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Thomas Smith

Born: 7-26-1838

The Honorable Thomas Smith, one of the most illustrious citizens of the Territory of New Mexico, now serving in the exalted position of its Chief Justice, is a man whom to know is to honor. In all the relations of life, whether as lawyer, as Judge, as Legislator or as a private citizen, he has been found true to duty, and his life record should serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement. Today he stands in the front rank of the legal profession, not only of New Mexico, but even of the nation. It is not easy to win a place of prominence in this calling, with which are connected some of the very brightest minds of our country. The fact that the law is termed a learned profession at once suggests something of the effort that one must put forth to gain an exalted place therein. It is a calling in which one must depend upon mental power, in which he must "learn" that which gives him pre-eminence. Money cannot purchase it, it must come as the result of close application, persistent effort and determined purpose combined with the abilities with which one is endowed by nature.

Judge Smith is a native of the State of Virginia, his birth having occurred in Culpepper county, on the 26th day of July, 1838. His father, Governor William Smith, was a descendant of two of Virginia's most prominent and notable families, the Donaphins and the Smiths. The ancestry of the former is traced back to a Spanish officer who fought against the Moors in the sixteenth century. Failing to obey the orders of the cruel Philip to destroy the Moorish townships which he captured, he fell into disfavor with his king and fled to Scot¬land, where he afterward married a Scotch heiress and came into possession of valuable estates in that country. One of their sons emigrated to America and became a pioneer settler of Jamestown. Three of the sons of the last named gentleman fought in the Revolutionary war in the company commanded by John Marshall, afterward Chief Justice of the United States. One of these was killed at the battle of Brandywine and another served until the independence of the colonies was an assured fact and was present at the surrender of the English troops at Yorktown. He was the father of General A. W. Donaphin.

On the paternal side the Judge has descended from equally honored ancestors, tracing his lineage back to Sir Sidney Smith, who married a daughter of Walter Anderson of Wales, an officer in the British army. His son, Thomas Smith, was the father of Colonel Caleb Smith, and the latter was the father of Governor William Smith. Among Virginia's illustrious sons none were more worthy of the honors conferred upon them than he who twice served as Governor of the Old Dominion, and several times represented his district in the United States Congress. He was born at Marengo, the old homestead of his father in King George county, Virginia, on the 6th of September, 1797, and acquired a good classical and law education, after which he successfully engaged in the practice of law in Culpeper county, winning a high reputation on account of his marked ability. He was one of the most loyal sons of his native State, and at the age of sixty-seven years took an active part in the Civil war as a member of the Confederate army. His valor won him promotion to the rank of Major General, he being the oldest general in the Southern service. He was a man of eminent ability and of the highest honor, possessed of great generosity and hospitality, and was one of the most honored and distinguished sons of the Old Dominion.

In Culpeper county he was united in marriage with Miss Elizabeth H. Bell, the eldest daughter of Captain James M. and Amelia Bell of Bell Park. Their union was an exceedingly happy one, and for sixty years they traveled life's journey together, their mutual love and confidence increasing as the years went by, and all the time Governor Smith remained the gallant lover as well as considerate husband, while it was the wife's care to please him as much in the years that followed as well as those which preceded the marriage. She was a lady of high culture and refinement, presiding with grace over their hospitable home, whose doors were ever open for the reception of the many friends of the family. Governor Smith passed away on the 18th of May, 1887, and a long and useful life of ninety years was thus ended. His fellow citizens deemed him worthy of the highest trust, and honored him not only with their regard but also with the highest office within the gift of the people of the State. The dignified demeanor of the Governor was laid aside in the home and the character of the true Southern gentleman assumed,—genial, hospitable and courteous. He was twice wounded in battle. Like him his sons were all soldiers in the Southern army, and one lost his life while engaged in making a charge during that sanguinary struggle. Mrs. Smith, who had the love of all who knew her, survived her husband for several years, and also reached an advanced age.

Their son Thomas, who is now New Mexico's Chief Justice, was born at the parental home in Culpeper county, on the 26th of August, 1838, and acquired his education in Virginia, and in Washington, District of Columbia, being a graduate of William and Mary College. He also determined to enter the legal profession, and pursued his law course in the University of Virginia, after which he began practice in West Virginia. When the war broke out he joined the Kanawha Rifles, but soon after received the appointment of Major of the Thirty-sixth Virginia Regiment upon its organization. He was in command at the battle of Fort Donelson and under special orders captured a battery from the Union forces. He then armed his regiment with Enfield rifles, captured from the enemy, and successfully withdrew his troops from the fort during the negotiations for its surrender. He was afterward promoted to the rank of Colonel, and gallantly commanded his regiment until the transfer of the senior officer of the brigade, when Colonel Smith was recommended for promotion, and was commissioned Brigadier General just before the evacuation of Richmond.

When the war was over General Smith returned to his home to resume quietly the duties of his profession, and began practice in Fauquier county. He was a close student of politics and soon became prominent in political circles, being frequently elected to leading positions in the State. His opinions have ever been received with deference in the councils of the Democracy. He was elected a member of the State Legislature, and was an active and capable advocate of the settlement of the Virginia debt. In 1872 he was elected Judge of Fauquier county by the Legislature, in which capacity he served one term. In 1884 he received from Mr. Cleveland the appointment of United States Attorney for New Mexico, in which capacity he served for four years, and then returned to Virginia, where he continued his residence until 1892, when President Cleveland, unsolicited, honored him with the appointment of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court of New Mexico, a position which Judge Smith is now filling with great credit to himself and to the complete satisfaction of the bench and bar of the Territory. He is a most able lawyer, and upon the bench his course has been such as to win the highest commendation. His charges are ever clear and concise, his decisions are models of sound judgment combined with his broad legal knowledge.

Like his father and his ancestors Judge Smith is in his home a true Southern gentleman. He is a man of pleasing appearance and dignified bearing, always courteous, kindly and affable. He was happily married on the 10th of October, 1894, to Miss Elizabeth Fairfax Gaines, a native of Virginia and a daughter of Judge William Gaines, of that State. She is a beautiful and cultured lady, with graces of character that win her the highest regard, and at their pleasant home in East Las Vegas, the Judge and Mrs. Smith take great pleasure in entertaining most hospitably their host of friends.

Judge Smith has no sympathy with crime and renders his decisions without regard to fear or favor, for he can neither be scared nor dared. He performs his duty with the utmost conscientiousness. A man of great natural ability, his success in his profession has been uniform and rapid, and, as has been truly remarked after all that may be done for a man in the way of giving him early opportunities for obtaining the requirements which are sought in the schools and in books, he must essentially formulate, determine and give shape to his own character; and this is what Mr. Smith has done. He has persevered in the pursuit of a persistent purpose and gained a most satisfactory reward. His life is exemplary in all respects, and has won him the affection of his friends and the esteem and confidence of the business public.