Biography of Capt. Thomas Jefferson Smith
Capt. Thomas Jefferson Smith, of Champaign, is one of the few men still living in Illinois who made their first briefs and arguments in a court room prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. In many ways his has been a remarkable life. He began practice before the war, enlisted soon afterward and gave the best in him to the perpetuation of the Union, came out of the war with the rank of captain, and at once began practice at Champaign, where he has now lived for over half a century.
Captain and Mrs. Smith never had any children. They were devoted companions during the long journey they had together in this vale of tears, and while they began struggling young people, they lived to enjoy much and the memory of their companionship is the sustaining thing in Captain Smith’s life today.
Future generations will know of the many ties that linked together Captain Smith and his wife because just recently Captain Smith has donated a fund of $215,000 to the University of Illinois for the erection of a building on the campus to be named the Tina Weedon Smith Music Hall. That building will be used exclusively as a home of music, and for years to come ,it will be a source of inspiration and a source of artistic culture to the thousands of students who yearly throng to this center of learning. ,
Capt. Thomas Jefferson Smith is a native of Virginia, having been born near Kingwood, in Preston County, July 4, 1836. His parents were Jacob and Cecelia (Shaw) Smith, both natives of Virginia. When Captain Smith was a small child his parents removed to Logan County, Ohio; locating on a tract of wild land and his father did the clearing necessary to make it a farm. In 1850 he removed to Bellefontaine, in Logan County, and lived there somewhat retired until his death in 1875. The mother of Captain Smith died in 1862.
The fourth in a family of nine children, Captain Smith grew up on an Ohio farm. He took part in the sports and pastimes of his rural community, and became strong in body and industrious from an early age. When he was only twelve years of age he was awarded the first prize in a plowing competition in which young men of twenty-one and twenty-two years of age were allowed to participate.
His early education was limited by the advantages of the local high school. He qualified as a teacher and taught in Ohio until 1858, when he removed to Clay County, Illinois. In Clay County he continued teaching for a year, and in the meantime had studied law in private offices and in his leisure hours and was admitted to the bar in 1859. In November of that year this young attorney was elected county superintendent of schools in Clay County. He was the first Republican to enjoy such a distinction in Clay County. It had been the saying for many years that no Republican could be elected to office there. Captain Smith made a good campaign and his qualifications were so thoroughly admitted that he was elected to the office by a majority of 240 votes. He filled the office of county superintendent for two years, finally resigning to enter the Union Army.
From his law office he went out in July, 1862, to become a soldier of the Union. He enlisted in Company F of the Ninety-eighth Illinois Infantry, and was in continuous service until the close of the war. He went through the various grades of sergeant, orderly sergeant, second lieutenant, first lieutenant until he became captain of his company, and for a time was on the staff of General Wilder. Captain Smith was mustered out of the army in April, 1865, at Nashville, Tennessee.
In the meantime, in 1864 he had married Miss Tina Weedon, a native of Woodbury, Tennessee, and they were married at Murfreesboro. Captain Smith was then a poor young army officer, had as yet established no permanent connections in his profession, and after his marriage at the home of his bride he was in such financial straits that he had to borrow enough money from a southern gentleman to get him and his wife back North. Immediately after coming out of the army Captain Smith located at Champaign, Illinois, where his thorough ability and his personal popularity soon brought him a living practice. He has long been recognized as a successful lawyer, and has grown wealthy in the profession and in the various business interests he has acquired. Captain Smith is still attorney for and a director in the Champaign National Bank and is also attorney for the Wabash Railroad Company.
For nearly forty years Captain Smith and wife lived together, and the many bonds that united them were finally broken in her death on August 22, 1903. Captain Smith and wife spent much of their time in later years in travel, and they were all over Europe together. Captain Smith has always been active in the Republican party, and for four years was chairman of the Republican Central Committee. He is a member of the Masonic Order, the Grand Army of the Republic, the Country Club, and the Methodist Episcopal Church.