Irish Signer of the Declaration of Independence

James Smith was born in Ireland's province of Ulster in 1719 and went to the American colonies as a boy. A member of the Continental Congress 1776-1778,  he  served in the war of independence as a Colonel of the Pennsylvania Militia from 1775-1776. Smith died on 11 July 1806. He was also a lawyer and legislator.  Obviously, Smith is the name of many English settler families in Ireland, but is also a synonym of the Irish surname MacGowan (my mother's maiden name).

In 1805, a fire destroyed his office and all of his papers, thus, not much is known about him. Born in Ireland, he came to Pennsylvania as a young boy. Since he enjoyed playing jokes on friends, he enjoyed having people guess his age, and thus, it is uncertain exactly when he was born. His family settled in York County, Pennsylvania, and for a while, James attended school in Philadelphia, later becoming a land surveyor and a lawyer.

When he was 41, Smith married a Delaware woman, Eleanor Armor, and they would have five children. In the 1760s, he went into the Iron making business, and lost a small fortune. He would later admit that he used poor judgment, by placing the business in the hands of his two assistants, "one of who was a knave, and the other a fool."

In 1774, he raised the first volunteer company of revolutionary militia to oppose the British. He was among the first colonial leaders to call for a "continental congress" to discuss the problems with the home country. As a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, he urged a boycott of British goods, and at the Second Continental Congress, he actively supported the cause of American Independence.

In June 1776, he helped draft a resolution for independence in the Pennsylvania conference, and served in the Second Continental Congress from 1776 to 1778. After a brief stint in the Pennsylvania legislature, he returned to the practice of law at the end of the war. In 1781, he was elected as a judge of the Pennsylvania High Court of Errors and Appeals. He worked as a lawyer until the age of 80, and was said to be the oldest lawyer in Pennsylvania. He died in York, This bio from Findagrave by Kit and Morgan Benson.

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Tags: Diaspora History, Genealogy, Ulster, United States


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