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Full text of "Presentation of portrait of Governor Benjamin Smith to the state of North Carolina, in the hall of the House of Representatives, at Raleigh, November 15, 1911, by the North Carolina Society of the Sons of the Revolution;"

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^Benjamin ^mitf) 


November 15, 1911 



To the State of North Carolina 

Hall of the House of Representatives, at Raleigh 
November 15, 1911 

North Carolina Society of the Sons 
of the Revolution 

Address by 


Professor of Geology in the University of North Carolina, 
a Member of the Society 



General Society of the Sons of the Revolution 

April, 1911— April. 1914 

34 Pine Street, New York City. 


102 Front Street, New York City. 


60 Congress Street, Boston, Mass. 


Princeton, N. J. 


216 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Md. 


133 South 12th Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 


Bethany, Mo. 


Toledo, O. 


Raleigh, N. C. 


Washington, D. C. 




>^ OF THE 

North Carolina Society of the Sons of the Revolution 

November, 1911— November. 1912 



West Raleigh. 









The Officers, ex officio, 


Alexander Boyd Andrews, Jr., Chairman. 

Carle Augustus Woodruff. U.S.A. Walter Wellington Watt. 

Collier Cobb. James Ozborn Carr. 

Charles Earl Johnson. Willis Grandy Peace, U.S.A. 

Thomas Maslin. Charles Lee Smith. 


November 15, 1911 

Meeting Called to Okdee: By Hon, J. Bryan Grimes, 
President of the Society of the Sons of the Revolution. 

Peayer : By the Rev. Robert Brent Drane, D.D., of Eden- 
ton, Chaplain of the Society. 

Intkoduction of the Orator: By President Grimes. 

Address : The Career of Governor Benjamin Smith, by 
Prof. Collier Cobb, of the University of North Carolina, 
a member of the Society. 

Acceptance of the Portrait: By His Excellency, Wil- 
liam W. Kitchin, Governor of North Carolina. 

Benediction : By The Rev. Dr. Drane. 


Addressing Governor Kitchin, Professor Cobb said: 

May it Please Your Excellency : 

On behalf of the North Carolina Society of the Sons of 
the Kevolution, I present through you to the State of North 
Carolina the portrait of Benjamin Smith, patriot, legislator, 
soldier, statesman, and philanthropist; builder of highways 
and of fortifications ; conservationist and drainer of sw^amps ; 
opener of vs^aterways ; believer in education for every child 
within the State, and the first benefactor of the University; 
Grand Master of Masons ; Governor of North Carolina one 
hundred years before his time, and dreamer of dreams which 
you, sir, now help to make come true. 


Benjamin Smith's education began more than a hundred 
years before he was born, for he came of a race of men who 
did things. He was descended from Sir John Yeamans, 
from old King Roger Moore, and his grandmother, Lady 
Sabina Sraith, was the daughter of Thomas Smith, second 
Landgrave of his name in South Carolina. The father of 
our present subject was Colonel Thomas Smith, of South 
Carolina. So far as is known no relationship existed be- 
tween him and his wife, whose name (as just stated) was 
also Smith. Thomas Smith, the first Landgrave, had seen 
rice cultivated in Madagascar; and one day, in 1696, when a 
sea captain, an old friend of his, sailed into Charleston Har- 
bor from Madagascar, Thomas Smith got from him a bag of 
rice seed. This was carefully sown in a wet place in Smith's 
garden in Charleston. It grew, and the two Carolinas were 
changed into a land of great rice plantations. His great- 
grandson, Benjamin Smith, was later owner of the best rice 
plantation in North Carolina, a portion of the original grant 
to Landgrave Smith, who tried to establish settlements on the 

Cape Fear River in 1690. Also to be counted among his 
close kindred were the Bees and Grimkes, of South Carolina, 
and the Rhetts, who changed their name from Smith to that 
of their grandmother, Catherine Ehett, whose family in 
South Carolina had become extinct. Benjamin Smith 
thus came of a breed possessing ability, means, and position. 
The William Smith who introduced the culture of cotton 
into Virginia in 1621 is said to have been of the same stock. 

While the public acts and many details of the private life 
of Benjamin Smith may be gathered from the records of his 
time, both State and N"ational, and from the rather volumi- 
nous correspondence of his distinguished contemporaries, the 
date of his birth and the manner and place of his burial have 
frequently been brought into question. The weight of author- 
ity favors January 10, 1756, as his birthday, and Jan- 
uary 10, 1826, his seventieth birthday, as the date of his 
death. Still there are those who contend that he was born 
in 1750, and that he died on the 10th of February, 1829. 
But a contemporary newspaper, the Raleigh Register, of 
February 14, 1826, has a notice of his death as having oc- 
curred recently at Smithville. 

We know nothing, however, concerning his childhood and 
youth, but he must have received careful training, for we 
are told that, "While still young, just twenty-one years of 
age, he served as aide-de-camp of General Washington in the 
dangerous but masterly retreat from Long Island after the 
defeat of the American Army in August, 1776. He behaved 
with conspicuous gallantry in the brilliant action in which 
Moultrie, in 1779, drove the British from Port Royal 
Island, and checked for a time the invasion of South Caro- 
lina. A Charleston paper says: ^He gave on many occa- 
sions such various proofs of activity and distinguished 
bravery as to merit the approbation of his impartial coun- 
try.' " Yet during the siege of Charleston, in 1780, a blun- 
der of Smith's brought about the premature surrender of the 
city on the 12th of May. "Mr. Smith sent a letter to his 

wife by Mr. Rutlege, who was taking to the Governor a com- 
munication that had been confided to him orally, with the 
strictest injunction that no written communication be taken 
from the garrison. A letter addressed by a friend to his 
wife under assurance that it was only a family letter, Mr. 
Rutledge unwarily considered it no violation of his instruc- 
tions. He was captured soon after he left the town and 
printed copies of the letter were next day thrown into the 
garrison in unloaded bombshells, and most unaccountably, 
through a secret agency, dispersed through all parts of the 
town in printed handbills. The letter plainly told that the 
garrison must soon surrender, that their provisions were 
expended, and Lincoln only prevented from capitulating by 
a point of etiquette. From this time hope deserted the gar- 
rison, while the reanimated efforts of the enemy showed their 
zeal revived." Lincoln surrendered the fort, and Charleston, 
with its stores, its advantages, and the army that defended it, 
fell into the hands of the British commander. Smith prob- 
ably hastened the surrender just a little, but he did not cause 
it; for historians are generally agreed that Lincoln should 
have fled and saved his army soon after Clinton began en- 
girdling the city about the 1st of April, and before the British 
fleet a week later ran by Fort Moultrie and entered the 

In 1Y83 we find Benjamin Smith in the General Assembly 
of ISTorth Carolina, representing Brunswick County in the 
Senate. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention 
of 1788, that declined to accept the Federal Constitution, 
and in that body did all in his power to secure its adoption, 
since he was an ardent Federalist. He was a member of 
the convention that adopted the Constitution in 1789, and 
was on the committee that prepared the amendments which 
I^orth Carolina proposed to the Constitution of the United 
States. He had some support for the Senatorship in 1789, 
but Benjamin Hawkins was elected. This Legislature of 
1789 chartered the University of ISTorth Carolina, and Smith 


was named among the most eminent men of the State com- 
posing the first board of trustees. At the first meeting of 
the board, on the 18th of December, 1789, Colonel Smith 
offered to the University warrants for 20,000 acres of land 
in Tennessee that he had received as pay for his distinguished 
services in the Revolution, and he handed over the warrants 
at the second meeting of the board in 1790. He remained a 
trustee of the University until 1824, and took great pride in 
presiding over the meetings of the board during his term as 
Governor of the State. 

The warrants Colonel Smith gave were for land located 
in Obion County, in the extreme northwest part of Tennes- 
see. By the Treaty of Hopewell in 1795 the United States 
ceded this territory to the Chickasaw Indians. In 1810 the 
most terrific earthquake that has ever visited the interior of 
our country turned portions of this region into lakelets, and 
a large part of the University's tract is now occupied by 
Reelfoot Lake, the scene of the night-rider raid of a few 
years ago. It was not until twenty-five years afterward 
that a sale was effected, realizing $14,000 for the University. 
Smith Hall, built for a library half a century after the gift 
of the land warrants and today occupied by the Law School, 
the most attractive building on the campus, commemorates 
the munificence of Colonel Smith. 

In 1791 Smith again became a member of the Assembly, 
and except for the three years, 1801, 1802 and 1803, he con- 
tinued in the State Senate until his election as Governor in 
the fall of 1810, and he was again in the Senate in 1816. 
He was Speaker of the Senate from 1795 to 1799. In 1800 
he was defeated for the Speakership by Joseph Riddick, and 
in the next election he was defeated for the Senatorship by 
William Wingate, a Jeffersonian Democrat. In that day 
personal conflicts growing out of political differences were 
by no means unusual, and there is a tradition of a duel that 
Smith fought with Thomas Leonard, a political opponent, 
in which the General was seriously wounded. The ball 

■could not be extracted, and the Governor carried it in his 
thigh to the end of his days. 

During his career as a legislator he served on many im- 
portant committees, and he always voted as a strict partisan. 
He favored the making of roads, the building of causeways, 
the draining of bog lands, the foresting of dunes, and the 
keeping open of rivers and creeks at their falls for the free 
passage of fish. As a Member of the Assembly he bitterly 
opposed the founding of the city of Raleigh, and the removal 
of the capital from Fayetteville and again from I^ew Bern. 

In contemplation of a war with France, or of a second 
'Conflict with England, while General Washington was still 
President, Colonel Smith was made Brigadier-General of 
Militia, 1Y96. When a struggle with France seemed immi- 
nent, during the presidency of John Adams in 1797, the 
■entire militia force of Brunswick County, officers and men, 
roused to enthusiasm by a speech General Smith made them, 
volunteered to follow his lead in the service of their country. 
In 1810, when trouble with England was culminating, he 
was again made Brigadier-General of his county forces. 

In that same year he was elected Governor of North Caro- 
lina, and in his message to the General Assembly, November 
20, 1811, he recommended the adoption of a penitentiary 
system, and appealed for a reform of the too sanguinary 
■criminal code of the State. He also advised encouraging 
^'domestic manufactures employing those persons who are un- 
able or unfit to till the soil," the improving of the militia, and 
the establishment of public schools. In recommending the 
schools he said: "Too much attention can not be paid to 
the all-important subject of education. In despotic govern- 
ments, where the supreme power is in the possession of a 
tyrant or divided amongst an hereditary aristocracy (gener- 
ally corrupt and wicked), the ignorance of the people is a 
security to their rulers ; but in a free government, where the 
offices and honors of the State are open to all, the superiority 
of their political privileges should be infused into every 


citizen from their earliest infancy, so as to produce an enthu- 
siastic attachment to their own country, and ensure a jealous 
supiDort of their own constitution, laws, and government, to 
the total exclusion of all foreign influence or partiality. A 
certain degree of education should be placed within the reach 
of every child in the State ; and I am persuaded a plan may 
be formed upon economical principles that would extend this 
boon to the poor of every neighborhood, at an expense trifling 
beyond expectation, when compared with the incalculable 
benefits from such a philanthropic and politic system." Ex- 
cusing the rhetoric, this might have been written a century 

Upon retiring from the gubernatorial office he entered 
upon the carrying out of certain engineering plans which he 
had advocated as legislator and Governor for the improve- 
ment of conditions within the State. He stood for the best 
of what has characterized each and every administration 
from the time of Governors Vance and Jarvis to the days of 
Aycock and Glenn and of Your Excellency. He lived just 
one hundred years before his time. He could not long re- 
main out of politics, and in 1816 his neighbors returned him 
to the State Senate. General Smith was a zealous Mason, 
and during his prime was for three years, from 1808 to 1811, 
Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. 

Up to 1792 there were no homes in the neighborhood of 
Fort Johnston, near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and 
Mr. Joshua Potts, of Wilmington, who made the first move- 
ment toward establishing a town there, has given us an in- 
teresting account of the settlement of Smithville in a manu- 
script that has come down to us, and published in 1904 by 
the University of !N"orth Carolina in James Sprunt His- 
torical Monograph ISTo. 4, pp. 86-90. Mr. Potts has told us 
how he and certain of his friends in 1790 undertook to lay 
off a town there and obtain a charter. Their plan was un- 
expectedly opposed in the Legislature by Colonel Smith, and 
the charter for the town of "Nashton," as they purposed 


calling the place, was defeated. A year after the defeat of 
the bill at Fayetteville, General Smith's neighbors who fa- 
vored the bill determined that he should not be sent to the 
Assembly unless he would do his best to have an act passed 
for the intended purpose. General Smith accepted the con- 
ditions, was elected, and made good his word. The act was 
passed at ISTew Bern in 1792. General Smith, when he re- 
turned from the Assembly, told his friends that on his mak- 
ing a motion and offering the bill for the act, "Mr. Macon 
or some other respectable member made an. observation that 
many applications had been acted upon for different towns 
in the State, but that few, if any of them, had succeeded ; 
that the said worthy member said, 'As General Smith has 
applied in behalf of this petty town, it should be called 
Smithville, as if by way of derision to the applicant, should 
the town (like many others) not succeed.' " 

Benjamin Smith married Miss Sarah Rhett Dry, daughter 
of Colonel William Dry, a man of ability, excellent education, 
and rare accomplishments, and a member of the King's 
Council. She was also a direct descendant from Cromwell's 
admiral, Robert Blake. Both she and General Smith in- 
herited large estates. We learn much of their manner of 
life and their generous hospitality from the diary of General 
Joseph Gardner Swift, of New York, first graduate of the 
United States Military Academy at West Point, who in his 
younger days enjoyed intimate association with General 
Smith. Swift, a young second lieutenant in the corps of 
engineers, "was sent to Wilmington in 1804 to examine the 
harbor of Cape Fear, and to report a i^lan of defense there- 
for, and also to direct the execution of a contract with 
General Benjamin Smith, of Belvidere, to construct a battery 
at the site of old Fort Johnston, in Smithville, of a material 
called 'tapia.' " He gave to the United States Government 
ten acres of land on Bald Head, or Smith's Island, which he 
owned, on which to build the lighthouse at the mouth of the 

12 . 

Cape Fear River. He constructed the causeway from Wil- 
mington across Eagles Island. 

"As he advanced in years," to use the words of Dr. Battle, 
"Governor Smith lost his health by high living and his for- 
tune by too generous suretyship. He became irascible and 
prone to resent fancied slights. His tongue became veno- 
mous to opponents. He once spoke with undeserved abusive- 
ness of Judge Alfred Moore, and the insult was avenged by 
one of the members of the Assembly from Brunswick, Judge 
Moore's son Maurice." General Swift has given us in his 
"Memoirs" an account of this duel, which was fought on 
June 28, 1805, just over in South Carolina, near to the 
ocean side, where then stood the Boundary House, the line 
running through the center of the entrance hall and main 
passageway. Captain Moore was attended by his cousin. 
Major Duncan Moore, while General Smith's second was 
General Swift himself. Dr. Andrew Scott attended as sur- 
geon for both combatants. At the second fire General Smith 
received his antagonist's ball in his side and fell. Dr. 
Scott, aided by Dr. Griffin, took the General to Smithville 
by water, while General Swift hastened to Belvidere, and 
conveyed Mrs. Smith in a chair to Smithfield through a 
storm of lightning and rain. The ball lodged near the Gen- 
eral's left shoulder-blade, and it (or the bullet fired by Leon- 
ard years before) was the means of identifying Smith's 
ashes many years later when his remains were removed to 
the burial ground of St. James Church, Wilmington. 

General Smith's gi'eat burden of debt was due to the 
defalcation of Colonel Reed, collector of the port of Wilming- 
ton, whose surety he was. It was to discharge this liability 
that General Smith had contracted to build the tapia work 
at Fort Johnston. General Swift has told us how this tapia 
was prepared from equal parts of lime, raw shells and sand, 
and water sufficient to form a paste or batter. All the engi- 
neering work in which the old hero engaged was undertaken 
to discharge debts, and it is sad to relate that in his old age 


he was arrested by the attorney of the University, who, 
Smith alleged, was his personal enemy, and held for a se- 
curity debt, "but on learning the fact he was released by the 
Trustees with promptness." 

Besides the home at Belvidere, Governor Smith at one 
time owned Orton, which came down to him from his ances- 
tor, Roger Moore, being originally the home of his kinsman, 
Maurice Moore, grandson of Sir John Yeamans. Mrs. 
Smith's flower garden was such an attractive place that Dr. 
Griffin, dying of yellow fever in Wilmington, asked that he 
be buried there. The Isabella grape, highly esteemed by 
us for its fine flavor, was introduced to N'orth Carolina from 
Mrs. Smith's garden where it grew from a cutting, the gift 
of a sea captain who had received some kindness at her 
hands. General Swift visited his old friend. General Smith, 
at Orton in 1818, and found him gi'eatly depressed by his 
debts, Mrs. Smith "evincing a well-balanced serenity to cheer 
her husband." Swift returned to Wilmington, where he 
"found it a fruitless essay to liquidate the large claims of 
the General's creditors." 

This man, of rare personal charm, of high character, and 
of openhearted and openhanded hospitality, became in- 
volved in such pecuniary difficulties that he was actually im- 
prisoned for debt; and at the time of his death, in 1826, 
some of his creditors resorted to the unusual method, though 
allowed by the law of that day, of withholding his body from 
burial until his friends could meet the demands of the credi- 
tors. The deputies set to watch the body were lured away 
temporarily to partake of refreshments, and when they re- 
turned the coffin and its contents had disappeared. Friends 
had taken it out on the river to the old graveyard on the site 
of St. Phillip's Church, then a ruin of old Brunswick town, 
where in the dead of night they gave the body of their com- 
rade Christian burial. A story, probably originating with 
the careless watchers, that the coffin had been taken out on 
the river and in the darkness committed to its waters by the 


negroes who were trusted to row the boat, gained some 
credence; but what is less probable: that devoted friends 
would thus leave his body to slaves, or that they would let 
the story pass as a probable means of concealing his last 
resting place ? 

In 1853 their old friend, General Swift, caused to be 
erected over the grave of General and Mrs. Smith in the old 
Brunswick cemetery a marble slab on which was inscribed: 
"In memory of that Excellent Lady, Sarah Rhett Dry Smith, 
who died the 21st of JSTovember, 1821, aged 59 years. Also 
of her husband, Benjamin Smith of Belvidere, once Governor 
of North Carolina, who died January, 1826, aged 70." 


In a graceful speech, on behalf of the State, Governor 
Kitchin thanked the Society for this gift of the portrait of 
Governor Smith, and expressed his gratification upon learn- 
ing that there had been manifested in North Carolina a cen- 
tury ago such interest in public education and other benefi- 
cent measures for the upbuilding of the State and the good 
of its people. It is a source of sincere regret that Governor 
Kitchin's speech of acceptance, having been delivered with- 
out manuscript or notes, cannot be reproduced here. As is 
always the case with that gifted orator, his remarks were a 
source of entertainment and interest to his hearers, and it 
would gratify the Society to be able to place them in full 
before its members and friends who were not so fortunate 
as to be present on that interesting occasion. 


FEB 8 1912 


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