Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
James M. Smith Family Collection, 1834-1889

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, June 2010, and Naomi Herman-Aplet and Meg Hixon, May 2013

Summary Information
Title: James M. Smith family collection
Creator: Smith, James M., 1816-1899
Inclusive dates: 1834-1889
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The James M. Smith family collection consists of Smith's incoming and outgoing correspondence concerning New York state politics, economic conditions, railroad development, and family news, as well as genealogical materials relating to the Smith family.
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:

1983-2000. M-2096, M-3460.7, M-4102.10.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

James M. Smith Family Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Genealogy, Writings, and Ephemera

Each series is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


James Murdock Smith was born in East Poultney, Vermont, on August 23, 1816, the son of Harvey Douglass Smith (1789-1864) and Harriet Murdock. Around 1824, the family moved to Gouverneur, New York, where H. D. Smith continued his political career, serving in the New York state legislature in 1829. James M. Smith studied law with the firm Bishop & Thompson of Granville, New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1837. The following year, he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he established a law firm with Henry W. Rogers and John J. Leonard; his subsequent legal partners included Solomon G. Haven. Smith had a brief career as a bank cashier in the mid- to late 1850s and returned to legal practice in the early 1860s. In 1873, he became a judge of the superior court of Buffalo, and he served until his retirement in 1887. Smith and his first wife, Martha Washington Bradley (d. 1841) married in June 1840 and had one son, who died young. Smith married his second wife, Margaret Louisa Sherwood, in June 1845; they had two surviving children, Margaret L. (m. Robert P. Wilson) and Philip Sherwood (b. 1863). James Murdock Smith died on November 27, 1899.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The James M. Smith family collection (121 items) contains letters and other materials related to James Murdock Smith of northern New York. The Correspondence series (114 items) includes Smith's correspondence from 1834-1889. Smith received 33 letters from his father, H. D. Smith, whose letters often pertain to politics, railroad construction and finance, and economic conditions in New York State. Among other subjects, he mentioned improvements to the town of Gouverneur (September 3, 1856), "unusually frequent" bankruptcies in Ogdensburg (January 3, 1854), Democratic Party factions, the Know-Nothings, and slavery and abolitionists. Smith's professional correspondence includes letters from New York Congressman Solomon G. Haven, who discussed the Dred Scott case (January 13, 1857), and from philanthropist Philo Parsons, who wrote about his plans to build a large park in Detroit, Michigan (December 8, 1873).

The series also contains personal letters that Smith received from family members, including his mother, Harriet Smith; his sisters, Esther M. Thrall and Louisa L. Anthony; and his aunt, Esther Doty. The Smith family reported news of Gouverneur, New York, and Doty commented on life in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the 1850s, where she encountered mixed-race Native Americans (December 3, 1851). Many of the later letters concern James M. Smith's interest in genealogy. Smith also wrote 6 letters to his wife, Margaret, mentioning a cholera epidemic (August 28, 1852) and travel in southern Wisconsin (November 16, 1862), among other topics.

The Genealogy, Writings, and Ephemera series (7 items) includes 3 essays about the family of H. D. Smith, a political speech, and a newspaper clipping and printed advertisement regarding a historical work by R.W. Judson.

Subject Terms

    • Buffalo (N.Y.)
    • Democratic Party (N.Y.)
    • Gouverneur (N.Y.)
    • Green Bay (Wis.)
    • New York (State)--Politics and government--1775-1865.
    • Railroads--New York (State)
    • United States--Economic conditions--To 1865.
    • Anthony, Louisa L.
    • Baker, A. L.
    • Becker, Tracy C.
    • Bishop, Theodore M.
    • Dodge, Edwin.
    • Doty, Esther.
    • Doty, J. M.
    • Duhring, Herman L.
    • Hadley, George.
    • Hall, Samuel L.
    • Harper, Fletcher.
    • Haven, Solomon G. (Solomon George), 1810-1861.
    • Judson, Roscius W.
    • Lewis, John Vaughan.
    • Norton, Charles.
    • Paddock, J. A.
    • Parsons, Philo.
    • Preston, J. Bower.
    • Quaritch, Bernard, 1819-1899.
    • Rogers, H. W.
    • Smith, Harriet.
    • Smith, Harvey D., 1789-1864.
    • Smith, Margaret Sherwood.
    • Stevens, R. H.
    • Thompson, Hugh Miller.
    • Thrall, Esther M.
    Genre Terms:
    • Essays.
    • Genealogies (histories)
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Speeches.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-14
     March 13, 1834-October 30, 1889, and  undated
    Genealogy, Writings, and Ephemera [series]
    Box   1 Folder   15
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Solomon G. Haven family papers contain material relating to James M. Smith.

    Wichita State University has a collection of James and H. D. Smith papers.


    Genealogical and Family History of Western New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Volume 1. William Richard Cutter, ed. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912.

    White, Truman C. Our County and Its People: A Descriptive Work on Erie County, New York. [Boston, Mass]: Boston History Co, 1898.