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Eleanor Armor Smith


Wife of James Smith

Eleanor Armor, of Newcastle, Delaware, "a young woman of many accomplishments and good family connection," became in 1745 or 1746, the wife of James Smith, of York County, Pennsylvania. Mr. Smith was a land surveyor and lawyer, who had a few months before removed from Shippensburg. He was the first attorney to begin practice in York and remained at the head of the bar of that county until after the Revolution.

James Smith was born in Ireland and was brought into Pennsylvania when a child, by his father who settled on the Susquehanna. He was educated in Philadelphia under Dr. Allison, provost of the college, who taught him Greek, Latin, and mathematics, including land surveying. He studied law with an elder brother who was established in practice at Lancaster, after which he started in business for himself at Shippensburg, then a thriving town on the frontier. He prospered greatly, but after a few years decided to remove to York, where his family might have the advantages of a larger and more thickly settled community. He was a rather eccentric character in some ways, one of his eccentricities being, never to tell his age. His biographers have been almost as reticent concerning his family, as the dates of his marriage and of the births of his children are all uncertain. Smith was endowed with a vein of wit and humor, given to story telling and jovial companionship.

Five children were born to James and Eleanor Smith, three sons and two daughters. Only one of the sons and two of the daughters survived him. The son, James Smith, Jr., died a few months after his father, and the daughter, became the wife of James Johnson, a prominent citizen of York.*

Long before the Revolution, Mr. Smith was pronounced in his views on the encroachment of the British ministry on the rights of the Colonies. He was a member of the Provincial Committee of Safety and upon the news from Lexington, organized a battalion around his own home, which elected him colonel, a position that, because of age, he was forced to decline. He was in the Continental Congress, in 1775, 1776, 1777, and 1778, after which he retired to continue the practice of his profession. Some of the letters which Colonel Smith wrote to his wife while in Congress have been preserved. Through them all runs a vein of drollery, a confidence in her ability to take care of their home affairs, and an air of affectionate comradeship that afford almost as much of an insight into her character as it does into his.

In a letter, written from Philadelphia, in October, 1776, he says: "...If Mr. Wilson should come through York, give him a flogging, he should have been here a week ago. I expect, however, to be home before election, my three months are nearly up .... This morning I put on the red jacket under my shirt. Yesterday I dined at Mr. Morris's and got wet going home, and my shoulder got troublesome, but by running a hot smoothing iron over it three times it got better--this is a new and cheap cure. My respects to all my friends and neighbors, my love to the children. I am your loving husband, James Smith."

The "Mr. Wilson" referred to above was his brother congressman, James Wilson, who had been attending court duties in Carlisle. In another letter dated "Congress Chamber," September 4, 1778, Mr. Smith writes:

"This morning I sent a bundle of Newspapers and a half finished letter by Mr. Hahn. Yesterday I dined with the President at his own home, he lives elegantly and keeps house himself, we had an elegant dinner and very good claret and madeira.... I am tired of the city heartily. It is very expensive living and not very agreeable; since I left the Indian Queen, I have paid for my room and bed, and breakfast and supper, six pounds a week, and four pounds a week more for my dinner at another house, without any drink.

"Yesterday, congress agreed to meet twice a day, so that we break up at one and meet at three o'clock. I told Mr. Shee my lodging was too dear and I did not like to lodge at one house and dine at another, half a mile off. He agreed to board me at twenty dollars a week including dinner, which is fifty shillings less than I had paid. I breakfasted with Mr. Wilson and Ross at Mrs. House's, she said her price was twenty dollars a week which I will accept of.... I am laying my account upon returning about the tenth of next month, to be able to attend Carlisle and York courts.

"Beef and mutton are half a crown, veal three shillings, and all kind of goods as dear as ever.... I put fifteen hundred pounds in the loan office, and have got about ninety pounds fees, and a promise of a hundred pounds fee more, these are the first fees I ever got in Philadelphia; my fees here must clear my teeth, and my pay in Congress go to you, dear, and the children. I believe that if you would consent to come here to live I could get into pretty good business in the law way, but it is a hazard and two thousand a year would, as times go, be not more than enough to live in any tolerable style here. York and Carlisle are sure for business though fees are not as high as here…. Poor Mrs. Shugart with Mr. Armor called upon me to assist in getting a pass from Congress for leave for her to go to New York to try and get her husband home. I much doubt her success, but got her the pass. Our prisoners there, whose friends cannot send them hard money, suffer greatly. I tried to get Tommy Armor a good post in the army but missed it; had he written me in time, I believe I might have had it for him.

"You, my dear, have been fatigued to death with the plantation affairs; I can only pity but not help you.... I have not time to finish, but you will have had nonsense enough, Your loving husband, whilest. James Smith."

Congressman Smith died in 1806 and his monument says that he was ninety-three years old. He was buried in York and his wife sleeps beside him.

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 197-202. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

* [from pg. 280] Charles W. Stewart, a graduate of Annapolis (Class of '81), who is in charge of the naval war records at the Navy Department, and regarded as one of the greatest students in the government service is a direct descendant of James Smith, the Signer. The Class of '81 was prevented from entering upon the work for which they had been trained, by a special act of Congress, because of an over-abundance of naval officers.


Designed and Edited by John Vinci
Last modified January 8, 2004