John was born on 12 September 1836 somewhere in England. I have not been able to track his exact location of birth, but his parents George Bowman Smith and Jane Crakes were natives of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire respectively, so it seems likely John was from somewhere in this vicinity (central England). There is some more information about his mother's ancestry in my Martha Anne Watson Marshall post.
As for John, my first record of him is when he arrived in Philadelphia on 15 December 1841 on the ship North Star from Liverpool with his mother, whose occupation was listed as a milliner, and younger siblings Sarah Ann and William Henry. Traversing the Atlantic in the early winter with three small children (ages 4, 3, and 1) was obviously not an ordeal to be taken lightly, so one can imagine how difficult life in England must have become for Jane and her family for them to risk such a trip. I haven't found the ship record for father George (again, how hard is it to track a George Smith from England?), but I suspect he went to the US first to prepare a place for his family, and they were arriving to meet him there. Another option could be that he sent his family ahead to meet up with the Crakes while he finalized preparations to leave England for good, but I think the first scenario is more likely.
About 11 months later, on 9 November 1842, younger brother Francis George Charles was born in New York state. Sometime between then and the birth of brother Watson Marshall (my great great grandfather) on the 27th of May 1849, the family settled in Huntington County, Indiana near the Crakes family, who had preceded their presence in the US by about 10 years according to other Crakes researchers' information. In the 1850 census, the family consists of George Smith, Jane, and children John, Sarah, William, Francis, and Watson. Jane's brother William Crakes was also living with the family. Next door, Jane's sister Margaret lived with her husband Henry Johnson and two children. Youngest brother Joseph Isaac N. was born on 17 May 1852 in Indiana. History passed down through the family also indicates another brother, Robert W., but I do not have any information on his birth or death.
In a newspaper memoir published from Watson Smith in 1930, entitled "The Last of the Real Pioneers", Watson recalls that his mother died of tuberculosis when he was seven, which would place her death around 1856. The article also states this happened shortly after the family moved from Huntington County to Allegan County, Michigan. Fellow researcher Amy Bernicken puts her death in 1854 in South Haven, Michigan.
Watson went to live with his uncle Watson Crakes after his mother's death. There has been some family lore passed down to Smith descendants that the family was in Kansas for a time, but ended up back in Michigan. I have no record of any presence in Kansas, but we do see Francis in Erie, Monroe County, Michigan for the 1863 Civil War draft. Prior to this, he served in the 18th Michigan Infantry Company K in 1862, indicating there was still some Smith presence in Michigan early in the 1860s. Francis was discharged for disability (family legend claims he was shot), but he managed to get himself back into the war and served as a full corporal in the 3rd Michigan Calvary Co. M in 1864 and 1865.
John was also a veteran of the Civil War, but again the generic name plagued me trying to figure out which John Smith from Michigan he was. And, perhaps, he wasn't even in Michigan at the time. However, the 1890 Veterans Schedule comes to the rescue and is when we get our first glimpse at John's civil war service. John B. Smith of Cherry Grove (and yes, finally the only John B. Smith in his area!) is listed as a private in Co. G of the 6th Michigan Infantry and Co. C of the 3rd Michigan Calvary, the same calvary where his brother would later serve in Co. M. His service is listed as 11 months, from 15 Aug 1861 to 15 Jul 1862. The dates are listed under the infantry, with no dates under the calvary service.
Fortunately for me, John liked to use his middle initial. I found a John B. Smith, residing in Saugatuck Michigan (this is in Allegan County), who enlisted in the Michigan 6th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, on 20 Aug 1861 and mustered out on 17 Jul 1862 at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I also found a John B. Smith who resided in South Haven, Michigan (about 20 miles south of Saugatuck) and enlisted in Co. C of the Michigan 3rd Cavalry Regiment on 27 Aug 1863 and mustered out on 1 Feb 1866 at New Orleans, Louisiana. He had been promoted from a private to a full corporal during this time.
I found this Civil War service to be strangely similar to that of his younger brother Francis. It will take some more sleuthing to see if I can figure out why he left his regiment in 1862, only to return to the calvary in 1863. The only other clue to his military service is a photograph (see end of this post) of him in his uniform taken in Corinth, Mississippi at Howard & Hall.
We find him again in the 1870 census farming in Bedford, Monroe County, Michigan with his wife Sarah nee Willard and children Eugene and Melissa, ages 3 and 1. Youngest brother Joseph is also living with the family, and brother Francis is farming in nearby Erie with his young family. Father George is living next door to Francis, working as a shoemaker. By this time I have lost track of his siblings William and Sarah. Although not seen in the census, according to his memoir Watson was still living with his uncle at this point, though the next year he would journey out to pioneer in the wild north country of Wexford County.
Which is where we find John living and farming in the 1880 census, in the township of Cherry Grove, not too far (7 households away on the census) from his brother Watson in the same township. Children George W. E. and Francis J. have been added to the household. Property records indicate a John Smith buying property on 5 November 1878 in this area. Father George had died in Monroe County the previous year, 1879. Francis continued to live in the Monroe County area but would die in 1884 of complications from when he was shot during the Civil War. Brother Joseph was still in Bedford with his new wife but would eventually move to Toledo, Ohio.
In addition to his residence in 1890 in Cherry Grove and his military service information, the 1890 Veterans Schedule also indicates that John suffered from impaired vision as the result of heat stroke and had chronic diarrhea (an unfortunately common condition by the looks of the other households listed in the schedule) and piles (i.e., inflamed hemorrhoids). I am having trouble determining whether these disabilities were incurred during the war. Either way...poor John!
John and his wife still lived in Cherry Grove in the 1900 census with children Eugene and Frank still at home. In 1910 they are still in Cherry Grove, with only Frank still at home, but in 1920 Eugene has moved back into the household. John Bowman Smith died at age 86 years on 23 Feb 1923 in Cherry Grove. I have put in a request and am hopeful that I may soon have an obituary of his, which I'm hoping will contain a more precise birth location in England and information about his movements prior to 1870.
The first hand accounts I have of the Smith men apply only to Watson and Francis directly, but assuming John was anything like his brothers then he was likely a well-respected member of his society. As he lived near his family his whole life and, like his brother Francis, entered the Civil War once again after having been discharged and completing his duty, I think it is safe to say he was likely similar to his brothers. Both Watson and Francis are said to have been over 6 feet tall without shoes on and of imposing physique, so John likely was quite tall as well. The photo I have of him, taken during his Civil War service when he was likely in his late 20s, reflects to me this strong demeanor.
Note on photos: I don't mind if you wish to save a copy of the photos on this blog, but as most of them are original scans of personal family photos I would appreciate if you credited the source.
John Bowman Smith
ETA: He appears to be wearing a Union Calvary jacket in this photo.
ETA: He appears to be wearing a Union Calvary jacket in this photo.