SMITH, BENNETT, shipbuilder and shipowner; b. 29 Nov. 1808 at Windsor, N.S., son of John Smith and Ann Grant; m. 27 Dec. 1832 Rachel Harris of Horton (Hortonville), N.S., and they had eight children; d. 11 Jan. 1886 at Windsor.
Bennett Smith’s family lived in the Newport-Windsor area, and in the early 1800s his father established himself at what became known locally as Smith’s Island, near the junction of the Avon and St Croix rivers. With his older brothers John and William, Bennett apprenticed in his father’s shipyard at Windsor and at the latter’s death in 1832 inherited the Smith’s Island property. In July 1833 the three brothers launched the Agenoria, a brigantine of 107 tons which they operated until 1837. The first vessel Bennett built was the Matchless, a brig of 163 tons launched at Windsor in 1839 and owned by the Smith brothers and other merchants of Windsor and Newport. In the following year Bennett built the 195-ton brig Eclipse for John Duncan of Newport.
After a lapse of six years, during which time he probably engaged in farming and lumbering, Bennett Smith began building ships again and continued at Windsor without interruption for over 30 years. After 1846 he built 25 vessels, nearly all barques and ships of 700 to 1,300 tons. One of his first large vessels was the Siam, a ship of 721 tons built in 1852 at a cost of £4,977. Between 1853 and 1863 he built the Humber, Princess Royal, British Queen, and British Lion, ships whose tonnage ranged from 841 to 1,279 tons and whose costs varied from £6,465 to £11,686. In 1864 Smith launched his largest vessel, the Nile, a ship of 1,336 tons built at a cost of £13,210. Two of his later vessels were the Malta, a ship of 1,228 tons built in 1873 at a cost of £13,653, and the 1,318-ton Black Watch, which was built in 1877 and cost £13,270. Smith was the designer, master builder, manager, and principal shareholder of all his vessels, with additional shares being held by his brothers and other local merchants. All of his large vessels were involved in foreign trade, carrying many types of cargo to ports around the world. Smith also had vessels built for him by John Stewart at Saint John, N.B., and Samuel Smith at Bedford, N.S. He owned shares in vessels built by John A. Harvie and James Mosher at Newport.
After the construction of the Black Watch in 1877, Smith had a disagreement with his employees over wages and declared that he would not build another vessel in Windsor. He then closed his shipyard. In the late 1870s and early 1880s he had five vessels built for him by William and Robert Wallace at Gardner Creek, St John County, N.B., Gaius Turner at Harveork County, N.B., and John Fraser at Saint John. In addition, Smith owned shares in two large schooners built at Windsor by Shubael Dimock.
During his years as a shipbuilder and shipowner, Smith built a total of 27 vessels, all but one of which he owned and operated. An additional nine vessels were built for him and he held shares in eight others. In 1867, his peak year of ownership, Smith’s fleet totalled 12 vessels. After 1874 shipbuilding gradually diminished in all areas of the Maritime provinces, although there was no abrupt decline until the mid 1880s. At the time of Smith’s death in 1886 he had two very large vessels under construction by the Fraser and Wallace firms. Smith’s business was taken over by his sons John and Charles, and in 1889 the Loodiana, a ship of 1,820 tons, the largest of the Smith fleet, was built by J. B. North at Hantsport, N.S. In 1904 the vessels which still remained in the fleet were sold.
In addition to his shipping business, Smith was a director of Avon Marine and Shipowners Insurance Company, based in Windsor. He took little interest in politics or societies of any kind, but was a benefactor and trustee of the Methodist church at Windsor. In 1858, on the death of Ichabod Dimock, Smith was elected a Liberal member of the House of Assembly for Hants County, but when his term of office ended in 1859 he did not seek re-election.
Smith had moved from Smith’s Island to a large house in Windsor in 1866. At the time of his death he was one of the largest shipowners and one of the wealthiest and best known men in the Maritime provinces, though he was apparently not popular in his own community. His estate was valued at $600,000.
PAC, RG 42, A1, 16–52, 55, 80–85, 257, 258, 307–12, 368. PANS, ms file, Bennett Smith, Biog.; Bennett Smith, Descendants. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 13 Jan. 1886. Novascotian, 16 Jan. 1886. Canadian biog. dict., II. Directory of N.S. MLAs.