of her brothers also died in the war, and she points what life was like in the early days of freedom.  

It does appear that the family did make it eventually to Benton Barracks and she described those early days of attending schools while still living there. By those remarks about her life at Benton Barracks (see 2nd page of her interview) it is evident that she was among the many contraband slaves who found their way to freedom, so we know that she did get reunited with her father there.  

She later was educated at one of the many church schools being created for former slave children.

After the war, Spottswood Rice was found living in Missouri with his wife and children in 1870. And what a joy it is see that Mary, his beloved daughter was indeed there in the household with her parents. 

In 1880, Spottswood  still resided in Missouri--but his occupation had changed. He was now a minister of the gospel by profession. And Mary was now married and her husband and children resided with Spottswood and "Arrah" Rice. 

1880 Census reflecting Spottswood Rice and family
Source: Year: 1880; Census Place: Saint Louis, St Louis (Independent City), Missouri
Roll: 735; Family History Film: 1254735; Page: 92B; Enumeration District: 395; Image: 0007

The official newspaper of the AME Church is an historic paper called The Christian Recorder. Thanks to the efforts of the website Accessible Archives older editions of this publication have been digitized. All editions from 1861 to 1902 are digitized. Since Spottswood Rice was a minister I decided to see if his name might appear in any issue of this newspaper.

What a surprise--I found his name frequently in this publication and was able to track his life. In the 1880 census he was listed as a minister. I learned from the AME publication exactly when he was ordained. In the fall of 1874 Spottswood Rice became an elder of the AME Church. An announcement of his being promoted to an elder appeared in a fall issue of the Christian Recorder.

The Christian Recorder October 29, 1874, p. 2
Image can be seen at Accessible Archives where this journal is digitized.

Spottwood's life was an active one as a minister in the AME Church. 

He lived for several  years in St. Louis, and then later, in Clarksville Missouri to the north. He eventually was given further responbilities in the church and moved west in the 1880s.  By 1882 he was in New Mexico. 

When the thread first appeared on Facebook about this man, I learned that he had served in the Union Army just as the letter had stated. I also learned that he had filed for and received a Civil War pension. So, last week, and I traveled to the National Archives in Washington, specifically to inspect his file. Thankfully it was there, and it was an impressive file.

First of all, I noticed one thing right away. On most documents that required his signature---he signed his name. No "X" mark--but his full signature.

Signature of Spottswood Rice from Pension File

In addition, to signing his own name when required, I found one document that had been completed entirely by Spottswood himself. And on that record, he wrote down the dates of birth of his children in his own hand. 

This document was completed by the man Spottswood himself and he reveals the death of his first wife, 
and the names and birth dates of all of his living children.

As I read through the file, I could tell that Spottswood Rice the man was a strong spirited man, and a very proud man. The mere act of his completing the form himself is rarely seen. 

I inspect pension files quite often, and even in those cases where one could read and write---I often see the the signatures of the applicant but rarely do I see a document completed entirely by the applicant himself.  It struck me, and I envisioned the scenario--he did not sit passively and allow others to complete the pension forms for him---he completed them himself. 

And, just as his original letters written during the war revealed---he loved his family. He was a man so devoted to family, that he knew the exact dates of births of his children. He also knew the exact date of the death of his beloved wife Arry. His first wife Arry or Arrah had apparently died and he was now remarried to a woman called Eliza.

While researching the life of Spottswood Rice, I found a sentence that described him as the ultimate hero, husband and father. This man's love was truly deep and it showed in the documents that reflected his life. 

Arry his wife died in 1888.  What a surprise to find her obituary that was published in the Christian Recorder, the AME newspaper. And it was written by a man of notable St. Louis history---Moses Dickson.

Obituary of Arrah Rice, 1st wife of Spottswood Rice.
Source: Access Archives, Christian Recorder May 24, 1888

The respect for Spottswood and for his wife, was so strong that the noted Moses Dickson took to write her obituary himself, and submit it to the Christian Recorder. This is also noted because she died in New Mexico and  here was a reverent piece being written about her by Fr. Moses Dickson in Missouri.

I noticed that a year after Arrah's death, Spottswood re-married. The marriage occurred in New Mexico.

Spottswood reveals the date of his marriage to Eliza.

Both the obituary and the document above indicated that Spottswood was living in New Mexico in the1880s. 

Realizing that he was now in New Mexico, in the early 1880s, I became curious to see if I could find out to what church he may have had  been assigned, or had a connection. So I began searching online for AME churches in New Mexico. I found a website in Albuqueque and learned something that completely surprised me:

Spottswood Rice founded the very first Black church in the entire state of New Mexico in 1882. 

What a surprise!  

While looking to see what I could learn might have been a church to which he belonged, I came upon a site for Grant AME Church in Albuquerque.  I saw this statement on their website:

I consulted with researcher George Geder, who lives in New Mexico. I asked him if he had access to additional information about the Grant Chapel AME. He found a small photo of the Colored Methodist  Mission, a small and fragile structure that was a mission at the time that Spottswood Rice arrived. Rev. Rice soon organized the church that would become Grant Chapel AME.

This is the Colored Methodist Mission in Albuquerque that would become Grant AME Church

The history of Grant Chapel indicated that Rev. Spottswood Rice served at this mission church and after serving officially as the pastor there, for two years, he organized several other AME churches throughout the state as well. It was formed out of the Colored Methodist Mission a small dusty frail building in Albuquerque from which Grant Chapel eventually grew. An image of the old mission, mostly likely the way Spottswood Rice found it, was included in a publication called the Black Business Directors of New Mexico, that was compiled by Barbara Richardson.

I must thank genealogist and researcher George Geder for sharing some data that he was able to find for me some history about Grant Chapel AME. 

Black Director of New Mexico compiled by Barbara Richarson
Special thanks to George Geder for sharing this information

By the 1890s, Rev. Spottswood Rice and his new wife Eliza had left New Mexico and he was sent to Colorado. 

As Rev. Spottswood Rice continued his church work, his health had deteriorated. The injuries that he sustained while serving in the Civil War had begun to affect him, and this made him eligible to receive a Civil War pension. The pension file contained many documents pertaining to his health and the effects of his injuries upon his health.

Spottswood Rice letter to Pension Bureau regarding his health and injuries

In Colorado, Spottswood Rice would become the founder of yet another church, and his relationship with that church would continue for the remainder of his years. The church was Payne Chapel AME, and the church still functions to this day as a community of worship in the AME Church.

On October 31, 1907 Spottswood Rice died at the age of 88.

This man, born a slave, was motivated by of love for his wife, and children, and he was determined him to fight for his freedom and to keep his family intact. 

He was also a devoted man of faith, where he served his church as a faithful member and strong leader, and went, when asked to take his wisdom to new places.

In1901 he was an active participant in a major church conference held in Colorado Springs Colorado and was cited in the Christian Recorded as being the eldest pastor in the Pikes Peak community and still building churches in his advanced age.

Rev. Spottswood Rice would remain devoted to his work as a leader in the AME Church. His closeness to his family remained and his son Noah had followed him west, though his beloved daughter Mary remained with her own family in Missouri.

On October 31, 1901, Spottswood Rice died after an amazing life of resistance, resilience and success. This man born enslaved, became a true Freedom Fighter in the Civil War and was truly a man of  courage, that guided his life, and directed his love of freedom and family.

His story should be told repeatedly for it is a human story, and an authentic American story.

He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Spring.

Image at Find a, Photo by Ron West

Rest in peace, Spottswood Rice. Your story and your life continue to inspire us all.


  1. What a great story Angela! What an amazing man Spottswood Rice was!

  2. wow! I just finished reading this deeply inspiring life story and recounting Angela. Thank you!

    I've been researching Benjamin Lewis/Howard cty MO of late. My 2x great grandfather(Silas Barton) was thought to have been enslaved by Lewis. I recently found Silas Barton's cw draft reg card...Benjamin Lewis' name is listed on the card! Silas Barton officially married Louisa Earickson in 1865 and owned land in the county in 1876, thought to have been given to him by Benjamin Lewis. I've found the plot of land on an old map...but not the land deed...anyway wondering if these two men (Silas Barton/Spotswood Rice) encountered/knew each other!
    Again, thank you for your research and recounting, I am grateful for this.

  3. As Director of the Benevolent Society of Evergreen Cemetery where Mr. Rice is buried, I am so excited to have found this information about this incredible man. I am very excited to share his story

  4. Ms. Hartshorn,
    Thank you so much for visiting the blog and for your remark. Indeed he was a truly remarkable man whose history deserves to be told. I hope to find some descendants of Spottswood Rice, who may still live in St. Louis as well as in Colorado Springs. His son Noah is buried in the same cemetery and hopefully some descendants of this remarkable family may surface.
    Thanks again for visiting the blog and feel free to share both articles about this man with those whom you may feel will be interested in his life.

  5. I'm a college student out in So Cal and while reading our history book "The American Promise" (4th ed.) I read a small portion of Spottswood Rice's letter to his daughter and wanted very much to know if he had success in freeing her. However, the history book made no mention of Spottswood's name only saying that the letter was from a "black solder from Missouri" and even worse gave no citation for the portion of the letter published. I figured that someone must know what happened and sure enough I discovered your blog. Thank you for all of your well documented research.

  6. Hello Sadie,
    Thanks for your letter! Yes, indeed he found his family and they thrived for decades. In addition, some of his descendants continue the family legacy as well!
    I am so happy to know that another person had some of the same questions as I did. His life was a rich one, and as you can see, so much is often left out. Spottswood's letter is an interesting one, but there was so much more to the story than even the letter told!
    Some of his descendants still live in Misosuri and interestingly there is also a rich military history in the family that continues to this day as well.
    Thanks for visiting the blog.