Smyth, Andrew Farney (1817–1879)

By: William Seale

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Andrew Farney Smyth, soldier and riverman, son of Andrew and Susannah Smyth of North Carolina, was born "on the road going through Tennessee" in 1817 and reared at his father's mill near Moulton, Alabama. He lived most of his life in Jasper County, Texas, where he was a planter, lumberman, and riverman. He left home in the autumn of 1835 with a party of other youths who journeyed overland to Texas with the intention of joining the celebrated Red Rovers, a volunteer company from Courtland, Alabama, formed to fight in the Texas Revolution. The runaways were delayed in Nacogdoches and later learned that most of the Red Rovers had been massacred at Goliad. Smyth went south to join his elder brother George Washington Smyth in Jasper County. He enlisted with the Jasper Volunteers, was made first lieutenant, and with the company marched out to join the revolutionary army, but arrived after the battle of San Jacinto. As a member of the Jasper Volunteers, Smyth rode from San Jacinto in the escort that took the Mexican army back to the Rio Grande. With the war over, and a land grant in hand, he returned to Jasper County, where he moved in with his brother, whom he assisted in the operation of a cotton plantation on Walnut Run. Andrew, a trained surveyor like his brother, also assisted George in that capacity. In years to come, when the elder Smyth's public career took him elsewhere, Andrew managed George's farms and other interests in Jasper County.

As early as 1838 he began his career as a riverman by building flatboats, which he would load with Jasper cotton and float on the Angelina and Neches rivers to the Gulf of Mexico at Sabine Pass. On the coast he would sell cotton for his various Jasper clients and then sell the boat for lumber, before heading home on horseback to Jasper. By the mid-1840s he had seen the advantage of upriver commerce and had built the keelboat Jasper, on which, with a flotilla of flatboats, he would descend the river with cotton, corn, and tobacco. From his clients' cotton money he would make purchases as they requested, fill the Jasper with them, and then have the boat towed home. In this middleman role he made valuable business contacts in Galveston, New Orleans, and St. Louis. At the outset his crew worked on shares; later he found it more advantageous to pay wages. In 1844 Smyth journeyed to Kentucky, where he married Emily Allen, daughter of Benjamin and Nancy Allen of Owensboro, and niece of Francis M. Grigsby (Mrs. George W. Smyth). To this union were born five children. First the Smyths occupied a log house on high bluffs where Indian Creek pours into the Angelina. In 1845 a friend purchased for Smyth 1,060 acres of land on the Angelina River at Indian Creek, two miles upriver from Bevilport. In 1849 Smyth acquired the title to this land. In about 1850 the Smyths moved to a new frame house toward the center of their property and away from the river. A T-shaped structure with an open central hall they called the entry still stands much as it was when they knew it. The house was apparently built in part from timbers from the keelboat Jasper. Captain Smyth-as he was by then universally called-developed a variety of business endeavors through the 1850s. He built two water-powered mills on Indian Creek, one a gristmill and the other a sawmill. Each had a great turbine wheel. His business accounts show that by 1855 he employed some eighty people full-time at Smyth Mills. The several slaves he owned were domestic workers. In 1856 he entered a partnership with William A. Ferguson to establish a general merchandise store in Bevilport. The partnership was not successful, and Smyth, finding himself near bankruptcy, turned to friends among the commission merchants in Galveston for assistance in buying Ferguson out. He saved the store, which, as Smyth's Mercantile, he kept in operation for many years after.

Smyth joined the Jasper Volunteers in February 1862 but left the company within a month and returned home. His activities during the Civil War remain something of a mystery; he served part of the time as county judge, even though it is clear from his papers that he was actually away from Jasper County much of the time. After the Civil War he purchased the first of his two steamboats, the Camargo. Though it was highly profitable, the boat had mechanical difficulties and was replaced in the early seventies by the Laura, a new boat, which Smyth bought in Evansville, Indiana. This sternwheeler was the premier vessel on the Neches for a quarter century, a familiar sight at Sabine Pass and, on occasion, at Galveston. Used both for freight and passenger service, she made the journey from Bevilport to the coast and back (thirty-five days each way) on a regular basis, stopping at many now-vanished villages. She provided the first dependable, scheduled transportation in lower East Texas. In Beaumont, Texas, on a stop of the Laura, on October 22, 1879, Smyth died suddenly of unknown causes. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Beaumont, where a Texas state marker honors his service in the Texas Revolution.

William Seale, Texas Riverman: The Life and Times of Captain Andrew Farney Smyth (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966).

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

William Seale, “Smyth, Andrew Farney,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995