Thomas Corwin Smith
From the Portrait and biographical record of Hancock, McDonough and Henderson counties, Illinois : containing
biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county (1894)
May, 1894. Lake City Publishing Co.
THOMAS CORWIN SMITH, of Oquawka, is numbered among the long-time residents of this town, and is among its most
respected and substantial citizens. His grandfather, James Smith, was born on the ocean while his parents were
sailing from Ireland to America, and was reared in Pennsylvania. In the year 1800 he settled on the Little Miami
River, thirty miles above Cincinnati, Ohio. Indians were then numerous in that region, and his son, Thomas Paxton
Smith, then ten years old, subsequently served as a scout under Gen. Scott, in the warfare with Indians in
Thomas P. Smith, born in 1790, passed his entire life, after he was ten years old, in Ohio, and, with the
exception of three years which he spent in the pork-packing business in Cincinnati, was engaged in farming at
Lebanon. He was one of a family of four sons and a like number of daughters. His father, James Smith, died there in
1838, and the son in 1853, at the age of sixty-three years. Nancy Paxton, wife of James Smith, was born near Paris,
Ky., and was a daughter of Jonas and Esther Paxton, probably of Trish or Scotch-Irish descent. Jonas Paxton was a
pioneer settler of Kentucky, and received a wound from the red men in one of their encounters, from the effects of
which he never recovered. One of his sons, Joseph Paxton, was for many years engaged in the slave trade about
Paris, Ky. Being convinced of the iniquity of the traffic, he at last abandoned it, and settled on a farm at
Lebanon, Ohio, where he passed the last days of his life.
Thomas C. Smith is the fourth in a family of four sons and three daughters, and was reared on a farm at Lebanon.
The schools of that region, in the days of his boyhood, were partially supported by a public fund, and he received
a fair common-school education. He was of a studious mind, and made good use of his opportunities. His father
promised him that when he could read well he would present him with a good book, and this prize was secured when he
reached the age of nine years, it being the "Life of Gen. Marion," of Revolutionary fame. Books were not plentiful
in those days in that region, and this volume was repeatedly perused by its proud owner, until he could repeat much
of its contents verbatim:. Throughout his life, the studious habits then formed have been maintained, and he is
always found to be well informed upon any topic of general interest. Though his parents, who were religious and
worthy people, were convinced of the right of the white people to enslave the blacks, he was influenced by reading
and conversations with his uncle â€” the ex-slave-trader â€” to repudiate that doctrine at an early age. He was
among the first to denounce this blot upon our nation, and was an earnest advocate of the war for the suppression
of slavery. Since its organization, he has been found among the loyal adherents of the Republican party and its
At the age of twenty years, Mr. Smith began serving a three-years term at the trade of coachmaker in his native
town, and, after completing his apprenticeshipcontinued for some time as a journeyman at the same place. In 1852 he
decided to move westward, and cast in his lot with the pioneers of Illinois. Building operations were then brisk at
Oquawka, and he at once found employment in that line, which he continued almost without interruption until 1872.
In 1854 he again moved westward, going from New York, by way of the Isthmus of Panama, to San Francisco, Cal. He
found the State thronged with mechanics, many of whom were glad to work for their board, and after staying a year
there, in the vain search for remunerative employment, he returned by the same route to New York, and thence to
Oquawka. In both journeys he walked across the Isthmus. The years 1856 and 1857 he spent in Chicago, working in a
carpenter shop on the northeast corner of State and Congress Streets â€” the present site of the most magnificent
department store in America.
Returning to Oquawka, he continued building operations, much of the time as a contractor, until 1872, when he
opened a hotel, and has ever since conducted a home for the traveling public. To the house which was his residence
he added until he is prepared to provide comfortably for all who call upon him. The original structure has been
built for more than fifty years, and was the most pretentious and substantial dwelling in the county at the time of
its erection. It is constructed of red brick, and occupies a pleasant site overlooking the Mississippi River.
On the 31st of December, 1857, Mr. Smith was married to Miss Frances Cordelia Richards, a native of Henderson
County, and daughter of Jonas and Elizabeth (Fouts) Richards, of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Smith's parents were among the
pioneers of the county, coming in May, 1838, to township 8, range 5, where they continued to re- side until the
death of the father, June 7, 1849, at the age of fifty years. The mother died at the residence of Mr. Smith, in
Oquawka, on the 24th of June, 1882, having nearly completed her eighty-third year. To the aid of his wife, who
keeps the house in perfect order, Mr. Smith is partially indebted for his success as a landlord. Two children have
been given to Mr. and Mrs. Smith: Arthur Henry and Effie Afton. The latter is the wife of Louis Miller, proprietor
of a general store at San Diego, Cal. , and is the mother of one child, Effie Frances Miller, the de- light of her
Mr. Smith adheres to the religious faith of his mother, that of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He is a member
of the Masonic order, being one of the charter members of William B. Warren Lodge No. 209, Chicago, Ill. He has
always been an eager hunter, and, until recently disabled by a severe attack of fever, has exacted tribute from the
wild flocks of the Mississippi River and Illinois prairies. His library furnishes interesting and instructive
reading to the wayfarer, and his conversation is replete with valuable reminiscences.