Smith, Benjamin Fort (1796–1841)

By: May Wilson McBee

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 5, 2019

Ben Fort Smith, revolutionary soldier and Texas congressman, son of David and Obedience (Fort) Smith, was born on January 2, 1796, in Logan County, Kentucky. With his father and older brother, he served in the Natchez expedition and in the Creek campaign. As a member of Andrew Jackson's staff he fought at the battle of New Orleans and was promoted to major before he was nineteen. He took part in making treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians in 1818 and 1820. Smith settled in Mississippi and served as the first representative of Hinds County in the Sixth Mississippi Legislature. On July 25, 1823, he was appointed United States agent to the Chickasaw Indians; he resigned on December 16, 1829, because of friction with the Colberts, chiefs of the Chickasaw nation. In the spring of 1832 he fought in the Black Hawk War. Activity in the slave trade led Smith to Texas, where he was identified with Stephen F. Austin's colony late in 1832 and became a resident citizen in 1833. He acquired land on Oyster Creek and the upper Brazos River and in the winter of 1833–34 made a trip to Cuba to procure African slaves to work those lands. Importation of slaves from Africa was contrary to Mexican law; so his vessel was seized and half of his cargo confiscated. The remaining slaves later worked on fortifications during the Texas Revolution. During the revolution Smith commanded a company of volunteers in the early activities fought at Gonzales and relieved J. M. Collinsworth at Goliad; he was with Austin in the siege of Bexar. Although a delegate to the Consultation, he did not attend, but on November 8, 1835, he placed eleven leagues of land at the disposition of the Texas government. Late in November he set out for Mississippi to recruit troops for the Revolutionary Army. His recruiting work and the settlement of his father's estate delayed his return to Texas until February. He reentered the army as a private on March 13, 1836, but the company he had recruited did not arrive until late in March. During the retreat from Gonzales he served as quartermaster and as acting adjutant to Sam Houston. Although enlisted in the company of William H. Patton, Smith was transferred before the battle of San Jacinto to the cavalry company of Henry W. Karnes. He served after May 6 as adjutant general under Thomas J. Rusk and remained in the army until August 5. After the signing of the treaty of May 14, 1836, Smith and Henry Teal served as commissioners to overtake Vicente Filisola's retreating army and secured Filisola's ratification of the treaties of Velasco at the Mexican camp west of Goliad on May 26. On September 10, 1836, Smith sold Point Pleasant, his home plantation in Brazoria County, and moved to Houston, where he built a hotel early in 1837, operated it a few weeks, and sold it on June 8. In December 1837 he was appointed president of the board of land commissioners for Harrisburg County. In 1838 he moved to his headright land, which was in the area now in Grimes County. In the fall of 1839 he served on a six-week expedition up the Brazos River against the Indians. Smith represented Montgomery County in the Fifth Congress, November 2, 1840, to February 5, 1841, and was author of the insolvent debtors' law. An act of the Fifth Congress on January 23, 1841, permitted him to free his slaves. Smith was never married, but another act of Congress confirmed his adoption of his nephew Benjamin Josiah Smith, son of his deceased brother, Josiah C. Smith. He was also the uncle and guardian of Benjamin Franklin Terry. Smith died at the home of another brother, Shelby Smith, at White Sulphur Springs on July 10, 1841.

William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835–1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941). Alexander E. Wagstaff, The Life of David S. Terry (San Francisco: Continental, 1892; rpt., South Hackensack, New Jersey: Rothman, 1971). Henderson K. Yoakum, History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation to the United States in 1846 (2 vols., New York: Redfield, 1855).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

May Wilson McBee, “Smith, Benjamin Fort,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 12, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 5, 2019