Sunday, July 1, 2012


by "Jerome"

A name that occurs in many histories of the Watchtower Society (although omitted from the Proclaimers book) is H.B. Rice – full name Hugh Brown Rice. His name is found in the first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower as a contemporary of CTR. Rice had attempted to start his own journal The Last Trump – but financial woes resulted in failure. CTR offered to send the new ZWT to Rice’s subscribers, and listed him as a regular contributor to ZWT – although that was not to happen.

Financial difficulty was a recurring theme throughout Rice’s association with the Age to Come movement.

Back on January 26, 2008 on the original blog, Bruce posted quite a detailed article on Rice in an early draft of one of the chapters. This article will attempt to fill a few gaps that subsequent research has uncovered, but readers are well advised to read the earlier article to get the fuller picture.

In a letter written in 1887 (reproduced in full at the end of this article) Rice gives some brief biographical details of himself. “I was educated at Amherst College, Mass., (class of 1870) and was for a time in Auburn Theological Seminary at Auburn, N.Y….I preached for a short time among the Presbyterians and then for some seven years among the “Disciples,” but…seeing the way of the Lord more clearly in reference to the life eternal and the gospel of the kingdom, I was baptized on the confession of this faith by Brother Richard Corbaley in Yale County, Cal., in 1878 or ’79.”

Richard Corbaley (1820-1903) was an old-timer in the Age to Come movement, who had travelled west in the early 1870s along with Benjamin Wilson. Corbaley was credited with founding the first Church of God congregation on the Pacific Coast in the Restitution for May 24, 1876. His life story is given in his obituary in the Restitution for September 9, 1903.

A letter from a Thos. Hughes in the Restitution for March 13, 1878 reviewed the personnel in his area, which included Richard Corbaley, along with “Bro. Wilson, Rice and wife at Sacremento.” Whether this is H B in early 1878 is unknown, but certainly by 1879, H B Rice is very much in evidence as a featured speaker with Corbaley at the annual Church of God conference in California. This was held over August 14-17, 1879 and a full report then published in the Restitution for September 10, 1879. This report indicates where Rice’s main loyalties and interests lay so soon after ZWT began publication and now that his own paper The Last Trump had folded.

The report reads (in part) “Brother R. Corbaley submitted his report as Evangelist…in the (Friday) evening we were profitably entertained by listening to a discourse delivered by Brother H.B. Rice from John xvii.3…by motion Brother Richard Corbaley was elected as Evangelist for the ensuing year…in the (Saturday) evening Brother H.B. Rice delivered a discourse on “the key of interpreting the Scriptures,” during which he dwelt at some length upon the fact that the natural always precedes the Spiritual…(on Sunday) after listening to short but interesting discourses by Bros. H.B. Rice and R. Corbaly (sic) the friends and brethren proceeded to bid each other farewell.”

The same report included the appointment of a future business and conference committee to include a certain C.W. Russell – not CTR, but a name that avid readers will find elsewhere on these blogs; and also a commendation of The Restitution as a “valuable paper” to whom the report was of course sent.

Rice then seems to disappear from view, apart from brief correspondence found in ZWT and Barbour’s Herald. Barbour’s June 1879 Herald mentions Rice’s “business failures” and “lack of means.” CTR’s Zion’s Watch Tower last hears from Rice in its July 1880 issue which again talks of “loss of business.” It mentions that Rice has obtained a situation in San Francisco and has moved there.

Several years go by and then Rice resurfaces in the pages of The Restitution in 1885. His comments indicate that as far as financial woes are concerned, not a lot has changed.  In The Restitution for January 21, 1885, he writes from San Jose, California, that he is now in the Real Estate business, but wants to go preaching and “to devote more time and attention to this matter than I have done for some years.” But there is a problem, “In worldly goods I am very poor, and have a wife and four children to support.” He asks for “a helping hand” – which could be interpreted as someone moving there to preach, or financial help so he could do it further.

A couple of years later, he pops up again, this time from Oleander, California, and indicates that financial woes have continued dogging him. In the Restitution for September 21, 1887, he describes himself as “poor in this world’s goods, and…hampered by business connections entered into for the purpose of providing for my family.” Not much has changed except that there are now five children to feed, quaintly described by Rice as “all young and non-productive of material needs.” Rice is now running “a little country store here but am partly in debt for my building and my stock.” But it is a good location – maybe someone could go into partnership with him or perhaps buy him out? It was a good prospect – honest! Brother Benjamin Wilson was nearby, but organizing anything had proved difficult.

Whether anyone responded to his business suggestion is not recorded, but in the November 7, 1888 issue of Restitution, Rice is now at Delano, California on “a government claim, a homestead of 160 acres,” enthusing about the Philadelphia National Conference to come, and bemoaning (as always) his financial circumstances. He would love to go preaching but “am too much burdened by the cares of a large and helpless family”. Farming is not working out, so “unless the brothers know of my condition and feelings they certainly can never help me to devise ways and means to do gospel work.” Basically, please can someone help me financially?

Something must have worked out temporarily for him, because in the January 9, 1889 Restitution, Rice writes two letters about his current preaching tour. Unfortunately – and you could say almost par for the course – Rice runs out of money and gets himself stranded far from home. Home is California but Rice has been preaching on the opposite side of the States in Wilmington, Delaware. The friends there suggest that he moves on to visit his mother and sister in Knoxville, Tennessee, the city of his youth. Perhaps it is reading too much into it, but one almost hears a sigh of relief when Rice moves on, because once in Knoxville, he writes to The Restitution, “I am as yet, of course, unable to return to my family in California, and I suppose God has a work for me to do here yet, else he would send me the money to get home.” How his “large and helpless family” back home are managing during this time is undisclosed.

Somehow, Rice does get back home and almost immediately - indefatigable as ever – he is writing to the Restitution again. From the February 13, 1889 issue: “I reached home Jan. 30th after a long and eventful absence…It occurred to me…to say that if any of the brethren in California so desire and can arrange to meet the necessary expenses (!) I could preach some this summer.”

This is followed up with another letter that results in editorial comment on February 27, 1889, to the effect that they have received communication from Brother H B Rice at Delano, Ca. “There seems to be a door opening for him there, but he needs some help financially...” In other words – the usual! Rice’s letter was due to be published in the next issue, but unfortunately that issue is not extant.

The final reference to H.B. Rice that this writer has been able to find in The Restitution was a month or two later in the issue for April 10, 1889. Referring back to an announcement in the previous week’s issue (which again sadly is missing) there is an editorial note that they were in error last week saying that the Executive Board had passed a resolution that Bro. Rice should receive some money from the Evangelical Fund – it should have been Bro. Niles...  Oops! One wonders what the story was behind that.

At this point the impecunious H B Rice disappears from the pages of the Restitution – this time apparently for good.

There had been a repeating theme to his writing over a ten year period; however, at this distance it would be harsh to judge the man’s sincerity. He obviously lacked the financial acumen of a CTR, and for whatever reasons his early forays into commerce were a regular disaster area. However, his frequent appeals for financial help were always linked to his desire to preach as he saw fit.

But once disappearing from view, he finally obtained a position enabling him to feed his family. Being an Age to Come preacher had not really worked out and perhaps that decided that his religious interests (however they now evolved) should remain as a spiritual hobby rather than livelihood.

From research presented a few years ago on these blogs we know he ended his days – no longer impecunious – but also no longer apparently in association with the Restitution. When he died, there was no mention in its pages. And his connection with CTR had ended almost as soon as it started.

His obituary was published in the Los Angeles Herald for November 3, 1905. The main subheading concentrated on his business activities – “Pallbearers Are Selected From Intimate Business Friends of the Deceased Steamship Agent.” The account stated that he “was president of the Hugh B. Rice company, steamship and touring agents.” The funeral service had been conducted by “Rev. J.W. McKnight, pastor of the Magnolia avenue Christian church…assisted by N.W.J. Straud, leader of the Bible class of which the deceased was a member.”

The complete obituary along with a photograph of the family gravestone can be found on the Find a Grave site under Hugh B Rice, born October 6, 1856, died October 31, 1905, Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, Los Angeles County, California.

For a photograph of H B Rice, please see Bruce’s earlier post on January 26, 2008 referred to above.

Letter to The Restitution, September 1, 1887, page 3.


Dear Restitution:

I notice with interest and joy all attempts to organize effort in the spread of the glad tidings of life through the Son of God. I, too, long to preach the good news of the kingdom, but, knowing that the very many of the called, chosen and faithful are, like myself, poor in this world’s goods, and being hampered by business connections entered into for the purpose of providing for my family things honest in the sight of God and men, I have supposed it were impossible to obtain the needed means to enable me to devote my time to preaching. So I have kept silent. But when I read of the call for laborers, when I see the fields white for the harvest, when I go to hear professed gospel preachers who are blinded by the errors of the apostasy and see how the people are feed (sic) on husks while our Father’s storehouse is full of rich food for the hungry, ready for their use if only the shepherds would give it to them.

Oh, my heart burns within me, and I long to give all my time, all my energies to this work. My heart is full of love and pity for the erring, the blinded, the famishing, the dying men and women around me on all sides. Starving, but not for the food which perishes – this is a land of plenty – but for the bread which comes down from heaven. But how can one who has a wife and five children, all young and non-productive of material needs, who has no money except as earned slowly by daily toil, to feed, clothe and educate these dependent ones, how can such as one go out and the preach the word in a land containing but a handful of brethren?

I have a little country store here but am partly in debt for my building and my stock. It is a good location, in the very midst of the fruit and raisin industry which makes this part of our State famous already. My store is situated between and about one hundred yards distant from two packing houses and fruit driers. Last season the Curtis Fruit Company, which owns one of them, put up 23,000 boxes of raisins, and this year the two institutions together will probably put up 60,000 boxes. This gives employment to many men, women and children at fair wages. It is a new but prosperous neighborhood, all the while improving. We have either a family or young bachelor living on nearly every twenty acres. We are nine miles south of Fresco and five west of Fowler, and have most of the conditions necessary for a good country business. We have a good school house and a postoffice, and with the exception of about three months of hot weather (in June, July and August) a very fine climate indeed. Eastern people are usually delighted with it.

My house is new, worth about $1500, stock and fixtures $500 more. Hence $2000 is about what I consider my place worth as I have it now. With an additional $2000 the place and business can be put in fine shape for a comfortable home and moderately remunerative income for one or two small families. The postoffice, which can be had in the store if desired, pays now $10 a month and would draw trade besides. Now if some brother who has the capital and a taste for the mercantile life in a humble way in the country will join me or buy me out possibly I can devote more if not all my time to the ministry or gospel preaching. I have been lecturing in the school house on Life and Death and trying to interest and instruct people. Considerable interest has been manifested.

Perhaps I should say that I was educated at Amherst College, Mass., (class of 1870) and was for a time in Auburn Theological Seminary at Auburn, N.Y., that I preached for a short time among the Presbyterians and then for some seven years among the “Disciples,” but that, seeing the way of the Lord more clearly in reference to the life eternal and the gospel of the kingdom, I was baptised on the confession of this faith by Brother Richard Corbaley in Yale County, Cal., in 1878 or ’79. Since then I have been isolated from brethren a good deal but have been giving myself to reading and the study of God’s word as I have had opportunity, never neglecting to speak a word in private or in public as occasion occurred if I could aid a fellow mortal or honor my Father in heaven and our elder brother Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of God and our only true life-giver.

I have thus told you of myself and how I wish to give myself wholly to the gospel word. Do you know of any way to accomplish this end? Or do you know of any brother who would trade for my store or go in with me in such an enterprise. My idea would be, so far as I am concerned, to make the store only a means of support while I gave myself mainly to preaching and teaching the word. We have a few brethren and sisters here but no regular organization. Brother Benj. Wilson is here, two Brothers Balch (?) and Brother Calder and their wives, about a dozen of us in all. Circumstances have made it out of my power to do more than speak to them and others who were interested to come and hear. There are causes not necessary to name here which have operated to prevent any attempt at organization, but which I hope soon will be removed. If you see fit to state my case in an abbreviated way (what I have written is too long and rambling to print) in THE RESTITUTION, I would like to see if the Lord may by such means open a door for me. I am with much love,

Your brother in Christ,


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