JAMES MCCONNELL SMITH & MARY “POLLY” PATTON SMITH
The Smith family portraits were painted in the 1850s. The second son of Daniel Smith, James Smith was born in 1787 in a log cabin near the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad rivers. He is said to be the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge in the southern mountains. Mary Patton, known as “Polly,” was born in 1794 and married James Smith in 1814. She was the daughter of prominent Asheville merchant James Patton and Ann Mallory, a relative of Davy Crockett.
JAMES MCCONNELL SMITH’S EMPIRE
James McConnell Smith was a man with the right family connections, and he was in the right place at the right time to make his fortune. Through hard work, a shrewd mind for business, and considerable foresight he rose from humble beginnings. By the 1830s Smith had assembled a “mountain empire” consisting of vast land holdings and diverse business interests. Enabled by a slave based economy, through farming and trade he emerged as one of the wealthiest men in Buncombe County.
By 1830 Smith owned over 30,000 acres – much of it prime river bottom land along the French Broad River. Much of it was planted in corn to sell as livestock feed. Owning this land for many miles along the river also gave him a near monopoly on access to river crossings.
In the 1830s Smith built the first bridge across the French Broad River in the Asheville area and charged tolls to livestock drovers and the many other travelers who needed to cross safely. This was a very lucrative enterprise.
Smith’s general store, located in the center of the village of Asheville, carried everything from snake root and other medicines to hymn books and cutlery. The merchandise on its shelves reflected the region’s growing connection with the outside world.
Smith opened the “Buck Hotel” in the early 1840s. It was located on the Buncombe Turnpikewhere itcame directly through the middle of downtown Asheville. Unlike other stands along the turnpike, Smith’s hotel offered no overnight facilities for hogs or other livestock. Livestock was boarded in the area of today’s Pritchard Park.
SMITH’S FIRST DOLLAR
Smith family tradition relates the story of how, as a young man, James Smith earned this coin for plowing a neighbor’s field. According to the tradition it was his “first dollar.” It would not be his last.
Silver 5 Francs Piece. “Hercules” design created by Augustin Dupre; early 1800’s. Hercules is flanked by allegorical figures in female form of Liberty and Equality.