Underground Echoes: Family: Love, loss & found

Special to the Gazette

When we last left Aaron and his family, they were living blissfully. They had become in a relative short period: property owners, industrious entrepreneurs, founders of Napa’s AME Church, ardent voters and proud US citizens. As proof of their accomplishments an announcement published in the Napa County Recorder on March 18, 1871, mentions Rev. Robert Rice (Aaron’s father) gave two sermons a day as AME’s acting minister while Nathaniel (Aaron’s son) was the Sunday school’s superintendent.

On November 14, 1872, the family grew when Nathaniel married Rebecca Danzel at the Napa Courthouse. They became the 311th couple registered in Napa County when the Baptist minister on hand, Rev. G. W. Ford, joined them in matrimony. The County Clerk acted as their witness as no family members were present.

The Elevator publishes their Napa report on November 30, 1873, “…There are six churches in Napa, viz., Episcopalian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Campbellite, and Zion A. M. E. Church. There is no “stated preaching” in the latter, as they have no preacher. Mr. Rice occasionally officiates, but he resides on his farm in another part of the county, and cannot attend regularly. The colored population of Napa is between eighty and ninety, and they pole thirty-seven votes, all Republican. This is a fair proportion; above the general average. They have a colored school, numbering fifteen scholars. There is no colored Sunday School here ….”

What caused these major changes to occur in the last two years? The local Episcopal Church had recently integrated their Sunday School which could explain what happened to Nathaniel’s school. By September 25, 1874, Rev. Robert Rice completes the terms of his Homestead 1862 application, giving the family free and clear ownership of their farm. However, he dies soon after on March 20, 1875 from dropsy (edema) age 75. Failing health would have explained his officiating decline. Four days later, Dilcy his wife is awarded his estate worth $164.16 ($3,800 today) after expenses of a $100 bond, court costs and unknown attorney fees.

On November 1, Rebecca age 21 dies childless of consumption (tuberculosis). From Tulocay Cemetery’s records, she’s listed as “Copper” (Asian descent). With her Danzel surname, perhaps she had a white parent. “Mixing races” is extremely frowned upon in White Supremacist culture, dominant in California at the time, (this could explain the lack of family attendance at their wedding.)

Two and half months later, Dilcy age 84 dies of “old age” on February 16, 1876, followed by Charlotte (Aaron’s wife) age 64 on March 3, from Typhoid Fever. Since Typhoid is a very contagious disease, it’s most likely Dilcy’s cause of death too. In less than a year, Nathaniel and Aaron became their family’s sole survivors.

Choosing to not remain a widower long, Nathaniel 31 marries Annie Elizabeth Dyer 27, Edward Hatton’s stepdaughter on October 31, 1877, with the prominent Rev. Richard Wylie, pastor of the Napa Presbyterian Church officiating. This time both families were present and their wedding was witnessed by her stepbrother Joseph Hatton and Fred Sparrow (the first African-American registered to vote in Napa), giving further proof of the friendship between the two families and high esteem the Rice’s were held in. (Interesting side note, their marriage certificate states, “neither party married before.”)

Despite their tragic losses, Aaron, Nathaniel, and now Annie managed to keep the farm going. Unfortunately, in order to avoid any penalties, he had to register Dilcy’s probate to resolve her 1\3 ownership portion of the farm before the four-year grace period elapsed. (None is required for Charlotte’s estate because she is not listed on the deed.) Aaron sells his 2/3 interest to Manual Lucas on January 17, 1880 for $500 ($12,500 today) and files the paperwork.

Mr. Lucas was a large property owner in Napa County and possibly allowed Aaron to continue working the land as his employee. Nathaniel 33, on the other hand, begins taking odd jobs. His May 3rd voter registration lists him as a teamster along with the US Census taken June 17. Aaron 59 is recorded as a laborer living with Nathaniel as head of household and his wife Annie 28 keeping house. From Nathaniel’s September 14 voter registration, he is now a peddler while Aaron’s October 4th, reveals he’s still a farmer.

Unlike Robert’s estate, Dilcy’s takes eight months to resolve. Over the course of the proceedings, Aaron learns to write as illustrated by his signature’s dramatic improvement. (Although he is still recorded as illiterate by the June Census.) Her probate cost $123.10 ($3,300 today) not including attorney fees with her estate’s estimated worth set at $170 ($4,500 today).

On August 17, the final distribution hearing is held revealing the surprising discovery that Aaron had siblings, William Rice 62 and Judy Schlesher 58 – whereabouts unknown. The judge orders each to receive a third of Dilcy’s property once they are located, prompting an immediate hunt to find them. It would take almost three years before William is located in McKinney, Collin County, Texas. He promptly sells his portion to Mr. Lucas for $50 ($1,250 today) on July 14, 1883, with his signature notarized in Collin County, Texas. Unfortunately, Judy was never found causing her portion to be seized by the sheriff for back taxes. It was sold at auction to Mr. Lucas on May 1, 1888.

With the discovery of Aaron’s siblings, we wanted to know more. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any record of his sister Judy but were luckily enough to find William and his family recorded by the US Census on June 4, 1880, living in McKinney, Collin County, Texas. It lists William 61 laborer head of household, living with his wife Julia 56 born in Tennessee, oldest daughter Julia 19 born Missouri, married to William Frazier 40 laborer born as Indian Nation Native, and youngest daughter Lucy 16, born in Texas. Most of his family is illiterate, outside of Lucy being able to read and his son in law. Look for the Final Chapter next…

We are Judie and Joseph Palmer, two of the founding members of the Potter’s Field Project. Both of us have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology. For more info, please visit our website MartinezCemetery.org. To learn more regarding our sources and detail about Aaron’s life, type Aaron Rice in the Search Bar. Do you have a Potter’s Field story to tell? We welcome any pictures or information regarding the Alhambra Cemetery’s Potter’s Field. Please email us at martinezcemetery@gmail.com or call us at (925) 316-6069.

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