Monday, September 2, 2013

Spotswood Rice's Letter to Kitty Diggs, September 3, 1864

Spotswood Rice's Letter to Kitty Diggs, September 3, 1864
[Benton Barracks Hospital, St. Louis, Mo. September 3, 1864]
I received a leteter from Cariline telling me that you say I tried to steal to plunder my child away from you now I want you to understand that mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own and you may hold on to hear as long as you can but I want you to remembor this one thing that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their for we are now makeing up a bout one thoughsand blacke troops to Come up tharough and wont to come through Glasgow and when we come wo be to Copperhood rabbels and to the Slaveholding rebbels for we dont expect to leave them there root neor branch but we thinke how ever that we that have Children in the hands of you devels we will trie your [vertues?] the day that we enter Glasgow I want you to understand kittey diggs that where ever you and I meets we are enmays to each orthere I offered once to pay you forty dollers for my own Child but I am glad now that you did not accept it Just hold on now as long as you can and the worse it will be for you you never in you life befor I came down hear did you give Children any thing not eny thing whatever not even a dollers worth of expencs now you call my children your pro[per]ty not so with me my Children is my own and I expect to get them and when I get ready to come after mary I will have bout a powrer and autherity to bring hear away and to exacute vengencens on them that holds my Child you will then know how to talke to me I will assure that and you will know how to talk rite too I want you now to just hold on to hear if you want to iff your conchosence tells thats the road go that road and what it will brig you to kittey diggs I have no fears about geting mary out of your hands this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self
Spotswood Rice

Miss Katherine (Kitty) Diggs’s brother, F. W. Diggs, the postmaster of Glasgow, owned Rice’s daughter, Cora. Angered by Rice’s threats against his sister, Diggs forwarded the letters to General Rosecrans, Commander of the Department of the Missouri, demanding that Rice be sent out of the state.

The USCT Chronicle by Angela Y. Walton-Raji

The letter above was written by a father whose concern was the status and freedom of his 12-year-old daughter, Mary. His name was Spotswood Rice and he and other slaves had run away from the estate of Benjamin Lewis in Madison County. In February 1864, Spotswood Rice enlisted in the 67th US Colored Infantry in Glasgow, Missouri.

Enlistment Paper of Spottswood Rice
Spotswood Rice was born in Virginia in 1819.  By the time of the war he was a mature man in his 40s. Having been born in Virginia, and ending up 30 years later in Missouri, suggests that he could have already had a taste of separation from loved ones. In 1843, he was sold to Benjamin Lewis in Howard County, Missouri. He worked on Lewis' plantation as a tobacco roller.

Although it was a slave state, Missouri did not secede from the Union, and so the slaves in that state were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. Slavery was still legal.

The Diggs family of Madison County. Missouri were still holding Spotswood Rice's wife, Arry, and his daughters, Cora and Mary. On September 3rd, he was hospitalized with chronic rheumatism in St. Louis, Missouri. Spotswood Rice also wrote to his children on September 3rd:
My Children I take my pen in hand to rite you A few lines to let you know that I have not forgot you and that I want to see you as bad as ever now my Dear Children I want you to be contented with whatever may be your lots be assured that I will have you if it cost me my life on the 28th of the mounth. 8 hundred White and 8 hundred blacke solders expects to start up the rivore to Glasgow and above there thats to be jeneraled by a jeneral that will give me both of you when they Come I expect to be with, them and expect to get you both in return. Dont be uneasy my children I expect to have you. If Diggs dont give you up this Government will and I feel confident that I will get you Your Miss Kaitty said that I tried to steal you But I'll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood. If I had no cofidence in God I could have confidence in her But as it is If I ever had any Confidence in her I have none now and never expect to have And I want her to remember if she meets me with ten thousand soldiers she [will?] meet her enemy I once [thought] that I had some respect for them but now my respects is worn out and have no sympathy for Slaveholders. And as for her cristianantty I expect the Devil has Such in hell You tell her from me that She is the frist Christian that I ever hard say that aman could Steal his own child especially out of human bondage 
You can tell her that She can hold to you as long as she can I never would expect to ask her again to let you come to me because I know that the devil has got her hot set againsts that that is write now my Dear children I am a going to close my letter to you Give my love to all enquiring friends tell them all that we are well and want to see them very much and Corra and Mary receive the greater part of it you sefves and dont think hard of us not sending you any thing I you father have a plenty for you when I see you Spott & Noah sends their love to both of you Oh! My Dear children how I do want to see you
Spotswood and his wife, Arry, were legally married in St. Louis on October 6, 1864. At that time, Spotswood worked as a nurse and his wife worked as a laundress. Mary began her education at the age of 13.

The 1870 Federal Census in Missouri recorded Rice as heading a household with his wife and three children, including Mary . He had apparently acquired some property, as he had both personal property and real estate listed as well.

In 1880, the census showed Spotswood living in Missouri with his wife and two sons. His daughter Mary was married with her own family. All shared the same home on Elliott street in St. Louis.
Spotswood Rice was listed as an A..M.E. minister by profession.

Obituary of Arrah Rice, wife of Spottswood Rice
Christian Recorder, May 24, 1888
A year after Arrah's death, Spottswood re-married in New Mexico. Spottswood Rice founded the first Black church in the state of New Mexico in 1882; the church would become Grant Chapel AME in Albuquerque. After serving officially as the pastor there, for two years, he organized several other AME churches throughout the state as well.
By the 1890s, Rev. Rice and his new wife, Eliza Lightner Rice, had left New Mexico and he was sent to Colorado. As 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. 

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. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Spring.

Photo by Ron 
Some details about his Spottswood Rice's life were shared in the 1930s when his daughter, Mary Bell, then 85 years old, told her story in one of the WPA Slave Narrative interviews: 
I was born in Missouri, May 1, 1852 and owned by an old maid named Miss Kitty Diggs. I had two sisters and three brothers. One of my brothers was killed in de Civil War.
Slavery was a mighty hard life. Kitty Diggs hired me out to a Presbyterian minister when I was seven years old, to take care of three children. I nursed in dat family one year. Den Miss Diggs hired me out to a baker named Henry Tillman to nurse three children. I nursed there two years.  Neither family was nice to me. De preacher had a big farm. I was only seven years old so dey put me on a pony at meal time to ride out to de field and call de hands to dinner. After the meals were finished, I helped in de kitchen, gathered the eggs, and kept plenty busy.
My father was owned by de Lewis family out in the country, but Miss Diggs owned my mother and all her children. 
I never attended school until I came to St. Louis. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated I had never been to school. Dat same year I attended school at Benton Barracks and went about six or seven months with de soldiers. There was no Negro school in St. Louis at dat time. The next school I attended was St. Paul Chapel, 11th and Green Streets. I went dere about six months. De next place I went to school was 18th and Warren. I went there about two years. My next school was 23rd and Morgan, now Delmar Boulevard, in a store building. I went dere between two and three years. I was very apt and learned fast. 
My father at de time I was going from school to school, was a nurse in Benton Barracks and my mother taken in washing and ironing. I had to help her in de home with de laundry.
I married at de age of twenty-two and was de mother of seven children, but only have two now living, my daughter dat lives next door and in de same yard with me, and a son in the Philippine Islands. I have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
I so often think of de hard times my parents had in dere slave days, more than I feel my own hard times, because my father was not allowed to come to see my mother but two nights a week. Dat was Wednesday and Saturday.  So often he came home all bloody from beatings his old nigger overseer would give him. My mother would take those bloody clothes off of him, bathe de sore places and grease them good and wash and iron his clothes, so he could go back clean.
But once he came home bloody after a beating he did not deserve and he run away. He scared my mother most to death because he had run away, and she done all in her power to persuade him to go back.  He said he would die first, so he hid three days and three nights, under houses and in the woods, looking for a chance to cross the line but de patrollers were so hot on his trail he couldn't make it. He could see de riders hunting him, but dey didn't see him. After three days and three nights he was so weak and hungry, he came out and gave himself up to a nigger trader dat he knew, and begged de nigger trader to buy him from his owner, Mr. Lewis, because Marse Lewis was so mean to him, and de nigger trader knew how valuable he was to his owner. De nigger trader promised him he would try to make a deal with his owner for him, because de nigger trader wanted him. So when dey brought father back to his owner and asked to buy him, Mr. Lewis said dere wasn't a plantation owner with money enough to pay him for Spot. Dat was my father's name, so of course that put my father back in de hands of Marse Lewis. 
Lewis owned a large tobacco plantation and my father was de head man on dat plantation. He cured all de tobacco, as it was brought in from the field, made all the twists and plugs of tobacco.  His owner's son taught him to read, and dat made his owner so mad, because my father read de emancipation for freedom to de other slaves, and it made dem so happy, dey could not work well, and dey got so no one could manage dem, when dey found out dey were to be freed in such a short time.
Father told his owner after he found out he wouldn't sell him, dat if he whipped him again, he would run away again, and keep on running away until he made de free state land. So de nigger trader begged my father not to run away from Marse Lewis, because if he did Lewis would be a ruined man, because he did not have another man who could manage de workers as father did. So the owner knew freedom was about to be declared and my father would have de privilege of leaving whether his owner liked it or not.  So Lewis knew my father knew it as well as he did, so he sat down and talked with my father about the future and promised my father if he would stay with him and ship his tobacco for him and look after all of his business on his plantation after freedom was declared, he would give him a nice house and lot for his family right on his plantation. And he had such influence over de other slaves he wanted him to convince de others dat it would be better to stay with their former owner and work for him for their living dan take a chance on strangers they did not know and who did not know dem. He pleaded so hard with my father, dat father told him all right to get rid of him. But Lewis had been so mean to father, dat down in father's heart he felt Lewis did not have a spot of good in him. No place for a black man.
So father stayed just six months after dat promise and taken eleven of de best slaves on de plantation, and went to Kansas City and all of dem joined the U.S. Army. Dey enlisted de very night dey got to Kansas City and de very next morning de Pattie owners were dere on de trail after dem to take dem back home, but de officers said dey were now enlisted U.S. Soldiers and not slaves and could not be touched.
In de county where I was raised de white people went to church in de morning and de slaves went in de afternoon. I was converted at the age of fourteen, and married in 1882. My husband died May 27, 1896 and I have been a widow every since. I do get a pension now, I never started buying dis little old 4-room frame dwelling until I was sixty-four years old and paid for it in full in six years and six months.
I am a member of St. Peter's A.M.E. Church in North St. Louis.

I told you my father's name was Spot, but that was his nickname in slavery. His full name was Spottwood Rice and my son's full name is William A. Bell. He is enlisted in de army in de Philippine Islands.  I love army men, my father, brother, husband and son were all army men.
I love a man who will fight for his rights, and any person that wants to be something.

Grave of Mary A. Rice Bell
 Missouri Slave Narratives


  1. Elyse - remarkable work. I am also researching the life of Spottswood Rice and his descendents. I would love to be in touch with you.

  2. How did Spotswood get his family back?

  3. Thank you for sharing this powerful and enlightening narrative.

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