1720 - 1951
Smith is the top most common family name in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. In many other countries, variants of Smith, such Schmidt in Germany, are among the top five most common names and immigrants would often choose to use the Anglicized spelling of the name. As a result of the frequency of use, research can be very difficult because it's easy to confuse individuals with the same name. The reason this name is so common is because it's an occupational name for a smith (worker in metal), which was a common occupation. The English name Smith is derived from the Old English "smitan" which means "to strike with a hammer".
We begin with Richard Smith who was born about 1720, some sources say in Essex County, Virginia (which had been established not long before in 1692) but others say he was a "Scotch-Irishman" which meant he came from Ulster, Ireland and could trace his heritage from there back to Scotland. Whether he was born there or merely of Ulster Scots descent is unclear. In either case, he was a Virginia resident by 1750 when his son Owen was born in Amelia County, which had only just been founded 15 years earlier in 1735. His wife Kitturah Brewer may have been born in Virginia and they probably had more than one child in addition to Owen but their names are currently unknown.
Richard was a Colonel, possibly in the American Revolution but maybe also in the French and Indian Wars.
In 1754, part of Amelia County became Prince Edward County and this is where Owen’s son William Hawkins Smith was born in 1791. Owen was a Baptist Minister and merchant until he died in 1820 at the age of 70. Owen had owned 15 slaves in 1810, which suggests he may have also been a farmer.
There is some confusion regarding William’s mother and Owen’s wives. It appears Owen first married Keturah Hawkins and then, when she died, married her sister Rosamund Hawkins but which one mothered William is unknown. Owen had several other children by both the Hawkins’ sisters.
William was a soldier in the War of 1812 before marrying Nancy Cobb (b. 1796 in Buckingham County, Virginia) in 1816 in Buckingham County, Virginia. William and Nancy had three known children:
Mary married a man named James Carbon. John’s fate is unknown.
Robert Hawkins Smith was born on October 9, 1817 in Buckingham County, Virginia. The family moved to Georgia in 1824 before settling in Elkton, Todd County, Kentucky in 1831. Elkton was founded in 1820 and is the county seat of Todd County. The town courthouse (which still stands today and is known as the Old Todd County Courthouse) was built in 1835, just four years after the Smith’s arrival. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and is the second oldest courthouse in the state. Elkton is a small town of around 2,000 people today but when the Smith family arrived there, there were all of about 380 residents.
William died in Kentucky in 1835 when he was only 44 years old. His wife Nancy died nine years later at the age of 48.
In 1837, Robert fell in love with Octavia M. Wood who was residing in, or more probably, just outside of Hopkinsville of Christian County, about 20 miles away. On foot, this would have been about a 6 to 7 hour trip and on horseback at an average trot, about 2 to 4 hours. It is unknown how they met but their “long distance relationship” carried on in the first year by way of love letters which still survive today. Their contents are quite romantic with Robert pledging his love numerous times and promising to marry Octavia in a letter dated June 24, 1837:
“I say by all that is sacred and by all that is dear to man and men that I pledge myself again and again [. . .] Oh my dear, give me your heart and hand and that is all I ask and if you do not, I am ruined forever [. . .] My dear it is you and you alone that I love and no other can win my affection from you.”
Robert was also apparently the first to confess his feelings to her in the first of the surviving love letters from an unknown date:
“I have concealed my feelings from you as long as I can so you must not think me bold in this address to you for my love to you is so great that I could not [for bane?].”
However, his patience to hear back from Octavia was often short for in his postscript of a letter dated May 24th, he bluntly demands “Answer this letter immediately”.
Octavia’s responses to Robert’s first declaration of love are lost but we can be sure she responded favorably. On her part, Octavia’s later letters seemed anxious to be married, sometimes insecure and also demanding. In a letter dated the 2nd of June, she questions her worthiness of Robert, wondering “I hope that you will not deem me unreasonable for you.” However, she then goes on to boldly hint at her expectations of marriage as reward for a “generous act”:
“You must give me a generous reward for transacting this generous act but alas I fear the consequence. Round is the ring that has no end.”
It’s possible this generous act was of a sexual nature and Octavia may have been concerned about her reputation. Unmarried women during this time period were not permitted to freely interact with men except in the most formal of circumstances.
On February 20, 1838 Octavia and Robert married and had a total of twelve children:
Robert H. became a farmer in an area just outside Hopkinsville, owning a few slaves through 1850 and 1860, though their names are unknown. In 1850, the Smiths owned only one black 16 year old female slave but by 1860, they owned six. Five black males aged 38, 37, 7, 5 and 2 and one black female aged 3. By 1870, the Civil War had ended and slavery abolished so the black workers and servants living with the Smiths could now be named. Two men in their early 20's by the names of Wade Adams and Louis Hamilton were workers on the Smith's farm. Jennie Williams, 35, was a domestic servant for the family with two children of her own also living in the household, Robert, 6 and Eliza, 1.
Robert’s farm was located in Pembroke, a town about 10 miles southeast of Hopkinsville. It was established in 1848 when Dr. Lunsford Lindsay, a great admirer of the character Lord Pembroke in the book “Thaddeus of Warsaw”, secured its post office. Prior to this, the Smith family would have had to go into Hopkinsville to get their mail, a journey which would have taken about an hour or two on horseback. As the town grew, it was formed on parts of four different farms owned by R.C. Jameson, A.G. Slaughter, James Richardson and E.B. Garnett. Jameson and Richardson can both be found living only a few houses from the Smith family in 1850. Also just next door was Octavia’s brother, William H.P. Wood. The town’s growth slowed during the Civil War, as one of its significant merchant stores, W.H. Pendleton & Company, closed shop after all its members joined the war. But Pembroke then began to grow more rapidly than ever in 1868 when it was incorporated into the L & N Railroad. By 1880 the township had a population of about 2,700 and by 1897, it was a thriving tobacco and wheat town, home to one public and two private schools, four religious denominations (Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, and Presbyterian), three fraternal orders (Masonic, Odd Fellows, and Knights of Pythias), the Pembroke Deposit Bank, and a weekly newspaper called the “Pembroke Review”.
During the Civil War, Kentucky was of key importance as a border state, which meant it was a slave state which did not declare its secession from the United States before April 1861 when the war began. Loyalties were so divided within the state that there were both Union and Confederate governments established there and families were often torn apart, pitting fathers against sons and brothers against brothers, though fortunately there is not yet any evidence of this within our Smith family. The President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was even born in Christian County and several business and plantation owners in the Hopkinsville area donated money and supplies to the Confederate cause but so divided was the state that Kentucky never declared secession from the Union. Hopkinsville itself was occupied alternatively several different times by Union and Confederate forces. The Confederates formed the “Oak Grove Rangers” and 28th Kentucky Cavalry in Christian County while after 1862 when the Confederates retreated to Tennessee, the Union had Camp Joe Anderson just outside of Hopkinsville where trainees went on to become members of the 25th and 35th Kentucky Infantries. In 1864, Hopkinsville was captured by the Confederates who burned Christian County Courthouse, which was in use by the Union army as barracks. The Smiths residing on their rural farm outside the city in Pembroke probably escaped much of this violence and unrest but it must have been a very disturbing time for them, nonetheless.
On January 6, 1900 Robert Hawkins Smith died of a stroke in Pembroke, six years after his wife, Octavia, who had died on January 10th. They had been members of the Christadelphian Church and Robert was an Independent in politics. He was 82 years old at the time of his death and reported in his obituary as one of the oldest and most respected men in his community and “a man of considerable means”. At this time, the population of Pembroke was around 3,500 but today, it is home only to about 800.
Later in the year of 1900, after Robert’s death, electricity was introduced to Pembroke with the Pembroke Plant.
Robert and Octavia’s son James Addison seemed plagued with tragedy. His son Olaf died young in a train wreck, his daughter Marjory became a drug addict and his other daughter Mary "went crazy", her death certificate saying she suffered from a “chronic, undifferentiated type” of Schizophrenia. She lived with her parents until they could no longer care for her in their old age and then sometime around 1935, she was put in the Central State Hospital for the Insane in Nashville, Tennessee, which is now known as the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute. James’s wife Margaret Peay also became a drug addict, dependent on morphine. He eventually died at the age of 80 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Robert and Octavia’s other son, Gilbert, who was better known as just “Gill” became a successful Dry Goods Merchant. He is mentioned several times in the Personal Gossip section (similar to a society section) of the Hopkinsville Kentuckian for mundane reasons. He was also mentioned once when a terrible fire consumed his home, coal house, and stables after a servant left her two children alone and they wound up playing with matches. The buildings were fortunately covered by insurance but one of the children was so badly burned, it was expected he would not live. The other survived and the mother suffered badly burned hands in her efforts to save her children.
Another son, Sterling Price, moved first to New York before settled out in Los Angeles as a Hotel Manager. Sterling was obviously on good terms with his siblings, since he would return to Kentucky to visit them.
Yet another son, Robert Louis Smith, was born January 17, 1852 in Kentucky. He seems to have gone by his middle name to distinguish him from his father so we will refer to him as such. At the age of 27, he married Matie Gertrude Mills, who was only 17, on June 15, 1879 and they had six children:
The middle name Omega, which is the last letter in the Greek alphabet, was given to Rachael as a symbolic promise from Louis to his wife that she would be their last child.
Guy sadly died when he was only two years old. It is an unfortunately common theme in history.
The family moved around a lot but Louis and Matie initially stayed in Pembroke, living on a farm owned by a man named Zackaria Poor. There was also a single man living there named Dock Williams. The boarders were not there to work on the farm though. Louis and Dock were both clerks in a store (maybe even the same store), although it's likely Matie helped with the house and farm work. By 1900, the Smith family had moved to Olmstead, Logan County, Kentucky where Louis was a merchant but he also owned and lived on a farm. This meant his primary source of income was as a merchant but he may have hired others to work the farm or the farm could have been idle. Since there were no boarders living with them at the time, it suggests the latter was the case. Sometime between 1905 and 1910, the family had moved to Davidson County, Tennessee where Louis finally became a farmer like his father. By 1914, they finally settled in Whitemarsh, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
For an unknown reason, Robert became the legal guardian of a teenaged girl named Katie Carrico sometime before 1900. Her name suggests that she was completely unrelated to the family because there is no known Carrico in the family tree. She may have been from a neighboring family.
Hugh had been engaged to a girl called Alice, who the family loved. She was tall and slender with chestnut hair and a lovely singing voice. Hugh’s sisters would call her on the phone to have her sing to them. Unfortunately, Hugh and Alice had a rocky relationship and frequently fought over the phone but when the family got tired of listening to it, Eugene would place a mallet on the wire to short circuit the connection. Eventually, they split up and Hugh married Senator Gilbert’s daughter, Ione.
Eugene was a shoe salesman and married Verna Lynn Leonard; the two were a very close couple. Kitty married Ralph Hamilton but he turned out to be a mama’s boy and so they divorced in 1914. She remarried to John Wesley Diamond in 1918.
Matie Louise (not to be confused with her mother Matie Gertrude) went by Louise instead. She was a willful and romantic girl who decided when she was sixteen that she had to married Leon Sabies because she didn’t want to break his heart. They divorced in 1912 and she remarried to William Fernando DeVere, an actor with a travelling company. He gave up acting to marry Louise (now that is romantic).
In 1909, Robert's son Hugh had died of TB when he was only 27 years old and so his widow Ione and young son, also named Hugh, moved in with Robert and Matie. Hugh Jr. was adored by the family for his amusing behavior such as referred to the grace said before dinner as “blessing the spoons”. Later, Ione remarried a Mr. Harris who adopted the boy. Robert's father-in-law William Henry Mills had also come to live with the family by 1910 after the death of his wife.
By 1930, Robert and Matie had moved in with their daughter Rachael's family, the Fries's in Whitemarsh, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
When Rachael was 5 years old, she had been sweeping cinders when her broom caught on fire. Fearful that she would get in trouble, she did not shout for help and while trying to put out the fire herself, her dress caught on fire. In fear for her life, she must have finally cried out for her mother Matie then rushed in and rolled her up in the carpet, starving the fire of oxygen and putting it out. Rachael had a burn scar on the underneath side of her upper arm for the rest of her life as a result of the incident.
Rachael had always loved babies and would take care of neighborhood babies as soon as she was big enough to carry them. Her aim in life was to marry and have a home and babies of her own. Even so, Rachael also liked to go out and have fun. She often double dated with her sister Louise and liked older men. She particularly had many dates with a George Cooper, who was in his 30s, but she was destined for another man.
Before she had even met him, she had decided that Arthur Abel Fries, a new man at the local nursery where one of Louise's dates worked, was the man for her. She continued to date other men (once even breaking off a date with Arthur claiming a headache to see one of them) but she and Arthur were married on October 29, 1914 in Pennsylvania when she was only 16 and he was 30. To read more on Rachael's life after her marriage, see the Fries Family Chapter.
Her father Robert died on June 21, 1941 at the age of 89, surviving his wife Matie by ten years after she died on October 6, 1931.
© Robin Bauer 2010-2013
Smith Photos and Documents
Robert Hawkins Smith as an man old.
One of Robert Hawkins Smith’s sons, Gilbert Smith.
Gilbert Smith’s home in Kentucky.
Another son of Robert Hawkins Smith, James Addison Smith, who suffered many family tragedies.
Robert Louis Smith
Robert Louis Smith’s wife, Matie Gertrude Mills
Robert Louis and Matie Gertrude Smith
A young family, from left to right: Hugh, Matie, Robert, Eugene.
The Smith family - in front: Robert Louis and Matie Gertrude Smith. In back from left to right: Eugene Farnsworth, Kitty, Louise, Rachael.
A tintype of Hugh Smith with a friend before his premature death at age 27 (unknown which one is Hugh).
Eugene Farnsworth Smith and his teacher.
Rachael Omega Smith