Biography of J. G. Smyth and George W. Smyth (from "A 20th Century History of Southwest Texas")

Source: A Twentieth Century History of Southwest Texas, Vol. II, pp. 248-251. Chicago, New York and Los Angeles: Lewis Publishing Company, 1907.


J. G. SMYTH, a veteran of the Confederacy, has been the promoter of many business enterprises which have contributed to the substantial upbuilding of the southwest and is now a factor in industrial and commercial progress of the city of Uvalde and the agricultural interests of the county. His ready recognition of opportunity combined with energy and ambition have been the dominant points in his successful career and made him widely known as a prominent business man of the south. He is descended from a prominent and honored pioneer family of Texas and was born in Jasper county, this state, February 25, 1847. His parents were George W., and Frances M. (Grigsby) Smyth, the former a native of Alabama and the latter of Kentucky. They were married at Nacogdoches, Texas, by an alcalde, a Mexican justice, for Texas at that time was a province of Mexico and there were Mexican laws governing marriages. This was before the decisive battle of San Jacinto, which made Texas a free and independent republic. They participated in what is known in history as the "Runaway Scrape." The settlers, hearing of the approach of the Mexican general, Santa Anna, and his army, fearing that he might slaughter all who remained, left their homes and fled for their lives to the east, making their way to Louisiana. The men were mostly in General Houston's army and few were left to care for the families save the old men, who were incapacitated for military service. It was an exciting time and one long to be remembered. The Smyth family is of Scotch descent, but the names of the grandparents of our subject are not remembered. The grandparents, however, were early settlers of Alabama, where they reared their family and spent their last days. Their children were: George W., Andrew F., M. C. Mrs. Susan Isbell and Mrs. Ann McCallister, all of whom came to Texas.

George W. Smyth, born and reared hi Alabama, acquired a liberal education there and mastered the profession of civil engineering. He came to Texas with a view of following the profession of surveying here and located in Jefferson county, where he was thus engaged. He was a highly educated and broad-minded man, intelligent and enterprising, and his opinions became valued factors in measures and movements relating to the development and progress of the new country. In fact he was one of the leaders in all of the affairs bearing upon its growth and improvement and upon its political conditions. He was a member of that body of organizers that declared Texan independence and was one of the signers of its declaration of independence. During the existence of the state as an independent republic he was influential in its councils and in movements relating to its upbuilding along many lines. He filled the office of land commissioner tore several terms and after the annexation of Texas to the United States he was elected and filled the office of congressman one term. He was continued in many offices of honor and trust up to the time of the secession of the state. His sympathy, however, was with the Union cause and he opposed secession. In connection with General Sam Houston he made speeches throughout the state and predicted the result that would follow civil war just as it came to pass. He labored untiringly among the people in an effort to get them to settle their differences without resort to war, believing that they had no right to disavow allegiance to the Federal government. He lived to see his predictions concerning events of that period verified. He was a slave owner and an extensive farmer, having a large force of colored people to work his place. After the close of the war he was a delegate to the first reconstruction convention held at Austin that formulated plans for reconstruction, and while there he was taken ill and died, thus passing away in 1866. The first Congress of the United States, however, passed reconstruction laws doing away with all of the work of the Texas assembly and put in "carpet bag" officers all over the southern states. In his death at a momentous crisis in the history of Texas the state lost one of her foremost men, whose wisdom and sound judgment have been of the greatest benefit to the commonwealth. He counseled wisely and well and his labors were effective and far-reaching. He was a successful man in all of his business undertakings and his name was ever above reproach. He was honorable in action, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation, never swerving in his support of the cause which he believed to be right. He did much in surveying work in the early days or Texas and his labors were carried forward with great accuracy, so that after he had abandoned surveying as a profession he was often called upon by his neighbors and those in authority to establish lines and boundaries and settle disputes connected therewith. In his religious faith he was a Presbyterian and lived a consistent Christian life.

Mrs. Frances M. Smyth survived her husband until 1877. She was a daughter of Joseph Grigsby, one of the pioneer residents of Jefferson county and one of the four men who bought the land and platted and established the town of Beaumont, Texas. He was accounted a leading farmer and carefully managed his business affairs, without desiring office or seeking prominence of that character. His last days were spent at what was known as Grigsby's Bluff in Jefferson county. His children were: Mrs. Sarah Allen; Mrs. Frances Smyth; Mrs. Susan Thompson; Mrs. Ann Allen; Mrs. Elizabeth Glen; Matilda, deceased; Enoch, who served in the Mexican war; William and Nathaniel, both of whom are prominent farmers.

To Mr., and Mrs. George W. Smyth were born seven children: Sarah, the wife of J. T. Armstrong; Susan, who married Sam Adams; Matilda, the wife of Rev. R. T. Armstrong, a minister of the Methodist church; George W., a prominent mill and lumberman of Beaumont, Texas, who served throughout the Civil war as orderly sergeant in Ross* brigade and was wounded in the shoulder; Francis, deceased; Emily, the wife of W. H. Smith; and J. G., of this review.

Upon the home farm J. G. Smyth was reared and acquired a common-school education. He remained under the parental roof until sixteen years of age, when he enlisted in the Confederate army in Keith's company and Colonel Griffin's command of artillery, with which he remained until the close of the war. He was located mostly at Sabine Pass and while he was still there the war was brought to a close and he was paroled at Jasper by General Custer. Through the two succeeding years he attended school and in 1868 he was married. He then settled on a farm, where he remained for three years, when in connection with his brother, George W. Smyth, he engaged in the lumber business at Beaumont. They at first operated in cypress timber and also conducted a small store. They built a sawmill at Smyth's Bluff in Jefferson county, where they engaged in the manufacture of lumber for three years and then built a mill at Beaumont, which they conducted for two years. At the end of that time they traded their property for some farms and were engaged in general agricultural pursuits for a year, after which Mr.. Smyth entered the employ of a firm as logman, being thus engaged until. 1887. He then again formed a partnership with his brother and at Wise Bluff, in Jasper county, Texas, they built, a tram logging railroad and bought a tract of land. They operated their road for a year, after, which they sold their plant to the Beaumont Lumber Company and removed to Suddith's Bluffs on the Sabine river, where they constructed a tram railroad and put in logs for the Orange mills, continuing at that point until 1898, when they built a sawmill for themselves at Deweyville, Texas. They also bought large tracts of timber land and operated extensively, where they have sixty-five thousand acres of timber lands, bought at different times. In 18Q9 they purchased a sawmill at Juanita, Louisiana, together with twenty-five thousand acres of timber, and they continue to operate both plants with an output of lumber of from fifty to sixty million feet per annum, finding market for their product in different parts of the world, their shipments not only being made to various points in America but also to Germany, South Africa and Mexico. Their trade is constantly increasing and their business possessions in this connection have grown from a few ox teams and a small amount of capital to an extensive plant, their holdings being estimated at about three million dollars. Their business is returning a very gratifying remuneration and in fact is one of the important productive enterprises of the south, the business having been conducted along: modern progressive lines in keeping with the trend of activity and thought in the business world of today.

Mr. Smyth remained in charge of the operative department of this extensive business until 1891, when he came to Uvalde and with a partner invested in a cattle ranch of twenty thousand acres. The^ conducted the ranch for five years, and Mr. Smyth then purchased his partner's interest and has since increased his land holdings to thirty thousand acres, whereon he matures steers, having a herd of thirty-five hundred head at the present time. His ranch borders both sides of the Nueces river in the south part of Uvalde county. Mr. Smyth has also extended his efforts to other lines of business activity. In 1903 he purchased an extensive stock of hardware, furniture and house furnishing goods from J. H. Green and is now conducting one of the leading stores in the city of Uvalde. He is also a stockholder in the Uvalde Commercial National Bank, which he assisted in organizing in 1903, when he was elected vice-president and is still filling this position. His time is now devoted to the supervision of his varied and important business enterprises and the scope of his activity has continually broadened as he has extended his efforts into other fields, in ail of which he has operated in a manner resulting in success.

Mr. Smyth has been married twice. He wedded Miss Ella Green, a native of Arkansas and a daughter of Robert F., and Mary A. (Armstrong) Green, of, Alabama, who removed from that state to Arkansas and subsequently to Texas. Mr. Green became a prominent merchant of Sabine Pass, Texas, where he carried on business for a number of years, and he died in Huntsville, Texas, in 1866, when attending a. convention there. He was a very prominent Mason, widely known in the fraternity, and his position in business and social circles was equally commendable. His children were six in number: Mrs. Alice Carway; Ella, who became Mrs. Smyth; Susan; Laura; J. H. of San Antonio,, Texas; and Keenan, who died in young manhood. To Mr., and Mrs. Smyth were born two children: Ella M., who is assisting in the store in Uvalde; and Ethel G., who is a successful school teacher. The wife and mother died in 1883 in the faith of the Methodist church, of which she was a devoted member. In 1884 Mr. Smyth married Miss Epsie B. Miller, who was born in Georgia, a daughter of Lewis B., and Nancy Miller, who came to Texas in 1872. The father, a farmer by occupation, lived in eastern Texas and served as a private in the Confederate army throughout the Civil war. He was in the siege of Vicksburg, where he was taken prisoner and afterward paroled and at that place he was wounded in the right hand. He was a faithful and valorous soldier and met uncomplainingly the hardships of military life. He belonged to the Methodist church and was an exemplary member of the Masonic fraternity. His children were: Mrs. Nancy Clark, Mrs. Lou Lanier, Mrs. Jessie Henderson, Mrs. Epsie B. Smyth and Lewis Miller.

The children born of Mr. Smyth's second marriage are Lewis. Jennie, Joseph G., William H., Andrew, George W., and Murra G., all at home. Both Mr., and Mrs. Smyth are members of the Methodist church, in the work of which they take an active and helpful interest. In politics he is independent, voting for Democratic candidates at local elections but supported McKinley and Roosevelt for the presidency. He is a man fearless in defense of his honest convictions and reserves to, himself the right of forming: his own opinions in unbiased manner—a privilege which he also accords to others. His position in business circles in the southwest is a most creditable and enviable one. He has wrought along modern business lines and has achieved a prominence that is evidence of his ability and keen discrimination. Laudable ambition has prompted him to nut forth his best efforts in the acquirement of success and at all times his methods have been such as neither seek nor require disguise.

  Addendum: George Washington Smyth, Jr. died March 14, 1910.  
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