John M. Smith case study #5

In the spring of 1835, just before his death, John’s tax list[1] showed that he owned 5 pieces of property totaling 556 acres. He showed 3 white tithes who I believe could be John M, Benjamin, and Solomon. George and Elias are listed individually directly after John in the list.

Working backward through the tax lists and deed records, I can track when John purchased land through the years and even expand that to track the land after John M’s death. I created a spreadsheet to help me track the land, which I will talk about in my next post.

I find John in Russell County for the first time in April 1827. He purchased 100 acres of land[2] that was half in Russell County and half in Wayne County. One question that I’ve always had is this – why do I find John M. Smith records in Russell County and not Wayne County? Seems like it would have been harder to get to the Courthouse in Russell County because he would have had to cross the river. But so far, I have never been able to find a record that I can definitely say was John M. (But now that I think about it, how hard have I really looked?)

Russell County was formed in 1826 and John’s area of Russell County had previously been Wayne County. Looking at the Wayne County tax lists, I can see a likely match for John M. Smith in the tax lists for 1826[3] and 1827[4] living in the same area as the families that two of his children would soon marry into – the Paynes and the Simpsons.

These two tax lists were most helpful because individuals were listed by tax collector district. This is unusual as the majority of the tax lists around this time period are entirely alphabetical with only an upper district and lower district, meaning that I cannot tell who neighbors might have been. He owned no land, so I have no land records to provide further clues for his time in Wayne County. But I can find the deeds for Philemon Payne and Reuben Simpson to see the area that this group would have been located in. I keep track of that type of information in the timelines that I keep on Google Drive, which I try to link to in these posts.

The next hint

My direct line comes through John M’s son, George A, and his son, Elias (1845-1885). When I would research Elias, I would often come across information for the other Elias, George’s brother. To tell these men apart, I label them with their year of death – Elias (1885) and Elias (1853). I often use this method when dealing with people with the same name because cousins may have the same name and may have been born in the same year, but very rarely did they die in the same year. It also allows me to quickly see if a record was created after the death of one of the men, which would rule him out for that record.

To make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I collected all records I could find for any Elias Smith and then worked to assign each to the correct Elias. Elias was the owner of quite a bit of land. He died in 1853 at the age of 43 in Russell County[5] leaving behind his wife and 8 children. Elizabeth (Meadows) Smith’s brother, James Harrington Meadows became the guardian for the children.

Elias’s (1853) family connections through his in-laws are pretty well known, so his information was not difficult to find. During this research, I came across a biography for one of Elias’ grandsons – Oscar M Smith[6] who died in 1952. The biography contained a lot of family information which I had already confirmed as well as a few additional hints on John M. Smith.

   Oscar M Smith has been a member of the Russellville bar for fourteen years and during a large part of that time has occupied his present position as city attorney. Whatever he has found to do he has done to the limit of his strength and abilities both of which have been of the highest order and thus while rising in professional prestige he has also won and held public confidence and regard Mr. Smith was born in Russell County, Kentucky August 21, 1872 and is a son of Rev. Elias and Mary C (Davis) Smith.

   The great grandfather of Mr. Smith (LV’s note: John M. Smith) was a native of Virginia and was the pioneer of the family in Kentucky, where he was an early settler of Danville and became a large landholder and the owner of many slaves. His son, Elias Smith, was born at Danville and was twenty-one years of age when he came to Russell County, Kentucky. Following in the footsteps of his father, he became a planter whose broad acres were tilled by slave labor, and his death occurred on his plantation when he was forty-eight years of age, before the birth of his grandson. Elias Smith married Elizabeth Meadors [sic], who was born in Russell County in 1823 and died at Marrowbone, Cumberland County, this state in 1895.

The biography continues with information about Oscar and his parents – Rev. Elias Smith (1914) and Mary C. Davis. But I was able to glean a few important pieces of information for John M. from this biography.

  1. Elias Smith (1853), son of John M., was born in Danville, Kentucky. Elias’ gravestone says that he was born on February 9, 1810. That means that I should be able to find John M. in the Danville area around 1810.
  2. John M. Smith (“the great grandfather”) was an early settler of Danville. (Danville was officially established on December 4, 1787, according to Wikipedia.)
  3. John M. Smith was a large landholder with many slaves.

Because John M. Smith died in 1835 and his son, Elias, died in 1853, Oscar (born in 1872) never knew his grandfather or great-grandfather. Where did Oscar hear this information about his grandfather and great-grandfather? Rev. Elias (1914), Oscar’s father, was only 4 years old when his father, Elias (1853) died. So perhaps Oscar heard the family stories from his grandmother, Elizabeth Meadows Smith, who lived until 1893. I put together a short timeline for Rev. Elias Smith to see if anything popped out to me, but I have not done any deeper research on him. Numbers in square brackets are image numbers. Census records come from Ancestry and all others from FamilySearch.

  • 1850 – Russell Co, KY Census [18] – 4 years old – living with his parents
  • 1860 – Russell Co, KY Census [74] – 13 years old – living with his mother and siblings 2 doors from his grandfather, Andrew Meadows
  • 1870 – Russell Co, KY Census [7] – 23 years old – living with his mother and siblings
  • 1880 – Russell Co, KY Census [1] – 33 years old – married (Oscar, age 7) living in Rowena
  • 1885 – Russell Co, KY Court Orders 7:32 [54] “is a minister in good standing in the Methodist Episcopal Church”
  • 1896 – Russell Co, KY Deed Book Q:635 [348] – Elias Smith and Mary C Smith of Logan Co, KY to George A Smith (this Elias’s brother) of Russell Co, KY – 1 tract of 30 acres, 1 tract of 3 acres and 1 tract of “one half of a 100 acre tract of land bought of Reuben Dowell by Elias Smith Sr.”
  • 1896 – Russell Co, KY Deed Book Q:517 [289] – Elias Smith and Mary C Smith of Logan Co, KY to George T. Smith, Albert Smith and Millie Smith of Russell Co, KY – 1 tract of 43 acres, 1 tract of 40 acres, and 1 tract of 17 acres – I believe these are 3 children of Elias’ brother – William G. Smith
  • 1900 – Logan Co, KY Census [42] – 51 years old – living in Logan Co, KY

Another slightly similar account can be found on Ancestry in a story shared about Elias (1853). The story states that Clarence Smith, another grandson of Elias, said, “Elias was born in Virginia. He came to Kentucky with his parents and 2 or 3 brothers and settled near Danville, KY, where his father (John M.) and brothers operated a trading post.”

I know that James Meadows Smith was the son of Elias Smith (1853) and Elizabeth Meadows and that James and Sarah Coffey had a son named Clarence Meadows Smith who died in 1971 in Fort Worth, Texas. Clarence would have never known his grandfather, Elias, so he may have heard these details from his father, James Meadows Smith, who would have been 13 years old when Elias died. I’m confused by “2 or 3 brothers”. Does that mean brothers of Elias or brothers of John? While the birth location details differ, it is most interesting that Danville is mentioned once again.

These types of biographies (History of Kentucky) are generally known to contain a few “embellishments” so between information being “hearsay” and knowing it might be embellished, how certain can I be that the information in the biography is correct? Here’s what I have confirmed from Oscar’s biography:

  1. “Elias Smith….was twenty-one years of age when he came to Russell County”
    • Elias Smith’s gravestone says that he was born February 9, 1810.[7] I do not know when or who erected the stone, but it does appear to be quite old. I DO know that the original burial location is now under Lake Cumberland and the cemetery was moved to the Jamestown Cemetery in the 1950’s. If the current stone in the cemetery is the original stone, it would have already been about 100 years old when it was moved.
    • John M. Smith likely appears in the tax records for Wayne County, Kentucky in 1826 and 1827 showing that he owned no land at that time. A portion of Wayne County was part of the area that became Russell County in 1826. John purchased land that was half in Wayne County and half in Russell County on April 4, 1827.[8] This land eventually passed from John’s heirs to Elias (1853). Assuming Elias was living with his family, he would have been about 16 years old when he came to the area around 1826.
    • Elias’ older brother, George A. (b. 1805), first appears in the Russell County tax lists in 1828[9].
    • In the 1830 census from Russell County[10], John M. is listed with 6 total males. I believe Elias would have been one of these as he didn’t marry until 1834.
    • In the 1831 tax list[11], John M. lists 2 white tithes. George A. is listed separately, so the 2nd tithe could have been Elias, who would have been around 21 years old at the time.
    • The 1832 tax list is missing, so Elias first appears in the 1833[12] list. If Elias was listed in the 1832 tax list, he would have been 22 years old, but he was most likely living with his father before this time. Elias married Elizabeth Meadows in 1834[13].
    • Given the age of Elias when he came to the Russell County area, I am unlikely to find tax records for Elias in any other county he may have lived in before Russell County.
  1. “Following in the footsteps of his father, he became a planter whose broad acres were tilled by slave labor”
    • At the time of his death, Elias owned 1500 acres in Russell and Wayne Counties[14]. His final tax list indicates that he had 6 slaves.
    • In the 1835 tax list, John M. owned 556 acres of land. Various tax lists show that John had 1 slave. At this time, I do not know any information before Russell and Wayne Counties.

Now for the clue that most excites me: “where he (John M.) was an early settler of Danville and became a large landholder and the owner of many slaves. His son, Elias Smith, was born at Danville”.

So soon the research turns to Danville, Kentucky!


[1] Russell County, Kentucky, 1835 Tax List, p30, FamilySearch film #7834502, image 255.

[2] Russell County, Kentucky, Deed Book A, p132, FamilySearch film #7896967, image 75.

[3] Wayne County, Kentucky, 1826 Tax List, p72, FamilySearch film #7834523, image 76.

[4] Wayne County, Kentucky, 1827 Tax List, p17, FamilySearch film #7834523, image 96.

[5] Findagrave Memorial – Elias Smith –  ID 82119958, Jamestown Cemetery.

[6] Connelley, William Elsey., Coulter, Ellis Merton. History of Kentucky. United States: American Historical Society, 1922. (Volume 4 p437-438) Available for free through Google Books.

[7] Findagrave Memorial ID 82119958 – Elias Smith, 9 Feb 1810 to 21 July 1853.

[8] Russell County, Kentucky, Deed Book A, p132, FamilySearch film #7896967, image 75.

[9] Russell County, Kentucky, 1828 Tax List, p31, FamilySearch film #7834502, image 92.

[10] US Federal Census for 1830 Russell County, Kentucky, p121, Ancestry: Kentucky > Russell > Not Stated > image 35.

[11] Russell County, Kentucky, 1831 Tax List, p31, FamilySearch film #7834502, image 171.

[12] Russell County, Kentucky, 1833 Tax List, p31, FamilySearch film #7834502, image 213.

[13] Russell County, Kentucky, Marriage Records v1, p12, FamilySearch film #5686089, image 27.

[14] Russell County, Kentucky, 1853 Tax List, p18, FamilySearch film #7834502, image 944.