As part of my project on the early history of Smithland, I am researching a number of the early families. Among these families were the lawyers, doctors, merchants, hotel keepers - all those who conducted the business of the town. My goal is to learn where they lived before arriving in Smithland and where they went, if, indeed, they did leave Smithland. During the course of this research, I have learned several things.
When Smithland began to decline in the mid-1800s, the majority of the business people moved on. This is especially true after local residents rebuffed attempts to have the railroad pass through the county. At the same time, steamboat traffic was declining and those who depended on the river for transportation began seeking new homes.
Of the families who left Smithland before the town’s decline, several went to Nashville, Tennessee, where I suspect some of them had lived before settling in Smithland. These people were mainly merchants dealing with the transportation of goods by river. After 1850, it appears that Paducah and Henderson were the most popular destinations. Some folks went on to Evansville, Indiana from Henderson. So far, the families I have researched include the following families: Dallam, Hagey, Haydock, Mantz, Sanders, Smedley and Weston. I’m sure there were others, but my research has not progressed far enough to include them.
Another destination for at least one Smithland family was Cairo, Alexander County, Illinois. In the mid-1850s, George D. Williamson took his family to Cairo, where he had formerly lived and where he became a forwarding and commission merchant with his own wharf boat. Williamson’s first wife was Mina McCawley, daughter of Smithland pioneer, James McCawley. In 1856, Williamson married Mrs. Harriet Wood Smith and shortly thereafter they migrated to Cairo. Apparently, he was accompanied or joined by the following Smithland residents: Joseph G. Haydock, George Thrift and John Hagey, who appear in the Williamson household on the 1860 census, but are gone by 1870.
It was not uncommon for some of the former Smithland residents who died in Paducah to have their bodies returned for burial in Smithland Cemetery. Of the others who died in Paducah, almost all were buried at Oak Grove Cemetery. Those dying in Henderson were, for the most part, buried at Fernwood Cemetery. Those dying in Evansville were usually buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. Researching burials in these cemeteries has been made easy by using online databases.
Another pattern I’ve noticed is that certain professions are prevalent in these families. If there was one lawyer, there were several lawyers. If one man was a merchant, the chances are pretty good that some of his sons were merchants. The same is true of physicians. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are living in Smithland or Paducah or Henderson.
Time and again, when I find one family from Smithland, another will show up, often in the same neighborhood. Being cognizant of Smithland names is helping me to spot patterns in migration, which is always a good thing. I don’t know where this project will lead when the scheduled May program is over, but it is fun to track the different families and see how they fit into the area around them. And I believe I am learning techniques that can be carried over into other areas of research