Joseph R. Smith
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Joseph R. Smith was born February 6, 1818, in what is now Jefferson County, Alabama, at that period known as Blount County, Mississippi Territory.
His father, John Smith, was a native of the Union District, South Carolina, where his parents had settled upon emigrating from Wales. His mother’s ancestors were Irish and her parents among the pioneers of Kentucky. Her maiden name was Sallie Riley, and her place of nativity Rockcastle County, Ky. They were married in Lincoln County, Tennessee, in 1814, and, soon after, learning of the beauty and rich soil of Jones Valley, were induced to emigrate thither, and settled upon a large tract of land near Eyton, a portion of which is now owned by the Wheeling Furnace Company. They resided upon this land, within a half mile of their first location, until their deaths.
His father pursued cotton planting upon a large scale, owning, prior to the war, about sixty slaves ; he was well and widely known, serving for many years as magistrate and county commissioner, and, at the time of his death, in October, 1876, was the owner of 2,000 acres of land, which is now among the most valuable in Alabama.
The mother of our subject departed this life in April, 1863. Ten children descended from them — David, now living near Crawfordsville, Mississippi ; Joseph R., our subject ; Wm. D., a resident of Jefferson County ; John B., Colonel of the Thirtieth Alabama Regiment, was killed at Vicksburg ; Octavius S., who represented Jefferson County in the State Legislature one session, died in 1867 ; Thomas was admitted to the Jefferson County bar in 1852, served as Captain in the Confederate service, emigrated to Texas, and while Register in Chancery of Smith County, was accidentally killed ; George W., of Jefferson County ; Susan Weaver, living near Columbus, Mississippi; Sarah J. Baird, who died in 1883 ; and Lucy.
Joseph R. received the benefit of superior educational advantages for those early times — attending Union Seminary, in Tennessee. He entered the office of Dr. James Kelley, one of the early physicians of Jefferson County, in 1838, and remained under his tutelage until the fall of 1839, when he entered the Medical Department of Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky, and after two years attendance graduated therefrom.
He entered upon the practical duties of this noble profession in Jonesboro, where he continued for two years, and in 1843 became a resident of Elyton, where he has ever since resided.
Dr. Smith abandoned the practice of medicine in 1870, and engaged very successfully in the mercantile trade at Elyton until 1877, when the growing town of Birmingham presented to him a more important field, and he removed his business interests to that point, and was interested in merchandising there until 1884.
Dr. Smith has been the owner of large tracts of land for many years, and since 1884 has devoted his entire attention to those interests. He is probably the largest individual real estate owner in Jefferson County, and has been one of the foremost in building up the business portion of Birmingham, owning at the present time some of the most substantial business blocks, besides considerable residence property. He is the founder of what is destined to become one of the most popular suburban towns, which is named in honor of its projector, Smithfield, a full sketch of which appears elsewhere in this work. He has a large interest still retained in this enterprise, and owns large tracts of mountain, iron, and coal lands in the country.
Dr. Smith has accumulated a magnificent fortune, which is being rapidly added to by the remarkable increase in the value of real estate in this section, a large portion of which he has given to his children.
Dr. Smith has never sought political preferment, but has earnestly devoted himself to the prosecution of hi.s professional, mercantile, and real estate interests.
Having resided in Jeft’erson County all his life, being the third white child bom, he has witnessed the early days of the State ; its development into one of the greatest of the cotton belt ; the birth of the Confederacy, and the ruin following ; the gradual growth and development of the iron, coal, and mineral wealth, until the future promises to rank Alabama one of the greatest States in the Union.
The first newspaper published in Jefferson County was started by Dr. Smith in association witli Baylis E. Grace, Sr., and was known as the Central Alabamian. This paper was continued by M. B. Lancaster until the close of the war.
Dr. Smith, although having arrived at the period when the shadow of life is falling toward the east, is still active, energetic, and untiring in his devotion to his business interests, and, as he comes from a long-lived ancestry, will probably long live to enjoy the fruits which Providence has showered so bountifully upon him.
He is a director of the Birmingham Insurance Company, also a stockholder in the First National Bank, a director of the Birmingham and Pratt Mines Street Railroad, and a member of the Masonic order.
Dr. Smith’s first wife was Miss Margaret, daughter of Mortimer Jordan, who was one of the early settlers of the county, settling in 1828, and following cotton planting upon a large scale, until his death, in 1866. They were united in January, 1844, and over thirty years of happy life passed, when, in 1875, she departed this life. Twelve children were born to them, five of whom are now living : Joseph R., Jr., a progressive
business man and prominent railroad contractor ; Thomas O., assistant cashier of the First National Bank ; Charles J., also a railroad contractor ; William D., and Virginia Irene.
While a medical student at Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Smith met a young lady, whose accomplishments and rare personal beauty deeply impressed him. Unable to return to Kentucky, he cherished through all the following years the memory of his youthful friendship. Years afterward, when a widower, he learned she was a resident of St. Louis, and was the widow of Dr. Thomas J. Kilpatrick, who had been a celebrated practitioner of that city. Dr. Smith immediately sought her, and the dream of his youth met its full fruition when, in 1876, she became his wife. Her maiden name was Mary Smithers.
In the courthouse of Lexington, Kentucky, stands a beautiful statue entitled "Chastity Triumphant." It is the handiwork of the late celebrated sculptor, Joel T. Hart, who, encouraged to prosecute his sturlies, died in Europe. This work of art has the form and features of Mary Smithers, as he last saw her, and is a beautiful tribute and acknowledgment of their friendship.
Mrs. Smith is a lady of great personal worth, a member of the Methodist Church, and devoted to all good works.
Dr. and Mrs. Smith reside quietly in their elegant home at Elyton.
– from Jefferson County and Birmingham Alabama: History and Biographical, edited by John Witherspoon Dubose and published in 1887 by Teeple & Smith / Caldwell Printing Works, Birmingham, Alabama