Saturday, August 29, 2009


Reverend James Smith

By Rosalie Yoakam

The importance of the preservation of letters, journals, and diaries from the past are illustrated by three journals created by Reverend James Smith of Powhatan County, Virginia. Smith made three trips into Kentucky and the Northwest Territory, one in each of the following years; 1783, 1795, and 1797. He kept detailed journals, written not for publication but to document his journey and to record observations. These documents provide first person testimony to the appearance and conditions of the Ohio Valley during his time.

In 1797, on the third of his journeys, Smith rode from Columbia (Cincinnati area) up the valley of the Little Miami River. On this trip he visited with Francis Dunlevy, passed through the town of Deerfield, and stopped at the residences of Richard Kirby and Martin Keever before arriving at Waynesville. He wrote of Waynesville, "We lodged here with a Mr. Heighway, an emigrant from England, who with a number of his country people suffered inconceivable hardships in getting to this country. It was curious to see their elegant furniture and silver plate glittering in a small smoky cabin."

About a half day's ride up the river from Waynesville he described the following sight. "We were saluted with a view of one of those enchanting plains which are known in this country by the name of pararas. Here we could see many miles in a straight direction and not a tree or brush to obstruct the sight. The grass in the parara we found higher than our heads on horseback as we rode thru it."

After traveling extensively through the Northwest Territory, Smith purchased a tract of land on the Little Miami River at the mouth of Caesar's creek. It was a part of the Virginia Military District and was located in what is now Warren County. He received a bargain because, although he paid for 1,666 acres, when the property was surveyed it actually contained 2,000.

Smith brought his family to the Northwest Territory in 1798 planning to live on his property. They stayed in Columbia while the heavily forested land was cleared. But Smith was unable to realize his dream. In 1800 he contracted a fever and died at the age of 43.

Soon after his death, Smith's widow and children completed his aim by moving onto the property near Caesar's creek. They recognized the value of his journals and carefully saved them

Smith's descendants became involved in the legal profession in Warren, Clinton, and Clark Counties. The youngest son, George J. Smith was a judge in Lebanon while two grandsons, J.M. and J. E. Smith, had a law office in Lebanon in the late 1800's.

Some copies of Smith's journals were made in the grandsons' law office. One copy found its way into a historical library at Louisville. Theodore Roosevelt discovered that copy while doing historical research and made references to it in his book, "The Winning of the West".

From the preacher's hand came a gift to the future, a glimpse into the past.

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