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.


Hon. Ellison Smith, in whose life record there is much that commands the highest praise, and whose memory is dear to a large circle of friends who knew and honored him during his active life, was one of the noble figures in the history and development of this section of Iowa, being known throughout Des Moines county, and in a measure throughout the State, as one who was singularly devoted to all that might conduce to the moral and spiritual advancement of mankind, as well as being always among the first to aid any worthy movement for the material upbuilding of the community in which he made his home. He was born at Skipton, in Yorkshire, England, March 8, 1825, the third of a family of ten children, son of Peter and Martha (Ellison) Smith, and accompanied his parents to America in 1835.

The father, who was also a native of Yorkshire, was by trade a miller, following that occupation in England; but on coming to America he purchased a farm of three hundred acres three miles south of Burlington, Iowa, and devoted himself to agriculture. Grappling with the hard problems of pioneer life and frontier conditions, he cleared away the encumbering forests, freed the productive forces of the soil, erected buildings, and established a home for himself and his family. It was here that he resided until the time of his death, which occurred in 1870, at the age of seventy-five years. He was a member of the Episcopal church, maintaining this connection through life, and while he was always wisely conservative in all things, he was a friend of true progress, and attained a gratifying degree of pecuniary prosperity. The mother of Ellison Smith was also a native of England, and she attained to the age of eighty-one years, her death occurring in 1881. She is survived by five children, all of whom are residents of the Middle West.

Mr. Smith obtained his formal education almost wholly in his native country, the only schooling which he received subsequent to his tenth year being that of a six weeks' term in the public schools of Burlington township, Des Moines county. Despite the meagerness of his early advantages, however, he formed a taste for reading, which he always retained, and through habits of reflection and intelligent observation he became possessed of the extensive knowledge and broad views which made him a man of true and universal culture. With the exception of a short period, during which he learned and worked at the brick maker's trade, he remained with his parents until his twenty-sixth year. On April 9, 1851, he was united in marriage to Miss Mary A. Hunt, daughter of Jesse and Delinda (Kirkpatrick) Hunt. The father of Mrs. Smith was born June 20, 1807, at Knoxville, Tenn., whence he removed with his parents to Illinois when only five years of age. The family located in Bond county, where they engaged in farming, and where the young son was educated in the public school. Later he was employed upon the home farm until he was twenty-two years of age, at which time his marriage took place, and he began independent farming operations in Illinois. This he continued until 1834, when he removed to Iowa, choosing a location at what was then known as Flint Hills, and is now included within the corporate limits of the city of Burlington. There he purchased the farm which is at present occupied by his only son, John B., and there he resided continuously until his death, which occurred July 16, 1893.

He was the owner of five hundred acres of valuable land in Des Moines county, comprising some of the richest agricultural tracts in the middle Mississippi valley. He was a member, and a generous, loyal supporter of the Methodist Episcopal church, and as a man of great public spirit, he felt a genuine interest in political questions, acting from principle with the Democratic party. His wife, who, like himself, was a devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal denomination, died June 25, 1871, at the age of sixty-three years. She was born at Madison, Ill., a daughter of Francis and Mary (Gillum) Kirkpatrick. Her father was a native of Georgia, whence he came to Illinois immediately upon his marriage, making the journey in company with a number of other pioneers, and traveling overland by teams. He was of old colonial ancestry, and the great-grandfather of Mrs. Smith, widow of our subject, was a soldier of the Revolutionary War, losing his life in the southern branch of the service.

To Mr. and Mrs. Smith were born six children, all of whom survive. Alice is the wife of John Cavenee, a ranchman and stock-raiser of Broken Bow, Nebr., and they have one son, Paul. By a former marriage to J. A. Wright, M. D., who died in 1882, she has another son, Ray Edword. Samuel A., who is a farmer at Wilsey, Kan., married Miss Orlena Ferrel, of Danville, Iowa, and they have one child, Jesse C. Jesse M., now a merchant at Provo, Utah, married Miss Etta Seamons, and has one daughter, Mary. Virginia is the wife of H. T. Catlin, who is engaged in railroad work at Hutchinson, Kans., and they have one son, Carl, Walter E., now a farmer of North Platte, Nebr., married Miss Cora Peterson, of Danville, and they have two sons, Paul and Hugh. Jean P., youngest child of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, was born Jan. 12, 1867, and after completing the work of the public schools of Danville, matriculated and pursued a course of study in Parsons College, at Fairfield, Iowa. On leaving college in 1886, he went to Jewell City, Kans., and engaged in the banking business, continuing there with success for five years. In 1891 he removed to Kansas City, Mo., and was there connected as chief clerk with the National Bank of Commerce for a period of six years. After two years spent in Danville, he formed a connection with Armour & Company, at Omaha, for a further two years, and then returned to Danville, where he has resided continuously since, engaged in the care and supervision of the old home farm. He is possessed of great natural gifts, and holds a high and enviable place in the general esteem, both for his ability and for the probity of his personal character.

Immediately after his marriage to Miss Hunt, Mr. Smith removed to Danville township, purchasing there a farm on which they resided for eleven years. In 1865 they again removed, establishing their home in the village of Danville, and also purchased a farm of one hundred acres within the present corporate boundaries of the village. This new home was the place of Mr. Smith's residence during the remainder of his life, and here he gave much attention to farming according to the most modern and approved scientific methods. To him very largely is due the magnificent system of soil drainage which has added so much to the value of agricultural lands in Des Moines county, and for a number of years he engaged in the sale of tiling as part of his regular business. He also built the elevator at Danville, and entered the grain business on an extensive scale, continuing to conduct the enterprise with signal success until his death. He was resourceful, progressive, and alert, and in whatever he attempted his achievement was sure to be more than ordinarily notable, and of enduring value and significance. By the purity and strength of his character he commanded the unqualified confidence of the people, and as a leading member of the Democratic party, with which he was closely identified during the major portion of his active life, he exercised a widespread and intimate influence upon the public affairs of his time.

In 1889 Des Moines county chose him as its representative in the State Legislature of Iowa, and in this capacity he served his fellow-citizens for two years, with great credit to himself and lasting benefits to his constituency. He was always active in the conduct of township affairs, and was for many years a township school director, for he was an earnest advocate of the State public school system, believing that therein lay the foundation for the perpetuity of the State and popular government. In addition to his more immediate business and public interests, he was extensively connected with Burlington institutions, and the uniform saneness and correctness of his opinions rendered his counsel widely sought in financial circles. A natural leader of men, all looked to him for guidance in times of doubt and crisis, and despite the stress and pressure of his private affairs, none ever appealed to him in vain. Himself no sectarian, his entire life was molded upon the highest moral principles, and was in close accord with the myriad upward tendencies of human society.

Mr. Smith was an especially popular man among the higher classes. Business men admired the masterly ability which won him success in the world of action. His unimpeachable character stood for great principles which have left their impress upon the community; and the devotion to his home life, which was one of the strongest of his characteristics, instinctively appealed to all who revere the highest and holiest of relations. The moral and mental purpose of his life will live beyond the brief period which compassed his existence, and still influence and uplift his fellow-men. He died July 5, 1893, sixty-eight years of age, and his remains rest in Aspen Grove cemetery, at Burlington. Mrs. Smith is a pleasant lady of distinguished ability and many social graces, and her home is the center of a generous but refined and quiet hospitality.

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