William Marsh Rice

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William Marsh Rice

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: September 23, 1900 (84)
New York City, New York County, New York, United States (Murder by chloroform)
Place of Burial: Houston, Harris County, Texas, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of David Rice and Patty Rice
Husband of Margaret C. Rice and Julia Elizabeth Rice
Brother of Capt. Frederick Allen Rice

Occupation: merchant, financier, philanthropist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About William Marsh Rice



William Marsh Rice, son of David Rice and Patty Hall, was b. Mar. 14,1816 in Springfield, Mass. He was the 3rd child, with seven more to follow. He dropped out of school at age 15 and went to work as a clerk in the Family Grocery Store, owned by a retired whaling captain. After four or five years he decided he knew enough to open his own store. Because he was not yet of age, his father had to co-sign the note to buy his business. Within two years he had paid his loan and made $2700 in profit.

Because the nation was in a financial crisis, he decided to venture to the 'new nation of Texas' and therefore sold his store, invested in merchandise and goods, and headed for Galveston. He arrived in fine health, but the ship carrying the wares he had purchased was lost at sea. He was penniless.

By 1839 he was issued a conditional grant of 320 acres of land by the Harrisburg County Board of Commissioners (a common practice to disburse land to new settlers). In Apr. 1839 he signed an agreement to furnish liquor for a bar of the Milan House. With the proceeds, he began acquiring more property. By 1844 he entered into a partnership that was known as Rice and Nichols, Importers and Wholesale Grocers; which brought in goods and merchandise from New Orleans and the East for resale to local settlers and plantation owners. Before long he expanded and started exporting cotton. In order to speed up the process, he became involved in the Houston and Brazos Plank Road Company; which began 'paving' the land routes with planks. But soon he transferred his interests to the Buffalo, Brazos and Colorado Railroad.

In 1850 he married with MARGARET C. BREMOND, dau. of a business associate. They barely escaped with their lives by luckily missing passage on the steamer "Oregon", which exploded and sank a few days out of port. When back in Houston, they purchased a home, moved it to San Jacinto and Congress Streets,attended Houston's cultural events and joined the Episcopal Christ Church, and William began supporting various educational endeavors. By 1856 he was an incorporator of the Houston Academy and, by 1857, he was a member of the Houston Educational Society.

Continuing his business enterprises, he increased his wealth and founded the Houston and Galveston Navigation Company, was involved with a number of railroads, marine & fire insurance companies, and the City Bank of Houston.

The Civil War brought a halt to a number of enterprises, but William managed well by transporting cotton. His wife Margaret worked in the war relief effort, contributed to patriotic causes, and to the families of soldiers who died on the battlefield. But in 1863 Margaret fell ill, and died on Aug. 13,1863; probably as a result of either yellow fever or cholera (which were a constant hazard at that time of year).

By 1867 William married for the second time at Christ Church in Houston to the 40 year-old widow of wealthy landowner John Brown. This was JULIA ELIZABETH BALDWIN BROWN, sister of his brother Frederick Rice's wife Charlotte.Because Houston was, at that time, in the grip of one of the worst epedemics of yellow fever it had ever had, the couple moved to New York and eventually to Green Brook, New Jersey. In 1879 he purchased 50,000 acres of government land in Beauregard Parish, Louisiana; an investment that would, after his death, and with the discovery of oil and natural gas, become a boon to the school that would bear his name.

At the age of 63 he began to consider an ongoing project or institution to endow with his considerable wealth. During his frequent trips to Houston and discussions with the Houston School Board and others, decided to found Houston's first institution of higher learning. The charter for the William M. Rice Institution for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art was signed on May 13,1891 and registered in Austin six days later.

After the death of his wife Elizabeth, and the resolution of difficulties her own will had created, he made a will which left the bulk of his estate to the Rice Institute.

That is not the end of the story...the charter for the school was vague, it did not even contain the words "college" or "university" but did specify that nothing was to be done until his death.

He died on Sept.23,1900; but not of natural causes. An unscrupulous lawyer, Albert J. Patrick, had conspired with William's valet, Charles Jones, and drafted a phony will, leaving the money to himself. Then, impatient for Rice to die, they suffocated him.

They would have gotten away with their plan except that the day after Rice's death they tried to withdraw funds from his bank account with a forged check.An alert bank clerk noticed, however, that the name on the check was mispelled and called in the Bank president. The plan unfolded in quick time thereafter. The valet confessed, a trial ensued and Patrick was sent to Sing Sing. The Rice fortune was saved. In 1904 the funds were released to commence the formation of Rice Institute; later to become Rice University.

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William Marsh Rice's Timeline

March 14, 1816
Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States
September 23, 1900
Age 84
New York City, New York County, New York, United States
Houston, Harris County, Texas, United States