John Smith T.
Washington County, Missouri
Researched & Written By: Esther. M. Ziock Carroll
John Smith "T" first settled in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri in about 1800 then later moved to Shibboleth, in what is now Washington County. He was a wealthy, well educated and prominent Missouri businessman. Smith "T"'s principal business was mining but he also manufactured guns and his weapons were considered the finest in the country. He was originally from Georgia and after residing in Tennessee he came to Missouri. Having a common name like "Smith" he devised a very ingenious way to differentiate his name from all other Smiths. He added the "T" to his name. "T" stood for Tennessee, indicating that he was John Smith "T" from Tennessee.
John Smith "T" had a notorious reputation as a duelist and carried on a long career of violence and intimidation. It was rumored that during his lifetime he had killed as many as 15 men. He was tall and slender with courteous manners and did not give the impression of being at all dangerous. He was described as "as miled a mannered man as ever put a bullet into the human body." He had a quick temper and when aroused he was considered one of the most dangerous men in the state of Missouri.
John Smith "T" had a mania for firearms and was a skilled weapons-maker and an excellent marksman. Rumor had it that he traveled, ate, and slept with his rifle beside him which he called "Hark from the Tombs,". He carried two pistols in a belt around his body, two pocket pistols in a side coat pocket, and a dirk in his bosom. His house, which resembled an arsenal, was filled with a variety of guns.
Smith "T" kept a number of slaves who were expert at making weapons. His
slave gunsmith, Dave, had five mechanics working for him in a shop built expressly for his
use. The slave's only duty was to keep the rifles, guns, and pistols in order. A dueling
pistol made by one of Smith "T"'s slave gunsmiths is on display at the Ste.
Television movies sometimes dramatically portray duels as occurring at sunrise. As the
dawn mist still lingers the two duelists start back to back with their pistols held
upright in front of them. They walk ten paces with a witness loudly counting out the
steps. They then stop, turn to face each other, aim and fire at will with each one hoping
they are the better shot.
In July, 1821 the first person indicted for murder in the Washington County Circuit Court was none other than the notorious John Smith "T". He claimed that Mr. Richard Rose had tried to persuade some of his slaves to leave him. When Smith "T" and Rose happened to meet at Samuel Thompson's stillhouse, four miles northeast of Potosi, Smith "T' shot and killed Richard Rose. John Smith "T" was never punished for the murder.
John Smith T became very upset when his younger brother, Rueben, died in 1828. He was convinced that the slaves of Rueben's father-in-law poisoned Rueben while practicing black magic.
In September of 1830 John Smith "T" is up to more mischief. While drinking at the bar of William McArthur's tavern in Ste. Genevieve he became involved in a quarrel with a stranger named Samuel Ball. Smith shot Ball, killing him instantly. Smith "T" was acquitted of the murder and was not punished.
Despite his turbulent life-style John Smith "T" died a quiet, non-violent death while on a trip to Tennessee. He contracted a fever in 1836. His body was returned to Missouri & he is believed to be buried at "The White Cliffs" of Selma on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Jefferson County. There is no tombstone to mark his grave.