David A. Smith House
The signature of David A. Smith.
An old photo of the David A. Smith house.
The David A. Smith house.
The David A. Smith house.
Backstory and Context
The David A. Smith house, located on the Illinois College campus, was once home to David A. Smith and many of his fellow family members. David Smith was born on July 18, 1804 to Thomas Smith Jr. He was born and spent his early ages near Richmond, Virginia. Growing up, Smith attended a private academy in Tennessee where he studied english and classical studies. Upon the completion of his early education, he began to study law and he was admitted to the bar at the young age of 20. Around this time, Thomas Smith decided to move his family to Alabama, and it was here that Thomas became the owner of plantations, slaves, and a hotel. He invested into the railroad and his hotel was prospering. However, once the railroad extended his hotel went down the drain and he lost all of his hotel money.
Upon joining his family in Alabama, David Smith married his cousin, Jane Smith. Jane died a few months after their marriage. Seven years after the death of his first wife, David married Eliza Eleanor Allen on August 4, 1831. David and Eliza were the parents to 12 children; Thomas William III, Ann Mary, Eliza Eleanor, John Allan, David Brainerd, Euphemia Wyeth, Laura Allan, Catherine Barr, Sarah Jane Allan, Sarah Emma, James Edward, and Hugh Barr. October 22, 1834 is the presumed date of David Smith's father's death. It was on this date that David became the successor to his father's estate, including the plantations and 21 slaves. David Smith was a very religious man and upon his fathers death he believed that believes of many people in the South were wrong and that a change should be made. Due to this, Mr. Smith freed his slaves, gave them bond, and moved them to the free state of Illinois along with his own family.
In Alabama in 1834 there was a law that stated slave owners had to list their slaves that they wanted to be free in a newspaper advertisement for at least 60 days before they could petition to the court to free their slaves. Once the slaves were free they had 12 months to leave the state that they were currently residing in. On March 22, 1837 David Smith appeared before the Lawrence County Court in Moulton, Alabama. It was here that he presented his petition and where the names and ages of 13 slaves were given to the court; Old Isham ( about 64), Young Isham (21), Anthony (about 75), Monamia (28), Matilda (18), Nathan (15), Henry (27), Mary (32), Kitty (17), Eliza (9), Thomas (6 ½), John (4), and Sarah (14 months). A second document has been discovered and it holds the names and ages of the remaining eight slaves; William Smith (39), Isabel (36), Wellington (19), Dick (17), Louisa (6), Indiana (4 ½), Martha (3), and Washington (1). After the freedom of his slaves, David Smith, his family, and the majority of his slaves began their new lives in Illinois.
The first place that they all lived in the free state was Carlinville, Illinois in 1837. While in Carlinville, Mr. Smith became a member of the Board of Trustees of what is now Blackburn College where he remained an active member until his death. In 1839, Smith moved his family to Jacksonville, Illinois. The idea behind this movie was for the educational opportunities that Jacksonville offered, Illinois College and The Jacksonville Female Academy. The first location of their home in Jacksonville for the family was 329 West Morgan Street near the public square. It is not certain which slaves and how many made the journey to Jacksonville but records show that all slaves were freed in Carlinville.
While living in Jacksonville, Mr. Smith purchased 11 lots of Grove Street in College Hill plot and his land ran from Park Street on the west to Gladstone Street on the east, and south to the Town Brook, and no houses intervening on the land. His largest project on this land was his large home on the corner of Grove and Park and it was completed in 1854. The home was two stories high in the shape of a T, it contained twelve large rooms, a basement, and a four-room attic.
Mr. Smith grew rapidly while living in Jacksonville and he became known as one of the most well known lawyers of the state. While practicing law in Jacksonville, Mr. Smith was associated with Stephen A. Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and Smith worked on numerous amounts of law cases, and when Lincoln was in town he would set up his own office and headquarters in Smiths office. When not practicing his law, Smith was still an avid member of the church and the Illinois College community. He became a minister of a Presbyterian Church and was named as a Trustee to Illinois College in 1834. He was also a trustee for the Jacksonville Female Academy.
On July 13, 1865 David Smith died due to an unknown illness. The estate and the belongings of Mr. Smith were passed on to his children. Mrs. Smith lived in her home until her death due to heart failure on November 18, 1890. The home remained in the family for many years as it was open to any family member that needed a place to stay.
In 1903, The Jacksonville Female Academy merged with Illinois College, but Illinois College had no place for the women to call home. There were still two Smith children occupying the home, but upon their death The Woman’s Building Association considered purchasing the home from the Smith family executor. The decision was made to purchase the home and the land for $9,000. There were some strict instructions from the remaining Smith family members, they wanted the house to be named after David, they wanted to keep it as intact as possible, and they wanted to have two memorial plaques for their family.
Today, the David A. Smith house is used by the women's literary societies at Illinois College. The house still has some of the actual artifacts and furniture that the Smith family used. While also having the furniture and artifacts, there are many mentions of the Smith family throughout the home. The porch contains two memorials of the Smith family: a plaque that states the building is the David A. Smith house and a porch lantern that was given by the Misses Lansden. The east wall of the entrance hall there is a large oil painting of David Smith which was given by the family and memorial tablet that names David’s major accomplishments and the names of the children and in-laws that attended either Illinois College or the JFA which was given by his grandchildren.
The David A. Smith house is a unique artifact to both the city of Jacksonville and the campus of Illinois College. Smith was a big name in the past and he is still currently talked about today. His work as an abolitionist and a trustee to the college are some of the things that will make him a name to be talked about for years to come.
Broehl Hopper, Dorris. David A. Smith: Abolitionist, Patron of Learning, Prairie Lawyer. Morgan County, The Morgan County Historical Society, 2003.Seybold, Ethel. A History Of Smith House.