Smith, William Peartree

honorific(s): Esquire
Birth: 1723 in New York, NY
Death: November 20, 1801 in Newark, NJ

Yale College; College of New Jersey; New York/New Jersey Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge


Yale (1742)






Philanthropist, politician

  • New York, NY (from 1742 to 1757)
  • Elizabethtown, NJ (from 1757)
Marital status

Married Mary Bryant, who belonged to a wealthy merchant family. Ten of their 12 children died in early childhood; the surviving son died at age 36, having attained some renown as a physician, and the surviving daughter resided in Newark, NJ, and outlived her father.


William Peartree Smith was a wealthy New York Presbyterian who became one of the founders of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). He was related to William Smith (Senior), who was his father's first cousin, another College of New Jersey Trustee and Eleazar Wheelock’s occasional legal consultant. Smith studied law at Yale and graduated in 1742, but he never practiced as a lawyer: between a large inheritance from his father and marriage to an even wealthier woman, Smith was able to spend his life managing his estate and promoting causes he found worthy. Among these was the College of New Jersey. He was named as a trustee in the 1748 charter, and remained one until he retired at age 70. He was also the secretary of the Presbyterian New York/New Jersey Board of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, which formally fused with the Trustees of the College of New Jersey in 1769 (although the two were functionally unified much earlier). Like other Presbyterian organizations, the College of New Jersey and the New Jersey SSPCK tended to express a polite tolerance for Wheelock, but did not seriously help or hinder him. Smith moved to Elizabethtown (the location of the College of New Jersey) in 1757, and became politically active as a mayor and, later, a judge. He sided with the patriots during the Revolution.


Dexter, Franklin Bowditch. “William Peartree 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. 719-720. Accessed via GoogleBooks. Livingston, William. The Independent Reflector. Ed. Milton M. Klein. Cambridge: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1963. Accessed via GoogleBooks. Maclean, John. History of the College of New Jersey, at Princeton, Volume 1. Originally published 1877, reprinted 2006 by Accessed via GoogleBooks.