Sara Agnes Rice Pryor

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Sara Agnes Rice Pryor
01-Pryor Sarah Agnes Rice.jpg
Sara Agnes Rice Pryor
BornFebruary 19, 1830
Halifax County, Virginia
DiedFebruary 15, 1912
Essex County, New Jersey
Spouse(s)Roger Atkinson Pryor
ChildrenMaria Gordon Pryor
Theodorick Bland Pryor
Roger Atkinson Pryor
Mary Blair Pryor
William Rice Pryor
Lucy Atkinson Pryor
Francesca (Fanny) Theodora Bland Pryor
Parent(s)Samuel Blair Rice
Lucinda Walton Leftwich

Sara Agnes Rice Pryor, born Sara Agnes Rice (February 19, 1830 – February 15, 1912), was an American writer and community activist in New York City. Born in Virginia, she moved north after the American Civil War with her husband and family to rebuild their life. He was a former politician and Confederate general; together they became influential in New York society, among numerous "Confederate carpetbaggers" after the war.

Mrs. Pryor was among founders of a home for women and children in Brooklyn, New York. She helped found heritage organizations including Preservation of the Virginia Antiquities, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Mary Washington Memorial Association, and the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. She was active in fundraising to support their goals.

Mrs. Pryor published two histories, two memoirs of the Civil War years, and novels by the Macmillan Company in the early 1900s. Her first memoir was recommended by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which encouraged southern women writers to defend the southern cause. Her memoirs have been sources for historians on the life of her society during and after the war years.

Early life, lineage and education[edit]

Sara Agnes Rice was born in Halifax County, Virginia to Samuel Blair Rice,[1] a Baptist preacher, and his second wife, Lucinda Walton Leftwich (1807–1855), who had more than 10 children together. At about the age of three, Sara was effectively adopted by her childless aunt, Mary Blair Hargrave, and her husband, Dr. Samuel Pleasants Hargrave, and lived mostly with this couple in Hanover, Virginia.[2] They were slaveholders.[3] When she was about eight, they moved to Charlottesville seeking a better education for her.

From her father side she was granddaughter of William Rice of "Greenwood", Charlotte county, Va., and Mary Bacon Crenshaw. Great-granddaughter of David Rice, of Kentucky, and Mary Blair. David Rice acted in the capacity of clergyman and orator to the Hanover militia in 1775. He was, in 1792, a member of the convention which framed the first constitution of the State of Kentucky. From her mother side she was granddaughter of Rev. William Leftwich and Frances Otey. Great-granddaughter of Col. John Otey, of Bedford, Va., and Mary Hopkins. Col. John Otey served as colonel and captain of a battallion of riflemen. Also descendant of Col. William Leftwich, Samuel Blair, and Maj. Gen. Joel Leftwich.[4]

Marriage and family[edit]

On November 8, 1848, Sara Agnes Rice married Roger Atkinson Pryor, of an old Tidewater family. A journalist, he became a politician and was elected to both the US Congress and the Confederate Congress after secession. Although they were not slaveholders, each had grown up with slaves, and he was a fiery orator in support of the institution.

Sara and Roger A. Pryor had seven children together, the last born after the war.[5]

  • Maria Gordon Pryor (called Gordon) (1850–1928), married her cousin Henry Crenshaw Rice (1842–1916), who had a daughter Mary Blair who authored several books under the pen name Blair Niles [Niles]
  • Theodorick Bland Pryor (1851–1871), died at age 20, likely a suicide, as he had been suffering from depression.[6] Admitted to Princeton College at a young age, he was its first mathematical fellow; he also studied at Cambridge, and had been studying law.[6] He was buried in Princeton Cemetery.
  • Roger Atkinson Pryor, became a lawyer in New York.[7]
  • Mary Blair Pryor, married Francis Thomas Walker[7]
  • William Rice Pryor (b. c.1860 – 1900[8]), became a physician and surgeon in New York and died young.[7] He was buried in Princeton Cemetery.
  • Lucy Atkinson Pryor, married the architect A. Page Brown; in 1889 they moved to San Francisco, California.
  • Francesca (Fanny) Theodora Bland Pryor (b. 31 December 1868), Petersburg, VA, married William de Leftwich Dodge, a painter, and they lived in Paris[7] and then New York.

Civil War[edit]

When her husband was commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army, Mrs. Pryor traveled with his company and worked as a nurse.[1] Their children were likely cared for by his family, as they had been living in Petersburg. After he resigned his commission to go with General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, she returned to Petersburg to keep their family together.[1]

New York City[edit]

After the war, Roger Pryor moved to New York where he started a new law practice. Sara Rice Pryor and the children joined him, moving to Brooklyn Heights in 1868.[9] Her second memoir describes their struggling through ten years of poverty (although she always had a domestic servant, first a former slave from Virginia who returned home, and then an Irish woman).[9] Mrs. Pryor sewed all the clothes for her children, found places for the younger girls at the Packer School, got a loan from a family friend with her husband's war silver as collateral, and helped her husband with his law studies.[9]

The couple became prominent among a number of influential southerners in the North, who were known as "Confederate carpetbaggers."[10]

Civic organizing[edit]

Mrs. Pryor became active in the social life of New York in the late nineteenth century. While she and her family were struggling, Mrs. Pryor and her friends realized that other women and children needed help; many immigrants continued to arrive in New York. Together with other women in Brooklyn Heights, she raised money to found a home for women and children in need. Her petition to the state legislature gained the group $10,000 toward purchase of a building in Brooklyn for the home. After collecting an additional $20,000 through their own fundraising, they started the Home in the 1870s.[9]

In her memoir, Mrs. Pryor noted that, following the 1889 United States Centennial celebration in New York, there was greatly increased interest in historic items, buildings and collections. She helped found the following organizations, at a time when fraternal, civic and lineage societies were forming quickly: Preservation of the Virginia Antiquities (since 2009 named Preservation Virginia), which came to own historic Jamestown among other properties; the Mary Washington Memorial Association, which raised funds to commission a memorial for the gravesite of the first president's mother; the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR); and the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. She organized a chapter of the DAR in New York. Among her fundraising activities, Pryor wrote that she "managed a great ball at the White Sulphur Springs to help build a monument over Mary Washington's grave."[11] Such fundraising events were important to providing for the preservation of historic assets.

Literary career[edit]

Sara Rice Pryor also became a productive writer. She had kept journals for years and used them as a basis for her two memoirs published in the early twentieth century.[12] She joined other Southern women who began to publish work with more of their own experiences and "contributed to the public discourse about the war."[12] Nearly a dozen memoirs by Southern women were published around the turn of the century.[13] Mrs. Pryor's status as the wife of a Confederate officer and politician gave her legitimacy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) encouraged southern women to write of their experiences, enlarging their cultural power.[12] In her Reminiscences of Peace and War (1904), Mrs. Pryor wrote about antebellum society but also defended the Confederacy, as did fellow writers Virginia Clay-Clopton and Louise Wigfall Wright; the UDC recommended the works of these three for serious study by other women.[12]

Like her husband in his speeches[14] Mrs. Pryor promoted the idea that the war had nothing to do with slavery. She suggested that the average Southern soldier fought to resist the invasion of the North. After noting that most soldiers were not slaveholders, she wrote, "His quarrel was a sectional one and he fought for his section."[12]

In addition, Mrs. Pryor wrote two histories and several novels, all published by The Macmillan Company in the early 1900s. Perhaps because of her status in New York, she had continued success in getting her books published, at a time when southern women writers were having difficulty.[12] Her memoirs have been important sources for historians.[1] The writer John C. Waugh drew extensively from her works in his joint biography of the Pryors: Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin, and Recovery: Roger and Sara Pryor during the Civil War (2002), which was also a social history of their circle.

After her death, Sara Agnes Rice Pryor was buried at Princeton Cemetery, near her sons Theodorick and William. Her husband was also buried there after his death. Her daughter Mary Blair Pryor Walker was also buried there after her death.


All published in New York by Macmillan:


  1. ^ a b c d Harris Henderson, "Summary", at Sara Agnes Rice Pryor, My Day (1909), at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, accessed 24 April 2012
  2. ^ Sara Agnes Rice Pryor, "Dedication to Mary Blair Hargrave", in The Colonel's Story, New York, Macmillan, 1911
  3. ^ Sara Agnes Rice Pryor, My Day: Reminiscences of a Long Life, Macmillan Company, 1909, at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, pp. 8–9
  4. ^ * Lineage Book of the Charter Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 1891. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ James pg. 103
  6. ^ a b Thomas Danly Suplee, The Life of Theodorick Bland Pryor: First Mathematical-Fellow of Princeton College, Bacon, 1879
  7. ^ a b c d "THE PRYOR FAMILY" Archived 2008-05-11 at the Wayback Machine., Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 7, Number 1, July 1899, pp. 75–79, carried at Tennessee Pryors website, accessed 13 April 2012
  8. ^ Pryor (1909), My Day, pp. 347–348, accessed 13 April 2012
  9. ^ a b c d Pryor (1909), My Day, pp. 336–339, accessed 23 April 2012
  10. ^ David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001, p. 90
  11. ^ Pryor (1909), My Day, p. 420, carried at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, accessed 13 April 2012. Note: White Sulphur Springs was a traditional resort for the planter class of the South.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Sarah E. Gardner, Blood And Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861–1937, University of North Carolina Press, 2006, pp. 128–130
  13. ^ Gardner (2006), Blood and Irony, p. 130
  14. ^ Blight (2001), Race and Reunion, pp. 90–91

Further reading[edit]

  • Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • John C. Waugh, Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin, and Recovery: Roger and Sara Pryor during the Civil War (2002)

External links[edit]