James Smart: Yesterday’s Antebellum Farm is Today’s Agricultural Research Station

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Work.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


Growing up in rural Louisiana, I’ve always been surrounded by agriculture. Both sets of my grandparents were cotton farmers, so I haven’t been surprised to find generation after generation of farmers in my family history research.

But our family’s farming history hasn’t been one of sweeping plantations and large-scale operations run by slave labor. For the most part, my ancestors had small family farms — fathers and sons working together to provide just enough for their immediate needs. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was their way of life.

My 4x-great-grandfather — and also possibly my 3x-great-grandfather, but that’s another story — James D. Smart, was one of these small-scale antebellum cotton farmers. Ironically, the land he owned in Louisiana is even used for agricultural research today.

James Smart was born about 1790 in South Carolina.¹ I have not identified his parents or even when or how he left his home state, but he is first recorded in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, on April 22, 1823. He married Ann Jane Knighton, daughter of Jesse and Sally Knighton, on this date.² The Knightons lived in Wilkinson County, Mississippi — just across the border from West Feliciana Parish — in 1820.³ I’m unsure if James lived in Louisiana, or if he and Ann just crossed the state line to marry.

By 1829, James and Ann were located to Madison County, Mississippi, where James is listed as paying one poll tax.⁴ The next year James appears in neighboring Yazoo County, again paying one poll tax.⁵ James and Ann may have migrated north with her family, as her father her father Jesse and his household is listed in the 1830 census for Yazoo County.⁶

James patented 160 acres of land in Yazoo County in January and February 1832.⁷ His two parcels were located about eight miles northeast of the present-day town of Bentonia in southern Yazoo County. The first patent James received lists him as “James Smart of Madison County,” providing evidence the two James Smarts were the same person. James and Ann sold half of this land on September 24, 1834, to Ann’s brother Jehu Knighton for $1100.⁸

James and Ann likely used this money to establish their next home in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, settling in areas opened by Indian land cessions. The James Smart household appears in the 1840 census for Yalobusha County with the following structure (I’ve filled in children’s names from information I later learned about the family):⁹

  • 1 male, age 50-59 = James
  • 1 female, age 30-39 = Ann
  • 1 male, age 15-19 = Jesse Knighton Smart
  • 1 male, age 10-14 = Samuel W Smart
  • 1 female, age 10-14 = Sarah Ann Emmaline Smart
  • 1 male, age 5-9 = Franklin B Smart
  • 1 female, age < 5 = Margaret E Smart
  • 1 male, age < 5 = James D Smart

Another document also places James and his family in Yalobusha County at this time. The death certificate of youngest daughter Susan Ellen Smart estimates her birth year as 1840, states her parents were James Smart and “Ann Kni,” and gives her birthplace as Yalobusha County, Mississippi.¹⁰

Finally, James patented 120 acres of land in Yalobusha County on December 10, 1840.¹¹ His land was about 3 miles west of Gore Springs in present-day Grenada County. James and family stayed in Yalobusha County at least through 1845, when their family of five males and four females appears on the Mississippi state census.¹²

Sometime between 1845 and 1850, James and his family made their most distant move — over 200 miles to Claiborne Parish in northwestern Louisiana. James and his family are documented on the 1850 census for Claiborne Parish as follows:¹³

  • Jesse K Smart, 26, male, Planter, born in Louisiana
  • James Smart, 60, male, occupation listed as “none,” born in South Carolina
  • Ann Smart, 49, female, born in South Carolina
  • Samuel W Smart, 23, male, Labourer, born in Louisiana
  • Sarah A Smart, 18, female, born in Mississippi
  • Franklin Smart, 16, male, occupation listed as “none,” born in Mississippi
  • James D Smart, 14, male, born in Mississippi
  • Margaret E Smart, 11, female, born in Mississippi
  • Susan Smart, 9, female, born in Mississippi

This census gives us additional clues about James and his family. James is no longer listed as the head of household; instead, his oldest son Jesse appears in this role. This change, along with James’s occupation being listed as “none,” suggests Jesse had taken over the family farm due to his father’s health or age. Although Jesse’s occupation is listed as planter, the value of his real estate is estimated at just $200 — suggesting a family farm, not a large plantation. All other occupations for this Ward and Township’s census return use the terms “Planter” or “Labourer” despite ranges of real estate value from $100 – $4000. Finally, the reported birth places of Jesse and Samuel as Louisiana are curious. Maybe James and Ann did live in or near West Feliciana Parish in the early years of their marriage. It definitely warrants more searching in Louisiana records!

Even though Jesse is listed as the head of household on the 1850 census population schedule, James is the reported Owner/Agent/Manager on the agriculture schedule. This schedule collected information about farm acreage, livestock, machinery, and crop yields — and it’s a great peak into the Smart family’s life. Their enumeration on the 1850 agriculture schedule is as follows:¹⁴

  • Owner/Agent/Manager = James Smart
  • Total Acres Improved = 35 acres
  • Total Acres Unimproved = 125 acres
  • Cash Value of Farm = $200
  • Farm Implements & Machinery Value = $10
  • Horses = 5
  • Milch Cows = 3
  • Swine = 25
  • Value of Livestock = $265
  • Indian Corn = 200 bushels
  • Ginned Cotton (400# bales) = 3 bales
  • Peas & Beans = 25 bushels
  • Sweet Potatoes = 50 bushels
  • Butter = 50 lbs
  • Value of Animals Slaughtered = $60

As the granddaughter of Louisiana cotton farmers, I can identify with many of the crops James cultivated — these farm products are still common in my home community. Cotton isn’t as profitable now as it was in my childhood, so many farmers have switched to corn. Today’s farmers sell it as a commodity, but James probably used it to feed his livestock. James used his five horses to till the ground and for other farm tasks — the work tractors do today. The cows were for dairy products for the family to eat and for making extra butter to sell. The pigs stocked the smokehouse with meat, and the family probably ate most of the peas, beans, and sweet potatoes and maybe sold their excess. Minus the butter production, James’s farm sounds a lot like my Papaw Smith’s farm. But there’s no way my grandfather could have existed on just producing 3 bales of cotton! Somehow James and his family did.

George François Mugnier ,”Picking Cotton.” Louisiana State Museum, Online Exhibits. c. 1890. https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-museum/online-exhibits/the-cabildo/antebellum-louisiana-agrarian-life/
George François Mugnier ,”Going to the Gin with Cotton” Louisiana State Museum, Online Exhibits. c. 1890. https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-museum/online-exhibits/the-cabildo/antebellum-louisiana-agrarian-life/

On May 10, 1851, James patented 160 acres of land in Claiborne Parish.¹⁵ The land was granted by military bounty warrant belonging to Andrew Gooing of Alabama.¹⁶ James likely purchased Andrew’s claim, a common practice for veterans who wanted cash instead of land. This land was south of present-day Homer, Louisiana, and is now encompassed by Hill Farm Research Station operated by Louisiana State University AgCenter. Scientists at this research station find ways to raise poultry and beef more efficiently.¹⁷ They also study loblolly pine genetics, soil fertilization, and biofuels. What an appropriate use of James’s former land!¹⁸

Entrance to Hill Farm Research Station,
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

James remained in Claiborne Parish until his death in 1860.¹⁹ He may be buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Paron Cemetery.²⁰ His estate was settled in Claiborne Parish that year, his wife Ann serving as administratrix. The succession document provides a complete list of his children with Ann. They are listed as follows:²¹

  • minor daughter Susan B Smart
  • Jesse K Smart
  • Samuel W Smart (from whom I descend — maybe twice)
  • Sarah A Smart, wife of William DeLoach
  • Franklin B Smart
  • James D Smart
  • Margaret A Smart, wife of George W Henderson

¹Birth date consistent on all found U.S. censuses, but identified as a single year on 1850 censes:
1850 U.S. census, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, Township 22, p. 146 (stamped), dwelling 752, family 752, James Smart in Jesse K Smart household; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4193964-00612/2709969 : accessed 2 Sep 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 230.

²”Louisiana, Compiled Marriage Index, 1718-1925,” database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/lamarriages_ga/ : accessed 2 Sep 2019), entry for James Smart & Ann Jane Knighton, 22 Apr 1823, West Feliciana, Louisiana.

³1820 Mississippi state census, “List of the Census of Wilkinson County for the year A.D. 1820,” Mississippi, State and Territorial Census Collection, 1792-1866,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1125/v229_3-0291/82748  : accessed 2 Sep 2019), citing Mississippi State and Territorial Censuses, 1792-1866, microfilm V229, 3 rolls, Heritage Quest.

⁴Mississippi, Madison County, Tax Rolls, 1818-1902, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi; digital image, (http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/taxrolls/Madison/ : accessed 2 Sep 2019); citing microfilm series 1202. 

⁵Mississippi, Yazoo County, Tax Rolls, 1818-1902, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi; digital image, (http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/taxrolls/Yazoo/ : accessed 28 Aug 2019); citing microfilm series 1202. 

⁶1830 U.S. census, Yazoo County, Mississippi, p. 297 (penned), line 12, Jesse Knighton; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410666_00545/2020980 : accessed 2 Sep 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M19, roll 71.

⁷Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=MS0180__.208&docClass=STA&sid=uajfdbk3.2lx : accessed 2 Sep 2019), entry for James Smart, Yazoo County, Mississippi, no. 4883. 

Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=MS0200__.106&docClass=STA&sid=uajfdbk3.2lx : accessed 2 Sep 2019), entry for James Smart, Yazoo County, Mississippi, no. 5793.
 
⁸Yazoo County, Mississippi, Deed Records Vol. D, p. 312; consulted as “Deed records, v. A-D 1824-1834,” images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3QY-4957-F?i=710&cat=252228 : accessed 2 Sep 2019), image 711. 

⁹1840 U.S. census, Yalobusha County, Mississippi, no township, p. 13 (penned), line 5, James Smart; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8057/4409677_00573/1454621 : accessed 2 Sep 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M704, roll 219.

¹⁰”Louisiana Deaths, 1850-1875, 1894-1960,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F33S-SH4 : accessed 2 Sep 2019), Susan Ellen Smart, 28 Dec 1917, Buckner, Richland, Louisiana, certificate number 4150, State Archives, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; citing FHL microfilm 2364548.

¹¹Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=MS1750__.038&docClass=STA&sid=uajfdbk3.2lx : accessed 2 Sep 2019), entry for James Smart, Grenada County, Mississippi, no. 5495. 

Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=MS1760__.127&docClass=STA&sid=uajfdbk3.2lx : accessed 2 Sep 2019), entry for James Smart, Grenada County, Mississippi, no. 6145

¹²1845 Mississippi state census, “Mississippi, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1805-1890,” Ancestry.com (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=3556&h=16128012&ssrc=pt&tid=49495569&pid=20441693959&usePUB=true : accessed 2 Sep 2019); citing Mississippi Census, 1805-1890, Jackson, Ron V., Accelerated Indexing Systems, compiler.
 
¹³1850 U.S. census, Claiborne Parish, LA, pop. sch., Ward 7, Township 22, p. 146 (stamped), dwell. 752, fam. 752, James Smart in Jesse K Smart household.

¹⁴1850 U.S. census, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, agricultural schedule, p. 211, James Smart; NARA microfilm publication T1136, Roll 5.

¹⁵Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=1052-167&docClass=MW&sid=pi3smswf.y3s : accessed 2 Sep 2019), entry for James Smart, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, no. 13743.

¹⁶Ibid.

¹⁷Louisiana State University College of Agriculture, LSU AgCenter (https://www.lsuagcenter.com/portals/our_offices/research_stations/hillfarm : accessed 2 Sep 2019), “Hill Farm Research Station.”

¹⁸Ibid.

¹⁹Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, Probate Records Book C, p. 352-353; consulted as “Book C 1858-1865,” images, FamilySearch ( https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007669547?cat=82289 : accessed 2 Sep 2019).
 
²⁰Speculation about whereabouts of James Smart’s grave included in his son’s Find-A-Grave memorial:
Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/59850291/james-dolphus-smart  : accessed 2 Sep 2019), memorial 59850291, James Dolphus Smart (1835-1899), Mount Paron Cemetery, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana. 

²¹Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, Probate Records Book C, p. 352-353; consulted as “Book C 1858-1865,” images, FamilySearch ( https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007669547?cat=82289 : accessed 2 Sep 2019).

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