Monday, July 3, 2017

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

Continued from Family Memories of John Campbell Smith (1806-1888): Smith Aunts and Uncles.

I have given a short traditional account of all Grandfather and Grandmother Campbell's children that I know except one, and that is my mother. Her name, as I have before stated, was Margaret. She is yet living and a more affectionate mother, according to my judgment, never did live in any land or country. We used to have a tradition that the thirtieth chapter of Proverbs would delineate the character of all males, each verse answering to the day of the month the person was born. So in like manner the thirty-first chapter was called the female verses. My mother being born the fifteenth day of the month of course we would have a look at the fifteenth verse to know what sort of a woman she was and indeed I think it contains as good a history of her life as can be written in as few words, it reads as follows:

"She riseth also while it is jet night, and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens." 

She was a great flax spinner. I have heard her say she spun twenty outs one day when she was a girl and got beat at that time. I think the girl that beat her was named Polly Rotten. She was considered by some the fastest spinner in the neighborhood and my mother fastest by others. So a day was set for them to spin and the result was my mother got beat by a few threads. I have frequently gone to bed and left my mother spinning and awoke and heard the wheel. If I opened my eyes and looked I would there see my mother in the silent watch of the night like an angelic form sitting, turning the wheel. I do not mean to convey that my mother never slept or that she sat up all night, but that she was a very industrious woman and quite an early riser. She would emphatically rise while it was yet night and give meat to her hands and furnished abundance of clothing for her family, and bed clothing, and everything needful about a house in the way of cloth, such as she could make. She even made cloth and my father took it to the fulling mill and had it fulled[1] to make the male portion of her family big coats, as they were called. Besides this she would make flax and linen and sell it to the merchants for fine goods to dress the female portion of her household.

A woman and spinning wheel in the early 19th century;
courtesy of the Library of Congress

If a member of her family was sick, she was always ready to do what she could to make them well. If they came home hungry, she never thought it hard to cook them a meal. If they came home late in the night hungry and fatigued, she did not insult them saying, as some do, it is too late to go cooking now and you might come home sooner or been here at meal time, none of this sort of talk. It was all kindness and if we said, "Mother, we are sorry to trouble you to get up in the night to go cooking for us," she would reply, "It is not any trouble. If I had known you were coming I would have had it ready for you by the time you got here." If we cut or mashed a finger, she did not say go and get a rag and tie it up yourself, but she would say, "Sit down here and let me tie it up." In fact she was always ready to administer to their wants whether by day or by night. But perhaps we may say more about mother in another place after we speak of father's family.

And last but not least, my father, William Smith, the second son of my grandfather.

I know but little of his history in the early part of his life, but that he was brought up to hard labor and without the benefit of even a common English education. I think it probable that he never went to school, but if he did it was for a short time for I have heard mother say she learned him to spell after they were married and I can recollect when it was with great difficulty that he could read at all. But he persevered in trying to learn at every leisure moment until he could read the scriptures very well, a blessing which he praised very highly and was a source of great joy and comfort to him in his declining years. For the few last years of his life, scarcely a day passed over him but what a portion of it was spent in searching and reading the scriptures. In truth the Bible was his rich treasure.

According to the best data I can get, he was married to my mother in the year 1794 or 1795 in Mercer County, Kentucky.[2] They were both poor and commenced housekeeping in a cabin without a chimney. They had no land of their own. Their best axe was a tomahawk; their table furniture consisted of a butcher knife and forks made of cane. Their only bed was a coarse tick stuffed with straw. They had a tolerable supply of wearing cloths, but when that was said all was said. In respect of property, I think they could well have taken up those beautiful lines of the poet and adopted them as their own:

"No foot of land do I possess or cottage in the wilderness, a poor wayfaring man."[3]

This looks like a poor beginning at housekeeping for a newly married pair especially to those who know nothing of the hardships and trials to which our forefathers were accustomed in the first settling of this rich and happy land that we now inhabit. They were poor I admit, but they had a proverb to this effect, "that a bad beginning makes a good ending." Whether it turned out to be true, in their case I have no doubt. It was calculated to stimulate and comfort them in their poverty and penniless situation. Although they were at that time in poverty's value and destitute of religion without hope and without God in the world, yet I thank God while I write these lines, I believe they were honest and carried in their own bosoms that noble principle that they have so often taught me together with the rest of their children to live honestly with all men, never to lay your hand upon anything that is not your own, be a gentleman, etc.

How long they lived in Mercer after they were married, I am at this time unable to say, but they moved to Tennessee and settled on Gennings Creek[4], where I have been informed he learned to read when herding his horses and settled upon the rich cane[5] that grew in great abundance in that country. How many children they had at that time I cannot tell, but I have heard my oldest brother tell of the sport for the boys of the day. Besides this they would try their activity by seeing which could jump over the highest pile of cane whilst burning.

An engraving of Arundinaria gigantea, or river cane, in Louisiana; courtesy
of Bio-Diversity

This is almost all I know of their success in Tennessee except whilst they lived there father killed a great many deer and turkeys, shot a bear or two; had a dreadful encounter with a wolf, which I have heard him relate as follows: He had some beautiful young hogs that slept in different beds some distance from the house in which he lived. The wolves in that country were also very plentiful and they made no scruples in visiting hog beds and sheep folds whenever an opportunity offered. They generally left at least one hog less every time they paid a visit. It was not long until they commenced their ravages upon my father's hogs. Going one morning and finding one half flayed alive, he concluded to watch for the intruder and give him the best fight he could. Accordingly, the next morning two hours before daybreak (being very cold in the dead of winter and snow frozen on the ground) he stationed himself at the root of a large tree with his dog and gun, anxiously awaiting the approach of his adversary. The weather was so intensely cold in the dead of winter, the frost sparkling on the snow caused his dog's teeth to clatter together at his side; whilst he himself was so affected with the cold that it almost forced upon him the belief that he should be compelled to decamp for a warmer climate. But still in profound silence he waited and waited and waited on. Not a voice was heard amid the thick clusters of cane and towering forest that surrounded him to break the stillness of the morning.

At length the eastern horizon began to grow brighter, day was evidently breaking, thoughts of giving over the hunt were again entertained. But at this moment his dog sprang to his feet, raised his bristles, and fetch a whine as much as to say the enemy approaches. The direction of the wolf's approach pointed out by the dog and strong solicitations given by him to bring on the attack, but being forbidden it was not long until the wolf was plainly seen. Slowly and cautiously approaching. The fierce appearance and wishful looks of the dog to engage with the wolf, but in a low voice he forbade him. By this time the parties concerned were within about eight yards distance of each other. A small opening intervened so that a fair shot could be obtained. It occurred to the mind of my father that then was his best chance. He cocked his gun, raised it to his face, took sight and fired. At the crack of the gun, the wolf fell seized the bullet hole with his teeth and round and round he whirled. Permission was then given to the dog to execute his office, which was done with a spirit and fierceness scarcely ever surpassed. The gun was again loaded and discharged at the wolf, but with no better effect than the first. The fight with the dog and wolf still continued amongst the thick canebrake. Crack after crack went the rifle for six times one after the other as fast as it could be loaded. Although several balls had penetrated the body of the wolf, he still resumed his station and gave battle.

Canis lupus lycaon, or eastern timber wolf; photograph courtesy of

My mother, hearing the reports of the gun and the barking of the dog, set out with her little fist dog[6] in order to learn the cause of all this. Her fist no sooner came in sight of the contending parties than he rushed forward as though he would in an instant entirely destroy the wolf from off the earth. The first pass the wolf made at him, he was thrown several feet up into the air among the cane tops. When his feet struck the ground, he made no further tarry among them, but without any apology left for home as fast as his legs would carry him, resolving as I suppose never again to have anything to do with a wolf. For mother said so long as he lived he would run and howl from that wolf skin whenever it was presented or thrown out where he could see it. But [father's] old dog was made of sterner stuff. He stood his ground and fought valiantly until father loaded his gun the seventh time with two balls and taking aim at the wolf's head, he pulled the trigger. This time was the finishing stroke. The balls entered the animal's head and he fell at the dog's feet, growled and died.

Having related the wolf tale killed by my father, I will now speak of another wolf scrape in which my mother was the chief actor. My father being from home one dark, cloudy night and the sheep penned close to the house in order to protect them from the wolves, as was common. Late in the night the wolves commenced howling and coming closer to the sheep pen. A gun must be fired to drive away the wolves or the sheep would be destroyed. Mother had never been accustomed to handling a gun and her children too small. She was greatly perplexed how to save the sheep. At length she resolved to try her hand with the gun. She arose and with trembling hands took the gun from the rack, sat down and fired. The howl of the wolves were hushed and she retired to bed. But on reflection, she remembered that the muzzle of the gun was pointed toward the sheep pen. When morning light appeared, her fears were relieved. The sheep were all alive and unhurt.

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 is 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.

[1] Fulling is a step in cloth making which involves cleansing the cloth of oils, dirt, and other impurities, and making it thicker. The thickening process matted fibers together to give the cloth strength and increase waterproofing.

[2] From other secondary sources, the year was 1793.

[3] From John Wesley's (1703-1791) Pilgrim Hymn.

[4] Jennings Creek now in Jackson County, Tennessee. 

[5] In the early 19th century vast canebrakes covered portions of the southeast United States. Canebrakes were comprised of Arundinaria gigantea, an American relative of Asian bamboo. The plants were used for clay pipe stems, fishing poles, baskets, chairs and other furniture.

[6] This might mean a feist dog, a small hunting dog, descended from terriers brought over by working-class immigrants. They probably included crosses between the Smooth Fox Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, and the now extinct white English Terrier. They were used as ratters and were about 10 inches tall at the shoulder and weighed between 15 and 30 pounds.

Family Memories of John Campbell Smith (1806-1888): Smith Aunts and Uncles
Family Memories of John Campbell Smith (1806-1888): Campbell Aunts and Uncles
Family Memories of John Campbell Smith (1806-1888): Grandparents
Robert Mitchell, the Elder
Kidnapped by Indians

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