Select Rice Surname Genealogy

Rice as a surname has Welsh, Irish, English or German origins, none of them related to the rice that grows. 

In Wales Rice emerged as a spelling variant to Rhys, Rees, or Reece, from Rhys meaning “ardor” or “fiery warrior.”  Rhys ap Tewdor, who died in 1093, was the last ruler of an independent Wales.  Rice has different origins in Ulster and in SE England.  Rice can also be the anglicized form of the Reis and Reiss Germans who came to America

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Select Rice Ancestry

Wales.  The Rice (originally Rhys) family in Wales can trace their ancestry back to Dynevor in Carmarthenshire in the early 14th century.  Sir Rhys ap Thomas fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field in 1485 and prospered.

Rice family fortunes fluctuated
during Tudor times.  Based at Newton House in Llandeilo, they reached their peak of influence during the 18th century.  George Rice was the Government spokesman on America at the time of the outbreak of the American War of Independence.  Later Rices were created Baron Dynevor.

Ireland.  The Rhys and later Rice name was said to have come from Wales at the time of Strongbow.  Peter Rice, a wine merchant, was mayor of Waterford in 1429 and his son James Rice mayor on no less than eleven occasions between 1467 and 1488. 

Kerry.  A more substantial Rice presence has been in county Kerry in SW Ireland.  Edward Rice, possibly from Suffolk, was said to have been granted lands in the Dingle area in the early 1500's.  Captain John Rice was drowned off the Blasquets when a Spanish ship of the Armada was wrecked there in 1588.  Stephen Rice, Catholic, was pardoned in 1624. 

Sir Stephen Rice, a notable supporter of James II, rose to be Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland. He managed to hold onto his estates after James’s overthrow.  These Rices, having conformed to the Protestant faith, then established themselves at Bushmount in Kerry in the 18th and 19th centuries.   There was also a separate Spring-Rice line at Monteagle.  

The Rice home in Dingle, built in 1750, is still standing.  Some Rices from there had emigrated to America.  These were traced in Kathleen Fletcher's 2010 book The Rice Family History.  Black Tom Rice, a grand nephew of Sir Stephen, operated a profitable wine trading business out of Dingle with France.  His son James Louis Rice, or Comte Rice as he became styled, was an adventurer on the Continent in the late 1700's

Elsewhere.  The Rice surname has also appeared in the counties of Armagh and Down in SE Ulster.  Here the Gaelic name O'Maolchraoibhe was often anglicized as Rice.  James Rice was a tenant farmer at the Maghleralone township of Kilmore parish, county Down in the 1760’s and Rices remained as farmers there throughout the 19th century.  Felix Rice of Mullaghbrack parish was recorded among the 1796 flax growers in Armagh and Rices were to be found in Mullaghbrack during the 19th century

England.  The Rice name in the west country may have had similar Rhys name origins.  It was conspicuous in the village of Tittinhull in Somerset and in and around Tavistock in Devon (as evidenced by the Rice blacksmith birthplaces in the early 19th century)

The Rice surname also arose independently in SE England among those with non-Celtic ancestry.  The early spelling in Suffolk and Essex was probably Ryse:
  • John Ryse who lived in from Bures St Mary on the Suffolk/Essex border in the late 1400's was believed to have been the forebear of the Rices in Dingle. 
  • Robert Ryece was recorded in Preston in Suffolk around the year 1500.  A later Robert Ryece was the author of a Suffolk history, The Breviary of Suffolk, written in 1618. 
  • while Deacon Edmund Rice from Stanstead in Suffolk was an early emigrant to America.  
The place-name Ryse was part of the Hatfield Regis priory in Essex that was dissolved in 1536.

  The Deacon Edmund Rice who settled in Sudbury, Massachusetts in 1638 has been one of the most tracked of early New England arrivals.  Descendants of Edmund Rice were first traced in Arthur H. Ward's 1858 book A Genealogical History of the Rice Family and they now have their own association and website.  Another Rice website gives a list of prominent descendants.  It includes:
  • 44 descendants with the Rice surname
  • and 68 descendants with other surnames.
Today it is estimated that the number of known Rice descendants into the 14th and 15th generations exceeds 200,000.  The Edmund Rice DNA has extended to a Rice line, through a son of Samuel Rice, that took the King surname in 1667 and to Rices in the Mohawk Indian tribe.  These latter Rices were thought to have gotten their DNA from Silas Rice who was captured by Mohawk Indians in 1704 and then adopted into their tribe.

New England
Another New England line began with the birth of David Rice in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1729.  This line was traced in Frederic Wallace’s 2005 book Ancestors and Descendants of the Rice Brothers in Springfield.  Their most conspicuous descendant was William Marsh Rice, the Houston businessman who was sensationally murdered for his money in 1900 by his lawyer and valet.  That money was used instead to found Rice University in Houston.

Asa Rice was the first settler in 1797 in what was then wilderness on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York.  It became the town of Oswego.  He had arrived there with his family from their home in Connecticut by traversing the Oswego river.  One of his grandsons was William H. Rice, a missionary to the Hawaiian islands in 1841.  He started a sugar plantation there which his son William continued.

Virginia.  DNA testing has shown three early Rice immigrants into Virginia with a sizeable number having a similar DNA:
  • the first line comes from Thomas Rice, born in Virginia around 1660, and his wife Marcy.  Thomas died at sea around the year 1716 while on a voyage back to England. 
  • the second line comes from Henry Rice, born in Virginia around 1717 (although that date could possibly have been later).  He was called the pioneer gristmiller, raised twelve children with his wife, and died in Tennessee at the reported age of 101.  His story was covered in Melvin Little’s 2007 book The Pioneer Gristmiller.  
  • while a third line comes from James Rice, born in Virginia around 1724 (again it could have been later), who moved to Ohio around 1805.  Some reports have him aged 120 at his death.
Richard Rice came to Virginia from Dingle in Ireland in the early 1650’s.  He settled in Northumberland county.  Descendants migrated to Kentucky in the early 1800’s.

Pennsylvania.   Some were of Welsh origin, others Irish.  Early Rices in Chester county were probably Welsh and Quaker.  Edward Rice came to Bucks county, Pennsylvania from Ulster in 1736. 

But the majority of the Rices in the state came from Germany.  Bernardt Reiss arrived there in the 1740's and made his home in Westmoreland county.  His brother Frederick was killed during the French and Indian War.  But his son Captain Frederick Rice survived the Revolutionary War and was later a miller in Wayne county, Ohio.  Frederick's descendants hold family reunions.

Other German Rices in Philadelphia included:
  • Zachariah Reiss/Rice who had come to Chester county by 1750.  His descendants migrated to Ohio and Indiana in the early 1800's.
  • and Conrad Rees who had arrived in Lancaster county around the same time.  His grandson Conrad fought in the Revolutionary War.
Isaac Rice was a much later arrival from Germany, coming  to Philadelphia as a young boy with his parents in 1850.  He made his mark in electronic development and founded the Electric Boast Company (now owned by General Electric).  He was also a well-known chess player and devisor of the Rice Opening Gambit.

Canada.   Jacob Rice, a Welshman from Cardiganshire, was an early Christian missionary to Newfoundland, serving there from 1710 to 1727.

In 1800 after the Irish uprising, a Waterford merchant named Edmund Rice smuggled his wife’s brother-in-law John Rice to Newfoundland in a barrel to escape retribution.  In 1836 Michael Rice was murdered in New Ross, Wexford.  Also fearing retribution, his wife Sarah gathered their children and fled to Newfoundland.  On the voyage across they decided to change both their name, from Rice to Vey, and their religion, from Catholic to Protestant.

Three Rice families - those of Ebenezer, Beriah, and John, all descendants of Edmund Rice - left New England on the Charming Molly for the Annapolis valley in Nova Scotia in 1760.  Many of their descendants are still in Nova Scotia today.

Australia.  Some of the early Rices in Australia were convicts, from Ireland.  William Rice was an Irish rebel in Ulster after the 1798 uprising, rounded up and transported to Australia in 1801 as a political prisoner. Edmund Rice from county Down was transported in 1821 for stealing three pigs.  His wife and children applied to join him but did not in the end make the trip.

Patrick Rice, born in Bendigo in 1855, was the son of Irish parents drawn to Victoria by gold rush fever.  He spent his life in mining circles, migrating to Kalgoorlie in 1895, and living to be 101.  Thomas and Jane Rice came to South Australia from Buckinghamshire in 1850 and settled in the Gawler area.  Their story was told in Peter Rice’s 1993 book
Thomas and Jane Rice Family.

Select Rice Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Rice Names

Edmund Rice who came to New England in 1638 is believed to have in excess of 200,000 descendants in America today.
George Rice was the English politician at the center of the events in London that precipitated the American War of Independence.
Grantland Rice was an early 20th century American sportswriter known for his elegant prose.
Pat Rice was a Northern Ireland footballer who was a fixture in the Arsenal side of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Tim Rice is a British lyricist best known for his collaboration in musicals with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Condoleezza Rice served as the US Secretary of State under George W. Bush.
Jerry Rice
is widely considered as the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.

Select Rices Today
  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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