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Biography: Dr. Joseph Riley Smith born February 6, 1818 – photograph

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Jefferson County, Alabama

Dr. Joseph Riley Smith, Sr., of Elyton, Alabama, was born Feb. 6, 1818 to John Smith and Sally (Riley) Smith at his father’s homestead near the place where Bessemer now stands. In 1818, it was Blount county, Mississippi territory.

The father of Dr. Joseph R. Smith, John Smith, was born in Union district, S. C, in July, 1796 and moved when a youth to Lincoln county, Tennessee where, in 1815, he married November 26, 1814 in Fentress County, Tennessee, Sally Riley, daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth (Hammonds) Riley, both natives of Kentucky. Sally Riley was born in 1796 in the Kentucky mountains.

“David Crockett, the famous hunter and Indian fighter of Tennessee, made two trips through the section now Jones Valley in Jefferson County, Alabama. Crockett was acquainted with the Smith family in Tennessee. He gave such glowing description of the valley that young John Smith with some of his neighbors decided to remove to this locality.

He came first in 1815 selected his land near a very large spring, staked it off, and returned to Tennessee. In the fall of 1816 after his Tennessee crop had been gathered, he came back with his wife and child and their household goods. John drove his own wagon while Sally rode much of the way horseback on a blooded mare given her by her father, and carrying her first born, David, in her arms. Young John, although two years married and a father, was now just twenty years of age.

When they reached his chosen location in Alabama, John, to his dismay, found that someone else had taken up his land during his absence and was living on it. he chose another location. John and Sally made their home in a log cabin with puncheon floors. This location is in what is now Jefferson County, Alabama, in the Northern Vicinity of the City of Bessemer, and quite near the present Woodward golf links, and about ten miles southwest of the present city of Birmingham. (This was related in 1918) Complete story in book “Ancestors and Descendants of John Smith Esquire 1918″ by Mittie Owen McDavid”

John Smith was a son of David Smith and wife, Elizabeth (Fluellen) Smith, both natives of Union district, S. C., who lived there until their respective deaths. David Smith’s father was a native of Wales. Joseph Riley lived near the Cumberland river in the mountains of Kentucky. At that date all trade was principally carried on by means of flat-boats. The pioneer always carried his trusty rifle; while on a voyage down the river on a flat-boat, his rifle burst while in the act of shooting and tore off his right hand.

Joseph Riley Smith received his early education in the schools in the vicinity of old Jonesboro; he then spent one year at the Union seminary at Spring Hill, Tennessee, where he studied English, Latin, Greek, and mathematics. He then returned home and began reading medicine with Dr. James Kelley In 1839 he entered the medical department of the Transylvania Medical college at Lexington, Ky., and on March 13, 1841, he received his degree.

He at once began the practice of medicine near old Jonesboro, and in April, 1843, he located at Elyton and formed a partnership with Dr. Samuel Earle. He spent some time in the winter of 1846-47 at the Charity hospital, in New Orleans, to further fit himself in his profession. The partnership with Doctor Earle was dissolved, and Doctor Smith continued in active practice until 1870. He then gave his entire attention to the mercantile business and in dealing in real estate. His investments were very successful and he was probably the wealthiest individual land owner in the State of Alabama. around 1900. He was always a Democrat; voted first for Martin Van Buren, and never failed to vote at an election since 1843.

He was an agnostic in belief. While in active practice he often wrote articles for the various medical journals. He married Jan. 17, 1844, Margaret Harvey, daughter of Mortimer Jordan, whose wife was Lucy (Gray) Jordan, native of Georgia. His first wife died in January, 1875, and on March 10, 1876, he married Mrs. Mary Kilpatrick. This union ended with her death in 1896.

When Doctor Smith started to school at Spring Hill, his old professor, John F. Forest, gave him a certificate of good standing which his daughter, Mrs. McDavid, had framed and prized highly. When he started to college at Lexington, Ky., he went by four-horse stage. His children by his first wife were:

  1. Lucy Gray Smith -b. Jan. 20, 1845; Mortimer Jordan Smith -b. Feb. 13, 1847-d. Feb. 14, 1860;
  2. Mary Ella Smith -b. Feb. 14, 1849 Elyton, Jefferson County, Alabama d. April 16, 1873 -(She was a twin-first two children died in infancy) married George Milburn Morrow (he was a druggist and physician, sheriff of Jefferson County several terms and enlisted in Confederate Army at age of 16)-
  3. Sarah Emma Smith -b. Feb. 14, 1849 Elyton, Alabama d. Feb. 5, 1874 married Isaac Rose Wellington Owen May 15, 1872;
  4. Joseph Riley Smith, Jr..,- b. Feb. 23, 1856, Elyton , Alabama d. Nov. 19, 1925, married 1st Minnie Gray Voltz married 2nd Catherine Julia Molton, April 26, 1876, Jefferson County, Alabama;
  5. John Fleming Smith – b. Sep 27, 1857, d. August 2, 1884 married Louise Lide 1875 (He was a druggist in Elyton
  6. Thomas Octavius Smith-b. August 21, 1859 d. September 1925 married Cornelia Hubbert;
  7. Charles Jordan Smith- b. Oct 18, 1861 Jefferson County, Alabama d. June 1925 married Annie Julia Molton November 25, 1882;
  8. Maria Agnes Smith -b. June 2, 1864-d. October 11, 1871;
  9. William David Smith – Feb. 18, 1867 d. April 20, 1932 married 1st Mary Chollett Berney, married 2nd Daisy Weller, 1897;
  10. Virginia Irene Smith – b. August 3, 1870, Elyton, Jefferson County, Alabama d. Dec. 3, 1916 married Robert Patton McDavid Dec. 22, 1890, Birmingham, Alabama. All resided in Birmingham in 1900.

Dr. Joseph Riley Smith died August 30, 1905 in Jefferson County, Alabama. He was one of the first three white children born in Jones Valley, Jefferson County, Alabama.



  1. Notable men of Alabama By Joel Campbell DuBose 1904
  2. Descendants of WILLIAM SMITH
  3. Jordan Archives
  4. Find A Grave Memorial# 96295350  114502580

This biography can be found in Biographies of Notable and Not-so-Notable Alabama Pioneers Volume VI

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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