Transcribed by Teresa Kesterke from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


A. J. Smith, a pioneer of Des Moines county of 1837, remained a resident of Washington and Pleasant Grove townships for sixty years; and while witnessing the development and growth of the county, he also rendered material assistance in its improvement and progress, especially along agricultural lines, wherein he so directed his labors that he became one of the extensive landowners and prosperous farmers of the State. He was born in Washington county, Virginia, in 1817, and was descended from old colonial families of the South, his ancestral connection with that portion of the country dating back to an early epoch in its settlement. Robert Smith, born in Virginia, espoused the cause of the colonies during the Revolutionary War, and after the return of peace continued his farming operations in the Old Dominion under the rule of a republican form of government, which he had aided in establishing. His son, Daniel Smith, also a native of Virginia, was reared there to the occupation of farming, and following the attainment of his majority was married to Miss Isabel Gilson, a native of North Carolina, and a daughter of William Gilson, who was likewise an agriculturist, and was of Irish descent. In the spring of 1818 Daniel and Isabel Smith emigrated westward to Washington county, Indiana, where for five years he engaged in the operation of rented land, and then removed to Rush county, Indiana, in 1823. A frontier district, he was enabled to purchase government land, and secured a tract of eighty acres covered with timber. There were many Indian settlements in that portion of the State, and the pioneers were just planting the seeds of civilization and improvement. Mr. Smith built a little cabin and began the difficult task of cutting down the trees, clearing away the brush and roots, and preparing the land for the plow. When he had cleared a small portion, a crop would be planted; and for twelve years he continued the work of improving his farm, in the meantime increasing its area by the purchase of an additional eighty acre tract. He then sold his farm and removed to Hancock county, Indiana, where he purchased one hundred and sixty acres of land, continuing its cultivation until his life's labors were ended in death, Dec. 29, 1848, when he had reached the age of sixty five years, ten months and twelve days. His wife long surviving him, died Aug. 15, 1864, at the advanced age of eighty-one years and twenty-three days. He was a Whig in his political views, and while living in Rush county, and again in Hancock county, he served as probate judge, and his efforts proved a substantial factor in upholding the political and moral status of the pioneer localities with which he was connected, while his labors advanced the material development. Both he and his wife were members of the Presbyterian church. They were the parents of sixteen children, and with one exception all reached adult age.

A. J. Smith accompanied his parents on their various removals until he reached the age of twenty-five years, and knew full well the difficulties and hardships which must be met in a frontier district; for he experienced many of these in his youth as, living in a pioneer log cabin, he assisted in the arduous task of developing a new farm. He realized also that a frontier region offered good opportunities to the agriculturist, and accordingly, in 1837, he came to Des Moines county, Iowa, which was at that time a part of the Territory of Wisconsin, locating first in Pleasant Grove township, where he purchased one hundred and twenty acres of land on Section 10. He continued its improvement for twelve years, and then bought a farm on Section 11, which he made his home for ten years, removing, at the expiration of that period, to Washington township. After three years, however, he returned to Pleasant Grove township, settling on Section 15, where he remained for twenty years, when he took up his abode on Section 5, where he remained until retiring from active business and locating in Yarmouth. After the death of his wife, which occurred July 14, 1897, he made his home with his children, Fredrick N. and Mary J. Redfern.

His activity in business affairs mav be judged from the fact of his extensive investments, his capital being secured entirely through his own labors. After giving to each of his children a farm, he still retained possession of fifteen hundred and eighteen acres of land in Des Moines county. As his father was a poor man, he received no financial assistance at the beginning of his business career, but on the contrary worked for twenty-five cents per day, when he started out in life.

When he came to the West, he had sixty four dollars in money and two ox-teams, and with these he began breaking prairie. As his financial resources increased he bought land from time to time, and through cultivation and the consequent rise in property values, incident to the settlement of the country, this property commanded a high market price.

Mr. Smith was ably assisted and encouraged by his wife, who was indeed a faithful helpmate and companion to him on life's journey. On the 18th of April, 1847, he married Miss Jane Westfall, a native of New York, born June 20, 1829. They became the parents of twelve children: Francis M., born March 20, 1848, a resident of Pleasant Grove township; Frederick N., of Burlington: Isabella, born Aug. 30, 1852, now the wife of David L. Davis, of Clinton, Mo.; Asbury D., born March 17, 1854, living in Keokuk county, Iowa; A. J., born June 1, 1856, of Colony, Kans.; Mary J., born March 26, 1858, the wife of Ira Redfern, a retired farmer of New London, Henry county, Iowa; R. A., born April 8, 1860, now living in New London; A. E., born Feb. 18, 1862, a resident of New London; John H., born Oct. 30, 1864, residing in Des Moines county; Minnie, born Nov. 12, 1865, the wife of George Overman, of this county; Squire, born Nov. 18, 1867, residing in Washington township; and Ira, born Feb. 23, 1870, and now living in New London.

A. J. Smith, an advocate of Democratic principles, was elected on the party ticket to local offices of honor and trust. He filled several positions in his township, including that of trustee for several terms, and was also a member of the county board of supervisors for one term. He accumulated wealth, yet there was no selfishness in the use which he made of it. To his family he was most kind and generous, and he possessed a benevolent spirit that prompted ready and substantial assistance to those in need and to various charitable institutions. He was deeply interested in the cause of education, religion, and temperance, and in fact was the champion of all measures and methods which he believed would uplift humanity. His life development was like the substantial growth of the pioneer district with which he allied his interests at an early day constantly broadening its outlook and its activities to meet the changing conditions of the times, and keeping abreast with the progress of public thought as well as the business transitions that brought material results. There was in him a depth of character and a weight of purpose that transcended all shams, and that won the recognition of his fellow-men in the respect and confidence which they so freely accorded him. He died Dec. 16, 1902, and the remains of his wife rest by his side in Pleasant Grove township.

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