Smithfield was chartered in 1777
Ten months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Town of Smithfield officially was chartered. However, the origins of the community date back to 1759 when John Smith, one of the area’s earliest settlers, petitioned to operate a ferry where the Neuse River cut through land he owned. The site became known as Smith’s Ferry.
In 1762, Smith’s son, John Smith, Jr., purchased 228 acres of his father’s tract, including the ferry. The younger Smith was 26 years old. In 1771, Smith and his wife took up residency on the land, building a home on a rise overlooking the river and the ferry. The home became a public house, providing overnight accommodations for travelers.
In that year, construction began on Johnston County’s third courthouse not far from Smith’s residence and soon the name Smith’s Ferry was replaced by Johnston County Courthouse. The Town of Smithfield came into being with the inaugural session of the General Assembly of the newly proclaimed State of North Carolina in 1777. Smith had agreed to provide 100 acres for the town and an additional 50 acres for a “commons” along the Neuse River south and west of his riverside home. The tree-shaded Commons is still preserved as a public park.
Growth did not come quickly for Smithfield. Its population remained around 500 until long after the Civil War. Although considered, it did not become the State Capital, so businesses which might have opened in the town went instead to Raleigh. Railroad builders of the mid-19th century bypassed the community, further impeding growth.