Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Thomas Smith Papers, 1730-1762

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, June 2010

Summary Information
Title: Thomas Smith papers
Creator: Smith, Thomas, ca. 1707-1762
Inclusive dates: 1730-1762
Extent: 160 items (0.5 linear feet)
The Thomas Smith papers primarily contain the incoming correspondence of Admiral Thomas Smith, concerning naval patronage, foreign engagements, and Smith's service with the Royal Navy.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1979. M-1855.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Thomas Smith Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Thomas Smith papers are arranged chronologically.


Thomas Smith was born in England around 1707, the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th Baronet, and an unknown woman. Raised as a member of the Lyttleton family, he joined the Royal Navy and became a junior lieutenant on the Royal Oak in 1727. In 1729, while a first lieutenant on the Gosport , he created controversy when, acting as commanding officer in the absence of the ship's captain, he compelled a French corvette in Plymouth Sound to lower its topsails in salute. This insult to France nearly ended his career; Smith was immediately court-martialed and dismissed from service, but was reinstated the next day after a popular outcry.

In 1730, Smith was promoted to captain of the 24-gun Success , and two years later, received command of the Dursley in the Mediterranean. His primary duty was to patrol for Barbary pirates, a position that he held for eight years. He then served two single-year terms as governor of Newfoundland in 1741 and 1743, during which time he also commanded the Romney , and was ordered to protect Newfoundland's fisheries. In 1746, received a promotion to rear-admiral, and was commander-in-chief at the Downs in 1755. In that capacity, he presided at the trial of Admiral John Byng, which resulted in Byng's execution. Smith became a full admiral in 1757. He died in 1762.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Thomas Smith papers contain 159 letters and 1 financial document relating to Admiral Thomas Smith. The materials span 1730-1762, with the bulk covering the period between 1748 and 1755. Smith wrote three of the letters in the collection to various recipients; the remainder is his incoming correspondence.

The letters document many aspects of Smith's service in the Royal Navy between 1734 and his 1758 retirement. Much of the correspondence concerns the patronage and assistance that Smith extended to promising young officers, including Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood; John Amherst; brothers Michael and John Becher; and Benjamin Moodie. Hood wrote 21 letters in the collection, beginning in 1748, when he was just 23 years old. His correspondence relates to the development of his naval career, his personality, and his relationship with Smith. On May 8, 1753, Hood described spending a week attending to the wreck of the HMS Assurance off the Isle of Wight, during which time he was denied a government-funded servant, about which he wrote, "choler still up." In other letters, Hood mentioned gifts of prawns and wine that he had secured for Smith. Hood wrote his final two letters in the collection from North America. On August 5, 1754, he wrote about his enjoyment of Charleston, South Carolina, and his desire to command the HMS Jamaica . On May 5, 1755, while in Hampton Roads, Virginia, he anticipated General Edward Braddock's expedition against the French and their Indian allies, and worried that the French would "quit all the Forts…before any of them can be knock'd in the head." Smith's other protégés wrote to express their gratitude at his continuing assistance and to provide news on their families and careers.

Several of the letters in the collection relate to naval engagements and foreign affairs. On April 1, 1741, William Frederick Huxley wrote details about the taking of Boca Chica during the Battle of Cartagena de Indios in present-day Colombia, including travel through "Fire & Smoke" and the death of 20 sailors. On September 8, 1745, George Anson, 1st Baron Anson, requested that Smith "hasten" several ships in order to prevent communications between France and Scotland, stating that the safety of England "depends in a great measure upon our Cruizers." In a retained copy of a letter to Tyringham Stephens, dated September 14, 1755, Smith ordered that captured French ships be sent to a convenient English port and guarded to prevent theft. A letter from an informant who called himself "Tel Truth," warned Smith about the trade encroachments of foreign ships piloted by the English and the Irish, and gave a list of names of the traitors (June 10, 1756).

Although nothing in the collection relates to John Byng's trial, it does contain an affectionate earlier letter from Byng to Smith, thanking him for his good wishes on his promotion and looking forward to sailing together on the Royal Sovereign (August 25, 1746).

Subject Terms

    • Cartagena (Colombia)--History--Siege, 1741.
    • Charleston (S.C.)
    • Great Britain--Foreign relations--1727-1760.
    • Great Britain--Politics and government--1727-1760.
    • Great Britain. Royal Navy.
    • Great Britain. Royal Navy--Officers.
    • Prizes (Property captured at sea)--Great Britain.
    • Shipwrecks--English Channel.
    • Amherst, John.
    • Ayscough, Francis, 1700-1763.
    • Byng, John, 1704-1757.
    • Hood, Alexander, 1727-1814.
    • Hood, Samuel Hood, Viscount, 1724-1816.
    • Lyttelton, William Henry Lyttelton, Baron, 1724-1808.
    • Pitt, Thomas, 1705-1761.
    • Sackville, George Germain, Viscount, 1716-1785.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Thomas Smith papers [series]
    Box   1  
     April 7, 1730-[1752] (80 folders)
    Box   2  
     January 16, 1753-September 23, 1762 (84 folders)
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Charles Townshend papers contain material related to Smith in the Newfoundland Fisheries items in Box 8/4.


    Baugh, Daniel A. "Smith, Thomas (1707?--1762)," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004