Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith, pioneer, surveyor, treaty negotiator, secretary of the Southwest Territory, and U.S. senator, was a native of Stafford County, Virginia, who became infatuated with the trans-Appalachian West while a surveyor on the Virginia frontier. During the early years of the American Revolution, he commanded militia forces that defended the western settlements against British-inspired Indian attacks. He held public office for the first time as justice of the peace for Virginia’s newly created county of Washington in December 1776, and later was sheriff for a single term. He became lieutenant colonel commandant of the county militia in 1780.

Smith came to the Tennessee country in the winter of 1779-80 with Dr. Thomas Walker as Virginia’s commissioners to survey the line separating the western lands of Virginia and North Carolina. Pausing at the future site of Nashville, he so liked the area that, in 1784, he brought his family and settled them on a tract of 3,140 acres at the confluence of Drake’s Creek and the Cumberland River.

Appointed justice of the peace and county surveyor for the new county of Davidson, North Carolina, in 1783, he assisted in surveying the state military land grant reservation in the Cumberland valley. He was one of five trustees for the establishment of the City of Nashville and was a charter trustee of Davidson Academy. When the new county of Sumner was partitioned from Davidson in 1786, Smith became a justice of the peace, presided over the first session of the Sumner County court, and more than once was its chairman. He accepted appointment as commanding general of the Mero District Militia on November 29, 1788.

President George Washington appointed Smith secretary of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio in 1790 with authority to act for the governor in his absence. He served in that capacity until the territory became the State of Tennessee in 1796. Smith was a delegate from Sumner County to the convention that organized the state, and he chaired the committee that drafted its constitution and bill of rights.

The first pamphlet describing the Tennessee country, usually attributed to Smith, was published in 1793, and the next year the first map of the future state, based on his surveys, appeared in Guthrie’s Geography, published by Mathew Carey at Philadelphia.

Treating with the Cherokees for additional land, Smith and his fellow commissioner Return J. Meigs concluded separate treaties at Tellico for relatively small cessions in 1804 and 1805. They negotiated a treaty at Washington in 1806 by which the Cherokees ceded their extensive holdings between the Tennessee and Duck Rivers.

In 1798-99 Smith served a few months of the unexpired term of Andrew Jackson in the U.S. Senate. Later the legislature elected him to a full term in the Senate beginning in 1805. He resigned because of ill health in 1809.

Smith returned to his plantation in Sumner County on which he and his wife, Sarah Michie Smith, had completed their two-story stone house, later known as Rock Castle; the house became a state-owned historic site in 1969. Smith, a man known for his unimpeachable integrity in public life and for his leadership in the establishment of the institutions of representative government on the frontier, died at his home in 1818.

Suggested Reading

Walter T. Durham, Daniel Smith: Frontier Statesman (1976)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Daniel Smith
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018