by Kathy B. Lauder.
Daniel Smith was born October 29, 1748, in Stafford County, Virginia. Having made up his mind to become a doctor, he studied medicine with Dr. Thomas Walker at Castle Hill, in Albemarle County, Virginia. However, he soon made an abrupt career shift and, at the age of 22, was licensed as a surveyor by the College of William and Mary (founded in 1693).
Three years after he began working as a surveyor, he married Sarah Michie and took a position as Deputy Surveyor and later sheriff of Augusta County, Virginia, where their son George was born in 1776. Smith first came to Middle Tennessee during the winter of 1779-1780, after he was hired to survey the western region of the Virginia frontier, and particularly to chart the border between Virginia and North Carolina. During the American Revolutionary War, he was commissioned a colonel in the militia, took part in a number of battles, and was appointed Assistant Deputy Surveyor for the Southern Department of the Continental Army in 1781. Strongly attracted to Middle Tennessee, in 1784 he claimed a land grant awarded for his military service and moved his family, which now included daughter Mary Ann “Polly,” to a 3,140-acre tract in Sumner County, where he served as the county surveyor.
After reaching adulthood, both of Daniel Smith’s children wed members of the Donelson family. George married Tabitha, the daughter of Capt. John Donelson III; Polly and Rachel Jackson’s brother Samuel Donelson eloped, with the assistance of Rachel and her husband, a circumstance that caused hard feelings between Daniel Smith and Andrew Jackson for many years*.
In 1783 Daniel Smith was appointed both county surveyor and justice of the peace for Davidson County (still part of North Carolina at that time), and helped to survey the state military land-grant reservation in the Cumberland valley. One of the five trustees responsible for overseeing the establishment of the City of Nashville, he was also a charter trustee of Davidson Academy, the first institution of higher learning in Nashville. This school, founded in 1785, would over the years be transformed into Cumberland College (1806), the University of Nashville (1826), the Peabody Normal College at Nashville (1875), and finally the George Peabody College for Teachers, now part of Vanderbilt University.
When Sumner County was created in 1786, Daniel Smith, as justice of the peace, presided over the first session of the Sumner County Court. Two years later he was named Commanding General of the Mero District (Sumner, Davidson, and Tennessee counties), and in 1789 he was a member of the North Carolina convention that voted to ratify the United States Constitution. In 1790 Smith was appointed by President George Washington to become secretary of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, with authority to act for the territorial governor in his absence. The first map of the region, created in large part from Smith’s own surveys, was published during his term as secretary.
Daniel Smith held the post of territorial secretary until 1796, when the territory became the State of Tennessee. Smith was a member of the 1796 Convention and chaired the committee that wrote the young state’s first Constitution and Bill of Rights.
During the first decade of the 19th century, Smith played a key role in negotiating a series of treaties with the Cherokee. He was appointed to serve several months of Andrew Jackson’s unexpired term in the U.S. Senate (after Jackson resigned to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court), and in 1804 was elected to his own full term in the Senate. Unfortunately, he was forced to resign from the Senate in 1809 because of ill health. He and Sarah remained at home for several more years, overseeing various farm and business interests from their Sumner County plantation house, Rock Castle, which still stands on Drake’s Creek in Hendersonville. He died there on June 16, 1818, at age 69. Both Daniel and Sarah, who died thirteen years after her husband, are buried in the family cemetery at Rock Castle. Smith County, created while Daniel was still very much alive, was named to honor his service in the Revolutionary War and his many other contributions to the development of the state of Tennessee.
* Note: This was not the only time Andrew and Rachel Jackson helped a young couple elope! See also https://nashvillehistoricalnewsletter.com/2021/11/20/til-death-do-us-part-love-and-devotion-at-city-cemetery/