Some of C’ville’s best were Presbyterian Church leaders – this one, too

By Karen Zach

Ten families centered in Rice’s Fort near Washington County, PA (near present day Pittsburg) on Short Creek for protection from Native American Indians during uprisings. It was there, young Henry Rice fell in love and married Elizabeth Leffler whose father was with the group. His brother, Daniel married her sister, Anna Margaret and the Rice sister married Henry Fullenwider then later, Jonathan, a nephew of Daniel Boone. Their father, Jacob Rice, according to The Rice Family of Rice’s Fort, was one of four German brothers who had settled in Hagerstown, Md.

Rice’s Fort was one of several built in that region. Jacob and Anna Rice settled on a 400-acre tract of land he dubbed “Turkey’s Nest.” It nestled against “Sylvia’s Plain,” the land of Jacob Leffler. Henry Rice was the third child of Jacob and Anna born in May 1762 in Maryland and married Elizabeth in December 1790, likely at the Fort. In 1807, during a serious Indian uprising it was decided the family (with others) would move to Indiana and they traveled down the Ohio River, landing near where sister Ann Margaret Boone lived. The family settled near Corydon and in 1813 moved into the state capitol of the time. Right from the start, Henry was prominent in the Presbyterian Church as well as the town of Corydon, serving as president of the first town board. He passed away Sept 25, 1825, Elizabeth Sept 28, 1831 and are both buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery there.

Our subject, John Rice was their 11th child born in Rice’s Fort or at least Washington County PA although one source said Wheeling, Virginia on April 16, 1804 and certainly grew-up in Corydon. He was married twice, the first time to Sophia Hinsdale, quite an impressive woman from Vermont who had an exceptional education and actually came to Indiana to teach, then fell in love with John. They married June 29, 1829. Sadly, she passed away September 4, 1846, blessing him with ten children; however, five had passed – she told him, “I take five children and leave five with you!” John remarried Nancy Baldwin 20 Feb 1849 near Corydon. Nancy was a well-loved local woman and an active member in the Presbyterian Church. Altogether, John fathered 15 children, adding five more with Nancy. At his death, however, there were only seven living. John and Nancy are buried in the Masonic (Oak Hill Grant Avenue) cemetery.

John Rice began his career as a cabinet maker and builder. In 1845, he built his own grist and saw mill at Corydon and prospered. Yet, 15 years later it burned to the ground. He moved to New Albany where he built a mill and ran it until the war broke out when he lost about $8,000 because of flour he had shipped to New Orleans that was confiscated by the rebels and he never saw payment. After the war, he moved to Bloomington where he worked in a stock business doing a good trade then in 1871, he moved to Crawfordsville and engaged in stock here throwing in some wheat trade. As a mover, shaker and elder of the local Presbyterian Church, he was also a staunch republican, but always said he was not a politician. In fact, he refused the nomination for both sheriff and representative.

His children loved him dearly and celebrated each birthday with great hoopla. At one, he and his daughter, Ruth prepared an autobiography and read to all with many laughs and some sadness. Then, on his 91st, it was like a card party having contacted lots of his old friends to send him a note and they were enjoyed by all with correspondence from as far away as California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Missouri. Of course, great feasts were enjoyed by all present at his beautiful home on South

Washington each added year. It wasn’t just at his birthday there were visitors to the Washington home, as the papers were full of people visiting for a few days (New Albany, Missouri …)

In 1890, an interesting tidbit in the Weekly Journal (18 Oct) told of a very large sum of money that was left to John by his mother’s uncle, a German who had placed his money in the Bank of England, but I didn’t discover the outcome of that.

In 1897, (Cville Review 27 Feb) a brief article was presented discussing the oldest men of the city, and at age 94, John wasn’t the oldest, but followed Joseph Ensminger who was 98 who was in “fair health.” Mr. Rice, however “walks once or twice a week from his home to his son’s house on Water Street, a distance of four square and is not complaining much about his health.”

Besides his business problems, one of the sorrows of his life was losing the youngest son, “Little Willie,” born in New Albany. This was during the war and Little Willie with his beautiful, sparkling blue eyes and floppy mop of curly blonde hair, visited the two soldier’s hospitals and sang on his own at age two several war songs, such as Rally Round the Flag, Boys. The soldiers adored him and were as devastated as the family when Willie passed a couple months shy of his third birthday of diphtheria.

At the time of John’s death, he had lived here for 37 years. Two of his seven children left lived here (Susan Bryant and John B) as well. Nearest I can tell he had 16 living grandchildren, two here who kept a close eye on the old gentleman. At the end of his life, he told this story several times and I believe he was likely living it at the end. “I recall very plainly a sense of a time when my sisters, Lydia and Elizabeth sat in an upstairs room singing, Coronation. Suddenly the roof and windows were covered with martins. So vividly did this sense impress me that, almost unconsciously, I sang All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name, and was joined by these two sisters.” He went on to recall that his mother rocked the cradles and sang, Come Ye that Love the Lord and Let Yours Joys be Known, and one of his favorite hymns, How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord, “was sung to him at his request, as his spirit took its flight!” Bet he’s resting in peace!

Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County. You can reach her at Karen@