Historical Markers
James Smith Historical Marker
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James Smith

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
E. Market Street, in First Presbyterian Churchyard, York.

Dedication Date:
December 14, 1949

Behind the Marker

The political struggle with Britain that preceded the American Revolution gave rise to new leaders both in Philadelphia and in the Pennsylvania backcountry. While moderates in the provincial legislature argued for patience and insisted that the disputes must be resolved without bloodshed, new leaders emerged from among the colonists who demanded more forceful responses to British injustices. Among these was James Smith, an Irish immigrant who represented Pennsylvania's backcountry in the provincial convention of 1776 and in the Continental Congress that same year.
Color portrait of James Smith standing in front of a window, wearing a formal purple coat with blue knickers and white leggings.
James Smith

Born at Ulster, Northern Ireland, about 1719, Smith immigrated to America with his father when he was ten years old and settled in York County. Unlike Pennsylvania's more prominent revolutionaries markerJohn Dickinson and markerJames Wilson, Smith had neither a university education nor formal training in the law. Instead, he studied surveying and classical languages at the Reverend Francis Alison's academy in New London, Pennsylvania, and later joined his brother's law practice at Lancaster.

Admitted to the bar in 1745, Smith struggled to make a livelihood in a rural area with a large German population. He relocated to Shippensburg and later to York, where he turned to iron manufacturing. During the 1770s, Smith leased and operated the Codorus Furnace, which failed in 1778 and lost him 5,000 pounds.

Smith's struggles in a mercantile economic system that worked against American industries prepared him to take a radical position against British imperial policy. After the Stamp Act in 1765, he created a committee to challenge the legality of the new laws. In 1774 he helped to organize a more formal Committee of Correspondence, in which he supported non-importation measures and advocated an inter-colonial congress. That same year he raised a militia at York and served as its captain.

Emerging as one of the region's radical leaders, Smith, in 1775-76, joined two provincial conferences where he championed the interests of the western counties and helped to write resolutions for American independence and the establishment of a new provincial government. He opposed the creation of a unicameral state legislature - the signature feature of Pennsylvania's new constitution of 1776 - but he supported other radical elements in that document. Smith did not take part in the congressional debates that led to independence. Added to Pennsylvania's reformed delegation on July 20, 1776, by a provincial convention of radicals, he penned his signature to the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, and served for several years in the Congress - most notably during its exile in Lancaster in 1777-1778.

Returning to his hometown of York in 1779, Smith was instrumental in implementing the principles of the Revolution at the state and local levels of government. There he helped create a York County committee that tried to control price inflation and managed the local economy in a wide variety of ways. He also held a variety of state offices, including: judge of the Pennsylvania high court of errors and appeals; brigadier general of the militia; and state counselor during the markerWyoming Valley land dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut. After the war, Smith practiced law in Pennsylvania until retiring in 1801 at the age of eighty-two.
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