William Smith, 1727 – 1803,
Papers, 1690 – 1871 (bulk 1748 – 1804)
UPT 50 S664
2 Cubic ft.
Prepared by J.M. Duffin, Mark Lloyd and Theresa R. Snyder
Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center.
Facsimiles of ALL documents in this collection can be
Purchased by the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 (accession number 1992:57).
On 16 June 1992, in New York City, Sotheby's offered at auction nine lots of letters and documents, which its catalog described collectively as the "William Smith Papers." Lots 175, 176, and 177 each consisted of a single autograph letter of Benjamin Franklin to William Smith; Lot 178 consisted of a single Franklin autograph manuscript, which he had titled "Loose Thoughts on a universal Fluid;" Lot 179 consisted of a single autograph letter of Thomas Jefferson to William Smith; Lot 180 consisted of approximately 70 autograph letters of Thomas Penn and other members of the Penn family to Smith; Lot 181 consisted of two autograph letters of Benjamin Rush to Smith; Lot 182 consisted of a 300-page volume of twelve manuscript workbooks and other miscellaneous materials; Lot 183 consisted of approximately 200 letters, documents, and printed materials by or relating to Smith at the College of Philadelphia. Sotheby's did not identify the owner of the Smith collection, as that person (or persons) wished to remain anonymous. The University of Pennsylvania purchased Lots 180, 181, 182, and 183. Upon delivery from Sotheby's, it was found that the four lots contained a total of 323 items. Taken together they constitute the William Smith Papers collection at the University Archives and Records Center.
An effort to establish the provenance of the collection proved largely successful. Lawrence Henry Gipson, of Lehigh University, in his "Foreword" to Albert Frank Gegenheimer's 1943 biography, titled William Smith: Educator and Churchman, 1727-1803, had thanked Judge Jasper Yeates Brinton, a fifth-generation member of the Smith family, for making available to Gegenheimer "the great collection of Smith papers." Gipson noted that the Brinton Collection of Smith Papers were housed for a few years in the Lehigh University Library, but in 1938 had been transferred to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where Brinton had placed them on deposit. In his bibliography, Gegenheimer also thanked Judge Brinton, saying that the Brinton Collection was "the most outstanding group of manuscripts" available to the scholar.
At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, scholars of eighteenth century American history enjoyed access to the Brinton collection of the William Smith Papers for nearly forty years. For some, the Smith papers proved essential to the success of their research. In 1968, William Riess Peters completed a doctoral dissertation which he titled "The Contribution of William Smith, 1727-1803, to the Development of Higher Education in the United States." In the bibliography Dr. Peters wrote:
An inquiry at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania found that the Society had microfilmed the Brinton collection in 1969. (note 1) The University Archives immediately purchased a copy of the two-reel set. A review of the microfilm showed that the Smith collection purchased in 1992 was virtually identical with the collection microfilmed in 1969. Only ten items had been separated from the bulk and sold separately (see Appendix A for an inventory).
The microfilm also showed, however, that by 1969, Judge Brinton had withdrawn volume four of the six-volume collection. It was known that the Winter 1960 issue (Vol. 26, No. 1) of The Library Chronicle of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries contained a brief article on the Libraries' Provost William Smith collection and the recent gift by Judge Brinton of four manuscript lectures delivered by Smith at Penn in 1767, 1768, and 1769. An announcement appeared in the Spring 1960 issue (26: 2) describing Brinton's gift of thirteen additional manuscript and printed items. It was also known that in 1964 the University Libraries had published in facsimile "The Collection Books of Provost Smith." The first of these was titled "Original Subscription List to The College, Academy, etc., 1772." Its pages were numbered 1 through 11. The second was titled "Collection in England, ." Its pages were numbered 12 through 49. These two books were among those donated in 1960. Their sequential pagination suggested that they were the first two items in a larger group or scrapbook-style volume of manuscripts. This was also the same method of pagination found in the volumes purchased from Sotheby's. An examination of the pages of the two published works revealed the same handwriting as that used to paginate the other volumes of the Brinton Collection.
An inquiry at the Walter H. and Leonora Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Pennsylvania, found that the Smith Collection there included a binding, the spine of which was labeled Volume 4: "College, Academy & Charity School, University of Pennsylvania." The consecutive pagination of the collection books of 1772 and 1762 was continued through six additional items, numbered from page 50 to page 157 (see Appendix B for an inventory). These eight items undoubtedly formed at least a portion of and perhaps all of volume four. It seems clear that Jasper Yeates Brinton withdrew volume four from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and donated it to the University of Pennsylvania in 1959 or early 1960.
The University's 1964 facsimile publication of The Collection Books of Provost Smith included a 24-page introductory pamphlet written by Brinton and Westlake. At pages 22-24, Brinton's "Note on Provenance" was published. He stated that the papers had passed first from Provost Smith to his son, Judge Charles Smith, and then from Judge Smith to his daughter, Mary Margaret Smith, who married George Brinton. Mary Margaret (Smith) Brinton passed the collection to her son, John Hill Brinton, M.D., who organized the papers and arranged them in six volumes. From John Hill Brinton, they passed to his son, Jasper Yeates Brinton. In the early 1920s, when Jasper Yeates Brinton was appointed to a government post in Alexandria, Egypt, he took the collection with him. Twenty years later, however, when he was asked to make the papers available to historians, he sent them back to the United States.
Jasper Yeates Brinton died in 1973, leaving as his survivors his widow, Geneva A. (Febiger) Brinton and two children from his first marriage, John (b. 1913 or 1914) and Florence Pamela (b. 1916 or 1917), two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In 1979 his heirs withdrew the Brinton Collection of Smith Papers from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It is not known if it was they or a subsequent owner who was the anonymous seller at the 1992 Sotheby's auction.
It should also be noted that the children or grandchildren of William Smith apparently divided his papers, either at his death or in the first decades of the 19th century. A collection of Smith papers quite distinct from the Brinton Collection provided most of the source material for Horace Wemyss Smith's two volume work, Life and Correspondence of the Rev. William Smith, D.D., 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Ferguson Bros & Co., 1880). Horace Smith, like John Hill Brinton, was a great-grandson of William Smith.
Appendixes 12 through 15 (pp. 541-81) of the second volume of Life and Correspondence contain a five-generation genealogy of the William and Rebecca (Moore) Smith family and biographies of three of their sons. A brief account of the nineteenth century descendants of the Provost has been prepared in order to facilitate a clear understanding of the provenance of the distinct collections of Smith papers (see Appendix C).
The collection is organized by the original volume and page number assigned by John H. Brinton. It is arranged into general groupings alphabetical by name of correspondent and then chronological. The general groupings are as follows: libel suit, 1690-1760 (vol. 1, pp. 1-40); diplomas and certificates, 1753-1759 (vol. 1., pp. 51-57); newspapers and clippings, 1775-1799 (vol. 1, pp. 60-79); Penn family correspondence, 1753-1791 (vol. 2, pp. 1-73); Richard Peters correspondence, 1762-1765 (vol. 2, pp. 77-167); Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson correspondence, 1772-1795 (vol. 3, pp. 1-37); correspondence with famous people, 1789-1802 (vol. 3, pp. 41-55); family correspondence, 1759-1836 (vol. 3, pp. 57-123); writings, 1765-1804 (vol. 5); poems, speeches, notebooks, 1748-1775 (vol. 6).
William Smith was born in 1727 in Aberdeen, Scotland, son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Duncan) Smith. With the support of the Society for the Education of Parochial Schoolmasters, he enrolled in the University of Aberdeen. Despite four years of attendance, Smith apparently did not take a degree. After a working in London for a number of charitable religious institutions, Smith chose to come to America in 1751 to serve as the tutor of the sons of Colonel Martin of Long Island, New York. Smith had a keen interest in promoting education in the British North American colonies, and in 1753, he published a pamphlet for the New York Assembly outlining his proposals for a new college in the colony. After reading Smith's proposal, Benjamin Franklin invited Smith to come to Philadelphia to see the new academy and charity school he helped establish in 1749. Smith was greatly impressed by his visit to Philadelphia in 1753 and agreed to join the faculty of the school the following year. Before coming to the Academy of Philadelphia, Smith chose to return to England and take Holy Orders in the Church of England.
In May of 1754, William Smith arrived at the Academy of Philadelphia as Rector and chief administrative officer of the institution, thus becoming a key figure at Penn in the Age of Franklin. He taught logic, rhetoric, and natural and moral philosophy. When the Trustees received a collegiate charter in 1755, Smith became Provost of the College of Philadelphia. He continued to hold this position until the school's charter was revoked in 1779. Smith was an active leader and promoter of the new college. From 1762 to 1763, Smith, along with James Jay of New York, went on an extensive and very successful fund-raising tour of Great Britain which secured several thousand pounds for both the College of Philadelphia and Kings College, New York (later to become Columbia University).
Smith's educational interests were not confined to the College of Philadelphia. In 1754 he lead the Society for the Propagating Christian Knowledge Among the Germans Settled in Pennsylvania, commonly known as the German Free School movement. Like many Englishmen in Pennsylvania at the time, he feared that the large German-speaking population in Pennsylvania, which was becoming political active, was in danger of succumbing to bad influences due to their ignorance of the English language and government.
William Smith's activities to promote and support the College of Philadelphia drew him into the fray of Pennsylvania politics. Smith was an astute observer of the political situation and quickly realized that in order to receive the kind of financial support he needed for the College he needed to ally himself with the Penn family, the Proprietors of Pennsylvania. This immediately identified him as an enemy of the provincial Assembly, and of Benjamin Franklin, who had been struggling with the Penns over the control of the colony. Smith became a loyal and reliable ally of the Penns, supplying them with detailed information about the state of politics in their colony and identifying their true allies. In 1757 Smith found himself the focus of the ire of the Assembly when he assisted his future father-in-law, William Moore with the publication of a defamatory tract against the Assembly. The following year the Assembly arrested Smith and Moore and placed them in prison for publishing seditious libel. After four months of confinement, Smith was released and eventually exonerated by the Privy Council in London. Smith's politics were not stifled by this experience; he continued to work energetically to advance the interests of the Penn family. Smith's activities, however, made him, and the College of Philadelphia by extension, the focus of the many attacks upon proprietary privilege in Pennsylvania. By the time of the American Revolution, Smith had managed to alienate himself from the mainstream of Pennsylvania politics. When the Pennsylvania Assembly revoked the charter of the College of Philadelphia and replaced it with the University of the State of Pennsylvania, Smith sought refuge in Maryland.
Though much of his time was devoted to the College of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics, William Smith was also active in the Anglican Church in America. He served as the rector of Trinity Church in Oxford Township, Philadelphia County from 1766 to 1777. He maintained close connections with the leadership of the Anglican Church in London, particularly the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Smith also participated in many of the church conventions in America before and after the Revolution. Though he strived to become a bishop in the new Protestant Episcopal Church of America, his enemies in the General Convention refused to accept his election as bishop by the Maryland Convention in 1783.
After helping to establish Washington College, William Smith returned to Philadelphia in the mid 1780s. When conservatives gained control of the state government a few years later, they re-instituted the College of Philadelphia. In 1789 Smith was called back to his former position, Provost of the College of Philadelphia. It soon became apparent, however, that Philadelphia was unable to support two colleges. In 1791 the College of Philadelphia and the University of the State of Pennsylvania merged and together became the University of Pennsylvania. As part of the compromise necessary to create the new University, Smith was denied any position in the faculty or administration. Smith retired to his country house above the Falls of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia and occupied the last decade of his life in land speculation and the development of canals in Pennsylvania. He died in 1803 in Philadelphia.
William Smith married Rebecca Moore (1733-1793) in 1758 and had eight children: William Moore Smith (1759-1821), Thomas Duncan Smith (1760-1821), Williamina Elizabeth Smith (1762-1790) who married Charles Goldsborough of Horn's Point, Maryland, Charles Smith (1765-1836) who married Mary Yeates, Phineas Smith (1767-1770), Richard Smith (1769-1823), Rebecca Smith (1772-1837) who married Samuel Blodget, Jr., and Elizabeth Smith (1776-1778).
The William Smith Papers primarily document the public and political activities of William Smith from 1753 to 1775.
William Smith's staunch support and advocacy of the Penn family, the Proprietors of colonial Pennsylvania, is well documented in the collection. There is extensive correspondence between William Smith and Thomas Penn for the years 1754 to 1770 which provides detailed reports of, and observations on, the state of the Proprietor's political interest in Pennsylvania. After Penn's death in 1775, Smith continued to correspond with his widow Julianna. In addition to the Penn correspondence, the collection contains the legal briefs, petitions, and supporting documentation used to defend Smith in the libel suit brought by the Pennsylvania Assembly for his pamphleteering against it.
Documentation regarding Smith's political activities and views after the Revolution can also be found in the collection. These are primarily in the form of reports and letters published in Philadelphia newspapers during the 1780s and 1790s.
The role of William Smith as an educator and fundraiser looms large in the collection, particularly in his correspondence with Richard Peters, the head of the College's Board of Trustees. The Peters correspondence covers the period 1762 to 1764, during which Smith conducted his extensive tour of Great Britain raising money for the College. The fund raising trip is also documented in a diary covering the months of November and December 1762. In addition to the correspondence with Thomas Penn, William Smith's work as Provost is found in four notebooks of the commencement exercises of 1765 to 1768. Smith's interest in education, in general, is documented in the bound book of minutes and correspondence of the German Free School movement conducted in Pennsylvania from 1754 to 1756.
The collection also contains a small number of letters between various members of William Smith's family. The largest of these are between of his wife, Rebecca Moore Smith, and Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. Some very personal reflections on the passing of William Smith's wife can be found in his correspondence with Benjamin Rush. There is also some correspondence of Charles Smith, William's son. The family correspondence stretches into the first three decades of the nineteenth century. In addition to the family correspondence there are some literary writings, primarily poems, authored both by Smith himself and by other members of his family.
The collection contains a positive print of the microfilm of the collection done in 1969 when the William Smith Papers were on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The microfilm is not a complete duplicate of the existing collection. None of the newspapers or their clippings that were in original volume one were filmed. (Note 2) The microfilm does, however, include images of several letters of famous people, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, which are no longer part of the collection. (Note 3)
The researcher should be aware that there are three other collections of William Smith papers now available in different archival repositories. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has small collection of William Smith papers, called the Smith Family Papers, 1757-1861 (collection 603). This collection was donated by William Smith's grandson, William Rudulph Smith, in 1867 and contains supporting documentation for the 1757 libel case, as well as family correspondence from the early nineteenth century. A slightly larger group of materials can be found in the William Smith series of the Jasper Yeates Brinton Collection, 1762-1916 (collection 1619), also at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Another small collection of papers relating to the College of Philadelphia and The University of Pennsylvania now form part of the William Smith Papers in the Walter H. and Leonora Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Pennsylvania. Early documentation regarding the Smith's work with the College of Philadelphia can be found in the Archives General Collection of the University Archives and Records Center.
Note 1: This should not be confused with the "Jasper Yeates Brinton Collection" which was donated in 1951 to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and also contains a series of William Smith papers.
Note 2: Pages 58, 60-76, 79.
Portrait of William Smith,
copy after Gilbert Stuart
Inventory available as a PDF file (203 kb, 72 pages)
Inventory and entire guide available as a PDF file (361 kb, 89 pages)