Select Smith Miscellany

Here are some Smith stories and accounts over the years:

Smyth or Smith?

The initial spelling preference for Smyth rather than Smith might have come about because of the difficulty in reading blackletter type where “Smith” might look like “Snuth” or “Simth.”  Still there were some early Smiths, such as Richard Smith the London cloth merchant in the late 1400’s.  The Smith spelling became more widespread in the 1600’s.  The earlier spellings of Smyth and Smythe have now faded and Smith is dominant.

The Smyths of Rosedale Abbey

According to Raymond Hayes’ 1970 book The History of Rosedale: 

On the dissolution of the priory in 1538 Rosedale Abbey was granted to Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland who leased it to William Smithdike of the household of the King, at seven pounds nine shillings per annum for twenty one years.”

Later came the statement: “When the manor of Rosedale was leased in 1576, there were forty farms and six mills.”  We may conclude that William Smithdike was probably running a rented estate of considerable size.

William Smithdike, according to Sir William Dugdale’s 1665 Visitation, resided at Sneinton in Pickering Lythe in the same wapentake as Rosedale Abbey.  How he had been connected to the King’s household and why his son Thomas had the contracted surname spelling of Smyth is not known.  But the subsequent generations were all Smyths. 

William Smyth left Rosedale Abbey for Ireland in 1630 with his children after the death of his wife Ann.  He lived first at Dundrum in county Down before moving to Lisburn in county Antrim.

The Smyths of Westmeath

The Smyths were a rather grand family in 18th century Westmeath, local country gentry and local MP’s.  The following story went the rounds:

“There was once a Smyth, whose house, Glananea, had such a flamboyant triumphal arch and gates at the entrance to his demesne that he became known as "Smyth o' the Gates."   A later descendant, growing weary and annoyed with this hereditary tag, sold the arch and the gates to a neighbor - whereupon the family was immediately dubbed "Smyth wid'out the Gates."

The Rev. Robert Smyth had acquired Portlick castle in Westmeath (formerly the home of the Dillons) in 1703.  There was a colorful story about how Portlick remained in Smyth hands after the death of his son Ralph in 1782:

“When the Rev. Robert Smyth's son Ralph died, it was generally assumed as a bachelor that he had no heirs.  His sister prepared to take over the castle.  As was to be expected, distant relatives also began to lay claim to Portlick, insisting that they were the true and rightful heirs.  But the future ownership of the castle was decided when a local woman came forward.  Maggie Gerrity presented her son Robert as Ralph's secret child and heir.  A local clergyman confirmed the story and the Smyth name was secured in Portlick once more.” 

Portlick castle remained in Smyth hands until 1861 when it was destroyed by fire.

Smiths and Smyths in Ireland

Smiths and Smyths in Ireland may have come from either the plantation in Ulster and disbanded Cromwellian soldiers; or by translation from the Scottish McGowan or the Irish MacGabhann or Mac an Ghabhainn.  County Cavan included these Mac an Ghabhainns, as well as families transplanted there from Antrim and Down because they had sided with the O’Neills at the time of Queen Elizabeth. 

There are approximately 55% Smiths and 45% Smyths in all of Ireland today.  However, there remains a clear divide between the two spellings.  Smyth is very much the spelling in Northern Ireland, Smith elsewhere in Ireland.  Maybe Smyth was the Protestant name, to distinguish themselves from the other Smiths.

John Smith of Chester County, Pennsylvania

John Smith was born and brought up in county Monaghan, probably of Scottish stock.  There was a story in the family that his father had been MacDonald and had been given the nickname of Smith when he had replaced a shoe on King William’s horse at about the time of the Battle of the Boyne.  The nickname stuck.

John Smith came to Philadelphia with his wife and five children in 1720.  They made their home in the Brandywine settlement of Chester county, Pennsylvania.  His gravestone at the Presbyterian church there bore the following inscription:

“Sacred to the memory of John Smith who died December 19, 1765, 
And to Susanna his wife who died December 24, 1767,
Parents of fifteen children.
An honest man’s the noblest work of God.
The virtuous woman’s a crown to her husband.” 

John was the forebear of the first prominent Irish-American Smith family.  Their history was recounted in George Lasher’s 1906 book The Smith Family.

French Smith in Texas

French Smith arrived in Texas in 1837 with his wife Mary. He was one of the original shareholders of the newly founded town of Seguin in Gonzales county.  He spent his life in the area and is buried in part of his land that he designated as a graveyard.

The graveyard, deeded by the family to the town of Seguin in 1880, is now part of the old Riverside cemetery.  French Smith is buried there with his brother Paris and their father Ezekiel.  Ezekiel Smith has a marker over his grave that was put there in 1936:

“Ezekiel Smith, soldier in the army of Texas in the Mier expedition, 1842.  Born in Virginia, died in Seguin, Texas on October 28, 1854.  Erected by the state of Texas in 1836.

Ezekiel Smith was in fact an old man at the time he was taken into the interior of Mexico as one of the Mier prisoners in 1842.  He was one of the fortunate ones to survive until his release two years later.

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