1st President and Founder of Washington College
- University of Aberdeen, studied 1743-47
- D.D. University of Aberdeen and Oxford University, 1759
- D.D. Trinity College, Dublin, 1763
William Smith was born near Aberdeen, Scotland in 1727. He attended the University of Aberdeen from 1743-47 but did not graduate. He became a schoolmaster and commissioner of schoolmasters, also acting as clerk for this honorable society for the propagation of the gospel in London.
In 1751, he came to America after spending several years teaching. He was the tutor to two sons of Colonel Martin of New York CIty. When Benjamin Franklin saw one of his writings, he asked him to help with a newly established academy, now known as the University of Pennsylvania.
He returned to England in 1753, where he received orders in the Church of England. He was made a deacon in the palace at Fulham by the Bishop of Lincoln at the request and in the presence of the Bishop of London, who was at the time too ill to perform the ceremony on December 21, 1753. He was advanced to the priesthood two days later at the same place and by the same request of the Bishop of Carlisle. He reported to the society the educational needs of the colonists and especially the Germans emigrating into Pennsylvania, and his report led to the organization of the society for the education of Germans in America.
On his return to America, May 24, 1754, Smith was inducted into the office of provost of the College and Academy of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania) on the recommendation of Richard Peters and Benjamin Franklin. Besides his duties as provost, he assumed the chair fo natural philosophy and instructed advaced pupils in ethics and rhetoric. In 1789 he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University and Trinity College.
The charter of the College of Philadelphia was taken away by the legislature of Pennsylvania in 1779, whereupon Smith moved to the eastern shore of Maryland to serve as the rector of Chester Parish from 1779-89. He received 600 bushels of wheat per annum in payment. He also led Kent County Free School which had 140 students, mainly from the eastern shore and Delaware, where they were taught Latin, Greek, English, French, Writing, merchants’ accounts, and a variety of branches of Mathematics and Philosophy.
Smith was instrumental in founding Washington College with a curriculum similar to the courses he had instituted at the College of Philadelphia. Money was raised to help support the school including a subscription of fifty guineas from his excellency, George Washington, Esq., General and Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States. In less than three months the subscription papers were filled up by people from across the eastern shore, and on the 26th of November, 1782, were delivered to the General Assembly, agreeably to the Charter or Incorporating Act of the College.
Rev. Smith was an Anglican priest, and he worked on the American prayerbook in 1785. He was often involved in ecclesiastical disputes, especially the controversy over whether or not to appoint an American bishop. Smith presided over the 1780 convention that created the new Episcopal diocese of Maryland. He was elected, but never consecrated as Maryland’s first Episcopal bishop.
He spent his latter years of his life at his residence at Falls of Schuylkill near Philadelphia. Besides sermons and various addresses and orations he published a collection of “Discourses on Public Occasions” (London, 1759, enlarged 1763); “Brief Account of the Province of Pennsylvania” (London, 1755; New York, 1865); a series of eight essays, entitled “The Hermit” in the American Magazine (Philadelphia, 1757-8); an account of “Bouquet’s Expedition against the Western indians” (1765); and and edition of the poems of Nathaniel Evans, with a memoir (1772). Shortly before his death, he made a collection of his printed sermons, addresses, etc., for publication. Bishop White furnished a preface, and added other sermons from manuscripts of Dr. Smith’s which were published in two volumes (Philadelphia, 1803). He died in Philadelphia May 14, 1803.
Historic Information from Washington College Archives & Special Collections