An American Family History

Josiah Smith and Sarah Pitts


Blountville, Sullivan County, Tennessee
Decatur, Meigs County, Tennessee
Tazewell County, Illinois
Benton Township, Lucas County, Iowa


The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 after the US annexed Texas. Mexico claimed ownership of Texas and did not recognize the successful secession.

East Tennessee is part of Appalachia. At the end of the French and Indian War, colonists began drifting into the area. In 1769, they first settled along the Watauga River. During the Revolution, the Overmountain Men defeated British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The State of Franklin was formed in the 1780s, but never admitted to the Union.

During the Civil war many citizens of East Tennessee opposed secession, but the area was under Confederate control from 1861 to 1863. Some citizens engaged in guerrilla warfare against state authorities and joined the Union army, while others were loyal to the confederacy. It was a heartbreaking case of neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.

Lucas County is in south central Iowa. It was founded in 1846 and the county seat is Chariton.

Typhoid fever is transmitted by the eating or drinking feces contaminated food or drink. Symptons include fever, profuse sweating, gastroenteritis and diarrhea.
Typhomalarial fever has symptoms of malaria and typhoid fever.
Typhus is a completely different disease and is spread by lice or fleas. The patient has fever, joint pain, cough and headache.

Josiah Smith married Sarah Pitts on October 15, 1846 at Blountville, Sullivan County, Tennessee. They were married by John Wolf, J.P. (spelling uncertain) according to Sarah's 1888 Declaration of Widow for Mexican War Pension. The original record of their marriage was lost when the Sullivan County Courthouse was burned during the Civil War. 

One story of their marriage was told by their daughter Nancy Ann Smith Wilson's grandson, Charles Johnson

Sarah and Josiah were very good friends. One Sunday the family except Sarah went to church and returned just in time to see Josiah & Sarah eloping across the Ohio [?] river into Kentucky.

If the story is true, then they would have married in Kentucky. A year after they married, Josiah enlisted in the Mexican war on November 7, 1847. He served until July 20, 1848.

Before the 1850 census, they moved to Meigs County, Tennessee and lived near the town of Decatur a few miles from the Tennessee River.

Elizabeth Jane Smith Frank was born in 1849. At the time of the 1850 census they lived in the West Subdivision of the East District of Meigs County, Tennessee. The household consisted of Josiah who was 25, Sarah who was 19, and Elizabeth who was one. Josiah was a farmer. 

Allison Woodrow Smith (Woody) was born in 1851, Nancy Ann Smith Wilson in 1853, Mary Ellen Smith Widaman Dixon  in 1856, David Henry Smith in 1857, and Josiah Allen Smith  (Si) in 1859.

At the time of the 1860 census they lived in the 5th civil district of Decatur. The family consisted of Josiah who was 36 and working as a farmer, Sarah age 27, Betsy age eleven, Allimon age nine, Nancy A. age seven, Mary E. age five, David age three, and Joseph who was ten months. The value of their personal estate was 356 dollars. John Smith was the last child born in Meigs County. He was born about 1862.

In 1861, Tennessee seceded from the Union and Josiah enlisted in the Confederate Army in November of that year. Charles Johnson described the family's Civil War experiences.

the fighting was around and near to their home (Tennessee). They had saved one hog to have for meat. They would shut it up every evening. One evening they went to find the hog and found only the skin and other uneatable parts. The Union Soldiers had taken the rest of the hog. 

The story of the hog was also told by Ethel Smith Taylor who remembered their Aunt Ellen telling the same story at a family gathering near Russell, Iowa. Their son, Josiah Allen Smith, told his children that the Union soldiers put the hog on pole to carry it away. 

Their grandson, Bryan Smith , related the story of the hog to his son Bill. "Dad [Josiah Allen Smith]  remembered when Union soldiers butchered their last hog. Said one of the tiny kids to [the] Union Soldier, "Ain't you afraid of my pap. Soldier replied "No. We would like mighty well to get our hands on your pap." Bill Smith recalled another story about Si hiding in a stove when the Union soldiers were looking for him. 

Another story told by Charles Johnson was that

Nancy Ann and one of her sisters were getting water, a bullet hit the ground right between them. She didn't know whether it was shot at them or was a stray. A cousin told me a slightly different version of the same incident, it being that the family had been unable to leave the house for 3 days because of fighting so close and the girls went for water because their supply was gone. As they were getting the water someone shot a hole in the bucket. 

Charles also said

Josiah Allen told a story of seeing musket balls roll in the field near their house in Tennessee during the Civil War, and of the children searching for them later. He indicated that the place where they lived was where Sherman started his march to the sea.

About 1865, the family moved  from Tennessee to Tazewell County, Illinois according to Mary Ellen Smith Widaman's obituary. They went by flatboat down the Tennessee River. They moved because Josiah had signed an oath not to return south of the Ohio River. Charles Johnson described the move.

He [Josiah] told her mother [Sarah] to sell everything they had, taking nothing  but gold, no Confederate money, and to take the children and make her way to Illinois, and this she did. I don't recall what their mode of transportation was, but it was my impression that they did quite a lot of walking. Anyway her father [Josiah] eventually met the family in Illinois.

 In a later letter, he wrote

talked with my brother and a cousin. They both said they recalled grandmother telling them that Sarah Smith and her children made the move to Illinois in a covered wagon and a team of horses, but the children walked a great deal of the time.

Bryan Smith, Josiah Allen's son, wrote,

Grandmother in [a] large group packed grub to last [and] came down [the] Tennessee river up Mississippi to Burlinglin, IA.  They were classed as refugees [and went] west on [a] refugee train [and] were kicked off at [a] so called Refugee house [which was the] Open Prairie. Several Old girls greased [the] rails on [the] grade with rotten butter [and] they had stalled [the] train till [the] crew got [the] rails cleaned and sanded ??they were picked up. Our folks settled in Lucas county.

Connie Rodieck, Nancy Ann Smith Wilson's granddaughter, said her aunt, Velma Gookin, remembered that the

Josiah and Sarah Smith Family left Tennessee because the war was getting close and their home was burned, so they escaped by boat up the Mississippi River to Illinois.   

Bryan Smith mentioned that

Si was not home much. Si sent for his family to come north from Tennessee. Sarah and the kids came down the Tennessee River on a flatboat.

During  the time the family was in Tazewell, Illinois, George Washington Smith and William Smith were born in 1866 and 1868. 

About three years after their move to Illinois, in about 1869, they moved to Iowa near Chariton. A family member said that

Sarah lived with all of the kids in the country down by Brush College country school down on the [Chariton] river southwest of Russell, about 6-7 miles from Russell, between the river and Lost Branch Creek.

The last three girls, Ida Belle Smith Hoops, Sarah Catherine Smith Hoops , and Cora Eda Smith Downard were born in Lucas County between 1869 and 1879. A son, Charles Elmer Smith, did not survive infancy. He was born November 25, 1877 and died on September 14, 1878.

Elizabeth (Jane) married in 1869. Census records show that in 1870, they lived in Benton Township, Lucas County, Iowa. The household consisted of Josiah age 53, Sarah age 37 (sic), Ellison age eighteen, Nancy A. age sixteen, Mary E. age fourteen, Daniel (sic) age twelve, Josiah age ten,  John age eight, George age five, William age three, and Ida age six months. 

Nancy Ann married in 1874 and Woody (Allison) in 1876. Woody married Illinois.

In 1880 they lived in Warren Township, Lucas County, Iowa. The only children living at home were George who was thirteen, William who was eleven, Ida Bell who was nine, Sarah Catherine who was seven, and Cora who was eight months. Elizabeth was married and living in Liberty Township, Warren County, Woody had remained in Illinois. Nancy Ann was married and living in Marion County, Mary Ellen was living with Nancy Ann, David was working in the Frank household in Liberty Township, Josiah Allen was working as a servant in the White household, and John was working in the Relph home.  

Josiah and William died in 1880 of typhus. William must have died before July when the census was taken.

The family appeared in the 1885 Iowa state census of Benton Township. At that time the family consisted of Sarah who was 53 and a widow, George who was eighteen, Ida who was fifteen,  Catherine who was thirteen and Cora who was five. Josiah, Jr. married in 1886, George in 1888, Ida and Mary Ellen in 1890,  Sarah Catherine in 1894, and Cora in 1899. 

Sarah's Mexican War Widows' pension application has an oath from a neighbor.

I Abraham S. Myers being duly sworn an oath say I was well acquainted with Josiah Smith late of Lucas County Iowa and am well acquainted with his surviving widow Sarah Smith. Said Josiah Smith died about 8 or 9 years ago. I helped to dig his grave and saw his body just before he was buried. His widow Sarah Smith had no property of any description at the date of death of her said husband and has been wholly dependent on her son for support ever since and is now wholly dependent on her son for support. Her son George is of age and not legally liable for her support. She has three daughters...two of them being quite young the other one of age.

Sarah received and pension lived with her children until she died on August 8, 1911 in Russell, Iowa.
Meigs County is located in East Tennessee and was formed from Rhea County in 1836. In 1819 the legislature took over part of the Cherokee Nation which was on the south east bank of the Tennessee River and this is the land that became Meigs County.

Sullivan County is in far northeast corner of Tennessee between North Carolina and Virginia and was originally part of those states. It was formed in 1779 when it was divided from Washington County.

The Confederate States of America (CSA), also known as the Confederacy, was a government set up by southern states during the Civil War. The states who left the Union were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The American folk hero, David "Davy" Crockett (1786 – 1836), grew up in East Tennessee.

Tazewell County, Illinois was formed out of Peoria County in 1827.

Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796. It was initially part of North Carolina.

Chariton is the county seat of Lucas County, Iowa and is in Lincoln Township.


In the 1830s settlers began arriving in Iowa from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. Iowa became a state in 1846.

The 1890 census materials was lost in a 1921 fire.



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©Roberta Tuller 2023
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