My Genealogy Hound

Below is a family biography included in the book,  Portrait and biographical record of Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties, Pennsylvania published in 1894 by Chapman Publishing Company.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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JOSEPH ALEXANDER RICE. The Rice family, native to the British Isles, dates back with certainty over four hundred years. Justin Winsor, Librarian of Harvard College, in his monograph on Columbus, gives the name of one Irishman, William Rice, as a member of his party who discovered America in 1492. Edmund Rice, born in England in 1594, and who settled in Massachusetts in 1638, was the progenitor of the New England branch of the family.

The paternal ancestors of the subject of our sketch are first: Rev. Owen Rice, born at Haverford West in Wales, who came to America in 1742; second: Rev. David Hecke welder, born at Zauchtenthal, Moravia, in 1711, who came to America in 1754. On the maternal side are, first: Michael Leibert, who emigrated from Germany to America in 1727; and second: Martin Nitchmann, who was born in Zauchtenthal, Moravia, in 1714, and who came to America in 1749. Martin Nitchmann was a relative of Father David Nitchmann, who felled the first tree to build the first house of Bethlehem, Pa., in 1741.

Joseph Rice (born 1785, died 1831), grandson of Rev. Owen Rice, and grandfather of Joseph Alexander Rice, married Ann Salome Heckewelder, who was born August 13, 1784, and died January 15, 1857. Her father, Rev. John Heckewelder, was the distinguished missionary to the Indians, and the friend of the leading statesmen and generals of our country in the years immediately after the Revolutionary War. Ann Salome Heckewelder was the first white child born in what is now the state of Wisconsin. Joseph Rice, with his four brothers, graduated from the store of his father, Owen Rice (second). Besides filling positions of trust in the Moravian Church, he was appointed Postmaster by the Federal Government, and by the Governor of the state to the life-tenure office of Justice of the Peace.

James Alexander Rice, son of Joseph and father of Joseph Alexander, was born March 8, 1814, and died September 9, 1850. At eleven years of age he entered his uncle’s store, was later admitted as a partner, and in 1844 set up for himself in a business which was marked with success from the start. He was one of the most progressive men of his day in church, politics and business. An ardent Whig, he was appointed Postmaster by President Zachary Taylor in 1848. He was removed from earth by typhoid fever in 1850, when in the prime of life. In 1839 he was united in marriage with Charlotte Josephine Leibert, who was born in 1813 and died in 1884, being a daughter of Joseph and Rebecca (Nitchmann) Leibert. Her mother was the granddaughter of Rev. Martin Nitchmann, who with his wife, Susannah, lost their lives for the Gospel in the Gnadenhutten massacre by the Indians on the Mahoning, near Lehighton, Carbon County, Pa., in. November, 1755. He was thus closely related by birth and by marriage with the Nitchmann and Heckewelder families, names than which none others in the annals of the American Moravian Church stand higher for self-sacrificing labors and signal triumphs in the extension of the old cause, for the sake of which the Nitchmanns and the Heckewelders of the preceding generations forsook their houses and their farms in Moravia, to escape the Austrian tyranny which had crushed out the Protestantism of Huss and Comenius.

At his death James Alexander Rice left a widow and four children. The widow succeeded her husband to the Postmastership of Bethlehem, and held it until the expiration of the term. Two sons, William Henry and Joseph Alexander, represent the fifth generation in a direct line from the first ancestor of the family in America. William Henry has followed the profession of Owen Rice (first), that of a clergyman, and is now pastor of the New York church ministered to by his ancestor one hundred and fifty years ago.

Like his father and great-grandfather, Joseph A. Rice is a merchant. He was born March 28, 1844, and was educated in the parochial school of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, both in its general and academical departments. As is well known, this church, both in Europe and America, has an enviable reputation for the high standard of its educational establishments. In 1860 he entered the store founded by his ancestor in 1822, and at that time conducted by his father’s successor, John Lerch. He was thoroughly trained in business, and was admitted as a partner in 1865, before he was quite of age. In 1871 he built a new store, in accordance with modern ideas, and in 1883 its capacity was greatly enlarged. He remained a partner of John Lerch for twenty-one years, until the latter’s death in 1886.

A partnership with Frank J. Lerch was entered upon in 1886, and in 1891 Mr. Rice erected an entirely new store building on the site of the original Bee Hive. This structure is 50x180 feet, with three stories and high basement, and is recognized as a model of its kind. A corner-stone was laid with interesting ceremonies in the spring of 1891, and in December of the same year the opening of the new building took place in the presence of an immense crowd. The firm is now The Lerch & Rice Company, and is well and favorably known in city and country. A successful and increasing business is conducted on the very spot where the little village store was founded in 1822 by Owen Rice (third).

Joseph A. Rice is a man of intense activity and force of character. When a young man of only fifteen years, he took a decided interest in Sunday-school and Young Men’s Christian Association affairs, and for twenty-five years he was a leading spirit in these organizations. He was Superintendent of the Sunday-school connected with his church the largest in the town, and managed it for years with signal success. For seventeen years he was Secretary of the American Moravian Board of Church Extension, and for five years served as Secretary of the School Board of his church, and was active in raising the standard of this educational institution.

In 1888 the synod of the Moravian Church in America appointed Mr. Rice a member of a special committee to raise funds to erect a new theological seminary. He was elected Secretary of the committee, and it was largely owing to his enthusiastic leadership in this work of his life that the committee was able to present to the synod of 1892 a new theological institution, free from debt, the value of which at its completion was at least $80,000.

As a citizen, Mr. Rice is intensely patriotic and progressive. An ardent Republican from principle and a thorough protectionist, he is not afraid to assert his independence of party, if the occasion, in his judgment, demands it. He has never filled any political office nor desired to do so. His war record is limited to an enlistment in the Fifth Pennsylvania Militia, called into service in 1862 during the invasion of Pennsylvania by the rebels. He was a private in Company D, Capt. Joseph Peters, and enlisted from Bethlehem.

In 1866 Mr. Rice married Miss Mary Christina, daughter of the late Rev. Edward Rondthaler. She was born in 1846 and died in 1885, leaving three children, namely: Robert Huntington, who was born November 4, 1879; Louise Josephine and Isabelle Christine (twins), born October 5, 1882. In 1887, in Bethlehem, Mr. Rice was united in marriage with Miss Emma Julia Rond thaler, who was born October 27, 1855, and is a daughter of the late Rev. Ambrose Rondthaler, a distinguished educator, and the former Principal of the Moravian parochial school. By this marriage Mr. Rice has had three children, of whom one son, Owen Rondthaler, born October 10, 1893, is living.

A recent event of great interest was the reunion of the Class of ‘59, of which Mr. Rice was a member. Out of nine members, seven are living, five of whom complete their fiftieth year in 1894, and the other two in the year 1895. An interesting item brought out on this occasion was the fact that all are doing well, and that no cloud darkened the record of any member of the class, a result largely attributed to the faithful work and happy influence of their preceptor, the late Rev. Ambrose Rondthaler.

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This family biography is one of numerous biographies included in the book, Portrait and biographical record of Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties, Pennsylvania published in 1894 by Chapman Publishing Company. 

View additional Northampton County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Northampton County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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