The Apostle of Kentucky —
There were several pseudonyms given David Rice. The apostle of Kentucky was one. Or the pioneer minister of the Presbyterian Church of Kentucky was another. Perhaps the best title was that of “Father” Rice. The Rev. David Rice was all these titles to the state of Kentucky, and especially to the Scots-Irish saints of Kentucky.
Born December 20 in 1733 in Hanover County, Virginia, he was one of twelve children of a farmer in that county. Reared Episcopalian originally, he early associated with the Presbyterian cause. Educated at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey, he afterwards was trained in theology under one of the assistants of Samuel Davies, a man by the name of John Todd. Ordained by Hanover Presbytery in December of 1763, he became the pastor of Hanover Presbyterian Church. When the period of the Revolution came in the colonies, he took a decided stand in favor of the Revolution, serving as a chaplain to the Hanover militia. He was married by this time, having married Mary Blair, the daughter of Samuel Blair, of Faggs Manor. Together, they would rear twelve children.
The Hanover Virginia congregation, where Samuel Davies had been the pastor before his move to the College of New Jersey, was weakened in number due to many of the Scot-Irish Presbyterians moving west for better opportunities. In fact, it was a number of those immigrants who invited David Rice to move to Kentucky in 1783. He was the first Presbyterian pastor to move into the state.
His ministry here included both church and state. As far as the church part, he would eventually pastor four Presbyterian congregations in the state. During this important pastoral work, he founded the first presbytery, the first synod, and the first seminary, called Transylvania Seminary, which is now a university. It was also here that he became convicted over the slavery issue, and sought to have it abolished by both the church and the state. His organ for doing so was the Kentucky Abolition Society, for which David Rice was a life-time member. He felt that Christians should lead the way for a gradual abolition of the slave trade as a result of their religion and conscience. Though he worked hard to this end, he was never able to accomplish it.
As far as the state was concerned, he was a member of the Constitutional convention of Kentucky to write the state constitution. He took up his call for abolition of slavery there as well, but was rebuffed again by the other citizens in the convention. Despite this failure, he stayed true to his convictions on the evils of slavery and was forever urging its demise.
They described him as tall and slender, quiet in his movements, with a remarkable degree of alertness even in his seventies. “Father Rice” is buried in the cemetery of the Presbyterian Church of Danville, Kentucky.
Words to live by: David Rice was one of those Christian men who took his stand for righteousness even as he faithfully ministered the Word of God to the masses in Virginia and Kentucky. He was used of the Lord in both church and state. What a challenge to be at the starting points of so many works of the Lord. God has especially called some of His church to engage in similar ministries. In whatever Presbyterian denomination you are in, pray for the missions agencies, as well as individual church planters, who start with a few and then by God’s Spirit, build up a congregation for His glory.
Photos of the grave site of the Rev. David Rice can be viewed here.