Monday, June 12, 2017

Family Memories of John Campbell Smith (1806-1888): Grandparents

John Campbell Smith was born on 19 March 1806 in Barren County, Kentucky. He was a second generation Kentuckian as his grandparents had migrated west after the Revolutionary War. He was also the great grandson of Robert "the Elder" Mitchell (1714-1799), my five times great grandfather. Between 1848 and 1876, John wrote about his memories of his family. The document is the property of David S. Peden and was scanned using optical character recognition technology and then edited by Jack A. Laswell, Sr. I am indebted to them for making the electronic version available to other descendants of the Campbell, Enos, Mitchell, Shropshire, Smith, and Street families.

John Campbell Smith's direct ancestors many of which are mentioned in his story;
created using Microsoft Powerpoint

[I] think my great-grandfather Smith was a sailor upon the bosom of the great ocean. My grandmother Smith's maiden name was Street, and either her father or her great-grandfather Smith was a Welshman. For I have heard father tell an ancedote on one or the other of them. He said that his grandfather Smith or Street (I dis-remember which) was a very large Welshman and had a hand as big as a gridiron. He would never strike a man with his fist for fear of killing him; he would slap him with his great big open hand.

I think my grandfather Smith was born somewhere in a ship as she was plowing the briny deep. But my father was born on the James River, under Tobacco [Row] Mountain, Amherst  County, Virginia. I cannot state the precise time my father immigrated to this state but I believe it was about the year of 1792 or 1793. His first arrival or the first county he stopped in was Mercer, where he became acquainted with my mother who was then a blooming girl about fourteen or fifteen years of age. Her name was Margaret Campbell, the daughter of Josiah Campbell. My grandmother Campbell's name was Susannah Mitchell before she was married.

My mother was born in the year of our Lord 1777 in Bedford County, Virginia. The exact time my grandfather Campbell immigrated from Virginia to Kentucky I am unable to say, but it was at a very early date for I have heard my mother say she was a very little girl at the time, so small and so young she could only remember a part of the incidents that took place on the way.

Map of travel route west to Kentucky from various points in the eastern states;
courtesy of Virginia Places

She said at that time the people that moved from Virginia to Kentucky did not move in wagons like they do now for there were no roads at that time that wagons could pass. They had to move on packhorses and frequently the paths were so narrow that it was with difficulty they could get along with their package. But narrow paths were not all the difficulties they had to contend with in their passage from Virginia to the rich and fertile soil of Kentucky. That they had to pass over steep mountains and hills and deep rivers, ill prepared to with no boats for their safe conveyance. Many times they would follow the windings of their little path up the mountains or hills that would become so steep or so slippery that they thought it unsafe for their horses and the little ones to pass over. Sometimes a better and more safe way would be sought out, but when this could not be done they would take off their packs and lead their horses over one by one until they were all over. Then all hands would engage in carrying over the plunder, and again restoring it upon the backs of the beasts or burden. But while they had these difficulties to contend with there were others of a more alarming and dangerous character.

A great portion of the route from the state of Virginia to the great valley of the Mississippi (of which Kentucky was a part) at that time was uninhabited by the white man. The unbroken forest spread its shades forty miles or more in some places unmolested by the removal of a single tree. The sound of an ax had never resided upon most of its hills or its valleys except to clear away a small path and cut a little wood to cook a morsel of food for the hardy pioneers of this western country. This wilderness at that time was possessed by Indians of a savage nature and unfriendly to the white people, frequently killing whole families of immigrants as they were endeavoring to make their way from the eastern states to the far west.[1]

Gateway to the West painted by David Wright and commissioned by the
Cumberland Gap National Park, shows Daniel Boone guiding settlers in 1775.
A 14-foot photographic mural of the painting is on display at the visitors'
center; Giclee reproductions may be purchased from Lord Nelson's Gallery

Owing to this circumstance, it became hazardous for any family to undertake the journey alone and besides this, there were many wild beasts fierce and ferocious that would attack, kill and eat a man. Sometimes a quantity of these animals would collect sufficient in number to destroy a whole family. My grandfather having knowledge of this first did not travel alone but I think about sixty souls in number, consisting of men, women and children after loading their beasts and preparing well as they could for the journey. The men with their guns on their shoulders and the women with their babes in their arms took up a line of march from Bedford County, Virginia, to the much praised and thinly settled state of Kentucky. Where after a long and tedious journey they arrived and settled in Mercer County, where I believe my grandfather and grandmother resided and brought up numerous offspring living in and enjoying all the privileges of the Presbyterian Church.

And from what I have heard of my grandfather and grandmother Campbell's religion I suppose it was of a genuine character. They had endeavored to train up their children in the way they should go and as far as I have any knowledge on the subject, when they grew old they did not depart from it though some of them grew to a mature age before they embraced religion. There is one history of my grandfather that though nothing thought of in those days would cast a stain or a reproach upon the Christian's character in those days. I allude to the business of making and rending ardent spirits. How far my grandfather was engaged in this I am unable to say, but I think I heard that he had a distillery. I suppose he did not carry on very extensively as he had a farm to cultivate and was also a blacksmith by trade. But be this as it may he was very pious and a strict observer of the Sabbath day and rigidly enjoined it on all his house to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

I am unable at this time to tell the exact age of either my grandfather or grandmother when they departed this life, but they both lived to a good old age. My grandfather left the shores of time first. But his death, as I was told, was sudden and unexpected at that time. Indeed we may say to all human appearance it came upon him like a thief in the night. Oh, how important it is to watch. And with what power should the circumstance of his death bring home to the minds of all his surviving friends the scriptural phraseology of "Watch ye, therefore, for in such an hour as you think act the Son of Man cometh." I am told that he was enjoying as good as health as was common for an old man of his age to enjoy up to the very time of his dissolution. The circumstances of his death took place as follows:

He was standing in his yard conversing with one of his sons-in-law, Philip Shuck.[2] Uncle Philip said he had just turned his head from looking at grandfather, when he heard him make a strange noise. His eyes were again directed toward him and he saw he was falling. Uncle instantly caught hold of him to prevent him falling. He was carried into the house and sat on a chair, but alas, for his friends, his spirit had fled to the God that gave it, leaving the body to be consigned to its mother Earth. Grandmother lived some years after grandfather's death. I think before her death she entirely lost the power of vision, and although she lost the power of seeing with her natural eyes, I trust she did not lose her spiritual eyesight.

But they are gone to the Spirit Land leaving behind a numerous offspring and friends to lament their loss, and though they did mourn and weep for awhile, they did not mourn like those that had no hope. For we believe like as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father even so shall he raise our fathers and brothers who have died in the faith of the gospel of the Son of God and although they cannot come to us, blessed by the name of the Lord, we can go to them.

I think my great-grandfathers Campbell and Mitchell were both Irish and came from Ireland to America in company together[3], and as the Irish are famous for having anecdotes told on them I will here relate as an anecdote that I have heard on them.

When they first came to this country they saw a great many things that they did not know what they were. Among the rest they found (as they thought) some rough coated apples. After having filled their pockets, they commenced eating, but they did not relish them very much for they turned out to be green walnuts. They were I think both weavers by trade. I have heard a story on them somewhat after the following:  A bet or a wager was made on one of them that he could weave out a certain piece of cloth in one day containing some thirty or forty yards. He was about to succeed, but just before the job was completed a hemorrhage from the nose took place and continued with such violence that the Knight of the Shuttle was compelled to desist but no sooner did the one drop the shuttle than the other picked it up and the job was completed within the given time. I do not at this time remember to have heard any of my great uncles or great aunts spoken of except Uncle Bob Mitchell[4]. He was a drinking man and when he would get drunk he would say, "Poor Bob." That is all I know of Uncle Bob. But I fain would indulge a hope that he quit his cups and became a sober man before he launched into a world unknown.


I think Grandfather Smith[5] had one sister. She was a red haired woman. He married Betty Street.[6] Her father was wealthy and [my] brother George has his pocket book at this time. It is a very large neat pocket book quilted with gold. I do not know how many brothers and sisters Grandmother Street had, but I remember to have heard father speak of his Uncle Anthony Street, he was a Baptist and like too many of his brethren of that order, he loved the spirit of the corn. Father used to tell an anecdote on him to this effect. The church would have him tried for getting drunk nearly every Church meeting, but never could turn him out. He was always ready to confess his fault and implore forgiveness, telling them how many drams he drank, sometimes he only drank one dram; sometimes two and sometimes three; and he would try not to get drunk anymore. The conclusion of the trial generally ended in castigation as follows: "Well, Brother Street, if three drams makes you drunk, you must drink but two." (Yes.) "Lad, if two drams make you drunk, you must drink but one." (Yes. Yes.) "And if one dram makes you drunk, you must not drink any." (Yes. Yes. Yes.)

Grandmother Smith was a good old Baptist and a very pious woman, then she used to churn on Sunday and thought no harm of it. She was a midwife and expert on horseback for a woman. She had dark hair, blue eyes, fair skin and weighed nearly two hundred pounds.

Grandfather Smith never attached himself to any branch of the Christian Church. He was a very stout, able-bodied man and a soldier in the Revolutionary War and as true a Whig as ever lived. He gloried in American independence and could delightfully entertain those around him with his songs about Washington and the war. The plainest recollection I have of him now is seeing him at father's house leaning his chair against the bed with his silver locks hanging most to his shoulders singing, "Great Washington, he was the man who led the sons of freedom on." He was burning a plant bed for the purpose of sowing tobacco seed, for he was a farmer, got very warm, went into the house, took a drink, felt unwell, lay down, and in some eight or ten days his mortal existence was closed by the fatal disease called the cold plague.

After Grandfather Smith's death, Grandmother employed an overseer by the name of Bob Lark for some two years. She then employed my brother William S. Street one year after which she suffered the property to be divided between the heirs of the estate and she made her home amongst her children, but mostly at my father's. I was a great favorite of hers in her declining years. When she was old and well stricken in years, she became very childish and she used to think I could trim her nails better for her than anybody else. One time I found great favor in her sight because I discovered the cause of a pain she was laboring under and effected a speedy cure. Again, one time she had been to Mrs. White's and I saw her first and ran and helped her over the fence. Those accidental favors got me the esteem of my grandmother, and should any little girl or boy ever read these lines let me say to you, be always good to old folks especially to your grandmother. Grandmother lived to see her fourth generation. She died at my father's and was buried by the side of grandfather on the premises of grandfather at the time of his death.

Susannah (Mitchell) Campbell was my fifth great aunt and her grandson and author of this family history, John Campbell Smith, was my second cousin four times removed. He was born at the headwaters of Little Barren Creek in Barren County, Kentucky.

[1] Susannah (Mitchell) Campbell's first cousin, Robert Mitchell (1747-1792), also made the journey to Kentucky, but he and his family left with a party of travelers from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. They traveled on the Wilderness Road in 1790. During the journey, Robert's wife, Naomi Shipley, was scalped and died of her injuries, and his daughter Sarah was kidnapped by Indians. (Link below)

[2] "Uncle Philip" was Philip Shuck, Jr., born 1786 in Pennsylvania; died on an unknown date in Davis County, Iowa; second husband of Mary Enos (Campbell) Martin (1772-1875).

[3] Robert Mitchell was from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, before immigrating to Pennsylvania, but his family were of Scots, his ancestors had been "planted" in northern Ireland by English kings.

[4] "Great Uncle Bob" was Robert Harvey Mitchell, born in 1752, Pequea, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; died 1818 in Mercer County, Kentucky; married Mary Witt.

[5] Grandfather Smith was William Smith born about 1746 in Virginia; died 17 May 1817 in Cumberland County, Kentucky; married Elizabeth Street in 1764 in Virginia.

[6] Elizabeth Street was the daughter of Anthony Street and Elizabeth Brockman.

Robert Mitchell, the Elder
Kidnapped by Indians


  1. These recollections were compelling reading. What a treasure to have. I couldn't help but imagine how his descriptions of the 18th/19th century life were likely similar for many of my ancestors.

    1. I think his descriptions of their migration to Kentucky were very likely representative of many other people who made the trek during the same general time period.

  2. I have a direct line to John my grandmother is his so many times granddaughter