Presbyterians of the Past

John Holt Rice, 1777-1831

A special service was held at five o’clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 5, 1885, on the campus of Union Theological Seminary to dedicate a memorial plaque honoring Rev. John Holt Rice, D.D. At the time, the seminary was located on the campus of Hampden-Sydney College, but it relocated in 1898 to Richmond where classes began in October. After Dr. Rice passed away in 1831 there was some interest in remembering his ministry for the seminary in some way, but it was not until fifty-four years later that a memorial plaque was dedicated in his honor.

For the occasion, Rev. Benjamin Mosby Smith, D.D. (1811-1893) delivered an address concerning the life of Dr. Rice emphasizing his earlier years and his importance to the growth of the seminary. Smith was a native Virginian who had studied in both Hampden-Sydney and Union Seminary. At the time of his discourse he had been a professor in the seminary for over forty years.

Rev. Theodoric Pryor, D.D. (1805-1890) was the next speaker. He presented his thoughts regarding Rice’s character and work for the seminary. His college studies began, like Smith’s, at Hampden-Sydney. Pryor was the eldest surviving alumnus of Union that had been instructed by Rice.  At the time of the dedication service he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Nottoway, Virginia.

Rev. William Brown (1811-1894) delivered the prayer of dedication at the end of the service. He had received his education from Washington College in Lexington, but for his theological studies he completed a full course in Princeton Seminary which included an extra year due to his taking the first year over again on his own initiative. Then, an additional six months of study were completed at Union. For several years he was editor of The Central Presbyterian. He was the oldest member of Union Seminary’s board of trustees and at the time of the dedication service, he was totally blind.

Available for PDF download is a brief pamphlet titled, Memorial Tablet in Honor of the Rev. John H. Rice, D.D., Addresses at the Unveiling and Dedication, Delivered in the Chapel of Union Theological Seminary, VA, 1885, which includes the two lectures mentioned, along with the text of the memorial, and introductory comments.

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For more information regarding the history of Union Seminary see the recent title, A Copious Fountain: A History of Union Presbyterian Seminary, 1812-2012, by William B. Sweetser, Jr., 2016, which was briefly reviewed on this site in “Presbyterian History News & Notes,” and the book edited by Moore and Scherer, Centennial General Catalogue of the Trustees, Officers, Professors and Alumni of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 1807-1907. John Holt Rice’s life is provided in, A Memoir of the Rev. John H. Rice, D.D., First Professor of Christian Theology in Union Theological Seminary, published by William Maxwell, 1835.


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