Governor Benjamin Smith Dies a Pauper

A portrait of Benjamin Smith from the State Archives

A portrait of Benjamin Smith from the State Archives

On January 26, 1826, former governor Benjamin Smith died. Before becoming governor, Smith was elected to the state constitutional conventions, the state House and Senate, and served as speaker of the Senate for two terms.

When the University of North Carolina was chartered in 1789, Smith was named a trustee and donated 20,000 acres of land in present-day Tennessee to the school as an endowment. In 1789,he purchased the tract at the mouth of the Cape Fear River that came to be known as Smith Island. Smithville (now Southport) was established and named in his honor in 1792.

Smith was elected governor in 1810. He served a single term, declining to stand for reelection. Following his governorship, he returned to Brunswick. His once enormous wealth, however, was increasingly ravaged by financial misfortunes, personal extravagance and long-term debt obligations. Over the years Smith had several residences in Brunswick County at Orton at Smithville, and at Belvedere. Much of Smith’s personal correspondence is dated at Belvedere. It was there that he entertained President George Washington in 1791. He died a pauper in 1826. Initially buried at Smithville, he was later interred in the churchyard of St. Philips at Brunswick Town.

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