Miss Mary’s Money

Fortune and Misfortune in a North Carolina Plantation Family, 1760–1924


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About the Book

“Miss Smith, the wealthy old lady who died recently near Chapel Hill, and who bequeathed a large sum of money to the State University, did not fail to remember her old slaves, of whom six are now living,” read the New York Times, December 6, 1885. But the Times got it wrong: land, not money, was left to the University of North Carolina and five of Mary Ruffin Smith’s former slaves. Four were also her nieces—sired by her two bachelor brothers—and all had the same mother, the Smiths’ maid Harriet. A spinster, Mary raised the girls, baptized them into the Episcopal Church, married them to respectable biracial men and left each 100 acres in her will. The result of eight years of research, this book tells the story of the Smith family and the fortune that survived the profligacy of Mary’s father before being willed to the university and the North Carolina Episcopal diocese. Every “legitimate” member of the family lies in a small cemetery near the former estate. Harriet was buried an unmarked grave somewhere in Orange County. The hundreds of descendants of her daughters have been virtually ignored—this book is for them.

About the Author(s)

H.G. Jones (Ph.D. Duke) has served as a history professor in several universities; state archivist and director of the North Carolina Department of Archives and History; and curator of the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His career was capped in 2002 with the North Carolina Award for Public Service, the state’s highest civilian recognition. He lives in Pittsboro.

David Southern is managing editor of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

H.G. Jones with David Southern

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 60 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9662-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1987-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface: “The wealthy old lady” 1
1. Landed Grandfather: Francis Jones (1760–1844) 5
2. Profligate Father: James Strudwick Smith (1787–1852) 16
3. Boozing Politician Son: James Sidney Smith (1819–1867) 69
4. Lecherous Doctor Son: Francis Jones Smith (1816–1877) 88
5. Saintly Daughter: Mary Ruffin Smith (1814–1885) 97
6. Beneficiaries: Church and State 137
7. Warring Episcopalians: The Battle for Price Creek 147
8. Saving St. Mary’s School 163
9. Healing the Wounds: The Chapel of the Cross 168
10. Cleaning Up, Warming Up, and Lighting Up the University 174
11. End of the Trail 191
Chapter Notes 195
Bibliography 213
Index 217