The small, ancient cemetery of one of Jackson County’s earliest families was rediscovered in some Raytown residents’ back yard.

The graves of the Rice family are some of the earliest recorded burials in Jackson County. It’s also remarkable that the Rice’s home has survived and is open to the public as the Rice-Tremonti Home, 66th Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard. (The Tremonti family were the last, long-time private owners of the property, which is now part of the historic site’s legacy.)

Tim and Janet Morgan’s family dog, Maddie, gets credit for unearthing a peculiar stone that turned out to be the tall, thick, ornately carved marble headstone for Sallie Rice, wife of Archibald Rice, who was born in 1794 and died in 1852. Archibald Rice, a cotton planter, his wife Sarah “Sallie,” their six children and slaves, settled south of Independence in 1833. They had emigrated from Caswell County, North Carolina, to Monroe County, Missouri, in 1826. The family moved west to the present-day Raytown area around 1837, and by 1844 the cotton-turned-corn planter had built a large home within a semi-circle of slave cabins on 700 acres. (Only about five contiguous acres survive today.)

Archibald died in 1849. Sallie was listed in the 1850 U.S. Census with her son, Coffee, aged 26; and, daughter Minerva, 21. Sally then owned 16 slaves, who were listed solely by age and gender.

Much, if not all of Sallie’s property, slaves included, was inherited by Coffee upon her death in August 1852. Coffee, his wife Kitty and her slave Sophia “Aunt Sophie” White, were likely already living at the Rice plantation.

In 1860, 13 slaves were enumerated in the E. Coffee Rice household. One unnamed female was likely Sophia. She had appeared in the 1850 census as a slave of Kitty’s mother, Martha R. White.

Perhaps you are familiar with the historic log structure known as “Aunt Sophie’s” slave cabin? It has weathered many years and has a fascinating story.

Sophia lived and worked from the cabin that overlooked the wagon road serving as the Santa Fe Trail (and later the Oregon-California Trails). Sophia fled with her owners to Texas after Order No. 11 was issued during the Civil War. Even after emancipation, Sophia stayed on with the Rice family, who returned to Jackson County after the war.

Sophia White never married. She remarked once that she had never had time. She claimed she was a 15-year-old slave when she became the personal nurse to her master’s daughter, Catherine “Kitty” Stoner White, who was born August 11, 1832. That would make Sophia’s birth about 1817. Then, when Kitty married E. C. Rice on November 11, 1850, Sophia (then about 33 years old) was given to Kitty as a “wedding present.”

Stories survive that tell of Sophia visiting with people in her later years about all she had seen pass by her way as Raytown grew from a small village. She cooked the meals for the household over her own cabin fireplace and carried the food into the “big house.” According to Ethylene Ballard Thurston, Sophia scorned the modern cook stove inside the family’s house.

Sophia “Aunt Sophie” White died around the age of 79 on March 29, 1896, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery with her family, Coffee and Catherine “Kitty” Stoner (White) Rice.

Your respect for the Morgan’s property is appreciated. They are planning a private memorial garden delineating the location of the cemetery that remains in the corner of their family’s backyard. Sallie Rice’s tombstone (and one or two others found hidden under the earth) are likely to be on exhibit at the Rice Tremonti Home so they may be preserved, and saved from deterioration and vandalism.