Rice Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Rice Meaning
a surname has Welsh, Irish, English or German origins, none of them
related to
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.

Rice Resources on

Rice Ancestry

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

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

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

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
out of Dingle with France. His son James Louis Rice, or Comte Rice as he became styled,
was an adventurer on the Continent
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
a tenant farmer at the
Maghleralone township of Kilmore parish, county Down in the 1760’s and
remained as farmers there throughout the 19th century.
was recorded among the 1796 flax growers in Armagh and Rices were to be
found in
Mullaghbrack during the 19th

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
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
  • 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
  • while Deacon Edmund Rice from Stanstead in Suffolk was an early
    emigrant to America.

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
descendants. It includes:

  • 44 descendants with the Rice surname
  • and 68 descendants with other surnames.

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
murdered for his money in 1900 by his lawyer and valet.
That money was used instead to found Rice
University in Houston.

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
Oswego river.
One of his grandsons was William H. Rice, a missionary
to the Hawaiian islands in 1841. He
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
  • 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
    his wife, and died in Tennessee at the reported age of
    101. His story was covered in Melvin
    Little’s 2007 book The Pioneer
  • 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.

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.

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
  • and Conrad Rees who had arrived in Lancaster county around the
    same time. His grandson Conrad fought in the Revolutionary War.

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
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
area. Their story was told in Peter
Rice’s 1993 book Thomas
and Jane Rice Family.


Rice Miscellany

Rice Fortunes in Tudor Times.  Rice fortunes fluctuated hugely in Tudor times.  They reached their highest point of wealth influence in the person of Sir Rhys ap Thomas who had been at the side of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

His grandson Sir Rhys who had married into the ducal Howard family was,
however, executed for treason in 1531.  He
was just 23 years of age!  The
evidence for his guilt was slight and his real offence was probably his
and his opposition to Anne
Boleyn.  His fall brought his great possessions, said
to have been worth £10,000 a year in land and £30,000 in personal
into the hands of the Crown.

Sir Rhys’s son Griffith Rice, having secured some of the lost possessions, lost them again in 1557 when he was convicted of the murder of Mathew Walshe in Durham.   On the accession of Elizabeth he was pardoned and these lands were restored to him, including the manor of Newton.

But it took another two generations to rebuild the family fortunes and regain much of the balance of their forfeited lands.

James Rice, Mayor of Waterford.  James Rice, the 15th century mayor of Waterford, was the
subject of a modern poem written by Knute Skinner in 1985.  It ran as follows:

“In the city of Waterford
a fifteenth-century mayor,
prosperous at the fairs
and many times re-elected,
to fear for the people.  After I am destroyed
no one will think, thought Rice,
that I, so often mayor
was an ordinary body.

And my fellow-citizens,
even these, who bestow the office
after year –
complete is their trust in me –
must think me superhuman.

So greatly Rice feared
for the souls of his
they asked his advice
a cart wheel or a heifer,
sought out
his opinion
guarding the Waterford coast
himself only their mayor)
he wrote a strange will.

fortnight from his decease,
people of Waterford
open his grave,
in the

Still standing there today a finely carved tomb commemorates Rice – an old body, naked, already decaying, hungry vermin crawling in and out of the ribs as he was last witnessed by the clergy and laymen whom he had served as mayor.”

seen, his tomb is not easily forgotten.  On
it is carved a decaying human figure with
vermin crawling from the rotten flesh.  The effigy is carved in
relief and is represented lying on its back, having a shroud, tied in a
at the head and feet.  Vermin resembling frogs and toads are cut
in the
stone, as it were creeping out of the body.

James Louis Rice, Adventurer Abroad.  The Rice family of Ballymacdoyle near Dingle were importers of French wine.  But their son James Louis wanted a different life.  He
left for the Continent, educated himself in Belgium, and joined the Irish brigade of the Austrian army sometime in the 1750’s.
He rose through the
ranks, became a friend of Emperor Joseph II, and was ennobled as Comte

After the Emperor’s sister Marie Antoinette
married the French King in 1770, Rice drifted to Paris.
He was known there as a man who spoke little,
gambled much (he was in fact a professional gambler), and fought many
duels.  His most famous duel was with the
Vicomte du Barry in 1778.  An eyewitness to
the duel gave the following account:

took the field, each armed with two pistols and with a sword.  The
ground being
marked out by the seconds, Vicomte du Barry fired first and lodged a
ball in Comte
Rice’s thigh which penetrated as far as the bone.

Rice fired his pistol and wounded the Vicomte
in the breast.  He went backwards two or
three steps, then came forward again, and both at the same time
presented their
pistols to each other.

flashed together in the pan, though one only was discharged.  Then they threw away their pistols and took to
their swords.  When Comte Rice had advanced
within a few yards of the Vicomte he saw him fall and he heard him cry
“I demand my life,” to which Comte Rice answered, “I grant it to
you.”  But in a few seconds the Vicomte
fell back and expired.

Comte Rice was brought back from the field with

It was
said that Comte Rice, when asked what was the cause of the duel,
couldn’t remember.

Times changed with the onset of the French
Revolution in 1789.  Rice and his friends
conceived of a plan to rescue Marie Antoinette from her French captors.
If she could make it to Nantes, then they
smuggle her out of France on one of Rice’s wine ships and she could
recuperate in
Dingle.  Marie Antoinette hesitated.
She did escape with
her retinue in 1791, but was captured
within a day at Varennes.
went to the guillotine two years later.

Rice Blacksmiths in Devon

Date of Birth Name Place of Birth
1792 Joseph
1805 William Rice Lamerton
1823 Henry Rice Lamerton
1826 John Rice Bratton Clovelly
1827 James Rice Tavistock
1829 John Rice Coldridge
1832 Richard Rice Coldridge
1840 William Rice Lamerton

Edmund Rice’s Descendants.  Descendants of Edmund Rice began to meet annually at the old Rice homestead in Wayland in 1851. Documentation of these descendants began with the 1858 publication of a genealogy of
the Rice family by Andrew H. Ward.  Ward
was able to document over 6,200 Edmund Rice descendants and spouses,
mostly in
the New England region.

1912, shortly
after the old family homestead in Wayland had been lost by fire, the
descendants in Massachusetts formally organized the Edmund Rice (1638)
Association (ERA).  The ERA undertook the
task of building upon Ward’s pioneering genealogy by verifying and
documenting Edmund’s descendants.   For
the 1938 tercentennial of Edmund’s immigration to America, the ERA
Elsie Smith’s Edmund Rice and his Family.

1968, the ERA had compiled and verified 26,000 descendants of Edmund
Rice.  In
2013, the ERA electronic database of known Edmund Rice descendants into
14th and 15th generations exceeded 200,000 individuals.  The
ERA has also conducted extensive haplotype
DNA testing on males known to or believed to have been descended from
the seven sons
of Edmund.

Fort Rice in Pennsylvania.  In 1771
John Montgomery was the first settler in the land that later became
Fort Rice in
Northumberland county.   However,
eight years later he had to flee the settlement
because of Indian attacks.  The Indians
all his buildings and grain stacks.

Frederick William Rice selected this
site for his fort.  He built it with a
of Pennsylvania German troops in 1779 and early 1780.  All
the time the Indians were spying and
keeping a sharp watch. They knew that the
settlers in the area had retreated to Fort Rice as they had
destroyed all the
other forts.

On September 21, 1780,
about 300 Indians made an assault upon the fort but were baffled and
by Captain Rice and his German soldiers.  Remnants
of the fort are still visible.  On a stone
in the south wall can be seen the carved
initials “F. W. R.” 

The Murder of William M. Rice.  By the
late 1890’s William Rice was a childless widower, living the life of an
recluse in New York City. He was rich,
however, and involved in litigation concerning his will.
Albert Patrick was engaged by him in 1898 as
one of his lawyers.  Patrick soon met
Jones, Rice’s valet, and the two of them began to spend a great deal of
together.  Slowly they hatched a plot.

first it seemed that Patrick was only interested in the settlement of
contested will and was looking for any way to win.
He convinced Jones to start poisoning Rice
with mercury pills as a way of avoiding a court battle.
By the summer of 1900 Patrick came up with
the idea of forging a will that left the majority of Rice’s estate to
and only small sums to relatives and friends.
That forged will was dated June 30, 1900.

September of that year a
hurricane struck the Gulf Coast and one of Rice’s businesses there
severe damage.  The business manager
telegraphed that they needed money for repairs.
The sum was most of what Rice had available in his bank account.
worried at the loss of such a large sum of ready cash and he convinced
Jones to
use chloroform to kill Rice.

was then murdered by Jones.  Patrick, in
his haste to get hold of Rice’s
cash, tried to withdraw money from Rice’s bank using a check forged by
right after Rice’s death. The bank refused to honor the check since
name was spelled incorrectly. When calling to verify the check with
Rice, the
bank learned that he was dead. Since the circumstances were suspicious,
bank contacted Rice’s Houston lawyer, Captain Baker.

Baker arrived in New
York City, he learned there had been a new will written up by Patrick.
was suspicious since Rice had never notified him of any changes to the
Baker had drawn up in 1896. That suspicion led to a long and
sensational trial
where Patrick’s version of the will was exposed as a forgery and the
scheme to
kill Rice was discovered.

was found guilty of murder and forgery in 1902
and was sentenced to die in the electric chair. Jones, who had
confessed to his
part of the events, ended up being released despite being the one who
actually committed the murder. Patrick’s sentence was commuted to life
imprisonment by the Governor of New York.
He eventually won a full pardon in 1912.


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 Rice Numbers 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)





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