Baptist History Homepage

Rev. John Rice
The Baptist Encyclopedia

Rev. John Rice was born in Virginia in 1759. He removed to Kentucky; was baptized and brought into the ministry at Gilbert's Creek church, in Garrard Co., Ky. He was a constituent of Shawnee Run, for a long time the largest church south of the Kentucky River. Of this church, in Mercer County, he was pastor from its organization, in 1788, till his death, March 19, 1843. He was eminent among the pioneers of Kentucky, and greatly beloved for his piety, faith, and usefulness.

[From The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; reprint, 1988, p. 978.]


John Rice
A History of Kentucky Baptists
By J. H. Spencer, 1885

John Rice, the founder and first pastor of Shawnee Run church, is believed to have been a native of North Carolina and was born in 1760. He was among the earliest settlers of Lincoln county, Kentucky. He was a member of Gilberts Creek church of Separate Baptists, where he was ordained to the gospel
[p. 171]
ministry in 1785, and was probably the first preacher ordained in Kentucky. Soon after his ordination he settled on Shawnee Run, in Mercer county. Here he preached to the few settlers that occupied the beautiful valleyof Shawnee Run, till he gathered Baptists enough to constitute the first church which had any permanence in Mercer county. He was immediately installed its pastor, and continued to minister to it more than fifty-four years. Besides Shawnee Run, Mr. Rice preached statedly to Stony Point, Salt River (after the death of John Penny), and several other churches, at different periods. Besides his pastoral labors he traveled and preached much among the destitute, and was abundantly blessed in leading souls to Christ. He was often heard to say, in his old age: "I have baptized hundreds, yea thousands of fine men and women, and, I doubt not, many a sleek Simon Magus has passed through my hands."

Mr. Rice was six feet and two inches high, very erect and symmetrical in form, and had small hands and feet. His hair was black and glossy, his eyes were dark and shaded by thick black eyebrows. His nose was large, with high cheek bones. His countenance was remarkably cheerful and winning. His voice was clear, strong and very musical, and he was an excellent singer. His social gifts were extraordinary. He introduced himself to strangers in a manner that made them friends at once, and it has been said that "he never lost a friend, except by death." "I remember the first time I ever saw John Rice," said an aged minister to the author, some years ago: "It was at a meeting of Green River Association, at old Mt. Tabor church, in Barren county, about the year 1812. There was a great crowd of people around the stand in the woods. It was on Sunday. Two sermons had been preached, and the people were becoming restless. Mr. Rice rose up in the stand and darted a rapid glance over the congregation. Then pointing his finger steadily, as if at a single individual on the outskirts of the assembly, he said, with a voice and manner almost inimitably persuasive: 'Methinks that gentleman is saying to his neighbor, 'who is that?'

"If he and the rest of the congregation will draw a little nearer, I will tell them who I am, where I came from, and where I am going." The congregation began to draw up around the
[p. 172]
stand. The speaker continued: "My name is John, a Baptist. I came from the city of Destruction, and am bound for Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, an innumerable company of angels, the spirits of just men made perfect, and to the general assembly and church of the first born." Before he closed a great crown gathered around him, and extending their hands to him, expressed their desire to go with him.

Mr. Rice was not only beloved by the people among whom he preached the word, but he was esteemed and honored by his brethren in the ministry. On one occasion, after settling a difficulty among some brethren at David's Fork church, in Fayette county, a number of the ablest preachers in the State being present, the question was sprung as to who should preach. Jacob Creath, sen., immediately nominated Mr. Rice, saying "Brother Rice has more skill in casting out devils than any of us."

John Rice was the pioneer preacher of Mercer county; for, although Tinsley, Hickman and perhaps several others had preached in the county before he was ordained to the ministry, none of them are known to have been residents. Mr. Rice was a resident of this county previous to 1786, and, two years after that date, a resident pastor on Shawnee Run. Few men were more worthy of, or better fitted for, the responsible position of a pioneer preacher. He enjoyed the smiles of God, and the unqualified approbation of his brethren. After preaching the Gospel of Christ nearly sixty years, he left the thorny walks of mortal men, and went to join the General Assembly and church of the first born, on the 19th of March, 1843. The church he so long served erected a monument over his remains in old Shawnee Run church-yard, at a cost of $300. Mr. Rice was married but once. He raised six daughters and four sons, all of whom he baptized with his own hands.

[ J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; reprint, 1988, pp. 170-172.]


Elder John Rice had preached for them [Mount Freedom Baptist Church, Jessamine County, KY] from January, 1834, to April, 1837, but it does not appear clear from the records whether or not he accepted the pastorate during that time.

[From History of the Churches of Boone's Creek Baptist Association of Kentucky, By S. J. Conkwright, 1923, p. 98. Edited, scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]


The late Dr. Ira (Jack) Birdwhistell, Associate Professor of Religion and Baptist History at Georgetown (KY) College, is a fifth generation descendant.

More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage