Pages 160 - 164

Leaders of the Half Century

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One of the earliest preachers of the Gospel in this neighborhood was Francis MONFORT, who, for a long time, was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Hamilton. He was a descendant of the Huguenots. The founder of the American family fled from France, after seeing the oppressions he would be subject to if he remained a Protestant in that country, first going to Holland, and then coming to the American colonies. The father of Francis MONFORT was Lawrence MONFORT, and his mother was Elizabeth CASSAT, and he was born seven miles north-east of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in what was then York County, but is now Adams, on the 15th of December, 1782. Mr. MONFORT moved to the West with his family, in 1799, and arrived in Cincinnati, May 28th. He soon removed to Warren County, remaining for the Summer on a place three-quarters of a mile south of Lebanon, and in November taking a place eight miles west of that town, on the way to Hamilton, Francis MONFORT assisted his father on the farm until he was of age. In 1800 he experienced a religious change, and he united with the Presbyterian Church of Turtle Creek, which was the nearest to his house, and which was then under the pastoral charge of Rev. Richard MCNEMAR. As he grew older he determined to enter the ministry, and began his studies under the supervision of his pastor, occupying more than two years. There was then no theological seminary in Ohio, and it was the common plan for those who could not go East and complete their studies to take them up with some approved clergyman in their neighborhood. The then best known here-abouts was the Rev. John THOMPSON, of the place now called Springdale. He taught many, and continued in the labor year after year. Previously to going with Mr. THOMPSON, Mr. MONFORT studied for a time with Mr. Malcolm WORLEY. After being instructed by Mr. THOMPSON for a year, he passed eight months with the Rev. Barton W. STONE, at Cane Ridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky, and he was six months with the Rev. Robert MARSHALL, in Fayette County, of the same State. He then considered himself qualified to preach, and on the 31st of July, 1807, he was licensed to preach the Gospel, delivering his first discourse at New Castle, Kentucky. Through the south of Kentucky he soon after went on a preaching tour, extending it into Tennessee, in the neighborhood of Nashville. Then he came over into Ohio, in the Mad River country, and afterwards preached in Kentucky. He did not at this time belong to the Presbyterians, but from the time he began his studies was a "New Light." His church, with many others, had seceded from its previous denominational relationship and joined the new body, which was then thought to be more thoroughly moved by the grace of God. On the 6th of June, 1809, he was married, in Scott County, Kentucky, to Sophia GLASS, daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth GLASS, formerly of Frederick County, Virginia, and sister of Mrs. MARSHALL, the wife of the Rev. Robert MARSHALL. After being married he came back to Ohio, being first on Clear Creek and then on Dick's Creek, and preached till October, 1811, when he joined the Presbyterian Church, returning at the same time as the Rev. John THOMPSON. He was placed on probation for sixteen months, at the same time pursuing additional studies under the direction of the Rev. Joshua L. WILSON, D. D. No stop, however, was put to his conducting religious meetings, and he continued them until licensed by the presbytery at Dayton, Ohio, in March, 1813.

Not far from the bounds of Butler County, but located in Warren, was at about that time begun a new congregation, known as the New Jersey congregation, from the fact of most of their members having come from that State. There he was asked to preach, and afterwards was settled as pastor of the Church on the 14th of June, 1814. The flock increased and multiplied, and he remained with it until April, 1821, when he began to preach in Hamilton and Seven Mile, places left vacant by the removal of the Rev. Matthew G. WALLACE. He removed to this place in the following October. Here he stayed for sixteen years, during ten years of which he preached half his time at Seven Mile.

In 1830 a petition was sent to the presbytery by four of the elders, four trustees, and fifty members asking for a dissolution of the relations existing between them. This was resisted by Mr. MUNFORT, who appealed to the synod, and received a decision in his favor. The dissatisfied members would not take this answer as conclusive, and organized another Presbyterian Church in Rossville, both of the Churches flourishing. They were finally united in 1842, under the Rev. Thomas E. THOMAS. Mr. MONFORT resigned his charge in 1837, and removed to Mt. Carmel, Indiana, where he officiated as pastor for nine years. He then preached at St. Omer and Concord, in the Whitewater Presbytery, remaining with them for five years.

His bodily health, however, had grown weak, and he then ceased regularly to preach or take charge of a Church. For four years, however, he preached occasionally, and at two different times, for three months each, he occupied the pulpit of the Church at Greensburg, Indiana. He never was more useful than at these times. Mr. MONFORT was a strong and fervent preacher, and to him many have owed their spiritual birth. He was for forty-eight years in the ministry, and he lost no opportunity of doing good. His piety was constant; no one could be in his society, for a few minutes even, without knowing that he was a religious man. He did not grow lax and idle as he grew old, but was willing to undertake new tasks. He began the study of the Hebrew language when sixty one years of age, and kept it up until his death. He died June 18, 1855, aged seventy-two years. He had one daughter and four sons, all of the sons being ministers of the Presbyterian Church.


Few of the men who have lived in this county have exerted a greater or better influence upon its future than Charles Kilgore SMITH, for many years a well-known resident of Hamilton. he was born at the very beginning of Western civilization, and lived to see the humanizing effects of arts and letters spread over the whole of the North-western Territory, as this region was at his birth- now the States of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin and was able to carry them still further, to lands beyond the original limits of the United States, and to help set up there the machinery of government, performing the same duty for Minnesota that was done in Ohio by ST. CLAIR and SARGENT.

The father of Charles K. Smith was one of those enterprising men who aided in setting the tide of emigration in motion. James SMITH was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, then wild as Oregon is now, and removed to Ohio in 1792, in company with General James FINDLAY, an old friend of his, with whom he formed a copartnership after landing at Cincinnati. Elected to several offices in succession, he was an occupant of the shrievalty when his son Charles was born, on the 15th of February, 1799. He gave the boy the best instruction the place afforded, and sent him, in 1812, to a grammer-school at Oxford, conducted by the Rev. James HUGHES, a Presbyterian minister of excellent repute. Here for three years he was thoroughly taught in all common branches and Latin, but was withdrawn, for a brief time, during the second war with Great Britain, in order that he might aid his father in paying off the troops on the frontier. In 1815 he finished going to school; but so great seems to have been his popularity and so solid his claims to respect that he was elected, in 1825, by the Erodelphian Society of Miami University, Oxford, which had succeeded to Mr. HUGHES'S school, as a member of their body. When he first went out to that town the country was a perfect wilderness; but he lived to see it fully cultivated, and the university strong and respected. James SMITH had removed with his family from Hamilton County to Butler in 1805, settling upon section 21, St. Clair Township, at the confluence of Four-mile Creek and the Miami River.

Charles K. SMITH came to Hamilton to live, upon the conclusion of his school-days, and entered the employment of John REILY, then postmaster, clerk of the courts, and agent of several corporations and absentee property holders. For two years of this time he acted as deputy postmaster and clerk. In 1821 he was chosen recorder of the county, and continued in that occupation until 1835, being also, from 1827, treasurer of the county. He might have remained longer in these positions had he chosen; but he voluntarily gave them up to become cashier of the Bank of Hamilton. There were then few banks of unquestioned responsibility in the West, although there were multitudes of irresponsible ones. The Bank of Hamilton was begun with large means, and was one of the few which had sufficient strength to resist the pressure put upon moneyed institutions by General JACKSON during his war upon the United States Bank. It rode through the storm of 1837 triumphantly ; but in 1842, on the 9th of February, it made an assignment. This was in consequence of new and stringent regulations in the law, but was also partly occasioned by the lack of surplus capital in the community. It is a well-known principle of banking that these institutions are chiefly valuable for acting as a reservoir to collect the spare earnings of the community. But in this case these conditions did not exist. Depositors were comparatively few, as not many had any surplus of funds, and borrowers were needy and importunate.

Mr. SMITH was a man of much geniality of disposition, a great favorite with all classes of society. He became prominent while yet under age for his contributions to the newspapers, a habit kept up all his life. He was a member of the Thespian Society, which supported Mr. FORREST and Mrs. and Miss RIDDLE, on their visit to this town in 1823, and he frequently spoke prologues and made introductory speeches in public assemblies. He was an early member of the Masonic order.

On his retiring from the bank he entered upon legal practice. He had previously studied law under John WOODS, and had been admitted to the bar in 1840. In this new calling he attained a fair measure of success. He was an attorney in the courts of several of the United States, and also became a member of the American Legal Association of New York. This was in a day when such qualifications were not so common as now.

With his ardent and inquiring disposition it could not be expected it could not be expected that he should remain quiet in political matters. He was heart and soul a Whig. He fought their battles on the stump and in the press, and was one of the pillars of that party in this county. His treatment of opponents, however, was much kinder than is usually the rule, and he never lost or impaired the friendship of any worthy man on that account. He was present at all assemblages of the party, and generally drew up the resolutions, either alone or in conjunction with someone else. In 1848 he was named as an associate judge of the county, and was elected to that position in March by the General Assembly. This office was one of the survivals from an earlier age, but not because of fitness. The associate judge sat on the bench, but was not expected to take any part in the trial of cases, and to leave the management of affairs entirely in the hands of the president judge. No law compelled it, but only the custom of the incumbents. This position did not suit Mr. SMITH, and he speedily asserted his right to an equal share of the business of the court. When occasion required, he manifested his dissent, and was sustained by the Supreme Court on appeal. The office, as it had been conducted, was useless, and was abolished by the constitution of 1851. His position was for seven years, but he resigned it at the end of a year to accept an office from General TAYLOR, whose warm friend he was, and whose election he had striven with all his might to accomplish. Under the limitation of the new constitution his tenure would have expired in another year. The abolition of this office was a change he was in favor of, and was one of many which he had pressed upon the attention of the Constitutional Convention. He had repeatedly addressed popular audiences upon the necessity of a revision of our organic law.

When we acquired, in 1803, by JEFFERSON's purchase, the vast extent of ground west of the Mississippi River, it could scarcely have been expected by the wisest and most discerning man living, that the current of emigration would, within a half-century, overleap that great river at the Northwest, and begin a commonwealth which should last as the English race. Those of us who were children when the act was passes making the Territory of Minnesota are not now beyond middle age. Before we shall reach our threescore years and ten that state will embrace more inhabitants than Greece in her palmiest days, or as many as the united colonies had in 1776, when they shhok off the yoke of Great Britain. We have no age of cloud and doubt in our history, such as had the Greeks. Our annals mount to the fountainhead, and are not lost in legends of Theseus, Hercules, and the interference of the gods. Our adventurers are known, and their names will be preserved for centuries. When this act creating the Territory of Minnesota was passed, Charles K. SMITH was made its secretary. This office is equivalent to that of lieutenant-govenor and secretary of state in older communities, and is charged with responsibility. Mr. SMITH went to his new field of duty in May, 1849. There were no settlements, excepting one at St. Paul, begun a month or two previous, and one or two military garrisons. To the whole engine of goverment was to be set in motion. In addition to the duties of his office, he, for some six months, discharged those of govenor, who was absent, and whose place he took. He was also superintendent of Indian affairs. He discharged these various obligations with ability and succes, receiving, in addition, the approval of the inhabitants of the Territory. He found no schools when he went there, but did not rest until public provision had been made for their establishment, as well as carrying them through the Winter. He was the founder of the Minnesota Historical Society. We are indebted to a friendly pen for a descrition of his exertions in its behalf:

"The history of the act incorporating this society and the published proceedings show that Mr. SMITH was the life and moving spirit of it while he remained in the Territory. The pamphlet, containing upwards of two hundred pages, embracing the transactions of the first two annual meetings of the society, was published and circulated throughout the United States at the sole expense of Mr. Smith. The organization of the society was brought about by him, and through his exertions it was incoporated by the first territorial Legislature. Its proceedings were highly spoken of by the press a the time, though it was thought by some to be anomalous to have a historical society in a country without a history, as was supposed, the Territory being but just organized. But the Minnesota Historical Society was a success; and sinceits organization it has published upwards of one thousand pages of valuable information, and it may be added that the publications of that society did as much, if not more, to attract emigrations to Minnesota than any other means.

"Mr. SMITH was appointed by the territorial Legislature one of the first regents of the territorial university, located at the city of St. Anthony. He was present at the first meeting, and introduced the first ordinance for the government of the university. Congress made large appropriations of land for its support ; buildings were very soon erected, and shortly after the organization of the Territory the university was in successful operation. Mr. SMITH was an active advocate of schools, and made himself very useful in furthering all educational enterprises and means of instruction in the early years of the Territory. The Churches also received his assistance. In 1849 there was not a church building in St. Paul, except one small log house belonging to the Catholics. In the absence of church buildings Mr. SMITH prepared the rooms used for the first territorial Legislature, and permitted the different denominations to hold religious meetings in them.

" Mr. SMITH was president of the board of commissioners of the public buildings of the Territory, and during his services as such all the preliminaries were arranged for the erection of the capitol buildings and the territorial prison.

" The early territorial history of Minnesota is closely connected with the name C. K. SMITH, and we may well say that he had the honor of being one of the most prominent founders of a new empire of the Northwest from which has sprung the young and vigorous State of Minnesota."

He was an indefatigable work. He had a love for public employment, and did an immense amount of gratuitous labor. He received and excellent training with Mr. REILY, and his subsequent life increased and accentuated his thoroughness and love of detail. It has already been remarked that he aided his father as paymaster in the war of 1812. This was with Colonel Richard M. JOHNSON's mounted Kentuckians, while lying at Fort Defiance. He was the recording secretary of the first Bible Society organized in this county, which was in the year 1822. He was an attendant at the services of the United Presbyterian Church, of which his wife was a member, and contributed liberally to its funds. He gave the lot on which the First Presbyterian Church now stands, and assisted the Catholics with money and advice when they first sought to erect a building in Hamilton. Other Churches also knew his generous hand. In the hard years in which labor nearly ceased and the crops were deficient, no one gave more largely to the poor than he, nor with less pretense.

Among the labors that he performed, and performed well, were sketches od deceased pioneers in the county newspapers. He had a wide acquaintance with them, coming, as he did, to the county just at the close of the first decade of settlement, and never neglected any opportunity that might be offered to learn about their hardships and trials and the growth and development of their communities. He gave many of the papers at his disposal to the Cincinnati Pioneer Society, and gathered newspapers and books from which the future annalist could draw largely for facts relating to the Northwest. He at one time entertained the idea of writing a history of Butler County, and made numberless memoranda with that ain in view. Some of these were published in the Intelligencer forty years ago, under the title of " Notes on Butler County. " They comprise the first systematic attempt to reduce the unwritten memories of the early settlers to form, and to place them in print. And the present writer must acknowledge his obligations to this source, and the uniform courtesy he has met with from the surviving members of the family in the use of these materials. They are both rare and valuable. Mr. SMITH also wrote largely on other subjects. Few years passed in which he did not contribute to the local journals, many of these articles producing a marked effect upon the public mind. He never wrote from a love of display, but only from a desire to inform and preserve. In both these aims he was successful. His style was clear and compact, never descending to personality. Among other subjects, he made a report on Irish Repeal : Report of the Debate on Slavery in 1842 between Dr. JUNKIN and rhe Rev. Thomas E. THOMAS ; Biographical Sketches of the Rev. Arthur W. ELLIOT, Dr. Daniel MILLIKIN, John P. REYNOLDS, Esq., and historical articles for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Mr. SMITH was a popular man in his community. Although sometimes the victim of a pasquinade in the opposition papers, from which he could not well escape, being so prominent a man on his own side, he never was attacked with that envenomed bitterness which other men felt. He loved his friends warmly, but hated his enemies with equal warmth. He would not injure the latter, but he despised them. Those who knew him longest liked him best, and when once he became a freind he was so always. He had a warm affection for fraternal societies. He was admitted into the ancient and honorable order of Free Masons as soon as he arrived at age, and remained with them all his life time, being advanced to the highest degrees of the order. When in Minnesota he opened a Masonic lodge. In 1841 he united as a charter member in organizing a lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, advancing in this through the higher degrees ; and in Minnesota he assisted in establishing a lodge of Odd Fellows there. He was a Knight Templar as a Mason and an encampment member in Odd Fellowship.

Upon his return from Minnesota Mr. SMITH came to Hamilton, and bought his father's old homestead, upon which he settled, giving little attention to public affairs, but much to his books and the duties of his farm. He was active and energetic in the prosecution of the war for the Union, and did all that he could to arouse and inform the public mind upon the real merits of the contest. Four of his sons went out to the army, one dying soon after peace was assured. Mr. SMITH remained at home until the time of his death, which occured on the 28th of September, 1866, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.

On the 21st of November, 1827, he married Miss Eleanor A. MCMECHAN, daughter of the Rev. James MCMECHAN, an early Presbyterian minister of this region, and a native of Ireland. Mrs. SMITH survived him, dying March 6th, 1879. He had by this marriage five sons and four daughters, of whom but one died before the father. They are as follows : Mrs. Marcella S. WEBB ; J. William C. was captain of the Butler Pioneers in the twenty-sixth Regiment O. V. I., in the late Rebellion, died in 1873 ; Ada died in 1836, aged three years ; Charles Kilgore, colonel and assistant quartermaster in the war, died in 1870 ; Edward Hudsan, Ellen A., Jesse C., Mary Florence, and Park W. Mary Florence SMITH was married to Edward W. SCHENCK, and had four children, Ginevra Eleanor, Zenaide C., Lessie L. and Charles K. Jesse L. died August, 1871, and Charles K. in April, 1875, in the third year of his age.