Smith, William Sr.

honorific(s): Honorable; Esquire
Birth: October 8, 1697 in Newport Pagnell, Buckhamshire, England
Death: 1769 in New York, NY

Yale College; College of New Jersey; New York Government


Yale (AB 1719, AM 1722)






Lawyer, Judge

  • New York, NY (from 1724-05 to 1769)
Marital status

William Smith married Mary Het on May 11, 1727. They had 15 children, the oldest of whom was William Smith Junior, who followed his father in pursuing the law. William Smith (Sr) married his second wife, Elizabeth Scott Williams, the widow of Solomon Williams's brother Elisha, on May 12, 1761, but they had no children.


William Smith (Sr.) was a famous New York lawyer and philanthropist who played an important role in establishing the College of New Jersey (which he served as a trustee) and King’s College (a project he abandoned once it became clear that the institution would be dominated by Episcopalians). He provided Eleazar Wheelock with some legal advice in the late 1750s and early 1760s, and his son, William Smith (Jr.), was a major proponent of Wheelock’s relocating the school to Albany, NY. William Smith immigrated from England to America in 1715 and earned his AM from Yale in 1722 (AB 1719). Despite potential as a minister and academic—he served as a tutor at Yale and was even offered the presidency of the college in 1724—Smith instead turned to the law and became one of the most eminent legal minds in New York and the mid-Atlantic. He was also very involved in New York City politics: he was an active participant in the Presbyterian faction and held several formal offices. He was Attorney General of New York in 1751 and a member of the Governor’s Council from 1753 until 1767. In 1763 he was made a judge. Several of William Smith’s political and legal activities affected Samson Occom’s life and career. First, he assisted Wheelock in legal problems surrounding the Joshua Moor estate (left to Wheelock by Moor, the school’s original benefactor) in the late 1750s. Second, he wrote a letter of recommendation for Occom prior to his aborted 1761 mission to the Oneidas. On less positive notes, William Smith was the counsel for Connecticut in the Mason Land Case, the 70-year legal battle that dispossessed the Mohegan tribe of much of its territory and which Occom vigorously opposed. More generally, he seems to have had a low opinion of Occom.


Brainerd, Thomas. The Life of John Brainerd, the Brother of David Brainerd, and his Successor as Missionary to the Indians of New Jersey. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Publication Committee, 1865. Chase, Frederick. A history of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire. 1891. Dartmouth College Library. A Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Eleazar Wheelock. Hanover: Dartmouth College Library, 1971. Dexter, Franklin Bowditch. “William Smith.” In Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of College History, October, 1701-May, 1745. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1885. Pp. 207-211. Accessed via GoogleBooks.Nelson, Paul David. “Smith, William (1697-1769).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Online edition ed. Lawrence Goldman, May 2008. Accessed 2/8/2014.