James Smith Irish Immigrant and Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Born in the North of Ireland
James Smith, one of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence born in Ireland, was born in the North of Ireland about 1719 (no exact date or year is known and his year of birth is usually given as between 1715 and 1720).
James was the second son born into a large family. The family moved to Pennsylvania when James was a child.
We don't know why they moved, but this was a period in the history of Northern Ireland when leases on farms were expiring and landlords were not renewing them thereby forcing the farmers and their families off the land.
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Family Enjoyed Moderate Financial Success
His father was apparently a successful farmer, at least after he arrived in Pennsylvania, as he was able to provide an education for at least two of his sons, James and his elder brother, George. Both became lawyers.
While the families of both father and son were respectable and enjoyed a measure of prosperity and success neither was of such heroic stature that would cause them to be remembered through the ages.
Rather they were ordinary people who left little of lasting historical significance.
An Ordinary Man Living in Extrordinary Times
However, James did leave his name on the Declaration of Independence and for generations to come lovers of liberty and freedom will see the name James Smith inscribed on that document every time they read the Declaration of Independence.
Basically, James Smith was an ordinary man – husband, father, neighbor, businessman – who willingly stepped forward when duty called. But it is individuals and families like the Smiths who are the building blocks of every society and whose collective individual actions make nations great.
Smith was given a classical education from a local church pastor (probably Presbyterian as that appears to have been the family’s religious affiliation).
He seems to have then attended college in Philadelphia where he continued his classical education as well as studying surveying before going on to study law at his brother George’s office in Lancaster.
He completed his legal training and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar at age 26. He practiced law first in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania and then moved to York, Pennsylvania where opened an office offering his services as both a lawyer and surveyor.
Smith Joins the Revolutionary Cause
Smith became an early supporter of the patriot cause becoming active in various local and state committees and meetings.
As tensions with the British increased he organized the first volunteer militia company in Pennsylvania and was elected as its Captain. He was later given the rank of Colonel and, in 1782, was made Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania Militia.
Along with Thomas McKean, Smith was among the leaders who swayed the Quaker dominated Pennsylvania Convention to change and support the move to declare independence.
In 1776, shortly before the fourth of July, he was elected by the convention as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress that was then meeting in Philadelphia.
Return to Family and Business
James Smith signed the Declaration of Independence but left Congress in 1778.
While he continued to be involved in public life at the state and local level the focus of the remainder of his life appears to have been his family and his business.
In 1800 advancing age forced him to retire. A fire in his office late in life resulted in the destruction of most of his personal and business papers thereby leaving us with little but the limited official records of his life.
James Smith was married and he and his wife had five children – three boys and two girls. At the time of his death in 1806 only one son and one daughter survived him.
He was buried in the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church in York, Pennsylvania.
The monument on his grave states that he was 93 at the time of his death but, due to the fact that there is no record as to the year of his birth, and his refusal in life to disclose his date of birth or age, this is simply an estimate and probably errors on the high side.
Links to My Other Hubs on Irish Signers of Declaration of Independence
- George Read - Voted Against Independence then Signed Declaration of Independence
After first voting against resolution to declare independence, Delaware delegate George Read later signed Declaration of Independence after other two members of Delaware's delegation to Second Continental Congress voted for independence.
- Matthew Thornton - Second Last Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Sent by his home state of New Hampshire as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in September 1776, the Irish born Matthew Thornton arrived in time to be the second last signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- Thomas McKean Irish Born Colonial Patriot and of Declaration of Independence
A very busy man, Irish born Thomas McKean served in the 1st and 2nd Continental Congress, fought in the Army, signed the Declaration of Independence and was the Presiding Officer (in effect President) of Congress when England sued for peace during Am
- George Taylor Irish Born Signer of the Declaration of Independence
A classic American success story. Arriving as a penniless Irish immigrant, George Taylor worked hard, married the boss's daughter and was elected to the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence.
- Tragic Life of Thomas Lynch Jr an Irish Signer of Declaration of Independence
A third generation Irish-American, Thomas Lynch and his father, Thomas Sr. were the only father & son to serve together in the Second Continental Congress. Ill health forced Thomas Jr. to leave the Army. He was then sent to Congress where he si
- Charles Carroll of Carrollton Longest Living Signer of Declaration of Independence
By signing his name on the Declaration of Independence as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Revolutionary War patriot Charles Carroll of Maryland left no doubt as to who he was. This would have made it easy for King George III to identify and hang, dra