June 15, 2023


Same style home, by same builder
What Dr. Ira E. Smith's home may have looked like about 1840
Newnan Historical Society says homes were not painted

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The Latest regarding the home of Dr. Ira Ellis Smith and Ellen Stimpson Peniston.

     In researching my family history for the book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, I learned that my great-grandfather, confidence man Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith II was born in the home of his grandfather, Dr. Ira Ellis Smith.

Dr. Ira Ellis Smith home
Circa 1970-80s.
Photo by Joseph Jefferson Smith and James Rothmund Smith

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     On March 25, 1828, the state of Georgia held a land grant lottery for the sale of land ceded to the state in a treaty with the Creek Indians. Dr. Ira Ellis Smith (1794-1869) won the right to purchase land in the Sixth district of Coweta County, named for the large Coweta Indian population in the region. The land Dr. Smith purchased was thirty-nine miles southwest of the future city of Atlanta and seven miles beyond the settlement of Newnan. On April 1st, five days after the auction, Dr. Smith bought land in nearby Fayette County. It appears that he may have moved closer to his new property in Coweta, moving from Oglethorpe County, Georgia until the house could be constructed (Coweta Co., deed book A, p. 102. “John Houston of Fayette to Ira E. Smith of Oglethorpe Co. for $500 land in Dist 6.”)

Possibly the oldest known photo of Dr. Smith's home
Circa: 1960s-70s
Photo by Joseph Jefferson Smith

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     The Smith’s are said to be one of the first families to reside there. Ira was well-liked and succeeded as a physician and planter. His popularity gained him a seat in the House of Representatives for the Sixth District in the Georgia Legislature; he served from 1832 to 1837 and again in 1851. He was elected a state senator in 1839, 1841-42, 1849, and 1853. According to Edwin Smith, a grandson of Ira, “the Smith family was equal in standing to any in Georgia, … claiming descent from long lines of well-known people.”

Dr. Smith home
Courtesy of Vintage Aerial

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     Ira Ellis Smith’s wife, Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), in a letter from her sister to a niece, is described as the “Belle of Virginia” and “the Flower of Georgia.” Another family letter boldly states that she was the most educated lady in Georgia. Another letter by Ellen’s brother John Gilbert Peniston tells of a duel fought in September 1820 over the sixteen-year-old Ellen. It took place in St. Petersburg, Virginia, between R. C. Adams and James B. Boisseau. She was “Educated in Baltimore,” and
her accomplishments equaled her personal charm, so it was no wonder that she should have many lovers. Admiring friends gave her a party in her honor. During the evening one man showed her such marked attention that her escort became jealous and challenged his rival to fight a duel. The next day the word came to Ellen that both men had been killed. A sad shock to her, though she loved neither of them. … In old Blandford churchyard both men, Adams and Boisseau, were buried.
Ironically, the attending physician at the duel was Dr. Ira Ellis Smith. Between 1830 and 1835, Ira had a plantation mansion built on the land he bought in Coweta County, christening the home “Shoal Creek.” It was located “seven miles east of Newnan, close to Thomas’ crossroads on the Old Wynn’s Pond Road.” From the outside, the house is imposing, appearing larger than it is on the inside. A large center hall is flanked by two spacious rooms, a small kitchen, and a sitting room. Upstairs are two large bedrooms, each with fireplace. Some of the original furnishings and family heirlooms are on permanent display in Newnan at the Male Academy Museum, where young Jefferson “Soapy” Smith obtained his education.

Dr. Smith home
Courtesy of Vintage Aerial

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     Cotton and corn were grown on the Smith Plantation, supplementing the income from Dr. Smith’s medical practice. In 1844 Moses P. Kellogg came to Coweta county to be a teacher. With a large family to educate, Ira offered Kellogg a teaching job and a place to live in the Smith home. There he would teach eight of the Smith children. School was held in a small room added to the rear of the house. Arrangements were made to open a school on Fayetteville Road for children from the surrounding area. One of Kellogg’s brightest students was Ira’s son Luther, who went on to become president of Emory College.

Where the land is believed to have been
Posey Road and Hwy 34
Courtesy of Google

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     Of Dr. Smith’s eleven children, the fifth was Jefferson Randolph Smith Sr. (1831-1902), a lawyer who married Emily Dawson Edmondson (1837-1877). Around 1859 Jefferson Randolph and Emily moved in with Dr. Smith at Shoal Creek to help care for his ailing wife, Ellen. Another Ellen, the daughter of Columbus Darwin Smith and the granddaughter of Ira, named Ellen Smith Faver, also moved to Shoal Creek. She moved in after her mother, Nancy Edmondson, died on October 21, 1860. Two days later Ira’s wife Ellen also died. Ten days later, November 2, 1860, Jefferson Randolph Smith II (1860-1898) was born. Edwin Bobo Smith, a cousin of Jefferson R. Smith II (Soapy), also came to live in the home for a time.
Soapy Smith's birth place as it looked in 2007
486 Pete Davis Rd, Coweta County, Georgia

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      Dr. Smith soon moved to the home of his son, Ira Ellis Caspar Wistar Smith. Dr. Smith died in 1869. Jefferson and his parents moved out of the house around 1875-76, moving to Texas to escape Reconstruction. The owners of the Smith house for the next 118 years is currently unknown. I was introduced to Jannar Davis and his wife, the owners of the house in 2007.
     The house was set to be razed in 1994 to make room for a parking lot when Jannar Davis and his wife purchased it and moved it to property the Davis’ owned.
     In 2007 I gave a presentation on Soapy Smith to the Newnan Historical Society. I was able to see the Ira Ellis Smith house at the new location, but due to time constraints only drove by the original land location.
Soapy Smith's birth place as it looked in 1968
Original location-side view
Corn can be seen growing in the field
Photo by Joseph Jefferson Smith and James Rothmund Smith

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     After returning home I realized I did not have the needed addresses or contact information for neither the original land location or the address and contact information for the Davis’, and could not obtain any assistance from anyone in Coweta County.
     In early 2014 the Davis’ were able to get the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in December they sold the home and moved to Seminole, Florida. Letters addressed to them have been returned so for now their contacts are once again missing.

Soapy Smith's birth place as it looks in 2023
486 Pete Davis Rd, Coweta County, Georgia
Courtesy of Google

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     Sixteen years would pass before I met Sid Brown, a retired law enforcement detective, and his wife, a genealogy researcher, who told me that between them, “if we can't locate the Davis’, then he's left the country.” They were able to find the location of the house’s current location (486 Pete Davis Rd, Coweta County), and the general location of where the original lot was located (Hwy 34 East and Posey Rd.). Eve Graybeal Olsen from the Coweta County Georgia Genealogy group on Facebook added in her findings, maps and photographs, and together we all narrowed the location of the land where the house originally stood, but as the land has been built upon since 1994, including the introduction of a side-street, the exact placement of the Smith house is still a mystery, But, photographs taken from the air in 1983 show farmland on both sides of the house, leading to the assumption that both sides of the land on each side of the side-street belonged to the Smith home, perhaps the house sitting directly in the center, perhaps in the center of the side-street itself.

  • Sid Brown (Sid helped greatly. Without Sid Brown I would still not know the address of the house or the location of the land where the home originally stood. Thank you, Sid!).
  • Eve Graybeal Olsen
  • Vintage Aerial
    Photo #1
    Photo #2


Sep 10, 2009
Aug 16, 2011
Aug 18, 2011

Dr. Ira Ellis Smith house: pp 20-23.

"A rich man is either a scoundrel or the heir of a scoundrel."
—Spanish Proverb

June 2, 2023

Soapy Smith's Childhood Education

"Male Seminary and Normal School,"
Independent Blade
Newnan, Georgia
November 2, 1860,

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     The Smith family passed down the history that young Jefferson Randolph Smith II had enrolled in "a Sabbath school, and was able to continue his education throughout the war, after the war’s end and on into Reconstruction." I believe the ad from the Independent Blade, a Newnan, Georgia newspaper dated November 2, 1860, is for the school Jefferson may have attended. In researching Soapy all these decades I found that a major portion of the family history turned out to be true. There is no provenance regarding this particular school but Newnan was not that large of a community, and the heading of the ad, "Male Seminary and Normal School," caught my eye.
      A Christmas speech written for the Sabbath school play in 1871 shows clear evidence of a good education and signs of wit.

Newnan, GA. Dec. 24 1871

Friends and Patrons. Ladies and Gentleman, we heartily welcome you on this festive occasion. With buoyant and grateful hearts we commemorate the nativity of Him at whose birth the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy. Let the community for its blessings, rejoice, and especially should we as a Sabbath school rejoice, that we have been blessed with such kind patrons and efficient teachers. And how can we express our gratitude (and admiration) for this beautiful tree? A tree is known by its fruits, and this one is one that speaks for itself. It must have sprung from a generous soil in a genial clime. Leaden with such rich and luscious fruit, its bending boughs are more persuasive than speech; and the masich[1] it bears would puzzle Linnaeus[2] to classify or name it. Ladies, in our hearts we thank you for it. Again a hearty welcome and a joyous festive Christmas eve to all.[3]


[1] masich: may be mastic, “1. A gum or resin which exudes from the bark…. 2. An evergreen shrub yielding mastic gum….” It fits with the following named botanist who was challenged to name its origin. (OED)

[2] Linnaeus: Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), famed Swedish naturalist and botanist, established system of nomenclature for taxonomy of plants. His published works number 180. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1892)

[3] Copy of original sent to John R. Smith by Joseph J. Smith, 12/08/1969. The original (location currently unknown) is nicely hand written in cursive and very readable. Someone, in different script, perhaps his mother, wrote at the top, “Jeffies Christmas Welcome, Sabbath School play.”



Sabbath School: pages 23-4.

"Never play cards with a guy nicknamed after a city."