Friday, June 15, 2012

John McConnell Rice

John McConnell Rice was born in Prestonsburg, Floyd County, Kentucky on February 19, 1831, the son of James Madison Rice and his wife Jane H. Burns. Rice, undoubtedly, was named after John M. McConnell, a lawyer from Greenup County, Kentucky, who was a close friend of his father.
John McConnell Rice
Brady-Handy Collection, Library of Congress
In 1805, James Madison Rice, himself a successful lawyer, had come with his parents from Gyandotte, Virginia to Greenup County, Kentucky, who settled in the Coulton (now Boyd County)area. He moved to Floyd County, KY, when he was elected county attorney in 1827. Subsequently, he held various offices during his distinguished career - Magistrate (District 6, Floyd Co., KY, 1832) and circuit judge (Floyd Co. KY, 1850/Lawrence Co. KY, 1868). By 1850, Rice was also a substantial slave holder, who owned 14 slaves.

His son John M. Rice received a rudimentary education in Eastern Kentucky. He soon decided, like his older brother Jake, to follow in his father’s footstep and pursue a legal career. In 1850, the 19 year old was living in Lawrence County, Kentucky, in the household of his father and was listed as a student at law – but law books were not the only thing that held his interest. During the previous summer, Rice met 16 year old Junietta Garrett, who was living with her brother Marshall, the wharf boat keeper, in Louisa. Their romantic relationship resulted in the birth of a daughter, Mary Louise, on March 15, 1850. The child did not appear in the 1850 census with either parent and may have been raised away from Lawrence County, quite possibly to avoid a scandal.

Rice did not marry Junietta - perhaps she was not considered a proper match for John M. Rice or regarded as an unwelcome distraction to his blossoming career. He soon left Lawrence County to attend Louisville Law School from where he graduated in 1852. Within months of his return, on November 25, 1852, Rice was married to Sarah Frances Poage, the daughter of William Poage and Eliza Van Horn. Her aunt Permelia VanHorn was the wife of Frederick Moore, a prominent business man in Louisa. His son Laban T. Moore, a lawyer and future US Congressman, would later raise the 14th KY Infantry, the first Union regiment in the Big Sandy Valley.

Frederick Moore

Permelia VanHorn Moore
In 1853, John M. Rice was admitted to the bar and soon thereafter opened a law practice in Pikeville, Pike County, KY. On January 30, 1854, his daughter Eliza J. Rice was born. During the same year Rice was elected superintendent of schools of Pike County and in 1856, prosecuting attorney of Pike County. Rice soon set his sights on a political career and successfully ran for state representative in 1858. In 1861, he ran for re-election and won another term. It was during this time that John M. Rice relocated to Louisa. Meanwhile, his family had grown steadily. The Rices welcomed daughter Ida in 1856, Adda Maria on Feb. 5, 1859 and James William on July 22, 1861.

Unfortunately, their happy home life was overshadowed by the outbreak of the Civil War. John M. Rice was regarded as a southern sympathizer and even though he did not try to influence any one to join the confederate forces, according to John Dils, Jr., he “was a warm advocate of their cause; when talking on the subject of the war, he always spoke in their favor.” In May of 1861, Dils sold him a shotgun which Rice later nicknamed “Yankee Killer.” During the summer of 1861, Rice gave speeches at several political meetings in Eastern Kentucky, including Louisa, KY. Thomas McKinster recalled that “the subject discussed to the best of my recollection was neutrality. There was no disagreement at the meeting as I knew of - no one replied.”

Meanwhile, Rice approached John Pigg, a local Louisa blacksmith, and asked him to make him a saber but Pigg declined because it “did not suit my principles … I was for the Union.” Yet, John Keller, who owned a saddle and leather shop in Blaine, made a cartouche-box and pistol-case for Rice.

Around the middle of September, 1861, John M. Rice left Louisa on a business trip to Prestonsburg, in order to collect money. He was accompanied by Melissa Franklin and Mrs. A. A. Wellman.

When Rice arrived at Prestonsburg, the Confederates were in the process of establishing a camp near town, on the farm of Samuel May. There was a great influx of people from all over the state who were either on their way to Virginia or had made the trip with the intention of joining the Confederate Army.

Samuel May House
Prestonsburg, KY
Rice established himself in Milton Freese’s hotel in town and was soon visited by two Lawrence County men, George R. Diamond who had known Rice since his childhood, and Jesse Meek. According to Diamond, “there was a company temporarily organized at Prestonsburg by John Sparks. In that organization Jesse Meek was elected first lieutenant and myself second lieutenant, and from some cause I do not remember, Sparks left the company.” Diamond and Meek tendered Rice the command of the company, but he refused to accept it.

According to Daniel Hager, several companies, or parts of companies, had come to Prestonsburg for the purpose of joining the Confederate army under John M. Rice. Even though Rice was sympathetic to the Southern cause he had no intentions of entering the military service or recruiting for the Confederate Army. Hager noted that “those parts of companies who came there said that they had come for the purpose of joining the army, and if such men as John M. Rice and J. M. Elliott and others would not go into the army they would not; and they disbanded and went home, and I understood afterwards that a large portion of the men went into the federal army.”

Rice endured a great deal of harsh criticism for his course of actions. Hager remarked that “the officers considered, by said act, there was at least one regiment of men lost to the confederate army, and they blamed John M. Rice and others for not going into the army, as he was considered a man of influence in the Big Sandy Valley.” George R. Diamond noted, “I do know that he incurred the displeasure of the confederates. I frequently heard General John S. Williams say that Rice could, if he would, recruit a regiment or brigade in Northeastern Kentucky if he would. I heard him say that such men as John Rice should be forced to go into the confederate service or leave the country. I have also heard other confederate officers complain of John M. Rice's not entering the confederate service.” According to James Honaker John M. Rice was “considered at coward, and abused by Williams’s men and officers; and I heard John S. Williams curse him to his face and tell him he was a coward or he would join the army. The abuse above named was because he would not join the army and aid them in the army.”

Colonel John S. "Cerro Gordo" Williams
While still at Prestonsburg, Rice’s sister Amanda arrived and brought the news that their father, as well as two of his brother-in-laws, George B. Poage, and Samuel Short, had been arrested by the federal authorities. Rice immediately realized that he was in danger of suffering the same fate. He informed Mrs. Wellman that he did not intend to return to Louisa and requested her to tell his wife to send him word when it was safe to come back home. He then concluded his business in Prestonsburg and traveled further up the Big Sandy where he boarded with Hibbard Williamson at Pikeville. Williamson noted that Rice “came up here to keep from being arrested and sent off to prison. His wife sent to him while he was at my house … not to come home, for he was in danger of being arrested and sent off.” Rice left Williamson’s place after two weeks but soon returned upon Jake Rice's wife’s request. “Jake Rice was taken sick,” noted Williamson, “and we all thought he would not live, and he was sent for to come and see his brother; he staid with me all the time he staid in town or while he staid in the county…”

During the Battle of Ivy Mountain, Rice was still at Williamson’s place but decided that it was time to leave. The following morning, on November 9, 1861, John M. Rice, together with his brother Jake and Coburn Cecil, Jr. left Pikeville ahead of the Confederate troops, and went on their way to Southwest Virginia via Pound Gap. Cecil noted, “John M. Rice and myself, together with others on the approach of Nelson and his forces, left and went out to Virginia; my reason for going was the rumor and personal enemies that was with Nelson and his forces; I did not think it was safe to fall into their hands. The rumor was that they were treating the citizens very badly; was killing or would kill them, or many of them. From the conversation that I had with Rice the same reason induced him to go to Virginia that induced me.” Talk was that lawyers, as a class, were, as a general thing, hunted down and mistreated, especially by those who had been prosecuted for crimes or those who had been in litigation.

The men proceeded to Abingdon, Virginia and boarded at the Virginia Hotel (also known as Benham’s Hotel). According to Jake Rice, “soon after we got there C. Cecil, jr., was taken sick and John M. Rice put in the most of his time in waiting on him.”

During his stay at Abingdon, Rice was visited by John Dils, Jr.’s wife Ann whose husband had been arrested by Col. Johns S. Williams, along with other Pike County Unionists and sent off to prison in Richmond, Virginia. Ann Dils turned to Rice for help, asking him to accompany her to Richmond to assist her in pursuing her husband’s release. Rice declined, stating that he, for the moment, was taking care of Colbert Cecil, Jr. and that he had determined to return to his home. He also doubted that his presence in Richmond would do any good. Nevertheless, he addresses a letter to William E. Braxton & Henry C. Burnette, the only acquaintances he had in Richmond, appealing to them to assist Mrs. Dils in pursuing her husband’s release. He explained the reasons for Dils’ arrest and gave assurances that Mrs. Dils was a lady of respectability. Ann Dils carried the letter to Richmond and eventually affected her husband’s release from prison.

John M. Rice returned to Kentucky about the time when General Humphrey Marshall and his troops were moving from Virginia through Pound Gap into the Big Sandy Valley at the beginning of December 1861. Once again, Rice boarded at Hibbard Williamson’s house but was also seen on occasion in Floyd County, Kentucky. When General Marshall and his troops arrived at Prestonsburg, he had a chance encounter with Rice at Friend’s Tavern. Marshall, as other Confederates before him, felt that Rice should be aiding the Confederate Army and he “urged him to exert himself in raising a command; but he declined; at least he took no step in that direction.“ Marshall continued, “I remember this because I remember the solicitude upon the subject, as I knew the influence of his family in the mountain counties of Kentucky, and I was anxious to avail our cause of the benefit to result from such an accession. I failed to secure it in the person of Mr. Rice, and thought he was acting badly to refuse to give his services to a cause which then commanded my best wishes, and to which I was devoting my own energies.”

General Humphrey Marshall
On January 10, 1862, Marshall engaged James A. Garfield in battle at Middle Creek, near Prestonsburg, which resulted in a Confederate defeat. Miles away, at present-day Betsy Layne, John M. Rice, along with another guest, Stephen G. Loar, was lodging with James Shannon Layne, a well known early pioneer settler in Eastern Kentucky, and his wife Caty.

James Shannon Layne and wife Caty (Hager) Layne
The conversation turned to Anthony Wayne Hatcher, who was married to Layne’s grand-daughter Jane Layne. Hatcher had been wounded severely in November 1861 during the Battle at Ivy Mountain when a bullet shattered his leg. Despite his wounds, Hatcher had managed to escape capture and was being cared for by the Tandy Stratton family. Rice and Loar decided to visit Hatcher, who lived about a mile above the Layne’s opposite the mouth of Mud Creek (present-day Harold, Floyd Co. KY) where he operated a store. The following day, according to plan, the two men set out for Mud Creek. As a precaution, Rice left his horse at Hatcher’s neighbor James W. Cecil, who lived across the ridge from Hatcher. Lucas B. Sword and Harrison Ratliff were visiting at the time at Widow Hatcher’s place, which was just across the river, about 300 yards away, to hear how the fight came off at Middle Creek. Sword and Ratliff witnessed what happened next.

At Anthony Hatcher’s house, Rice and Loar found another man, David A. Powell, who was visiting. Before long, a group of local home guards and soldiers under Lieutenant Martin Thornsberry, who had been on a hunt after a man named Platt Moore on the near-by Stratton farm, arrived at Hatcher’s place. Upon entering the house, Rice, Loar and Powell were promptly arrested. Thornsberry’s group included Dr. Stephen M. Ferguson, who lived nearby, as well as Lewis, M. C. W., Thomas J. and Henry C. Sowards, and “a good many others, some twenty or twenty-five, composing the party making the arrest.” Thornsberry, who had known Rice for more than twenty years, struck up a conversation with him and noted that he “was very badly scared at the time of his arrest. I think he regarded his life in danger ... I know that the Sowards were very malicious toward Mr. Rice.” He implored Thornsberry, “to keep them (the Sowards) from killing him, and asked me if I would let them kill him, and I told him I would not.” According to Thornsberry, Rice stated, “if I would not let the Sowards hurt him, he would get his pistol and give it to me; he got the pistol and gave it to me. He said he had a good horse, and asked me if I would let them take it away from him? I told him no; that he might ride it himself.” Lucas B. Sword witnessed, “Thornsberry, I thought, and some other man, go across the ridge to James Celis (Cecil’s), after Rice's horse, and seen them leave Anthony Hatcher's with John M. Rice on his horse.”

Thornsberry and his men proceeded with their prisoners to federal headquarters at Paintsville and delivered them to Col. J. A. Garfield, with the exception of David A. Powell who had jumped off his horse and managed to escape into the darkness of night.

Garfield examined Rice’s case and interviewed Thornsbury, asking him why he had brought Rice to Paintsville. He stated that Mr. Rice was a member of the Kentucky legislature. “That fact, at that time, to my mind seemed to be prima facie against Mr. Rice, so far as his loyalty was concerned,” noted Garfield. “Still, I did not consider it as conclusive. I asked Thornsberry whether he had any evidence that Mr. Rice belonged to the rebel army. He stated he found him twelve or fifteen miles south of my encampment, and in the neighborhood where the rebel army had recently been. I further examined him as to any evidence he might possess that Mr. Rice belonged to any rebel force. There was no evidence given to me that he belonged to the rebel army, nor that he had done any overt act which would justify me in regarding him as a soldier or an enemy.”

Garfield also examined one or two of the persons who were brought in with Rice. He stated that, “the result of my examination was that I did not find sufficient ground to hold him as a prisoner, or to send him to Camp Chase, Ohio.” Accordingly, Garfield issued Rice a written discharge.

Headquarters Eighteenth Brigade Paintsville, Kentucky, January 14, 1862

Mr. John M. Rice, of Louisa, Kentucky, having pledged himself not to aid or abet directly or indirectly, the confederate forces in the present war, is hereby released on his parole, and granted safe conduct into the camps and through the lines of the Union troops, subject to all proper guard and police regulations.


By order of Colonel J. A. Garfield, commanding brigade
W. H. Clapp
Assistant Adjutant General

John M. Rice's pledge of honor
After his long absence from home, Rice was finally able to return home to his wife and children in Louisa. The following months were a time of peace and calm for the Rice family. Garfield’s departure from the Big Sandy Valley in April of 1862 would change all that.

Colonel Jonathan Cranor, 42nd OVI, now in command of the federal troops in the Big Sandy Valley, had different ideas how to conduct business. Although efficient as an officer he lacked Garfield’s benevolence, understanding and warmth. He ran things with an iron fist and soon became feared and even hated among the Confederates to the point that an assassination plot against him was planned but not carried out. Cranor continued arrests among the citizens in Eastern Kentucky and a network of spies kept him well informed of the enemy’s movements.

In July of 1862, Gen. J. T. Boyle, commander of US Forces in Kentucky, sent orders to Cranor to have a number of Eastern Kentucky men arrested in hopes to affect the exchange of several prisoners taken by the Confederates in Morgan County, KY, in spring of 1862. Cranor doubted the success of this undertaking, especially since he had made two previous ineffectual attempts to have the prisoners released. Nevertheless, Cranor arrested Green M. Whitten, S. Walker Porter, J. G. Trimble, David D. Sublett, Alexander S. Martin, John M. Burns, Henry G. Hager, as well as John M. Rice and his father James M. Rice and held them in custody as potential hostages. He then paroled Green M. Whitten and John M. Burns who left to go to Virginia in early August 1862, in order to arrange a possible exchange of prisoners with Gen. John T. Williams. As predicted, the attempt failed and Whitten and Burns were back in Eastern Kentucky by August 29, 1862.

Green M. Whitten
There are no subsequent prisoner records for Rice on file, so it stands to reason that he was paroled, gave bond and was released by the federal authorities, even though Cranor felt that most of the hostages should,” be sent off and confined where their influence would not be exerted and felt in this valley.”

By 1863, Louisa had become the principal post for the Union forces in Eastern Kentucky and many of the officers boarded in private residences in town. From fall 1863 until the end of the war, John M. Rice quartered Captain Randolph Botts, assistant quartermaster; Captain John S. Rodgers, and wife; Lieutenant Dan. Brown, wife, and child; J. M. Kelley, and family, chief clerk quartermaster's department, as well as Lieutenant James D. Foster, regimental quartermaster of 14th Kentucky Infantry.

In 1864, when the enrolled militia was called into service, John M. Rice served as regimental quartermaster of the Sixty-eighth Kentucky Enrolled Militia. When the militia was called out a second time, Rice was acting in the capacity of quartermaster sergeant. Foster noted, “In the latter part of the year 1864 I commenced to board with said Rice, and considered his house my home the most of the time till June, 1868 … During the year 1863, when I visited brother officers at Rice's, and up to the present time, I have never seen or heard of Rice's saying or doing anything that was not perfectly courteous and gentlemanly.”

On September 9, 1864, Sarah F. Rice gave birth to their last child, John McConnell Rice, Jr. Within a few months, the oil boom hit Eastern Kentucky. John M. Rice became involved in the oil lease business and made a handsome profit. Martin Thornsbury jokingly told him that he ought to divide the money with him that he made since he captured him. "Yes, says he, you caused me to make from five to ten thousand dollars; he said he had no idea but that he would have been with the rebels yet if I had not captured him."

The end of the Civil War brought peace to the country. Nevertheless, there still were some lawless elements such as guerrillas, former Confederates, federal deserters, &c. prowling the hillsides of Eastern Kentucky. On April 27, 1866, Bill Wright and John and James Lyon murdered the merchant George P. Archer at Bear Creek, Lawrence Co. KY. They were soon apprehended, but, despite a set trial, the three men were hung on July 17, 1866, at Louisa, by a lynch mob that numbered more than 150 people. According to accounts, the men composing the mob were members of some of the best families in the Sandy Valley, but they were indicted, regardless. Through the influence of John M. Rice, and Major Drury J. Burchett, former federal officer in the 14th KY Infantry, who was at this time a member of the Kentucky Legislature, they were pardoned by Governor John W. Stevenson.

Rice soon settled into a more normal life and began pursuing a political career. In 1868, Rice ran on the Democrat ticket for Congress in the 9th District. On November 3, 1868, he successfully beat his adversary, Col. John L. Zeigler, former commander of the 5th West Virginia Infantry (US). However, Zeigler disputed the legitimacy of the election results. He contested Rice’s right to a seat in Congress by raising questions about Rice’s loyalty to the federal government during the Civil War. The seat remained vacant until the dispute was settled. After a lengthy investigation, the Committee of Elections cleared Rice of any wrong-doings and awarded him the seat on July 11, 1870. Rice served as representative in the Forty-First and Forty-second Congress. He was not a candidate for re-nomination.

He resumed the practice of law in Louisa, KY and in 1883 was appointed judge of the Lawrence County criminal court of the Sixteenth Judicial District. He was elected to the same office in 1884.

Within a few years, Rice’s health began deteriorating. He had an attack of rheumatism, slight at first, which soon developed into sciatic rheumatism, with acute shooting pains in his hips and gradually extending downward to his feet. His condition deteriorated to the point that his kidneys, liver and bladder were affected and he was unable to walk. In 1888, attended by his son John, Rice visited Hot Springs, Arkansas, in hopes that the climate would benefit his condition. After a stay of several months his hopes were dashed and he returned home. In 1890, John M. Rice was re-appointed Circuit Judge but due to his health, was not able to devote much attention to his duties. In 1891, Rice went to Silurian Springs, Waukesha, Wisconsin but his health remained unchanged. In 1893, Rice retired permanently from active life as judge.

On September 3, 1895, the Maysville Evening Bulletin noted that John M. Rice, “one of the most prominent men in Eastern Kentucky, is very ill at his home in Louisa from a complication of ailments of long standing, and it is feared that he will not recover from the attack.” On September 18, 1895, 64 year old John M. Rice passed away. His remains were taken to Pine Hill Cemetery, Louisa, KY.


Article researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, June 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express written notice by Marlitta H. Perkins is strictly prohibited. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.


1 comment:

  1. Where did you find the picture of Frederick Moore? Do you have info on him pertaining to business in Prestonsburg?

    ReplyDelete