Portsmouth, Virginia: The fascinating legacy of Mrs. Amanda Rice

Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, May 24, 2014. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

In 1897, an obituary appeared in a local newspaper for Portsmouth resident Mrs. Amanda Rice, matriarch, and long-time member of historic Zion Baptist Church.

“The funeral of this good old Christian took place at the Zion Baptist Church last Sunday afternoon at 3:30 o’clock amid sorrowing relatives and friends. The funeral was very largely attended, every seat in the main auditorium being occupied. Mrs. Amanda Rice was a true, devoted Christian and, had been for fifty-eight years, and was very highly esteemed and respected by all who ever knew or came in contact with her, regardless of color. The pall-bearers were the following: Messrs. Nelson Carney, Elisha Phillips, Nathaniel Elliott, B. F. Hutchings, John Pugh, and James Henderson.”

High Street, Portsmouth, as Amanda Rice would’ve seen it, ca. 1871.
A rendering of Zion Baptist Church, ca. 1880.

Zion, of which Amanda was a member, was established in 1865 by three-hundred and eighteen formerly enslaved and free African American members of historically white Court Street Baptist Church. After reading her obituary, I knew Amanda was a highly esteemed elder, both in the church, and the larger, nineteenth-century African American community of Portsmouth. The pallbearers, Mr. Carney, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Elliott, Mr. Hutchings, Mr. Pugh, and Mr. Henderson, trustees of Zion Baptist, were all prominent figures in their own right. Nelson Carney, B. F. Hutchings, Elisha Phillips, John Pugh, and my ancestor, Nelson Elliott, had all served during the Civil War with the United States Colored Infantry, Calvary, and Union Navy, respectively, while Mr. Henderson was an enterprising businessman.

Court Street Baptist Church, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Court Street Baptist Church cornerstone. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Court Street Baptist Church wayside, including history on the formation of Zion Baptist Church. Our great-great-great-granduncle, William H. Elliott, born a free person of color, was the long-time sexton of the church until his death in 1904. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Amanda’s obituary does not name the cemetery in which she was buried, so I reviewed several databases I’ve compiled for Portsmouth’s African American cemeteries, and learned she was interred in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. It was an exciting discovery, to uncover one of the cemetery’s earliest, formerly unknown interments. Currently, Amanda does not have an extant gravestone in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, so her obituary serves as the sole piece of documentary evidence of her life in Portsmouth. The obituary provided part of her story, but it raised a salient question: just who was Amanda Rice?

I traced Amanda’s roots to Brunswick County, Virginia, where she was born enslaved about 1820, the daughter of Edward and Agnes Lewis. Brunswick was formed in 1720 from Prince George County (enlarged in 1732 from parts of Isle of Wight and Surry counties), and was a center of tobacco production before the Civil War.1 For a long while after its formation, Brunswick remained sparsely populated and somewhat isolated, making the plantations in the region largely self-sufficient.

Fry-Jefferson Map, 1751. Amanda’s roots trace to the Piedmont region of Virginia around 1800. David Rumsey Map Collection.

At some point between 1835 and 1845, Amanda she became the wife of Bolling Rice, born enslaved about 1824 in Brunswick. The couple likely married according to “slave custom,” or, by mutual consent of their respective owners of record. The union had no legal protections, and could’ve been dissolved by the owners at any time. Based on my research, both Amanda and Bolling may have been attached, as chattel, to the estate of Col. William Rice, and his wife, Margaret “Peggy” J. W. Williams Rice (ca. 1800-1869). Col. William Rice was a prominent member of Brunswick’s planter class. He married Peggy, daughter of Phillip Williams, in neighboring Mecklenburg County, Virginia in 1815. Upon his death about 1828, there were over fifty-five enslaved men, women, and children attached to his estate. Approximately thirty-two enslaved men, women, and children, and six “slave” houses, were attributed to his widow Peggy Williams Rice’s estate in St. Andrews Parish, Brunswick County, Virginia, in 1860.2

After the Civil War, Amanda and Bolling first appear in 1867 in Greensville County, Virginia.3 Bolling Rice was registered to vote in Greensville’s Fourth District , per the provisions of the 14th Amendment, enforced by the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 in Virginia. By 1870, the family was annotated in Hicksford, the historic community founded on the southside of the Meherrin River in 1799. Bolling was documented as a laborer, and Amanda as a domestic. Three children, Emanuel, Louisa (lavinia), and Margaret were also listed in the census, but I suspected that there were other children born to Bolling and Amanda not present in the home.4 With further research, I uncovered five additional children of Bolling and Amanda Lewis Rice, including daughters Virginia Ann Rice Keeling (ca. 1845-1900), Fannie Rice Allen (ca. 1850-1920), Agnes Rice Eubanks (b. ca. 1851), Lizzie Rice Brodnax, and son Nicholas Rice (b. ca. 1846).

Bolling and Amanda Left Hicksford around 1875, and moved east to Portsmouth, Virginia, where they soon joined the membership of Zion Baptist. Their children were also on the move. Daughters Virginia Ann Rice Keeling, Agnes Rice Eubanks, Lavinia Rice Shaw, and son Emanuel also became Portsmouth residents. Fannie Rice Allen settled in Petersburg, and Margaret Rice Thomas settled in Surry County. Only son Nicholas Rice, and daughter Lizzie Rice Brodnax remained in Brunswick County, Virginia by 1900. Bolling was annotated in the 1900 Census as a resident of Western Branch district, (former) Norfolk County, and by 1910, in a residence on Queen Street, Portsmouth, with his recently widowed daughter, Lavinia Rice Shaw. I lost track of him after that date, but suspect he passed on between 1911 and 1912, and is most likely interred in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex along with Amanda in unmarked graves.

(Note: Pan over image to magnify)

The geography of the Rice-Lewis Family in Virginia. Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Greensville, Surry counties, and the Independent cities of Petersburg and Portsmouth are indicated. Library of Congress

(Note: Pan over image to magnify)

Rice-Lewis Family Tree. Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

In creating the Rice Family Tree, I made several startling discoveries. Some Rice Family descendants were connected to families and cemeteries I’d previously studied. I learned that some of Amanda’s descendants were history-makers, at once, exciting new information that also lent new insight into older research.

It’s fitting that May is recognized as National Nurses Month, because the first example is Ms. Kathryn Y. Bough Nichols, pioneering nurse from Portsmouth, Virginia. Bolling and Amanda’s daughter, Virginia Ann Rice Keeling, wife of George Keeling, was the mother of Mrs. Margaret “Maggie” Jane Keeling Bough. Margaret wed Harold Bough (1856-1941), a native of St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands, and Spanish-American War veteran, in 1895, Portsmouth. I first studied members of the Bough Family in 2010. Their daughter, Kathryn Y. Bough Nichols (1910-2004), was a graduate of Norcom High School, Portsmouth, Virginia, and the Lincoln School for Nurses, New York City. After graduation, she worked as Chief Nurse of Harlem Hospital (New York), Chief Nurse of Norfolk Community Hospital (Norfolk, Va.), and supervisor of nurses at Meharry Medical College (Nashville, Tenn.), prior to entering the armed forces in 1942. First stationed at Fort Bragg, Jacksonville, North Carolina, she was commissioned Second Lieutenant from the Army Nurses Corp, and transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field base hospital, Tuskegee Alabama, in March of 1942, where she was one of the first five nurses assigned to the post medical unit. The other nurses were 2nd Lieut. Mary Petty of Chicago, Ill., 2nd Lieut. Gertrude Scott of Philadelphia, Pa., 2nd Lieut. Ruth Speight, of Wilson, North Carolina, and pioneer Della Hayden Raney, of Suffolk, Virginia. Kathryn was promoted to Chief Nurse at Tuskegee in 1943, the fifth African American woman to attain the rank in the Army Nurse Corps. She retired in 1944.

Second Lieut. Kathryn Y. Bough, ca. 1942
Lincoln School for Nurses, New York, New York, ca. 1920. NYPL.org
(Bottom row) 1st Lieut. Della H. Raney and 2nd Lieut. Kathryn Y. Bough are second and third from left, respectively. 2nd Lieut. Ruth Speight is in the third row, second from left. See and support the Tuskegee Army Nurses Project.
Kathryn Y. Bough and her relationship to Bolling and Amanda Lewis Rice. Copyright Nadia K. Orton.

Another descendant of Bolling and Amanda Lewis Rice made an invaluable contribution in the reclamation of important African American history. Mrs. Hattie Ann Thomas Lucas of Newport News, Virginia. Bolling and Amanda Lewis Rice’s daughter, Margaret Rice (ca. 1858-1921), married Mr. Isham Thomas (ca. 1857-1915), son of Edward Thomas and Esther Yarborough, in 1879, Portsmouth, Virginia. Eight children were born to the couple, including: Alice Thomas (ca. 1881-1917), Camilla Thomas (b. ca. 1884), Cornelius Thomas (ca. 1884-1916), Noah Thomas (ca. 1890-1975), Stella Thomas (b. ca. 1892), Bolling Rice Thomas, Sr. (1896-1940), Henry Thomas (ca. 1899-1927), and John W. Thomas (b. ca. 1903). Bolling Rice Thomas, Sr., married Miss Martha Quarles, descendant of the Quarles and Poole Families, on November 12, 1919, in Surry County, Virginia. Bolling and Martha Quarles Thomas had two children: Bolling Rice Thomas, Jr. (1923-1991), and Hattie Ann Thomas Lucas (b. 1925).

Hattie Ann was a graduate of Huntington High School, which opened in 1920., the first high school for African Americans in Newport News, Virginia. Rooted in the community, Huntington had an all-African American faculty and staff that often attended the same churches as their students. Its first principal was Lutrelle Fleming Palmer, a graduate of Wilberforce University. Palmer served as Principal until 1943, when the Newport News School board decided not to renew his contract, one year after Palmer argued for equal pay for African American and white teachers. Although it operated with a chronic lack of resources (“separate and unequal”) the school remained an important community institution until it closed in 1971.

Immediately after the school’s closure, nearly all of the its documented rich history, including records, awards, and yearbooks, were tossed into the trash, infuriating the black community. “The closing, without a formal ceremony or communication, was marked by accusations of racism, resentment, disillusionment. The way in which it closed showed insensitivity and lack of respect for the black citizenry of Newport News. We are sill asking what happened to the awards, trophies, plaques, yearbooks, certificates, photographs, pictures and other memorabilia,” Mrs. Lucas told the Daily Press in 1999. To reclaim this important history, Lucas published a book on the school, Huntington High School: A Symbol of Community Hope and Unity, 1920-1971, which may be purchased from the Newsome House Museum and Cultural Center in Newport News.

Hattie Ann Thomas, Huntington High School, class of 1942. The Daily Press
Huntington High School, ca. 1939. Library of Virginia.
Hattie Ann Thomas Lucas and her relationship to Bolling and Amanda Lewis Rice. Also includes a section of her connection to the Poole Family of Surry County, Virginia. Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

Amanda’s family tree also yielded one additional detail, a fact that made this researcher quite happy. Through Amanda, I rediscovered another “lost” United States Colored Troop, Pvt. William Shaw, husband of Amanda’s and Bolling’s daughter, Lavinia Rice.

Pvt. William Shaw was born about 1845 in Currituck County, North Carolina, just south of the Virginia state line.5 He enlisted with the Union Army on August 25, 1863, at Norfolk, Virginia, and joined the 2nd North Carolina Colored Infantry. redesignated the 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, in February, 1864. At the time of his enlistment, Pvt. Shaw was described in the manner of many other African American enlistees, brown skinned, with “black eyes and hair.” By occupation, he was documented as a government employee. Pvt. Shaw mustered in at Portsmouth, Virginia, on October 28, 1863.

William’s service record doesn’t detail his involvement in any major battles. It does note that he was detailed as a “Pioneer”, in mid, 1864. providing generalized labor (clearing roadways, repairing bridges, burial of the dead) for the Union Army. William mustered out of service in 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

1863 Map of of North Carolina. Camden and Currituck counties, North Carolina, in relation to Brunswick, Greensville, Mecklenburg, and Surry counties, and the Independent cities of Petersburg and Portsmouth , is indicated. David Rumsey Map Collection.
Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

William married Lavinia Rice on January 17, 1878, in Portsmouth, Virginia. William and Lavinia had six children: Lucille (b. ca. 1879}, William Henry (ca. 1883-1936), Mattie (ca. 1886-1918), Alice (b. ca. 1890), Alexander (ca. 1893-1933), and Queenie Christina (ca. 1896-1927). William and Lavinia’s daughter Lucille married one our distant ancestors, Alexander Elliott (b. ca. 1874), in 1896, and had one child, Russell Elliott (1901-1941), who is interred in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

After William’s decease in 1899, Lavinia filed for and received his military pension. Lavinia remained a Portsmouth resident until her death in 1936. She was interred in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth. To date, William’s grave has not been found, but I suspect he is also interred in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, and would represent a “new” United States Colored Troop not previously recorded in the cemeteries.

Virginia cemeteries connected to the Rice-Lewis Family of

Brunswick County, and Portsmouth, Virginia

Roosevelt Memorial Cemetery, 2014. Chesapeake, Virginia
City Point National Cemetery, 2013. Hopewell, Virginia
East View Cemetery, 2021.
Petersburg, Virginia
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, 2011. Photo: Nadia K. Orton.
Portsmouth, Virginia
Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, 2015. Portsmouth, Virginia
Albert G. Horton Memorial Veterans Cemetery, 2013. Suffolk, Virginia
Mt. Ray Cemetery, 2012.
Surry County, Virginia

Below, I altered the standard decision diagram to show how I was able to trace Bolling and Amanda’s descendants through cemeteries, based on the migration patterns of the extended family. I’ve also included a chart, containing the descendants’ names, interment location, and their respective familial relationship to Amanda. Ultimately, this exercise shows the importance of the preservation of African American graves and cemeteries, a reclamation of lost lives, stories, and identities. As historian Eugene Genovese has written, “respect for the dead signifies respect for the living–respect for the continuity of the human community and recognition of each man’s (and woman’s) place within it.”

Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

to Amanda
ArkansasLittle Rock (Pulaski County)Haven of RestCharlotte Amalie Kytch Bough Bradford
New JerseyGwendolyn Bough Fortesque
PennsylvaniaFayette CountyWoodlawn CemeteryNoah Thomas
Woodlawn CemeterySgt. Hugh Allen Thomas
U. S. Virginia IslandsSt. CroixChristianstedCarl Wilhelm Krause*
(b. ca. 1857)
ChristianstedRosalind KytchIn-Law
Christiansted“Aunt” TallahooneIn-Law
VirginiaBrunswick CountyLawrencevilleLizzie Rice BrodnaxDaughter
LawrencevilleNicholas Rice
(b. ca. 1846)
Mercy Seat RZUA Church CemeteryElsie Johanna Rice Knox
Mercy Seat RZUA Church Cemetery Walter W. Rice, Sr.
Mercy Seat RZUA Church Cemetery Walter W. Rice, Jr.
Mercy Seat RZUA Church Cemetery Washington Rice
City of ChesapeakeRoosevelt Memorial CemeteryAdelaide Fortesque
Roosevelt Memorial CemeteryRosalind Virginia Bough
(ca. 1898-1969)
HopewellCity Point National CemeteryRobert L. Rice
Isle of Wight CountyRushmereAlice Thomas
SmithfieldHenry Thomas
Newport NewsPeninsula Memorial ParkBolling Rice Thomas, Sr.
Peninsula Memorial ParkBolling Rice Thomas, Jr.
PetersburgEast View CemeteryCharles Allen*
(ca. 1850-1918)
East View CemeteryFannie Rice Allen
(ca. 1850-1920)
East View CemeteryJohn James Allen
PortsmouthLincoln Memorial CemeteryRussell Elliott
Mt. Calvary Cemetery ComplexHarold Bough
Mt. Calvary Cemetery ComplexItalina Anesta Bough Askew
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Margaret “Maggie” Jane Keeling Bough
(ca. 1867-1937)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Margaret Bough
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Sarah Otelia Bough
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Virginia Ann Rice Keeling
(ca. 1845-1900)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Alexander Elliott
(b. ca. 1874)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Alexander Shaw
(ca. 1893-1933)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Lavinia Rice Shaw
(ca. 1853-1936)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Mattie Shaw
(ca. 1886-1918)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Queenie Christina Shaw
(ca. 1896-1917)
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex William Shaw
(ca. 1845-1899)
Civil War Veteran/USCT
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex William Henry Shaw
(ca. 1885-1936)
Suffolk Albert G. Horton, Jr. Memorial Veterans CemeteryWilford Lee Smith
(ca. 1924-2005)
Surry CountyCobham DistrictCornelius Thomas
(ca. 1884-1916)
Cobham DistrictIsham Thomas
(ca. 1850-1915)
Cobham DistrictMargaret Alice Rice Thomas
(Ca. 1858-1921)
Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserv

  1. The courts of Brunswick County were organized in 1732.
  2. “1860 U. S. Federal Census – Slave Schedule,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 April 2021); Virginia, Brunswick, St. Andrews Parish, p. 8, citing, “The National Archives in Washington DC; Washington DC, USA; Eighth Census of the United States 1860; Series Number: M653; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census; Record Group Number: 29.”
  3. Greensville County was formed from Brunswick and Sussex counties, Virginia, in 1781.
  4. “1870 U. S. Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 April 2021); Virginia, Greensville, HIcksford, p. 55, citing, “Year: 1870; Census Place: Hicksford, Greensville, Virginia; Roll: M593_1649; Page: 376B.”
  5. Pvt. Shaw’s place of birth differs in genealogical documentation, with some records stating Currituck County, and others noting Camden County, North Carolina.

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