Thursday, December 07, 2006
James McConnell Smith (1787-1856)
James McConnell Smith (1787-1856)
James McConnell Smith was born 14 June 1787. The site of his birth was a log cabin near the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers, very near what was to become the City of Asheville in Buncombe County, North Carolina. His father is Colonel Daniel Smith (1757-1824), his mother Mary McConnell Davidson (1760-1842).
Tradition has it that James McConnell Smith was the first child born west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While this cannot be confirmed, he probably was among the first.
In 1814, he married Mary (Polly) Patton (1794-1853) of Swannanoa, and they had eleven children. Seven daughters and two sons lived to maturity. One of those sons is of particular interest to those studying Caswell County, North Carolina:
This is Jesse Siler Smith (1821-1870) who married Margaret Isabella (Maggie) Graves (1831-1911) of Yanceyville, North Carolina. They were married 15 Mar 1853 in Yanceyville, probably in the home of her father. This home would have been the Dongola mansion as her father was Jeremiah Graves, Sr. (1786-1868). Many with the name Smith and Lindsey now in Caswell County and surrounding areas are descendants of this union.
James McConnell Smith built and operated the Buck Hotel. This was a working-man's hotel that catered to drovers and provided for livestock to be corralled in the back. Smith owned a store across the street from the Buck Hotel, maintained a tannery and several farms, built and for several years managed Smith's Bridge, the first bridge in what is now Buncombe County across the French Broad River, afterwards selling the bridge to Buncombe County. Smith's Bridge, initially a toll ferry, was a toll bridge and may have been the beginning of his fortune.
James McConnell Smith was heavily invested in the stock of the Buncombe Turnpike Company, and he owned a gold mine. He was a large landowner in Asheville and other parts of Buncombe County and in nearby Georgia (owning at one time some 30,000 acres in Buncombe County). He was a judge, served as the first Chairman of Asheville's Board of Commissioners in 1849 (a chief executive position that became mayor), and his picture hangs in the hallway outside the Asheville City Council Chambers.
By the time of his death on May 18, 1856, Smith was one of the city's wealthiest and most prominent citizens. It is said that he needed armed guards to accompany him to Charleston so he could do his banking. James McConnell Smith is remembered as a man of untiring industry, economy, and perseverance.
Around 1840, James McConnell Smith built Victoria, today known as the Smith-McDowell house located at 283 Victoria Road in Asheville, North Carolina, for his young son John Patton Smith who never married and died in 1857. The house stands on property that was one of the land grants opening Western North Carolina to permanent settlement after the Revolutionary War. The plans for the house were brought from England. The brick walls are 18 inches thick, and some of the bricks were made in England, brought over as ballast on ships coming to Charleston, South Carolina. The bricks were then transported to Asheville by oxen teams.
In all probability the house was built by slaves owned by James McConnell Smith. It is an outstanding house and is opened as a museum today. This house and all of the adjoining land was willed to his son John Patton Smith and his heirs, however, John Patton Smith died nineteen months later without heirs. In 1858 the house was purchased at auction by a daughter of James McConnell Smith, Sarah Lucinda Smith (1826-1905), and her husband, William Wallace McDowell. They and their family lived in the house until 1881. Economic difficulties arising after the Civil War forced them to sell the house at that time.
Value of Real Estate Owned in 1850: $30,000. Source: 1850 US Census.
James McConnell Smith is buried with his parents and along side his wife, Mary (Polly) Patton (1794-1853), in the Newton Academy Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina with the following inscription on his gravestone:
Smith, James M.
Husband of Polly Smith
"In memory of"
"He was the first child of
white parentage born west
of the Alleghany in the
present state of North Car-
olina and his course of
life exhibited many ouali-
ties worthey of imitation by
all who come after him. He
was a pattern of industry
frugality energy and enter-
prise a useful citizen, a
warm friend, and an honest
Source: Newton Academy Cemetery, corner of Biltmore Avenue and Unadilla Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina. This is an old cemetery (established 1818) with much wear on the gravestones.
References and Photographs
Mountain Living Magazine: Historic Smith-McDowell House to Preserve WNC Heritage, Mildred Beedle Fossett (Spring 1976).
Chronology of North Carolina, D. K. Bennett (1858) at 101-102.
A History of Fernihurst, Frances McDowell (1989) at 1.
James McConnell Smith Portrait
Smith's Bridge Photograph #1
Smith's Bridge Photograph #2
Smith's Bridge Photograph 1920
Miscellaneous Records and Quotations
Name: James McConnell Smith
Given Name: James McConnell
Birth: 06/14/1787 in Asheville, NC, two-story log house on a knoll where the Asheville Depot stood
Event: 7 daughters and 2 sons lived to maturity Number of Children 11 children
Burial: Newton Academy Cemetery
"Mr. Smith was a man of untiring industry, economy and perseverance. He married Polly, daughter of Col. John Patton, settled at Asheville at an early day, and commenced merchandising and farming, both of which he prosecuted successfully till his death in 1856. He heeded not the fashions of the world, but steadily pursued his calling, and at his death left a large fortune for his children. Mrs. Smith died in 1843 , respected and lamented. She was the mother of nine children, five of whom are still living...." (1858. Bennett, D. K., Chronology of North Carolina, 101-102.)
"James M. Smith told the writer of [The Baird Brothers] giving him [a Jewsharp] when a small boy, which pleased him more than any present he ever received." (1858. Bennett, D. K., Chronology of North Carolina, p. 102.)
"His son, James McConnell [sic] Smith, built the Smith-McDowell House, ... located on the A-B Tech campus. This tract remained in the Smith family until sold...in 1875. (1989. McDowell, Frances. A History of Fernihurst, p. 1)
"The Smith-McDowell House was built by James McConnell Smith about 1840 for his younger son John Patton Smith. ...James never lived in this house."