Benjamin Smith

13th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1810 to 1811

Date Born: January 10, 1756 or 1757

Date Died: January 26, 1826

Place Born: Charlestown, SC

Place Buried: Southport, NC

Residence: Brunswick County, NC

Occupation: Colonel in Continental Army, Planter


Benjamin Smith was born on January 10, 1756 (or 1757) in Charlestown, SC. His father, Thomas, was a wealthy planter and descendant of Thomas Landgrave Smith, a wealthy South Carolina planter and merchant. His mother, Sarah Moore, was the daughter of Roger Moore of Orton Plantation, a very large plantation on the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County. Roger Moore had also served many years on the Executive Council in the colonial government in North Carolina.

Benjamin Smith’s education began in Charlestown, but he was sent to study under Rev. Jacob Duche in Philadelphia around the age of twelve or thirteen years old for at least three years. On May 12, 1774 he was admitted to the Middle Temple of London’s Inns of Court. Due to looming issues with Great Britain, Smith returned to Charlestown and began studying law under Edward Rutledge. The Revolution soon interruped his studies once again.

At age twenty-one (21), Benjamin Smith served as Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington in the retreat from Long Island on August 29-30, 1776. On February 3, 1779 he served with South Carolina Brig. Gen. William Moultrie in driving the British from Port Royal Island (Beaufort), thereby deferring the British invasion of South Carolina.

On November 18, 1777, Benjamin Smith married Sarah Rhett Dry, daughter of Col. William Dry, Customs Collector for the Port of Brunswick, and Mary Jane (Rhett) Dry. They were married at St. Philip's Church in Charlestown, SC, and they later adopted two children. Benjamin and Sarah were generous with their wealth to the less fortunate, and promoted educational projects. Their generosity resulted in their ultimate impoverishment, however, when Smith became security for the bond of one Colonel Reed, Customs Collector of the Port of Wilmington, who defaulted. Smith's entire wealth and that of his wife was drained off to meet this heavy obligation with the result that both died in poverty.

In 1783, Benjamin Smith was elected to represent Brunswick County in the NC Senate of the:
- 7th General Assembly that met in 1783

On 11 May 1784, Benjamin Smith was elected to the Continental Congress, but there is no record that he ever attended.

In 1788, Benjamin Smith was a member of the Constitutional Convention and he cooperated with James Iredell in an unsuccessful attempt to secure adoption of the Federal Constitution. He was also a member of the Convention of 1789, which approved the U.S. Constitution.

In 1789, Benjamin Smith gave 20,000 acres of Tennessee land that he had received for his service during the Revolutionary War to the University of North Carolina, and he also served on the board of trustees (1789–1824).

In 1789, Benjamin Smith was first elected as one of two men to represent Brunswick County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 14th General Assembly that met in 1789
- 15th General Assembly that met in 1790
- 16th General Assembly that met from 1791-1792

In 1792, Benjamin Smith gave land adjacent to Fort Johnston at the mouth of the Cape Fear River for the town of Smithville, named in his honor. Smithville was later renamed to Southport in 1887.

In 1792, Benjamin Smith was first elected to represent Brunswick County in the NC Senate of the:
- 17th General Assembly that met from 1792-1793
- 18th General Assembly that met from 1793-1794
- 19th General Assembly that met from 1794-1795
- 20th General Assembly that met in 1795 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 21st General Assembly that met in 1796 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 22nd General Assembly that met in 1797 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 23rd General Assembly that met in 1798 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 24th General Assembly that met in 1799 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 25th General Assembly that met in 1800
- 29th General Assembly that met in 1804
- 30th General Assembly that met in 1805
- 31st General Assembly that met in 1806
- 32nd General Assembly that met in 1807
- 33rd General Assembly that met in 1808
- 34th General Assembly that met in 1809
- 35th General Assembly that met in 1810

From 1808 to 1810, Benjamin Smith was the Grand Master of Masons in North Carolina.

Benjamin Smith was governor of North Carolina for one term, from December 5, 1810 to December 11, 1811. During his short tenure, Gov. Smith focused on reforming the state's criminal code and penitentiary system.

In 1816, Benjamin Smith was again elected to represent Brunswick County in the NC Senate of the:
- 41st General Assembly that met in 1816

Following his governorship, Benjamin Smith returned to Brunswick County and to the life of a prosperous planter. His once enormous wealth, however, was increasingly ravaged by financial misfortunes, personal extravagance, and long-term debt obligations. Over the years Benjamin Smith had several residences in Brunswick County, at Orton, at Smithville, and at “Belvedere.” Much of his personal correspondence is dated at “Belvedere.” It was there that he entertained President George Washington in 1791. It was at the dilapidated Smithville residence that he died, a virtual pauper, on January 26, 1826.

Earlier biographers have stated that either St. James's churchyard in Wilmington or St. Phillip's churchyard in Brunswick Town (where Mrs. Smith was buried) was the place of his interment. But according to Eliza Clitherall, daughter of neighbor John Burgwin, "Burial should have been beside his wife, but . . . by dawn Jan. 27th decomposition had taken place and it was necessary interment should be performed as speedily as possible." Because of the stormy weather, transportation by land or water to Brunswick was impossible, "So . . . the remains were carried to the Smithville burying ground and there deposited."


Benjamin Smith (10 January 1756 -- January 1826) was the Democratic-Republican governor of North Carolina from 1810 to 1811.

Smith was born in Brunswick County, North Carolina [incorrect] into a socially prominent family. During the American Revolutionary War, Smith served an aide-de-camp to General George Washington and rose to the rank of colonel in the Continental Army.

In 1784, Smith was elected to the Continental Congress, although it is unclear whether he actually served. He was active in the NC Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789, and served a number of terms in the North Carolina, in 1784 (Senate), 1789-1792 (House of Commons), 1792-1800 (Senate), 1801 (House of Commons) 1804-1805 (House of Commons) and 1806-1810 (Senate). In 1804, he was defeated in a bid for the U.S. Senate by Samuel Ashe. During his political career, Smith also sat on the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and donated 20,000 acres (81 km²) of land for the university's endowment; he chaired the trustees during his term as governor.

In 1810, aligned with the Democratic-Republican Party (he had earlier had Federalist leanings), Smith was elected governor by the North Carolina General Assembly. He served only a single one-year term, and emphasized reform of the state's criminal code and penitentiary system. Although Smith did seek re-election to the governor's seat in 1811, he polled behind William Hawkins on the first ballot and withdrew himself from consideration. He later returned to the NC Senate in 1816.

Smith died in Smithville, NC in 1826 and is buried there. Smithville (named after him) is now known as Southport.


Benjamin Smith was born in New Hanover (what became Brunswick) County, NC [incorrect] on January 10, 1756. His education was attained in the common schools of his native state. He served as a South Carolina militia captain in 1775. He served as a delegate to the 1788 and 1789 state constitutional conventions; and was a member of the NC Senate in 1784, 1792 to 1800, and 1806 to 1810. He also served as Speaker of the Senate from 1795 to 1799; and was a member of the NC House of Commons from 1789 to 1792, 1801, and 1804 to 1805. In 1794, Smith secured an appointment to serve as brigadier general in the state militia, and in 1807 he was named adjutant general of the state. Smith next won election to the governorship in 1810. During his tenure, educational advancements were promoted; the initiation of a prison system was lobbied for; and a revision of the state criminal code was recommended. After completing his term, Smith later served in the NC Senate, an office he held in 1816. Smith had a long relationship with the University of North Carolina, and had generously donated 20,000 acres of land to the school. He also served on the school's first board of trustees in 1789, as well as serving as board President during his gubernatorial term. Gov. Benjamin Smith passed away on January 27, 1826, and was buried in the Episcopal Churchyard in Wilmington, NC.

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