Obedience (Fort) Smith, pioneer of the Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas frontiers, was born on January 21, 1771, to Elias and Sarah (Sugg) Fort of Tarboro, Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Her maternal grandfather, Acquilla Sugg, was a member of the House of Burgesses for thirty-one years and an outspoken Patriot, Methodist preacher, and a founder of Tarboro. Her father, Elias Fort, was a member of the Particular Baptist faith for more than forty years and in mid-1791 the leader of more than 100 family and friends to the Cumberland Territory. They settled in the Adams/Port Royal, Robertson County, Tennessee, area and joined the Red River Baptist Church of Christ, the mother church of the many arms soon formed by the Fort family. Widower David Smith (1753–1835), along with friend and future president Andrew Jackson, was their guard against the Indians on the two-month trek from North Carolina to the new frontier.
David Smith and Obedience Fort married on November 3, 1791, in Davidson County, Tennessee, but they settled on his 1,000-acre holding across the state line in Kentucky. A surveyor, mill owner, and woodsman, Smith was the son of Highlander Scots of North Carolina and had fought as a Patriot in the battle of King’s Mountain and the siege of Augusta in the Revolutionary War.
Obedience bore eleven children in Logan and Christian counties in Kentucky by 1812, while her husband operated his sawmills and gristmills, served as a counselor over the wide territory of the Red River Baptist churches, and organized a cavalry company for a campaign against the British in the War of 1812 and several battles against the Creek Indians in the Creek War of 1813–14. The many battles in which three of Obedience’s young sons and her husband fought included Tallushatchee (where David was slightly wounded), Talladega, and the final and decisive battle against the Indians at Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.
In 1822 the Smith family moved to Hinds County, Mississippi, where David Smith received ten land grants for his military service and dealt in land acquisitions and sales. After his death on December 4, 1835, at their Jackson home which they called “Soldier’s Rest,” Obedience moved to Texas with her son Benjamin Fort Smith, who had settled there by 1833. She arrived at Velasco by boat in February 1836 and proceeded up the Brazos River and then overland to Point Pleasant, Ben Fort Smith’s plantation at later known Chenango in Brazoria County. Along with her two daughters, five grandchildren, and their slaves and livestock, she was soon a part of the Runaway Scrape toward the Sabine River. By August 1836, she again followed her son Ben Fort, this time to the far outskirts of the soon-to-be village of Houston, where he built Smith’s Tavern House, which was renamed the City Hotel, Houston’s first hotel. Obedience’s first home was a log cabin on the San Felipe stage route, later known as the 300 block of West Dallas but now under the freeway system. Her second and more substantial home was located near present-day 2616 Louisiana at Dennis.
Obedience Smith, as head of a household who had arrived before independence from Mexico, received a first-class headright for a land grant of a league and a labor (4,605 acres) from the Republic of Texas on February 3, 1838. Her chosen location was landlocked in Harris County to only nineteen labors (3,368 acres), and her survey, equivalent to 5.26 square miles, was patented to her on July 23, 1845. The designation of being “out of the Obedience Smith Survey” appears today on thousands of Houston’s inner-city land titles worth billions of dollars. The remaining 1,237 acres of her land grant were patented in her name in present-day Sutton County on March 21, 1882, thirty-five years after her death.
Along with her daughter, Piety (Smith) Hadley, Obedience Smith was one of the thirteen founding members of the First Baptist Church of Houston in 1841. She died on March 1, 1847, at the age of seventy-six, survived by only four of her eleven children. Her place of burial is unknown. She raised an orphaned granddaughter from birth and had thirty-two grandchildren with at least eight descendants named Obedience in her honor. At her death she still owned almost 2,200 acres of her Harris County land grant that became embroiled in protracted disputes as late as 1909. Only six weeks before her death, she traded her 100-acre farm with a son-in-law for four lots and a house at the northeast corner of Rusk Avenue and Brazos Street in downtown Houston’s Block 85. Tranquility Park, commemorating the historic Apollo 11 landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, was created out of that block and its adjoining block in 1979. In her last will and testament of 1844, Mrs. Smith made a lengthy allocation for the welfare of Ned, her slave, for whose benefit she obtained a city license to operate a dray in 1846.
Obedience Smith’s descendants include Benjamin Franklin Terry, Thomas Saltus Lubbock, Hiram George Runnels, California Supreme Court justice David Smith Terry, attorney John Wharton Terry, and suffragist Aurelia Hadley Mohl, a founder of the Texas Woman’s Press Association (later known as Texas Press Women). Three Texas counties—Runnels, Terry, and Lubbock—are named in honor of her family members. A Texas Historical Marker was dedicated in honor of Obedience Smith in Houston in 2011.