Last Update September 14, 2014

Samuel Smith

July 27, 1752 - April 22, 1839

Gen. Smith at about 64. By Rembrandt Peale, Md. Historical Society, Baltimore
2014 is the 262th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Smith, one of Maryland’s leading citizens in the early 1800’s and commander-in-chief at the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. Smith was a decorated hero of the Revolution and later an officer in the Maryland state militia for more than 35 years. He served two terms in the House of Delegates and after that served 40 years in Congress as a senator and representative. He concluded more than 60 years of public service with a term as mayor of Baltimore. At 87, shortly after ending his service as mayor, Samuel Smith died. President Van Buren and most of his Cabinet attended the funeral, which was huge. Adults and children wept as the procession passed.

From his latest perch on Federal Hill, Gen. Smith keeps an eye on Harbor activity around the 1000-foot wharf he built in the 1780's for his family business. The National Aquarium now occupies the site. Sam Smith is largely forgotten today. Perhaps because he died before philanthropy became popular, his name is not attached to a large public institution. Smith's true legacy is the outcome of the “Second War of American Independence.” In The Dawn's Early Light, Walter Lord (no hero-worshipper) asserted that Gen. Smith's insightful strategy and flawless execution in September 1814 not only saved Baltimore, but changed the outcome of the treaty negotiations at Ghent, and thus the War of 1812. The United States was suddenly transformed from "a semi-nation, almost a freak" into a real nation with a real future. How that happened is described at the first link above.

This translates into a rich opportunity for writers. Whether you already have your first Pulitzer or you're a student facing your first term paper, there are lots of angles for stories about Sam Smith, his achievements and their significance. I've provided links to sources and a few potential publishers.

There is no shortage of topics in Smith’s long and colorful life. During the Revolution, he was wounded at Ft. Mifflin and survived the battle of White Plains by a lucky accident. In Congress, he introduced the idea of reciprocal trade agreements before 1800 and, after many setbacks, got the legislation passed in 1815. In 1814, he showed military strategists how to deploy citizen soldiers effectively against professionals: Despite the "fog of war," insightful strategy combined with meticulous preparation and good subordinates made things turn out almost exactly as planned. Smith set another standard in military efficiency, too, with only about a hundred battle deaths altogether on both sides in a decisive engagement that involved at least fifteen thousand troops. Smith's unique leadership in business, politics and the military multiplied his productivity.

There are other more personal topics, too. When Smith’s business partner (his cousin!) bankrupted the firm and left him stone broke at 67, the business community rallied around Sam and helped him recover, but his brother Robert for some reason flatly refused to help. What moved the citizens of Baltimore to draft an 83-year-old as mayor? And there are many other questions, such as how Smith, a militia officer, ended up in command of regular Army and Navy officers in September, 1814. Not to mention what happened to his military career after the victory.

And somewhere I read that Sam Smith was briefly related by marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte!

Even though the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore will soon be past, Sam Smith will continue to be a fascinating historical figure. Any time is a good time for writers to begin querying publishers and planning research.

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