On this day in WNC history: On July 4, 1844 James Smith—first owner of the Smith-McDowell House—applied for a pension as heir of his father, Daniel Smith, who served in the American Revolution.
Daniel Smith (1757-1824) was one of the first white settlers in WNC in the 1770s. When war came, Smith served as a militia captain, frequently attacking the British-allied Cherokees. Smith’s epitaph, written by UNC president David Swain, described Smith “wresting” control of the land for his children and country from the Cherokees, and testified to his lifelong pride in fighting Native Americans. During the war, Smith was also stationed periodically at Davidson’s old fort (modern Old Fort) and led his company at the Battle of Kings Mountain under Maj. Joseph McDowell. Smith, an illiterate man, frequently spoke of his service and held high esteem among neighbors according to Swain.
Congress began repaying veterans with land grants after the war and, like many others, Daniel participated in the trading of these tracts. In 1796 he purchased from another veteran, William Stewart, the 300-acre tract at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers where his son James later situated his opulent brick mansion c. 1840. Pensions opened to Continental soldiers demonstrating hardship after an 1818 act, but militia vets were ineligible until 1832, by which time most—including Daniel Smith—had died. By 1836, Congress authorized pensions for widows if they had married prior to the war’s end and remained unmarried afterward. Smith’s wife Mary received a $300 annual pension for Daniel’s services in 1843, but died later that year leaving James, the eldest living son and one of the wealthiest men in Asheville, to file for the payment. It is unclear how James divided the payments among his siblings, but Mary was due to receive payments for five years.