Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Samuel Smith (1752-1839)
MSA SC 3520-2827


Source:  Wilbur F. Coyle, The Mayors of Baltimore (Reprinted from The Baltimore Municipal Journal, 1919), 47-54.

General Samuel Smith, who commanded the military forces of Baltimore during the British attack of September 12th-13th, 1814, was Mayor of Baltimore from September 8th, 1835, to November, 1836; November, 1836, to November 5th, 1838.  Upon Mayor Hunt resigning office an election was held September 7th, 1835, at which General Smith was chosen for the remaining part of the term.  The General was inaugurated September 8th, 1835, and was reelected October 17th, 1836.

During this administration, commissioners on the part of the city, were appointed to the Maryland Canal Commission, which was to construct a canal extending from Baltimore to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  This project—the Baltimore Branch—was never consummated.  A warehouse and, hospital (serving as a Quarantine Hospital) called The Lazaretto on the Canton side of the Patapsco River, was destroyed by fire in 1836, but was rebuilt in 1837.  The Lazaretto was for persons with malignant infectious diseases. The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad (Northern Central) was brought within the city.  The walls of Jones Falls below Fleet Street were completed and provision was made for similar improvement along other sections of this stream.  The office of Deputy City Register was created; bridges over Jones Falls at Madison, Monument and Bath Streets were planned and an extension to Belair Market, was authorized.  Provision was also made for covering part of Chatsworth Run and for opening Madison Street from Howard to Greenmount Avenue.  The law was amended at this time authorizing the President of the First Branch, or in his absence, the President of the Second Branch of the City Council to exercise the powers of Mayor in case of sickness or absence of the Executive.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Major-General Samuel Smith, (of Irish extraction), was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, July 27th, 1752.

He entered his father's counting-house when fifteen years old, was employed there until 1772, in which year he went to Havre, France, on one of his father's ships.  His stay abroad was for a protracted period, and much of his time was spent travelling throughout Europe.

Upon his return to America, one account says, he organized a company of volunteers for the Revolutionary War, and he was appointed Captain of a Company in Colonel Smallwood's (Maryland) regiment.

*In 1776 Captain Smith was sent to the State Capital to seize Governor Robert Eden, of Maryland, whose treasonable correspondence with Lord George Germain, the English Secretary of State, had been intercepted.

When the Captain reached Annapolis, the Committee of Safety would not permit the arrest of the Governor, such action in its estimation, being an undue assumption of authority. Captain Smith's Company received its baptism of fire at the Battle of Long Island, August 27th, 1776; and at the engagements of Brooklyn Heights, Harlem Plains and White Plains, Smith, though wounded, bravely supported his commander.  In December, 1776, he was promoted to the rank of Major and shortly after was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fourth Maryland Regiment, which participated in the Battle of Brandywine, September 11th, 1777.  Colonel Smith defended Fort Muffin, on the Delaware River, near Philadelphia, for forty days—from September 26th to November 11th,— but was finally forced to evacuate.  During this siege his ammunition became exhausted, many of his men killed and he, with numerous others, was wounded.  The six weeks of defense of Fort Muffin, though ending in the withdrawal of the Americans, prevented a junction of various English forces, 6,000 of whom were captured at Saratoga.  Congress voted Colonel Smith the Nation's thanks and a handsome sword for valorous action at the fort.  The Colonel shared the hardships at Valley Forge, at which time he was recovering from wounds.  He, too, took an active part in the Battle of Monmouth.

Colonel Smith* was challenged, in July, 1779, to a duel by Colonel Oswald, editor of the Maryland Journal, but friends persuaded him to decline.  The root of the trouble was the publication of General Lee's Queries, reflecting on Washington, in the Maryland Journal.  This also caused the editors to be mobbed.

After the Revolutionary War Colonel Smith was commissioned a Brigadier-General of State militia and about 1815 became Major-General of the State Guard.

He won fame and the gratitude of the people as the commander who successfully defended Baltimore in 1814 against British attack.  Under his direction the City was placed in a condition of defense and fortifications were thus erected at strategic points about Baltimore.  The harbor was blocked by hulls being sunk between Lazaretto and Fort McHenry and earthworks a mile long were erected in the vicinity of Patterson Park.  The troops who fought at North-Point, as well as those at Fort McHenry were under his command.  The Battle at Baltimore was the last fight before the Declaration of Peace.

Although it is as a soldier that General Smith's fame has been more prominently perpetuated in history, he was active in the affairs of the State and Nation, as well. He was a statesman.  He served forty years continuously in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.  His parliamentary career, in chronological order, was as follows:  Maryland State Legislature, 1790-1792; United States House of Representatives, 1793-1803; United States Senate, 1803-1815; United States House of Representatives, 1815-1822; United States Senate, 1822-1833.  General Smith was twice honored by being chosen President pro tempore of the Senate and in his first period in that body was for a time (1801) also Secretary of the Navy, but accepted no pay for this office. When called to defend Baltimore during the War of 1812-14, he, besides being a military character, was likewise a member of the United States Senate.

While in Congress (1808) the General strongly opposed the Congressional caucus as a method of selecting candidates for the Presidency.  About fifteen years later the system was changed.

In 1811, while Mr. Smith was a United States Senator a proposition to recharter the Bank of the United States (the Charter having expired), was introduced. He opposed this, but in 1816 the Charter was granted. In 1819 when the Baltimore Branch of this bank was embarrassed, General Smith lost his personal fortune, and the crash nearly wrecked his political career, besides;* for his business partner, Buchanan, of the firm of Smith and Buchanan, was president of the local institution. An investigation revealed maladministration which brought down much bitter criticism upon those identified with the bank.

General Smith is credited with being father of the plan which enabled the United States to trade with the British West Indies, the privilege having been lost when the American colonies revolted.

The riot due to the Bank of Maryland failure, which occurred August, 1838, was, according to one historian, quelled by General Samuel Smith who rallied support and subdued the mob by his fearless resolution.  From another source it is related that General Samuel Smith, commanding the Third Division of Maryland Militia, called out these troops to assist in quelling the disturbance. Another account of the incident is described as follows:

"General Samuel Smith, who being elected Chairman by a great assemblage at the Exchange, accepted the trust reposed in him, with the alacrity of youth, though in his 83rd year, took his seat, and told the assembly that the time for resolving had passed away, and that for action had arrived. The flag of the Union had been previously raised, and with it at their head, the people marched to Howard's Park, when, being addressed briefly by General Samuel Smith and others and told what they ought to do, they speedily retired and prepared themselves instantly to obey."

In 1796 the General erected a mansion on what is now Exchange Place, and about the same time established a country seat at "Montebello" on the Harford Road. During the defence of Baltimore General Smith offered the latter property as a pledge for supplies, if necessary.

General Smith was the oldest Committee Man or trustee of the First Presbyterian Church for many years.  He was one of the first rank of the Merchant Princes of Baltimore.   He died April 22nd, 1839, and is buried in Westminster Graveyard.  His wife, Margaret Smith, died December 22nd, 1842, in her 84th year.  A monument to General Smith, erected at Charles and Twenty-ninth streets, was unveiled September 12th, 1918.

General Smith's father was John Smith, a native of Ireland, who, emigrating first to Pennsylvania, came to Baltimore in the year 1759.  He became one of Baltimore's foremost shipping merchants, and was very active during the Revolutionary War, patriotically assisting the American cause.  One of the ships owned by the elder Smith was commanded by Joshua Barney, who later as Commodore in the American Navy achieved great distinction.


*Dr. A. B. Bibbins—Municipal Journal, July 12th, 1918.

Scharf's Chronicles.

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