Francis H. Smith served for fifty years (1839-1889) as VMI's first Superintendent. Smith was born in 1812, graduated from West Point in 1833, and came to Lexington, Virginia in 1839 to lead the newly established Virginia Military Institute. He died in March 1890, a few months after his retirement as Superintendent. He was known as the builder and --after the Civil War-- rebuilder of VMI. His official correspondence spans the period 1839-1889, with few gaps. The Civil War era and earlier letters survived Gen. David Hunter's destruction of many Institute buildings in June 1864. Smith corresponded with the notable military, educational, and political leaders of his time, making the correspondence a rich resource for scholars.