Sunday, July 7, 2013

David Smith--Proud to be an American in 1876

David Smith
As the 4th of July weekend draws to a close it seems appropriate to highlight a quote from David Smith, who is my 4th great-grandfather. The life of David Smith is a fascinating study that roughly parallels our country's first century.  He was born in 1781 in central Pennsylvania, the son of a veteran of the American Revolution, and died in 1880 at the age of 99 in Franklin, Venango County, Pennsylvania.

As a young man in the wilderness of central Pennsylvania, specifically the Penn Valley, just west of where State College is today, David was looking for adventure.  According to his obituary, David became aware of the expedition being planned by Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the uncharted territory of the Louisana Purchase in 1804. David was anxious to accompany them and he started on foot for St. Louis to join the party. While in Illinois, he learned of their departure, so returned to Pennsylvania.  However, "while on this journey, he visited Cincinnati when nothing but a stockade and a few log huts marked the site of that city, and he was where Chicago now stands when a large village of Indians lived and thrived there."

Married and with a family, David began looking for opportunity outside of Centre County, Pennsylvania.  David and several of his brother left the home of their youth in the winter of 1818, reportedly traveling by sled, settling in Rockland Township, Venango County.  He was a blacksmith by trade and an active participant in the civil affairs of Rockland.  Most notably, it is reported that he was a "strong supporter of the free school law and it was mainly through his earnest labor that the Township was adopted the free school system" which laid the ground work for a strong public school system in Rockland Township.

David was a successful land speculator and in 1833 purchased a large tract of land across the Allegheny River from Rockland Township in Sandycreek Township, where the modern village of Belmar is located.  That part of the Allegheny River was known as Smith's Bend.  Following the success near Titusville of Col. Drake's well in 1859, land speculation made "millionaires" out of ordinary farmers, first in the Oil Creek Valley, but that same wave quickly spread up and down the Allegheny River valley.  In 1865, David sold his property in Sandycreek Township to the Eastern Oil Company for a substantial profit, and at the age of 85 he retired in comfort to a home at the corner of 7th and Liberty Streets in Franklin.  There he lived out the rest of his life.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories attributed to David is that at the age of 96, he traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1876 to attend the Centennial International Exposition. According to the Centennial Exposition Digital Library website, the exposition was the first official World's Fair to be held in the United States and was designed to highlight America as a new industrial world power.  The Exposition was host to 37 nations and countless industrial exhibits occupying over 250 individual pavilions. The main pavilion building covered 21 acres and at the time was the largest building in the world. The Exhibition was immensely popular, drawing nearly 9 million visitors at a time when the population of the United States was 46 million. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for David to experience such a spectacle!  Quoted from his obituary, "this veteran of nearly one hundred years--almost as old as the Republic itself--delighted to wonder and view the results of advances made by the nation during his lifetime."   David was quoted as saying, "I was pleased with our country's progress.  I am not ashamed of being an American." 

Happy 4th of July!