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Frances “Fannie” Rice and her Parentage

When Fannie (Rice) (Allen) Earl, the mother of Thomas Allen, died in Smyth County, Virginia, in 1858, her husband did not give the names of her parents for inclusion in her death record. He certainly should have known their names, as Fannie’s mother had moved with the Earls to Southwest Virginia from Granville County, North Carolina, and she had only died in the 1840s between the ages of 90 and 100.

Nonetheless, because Fannie’s birth had occurred in 1775, before government records were kept, and her marriage records did not include even her father’s name, official confirmation of her parentage has been elusive. Most researchers give her parents’ names as Thomas and Mary Ann Rice. Thankfully, I can confirm that her mother’s name was Mary Ann, because of the existence of a will that is on file in Smyth County, Virginia.

John Earl, Fannie’s second husband, was nominated by Charlotte Rice of Orange County, North Carolina, to be her executor upon her death. Rice’s will was originally written on 20 October 1838, but was probated in Smyth County on 19 April 1859. In her will, Charlotte Rice directed that after her final bills had been paid:

“…the residue of my estate, either personal or real in notes, bonds or otherwise, desend (sic) to and be owned and possessed by my friend John Earls, with the especial understanding that my mother Mary Ann Rice & my sister Sarah Ann Rice hold the same in trust for their support, during their natural lives, and at their death, it then fully desend (sic) to my friend and brother-in-law John Earls…”

The document was originally witnessed by A.P. McGhee (Anderson P.) in 1838, who was married to John and Fannie Earl’s daughter, Martha, and it was probated in Smyth County upon McGhee’s oath in 1859.

The text of the will implies that both Mary Ann Rice and Sarah Rice were living with John and Fannie Earl, since the bequest to Earl included the provision that Charlotte’s estate would pay for Mary Ann and Sarah’s upkeep during their natural lives. This means that the two had relocated to Southwest Virginia with the Earls after 1810. (John Earl was enumerated in Granville County NC in 1810, but was enumerated in Virginia in 1820.) The will also shows that Mary Ann Rice, the mother of Charlotte, Fannie, and Sarah Ann, was still alive in October of 1838 and likely a widow, since her husband was not mentioned.

The 1850 census for Orange County, NC, shows a Charlotte Rice, age 82, living in the household of Paul C. Cameron. Her age in 1850 suggests she was born about 1768. Assuming that her mother was at least 18 years old at the time of her birth–and Charlotte was the oldest Rice child–this would mean that Mary Ann Rice was in her late 80s at the time Charlotte penned her will.

This fact is proved by the 1830 census enumeration for John Earl and family in Wythe County, Virginia. The census shows that there was, indeed, a woman between the ages of 80 and 90 who was living with John and Fannie Earl. As further proof of Mary Ann Rice’s longevity, in the 1840 Smyth County census enumeration of John Earl’s household, there was a female listed who was between the ages of 90 and 100. She obviously died between 1840 and 1850, as she was not enumerated in the household as of the 1850 census.

Records show that Sarah Ann Rice, Charlotte and Fannie’s sister, died unmarried in Smyth County on 31 July 1860, at the age of 73. Her passing was reported to courthouse officials by her “friend,” A.P. McGhee, and her place of birth was listed as North Carolina. Sarah Rice’s year of birth, based on her age at death, was about 1787, which means she was probably one of Mary Ann Rice’s last-born children.

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