Murray Forbes Smith (1814-1875)

Cotton Broker, of Mobile, Alabama; and, New York City

Associated Houses

Murray Forbes Smith House


He started his professional life as a lawyer but at the suggestion of his father-in-law, Congressman Robert Desha, he went into the cotton business at Mobile, Alabama, and was soon very successful. In about 1859, just before the Civil War, he moved with his family up to New York City. Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, New York became unsafe for Southerners and the cotton business was no longer as profitable as it had been. Murray now moved the family to Europe where he found work as a cotton broker in the north of England while his wife and children resided in the more glamorous environs of Paris. After four years (1869), the family returned to Alabama, but the South was still in turmoil and unable to get his business back on track, they once again made the journey up to New York. Living in a modest house on 44th Street during the Depression of the 1870s, he encouraged the family to economize while continuing to recapture his former success. He joked (though there might have been some truth in it) that his wife might have to open their home as a boarding house to help makes end meet - until she died in 1871. In this environment, the proud force of nature that was his daughter, Alva, took it upon herself to restore the family fortunes by marrying well - and she did. But, despite bagging a Vanderbilt, Murray died of a heart attack just two weeks later. On his death, it turned out he wasn't quite as badly off as the family had feared: He left $20,000 to his son and to his daughters he left the proceeds from 1,000 shares (then worth $81,000) in the Toledo, Peoria & Warsaw Railroad, which provided them with a genteel if not extravagant existence, at least until they found husbands. 


Contributed by Mark Meredith on 12/03/2019 and last updated on 28/12/2022.