Strangers to Us All
Lawyers and Poetry

William Rudolph Smith

Wisconsin & Pennsylvania

"William Smith was a Pennsylvania lawyer, legislator, major-general in state militia, U.S.Commissioner to the Chippewa Indians of Upper Mississippi; Wisconsin adjutant general, lawmaker, attorney general and president of the Wisconsin State Historical Society." [Archivist Note, Poems, Historical Society of Pennsylvania (The poems in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection were written during the period 1814-1853, to his wife, daughters, and others.)]

"Gen. William Rudolph Smith was born Aug. 31, 1787, at La Trappe, Montgomery County, Penn. . . . He was educated under the care of his grandfather, Rev. Dr. William Smith, the first provost of the college, now University of Pennsylvania, who was a noted writer in his day, and whose works were published in two volumes in 1802. Gen. Smith's father was William Moore Smith, a distinguished lawyer and poet . . . .

In 1803 William Moore Smith went to England as the agent for claimants under the sixth article of the 'Jay Treaty' of 1794; and his eldest son [William Rudolph Smith] . . . accompanied him as his private secretary, and remained for two years. During this sojourn in England, young Smith commenced the study of the law under the direction of Thomas Kearsey of the Middle Temple; and, returning to Philadelpia, he completed his legal studies with James Milnor, and was admitted to the bar in 1809. While prosecuting his legal studies, he found time to devote much attention to polite literature, in which he was encouraged by many leading men of Philadelphia, particularly by his intimate friend, Joseph Dennie, the 'American Addison,' and the first editor of 'The Portfolio.' At this period he wrote a great deal of fugitive poetry, -- a dramatic monologue, which was prited and performed; a translation from the French of Sir William Jones's Essay on Oriental Poetry, which was published in a series of numbers in 'The Portfolio;' and many of his literary essays found their way into the magazine publications of the time; but they have never been collected and embodied in book-form.

Marrying in 1809, he settled at Huntington, on the Juniata River, pursuing his profession for the next twenty years. During this period, he had, at different times, represented his county and district in the house of representatives and senate of Pennsylvania. . . . [W]hile a member of the house in 1826, he was appointed one of the managers on the part of the house to conduct the impeachment of Judge Waiter Franklin before the State senate. He held, at various periods, a large number of military offices, from liutenant up to brigadier-genera. He removed, in 1830, to a farm in Bedford County, in that State, and still followed his profession; and, in 1836, he was chosen one of the electors of President and Vice-President of the United States for the State of Pennsylvania, and cast his vote for Van Buren and Johnson.

In 1837 he was appointed a commissioner, in conjunction with Gov. Henry Doge of Wisconsin, to negotiate a treaty with the Chippewa Indians, who were convened at Fort Snelling, and which resulted in the purchase of a territory embracing much of the present State of Minnesota, including the rich pine-forests of the St. Croix and its tributaries. . . . In 1838 he removed with his family, to Mineral Poit, in Wisconsin, where he made his home the remainder of his life.

He was appointed adjutant-general of that Territory in 1839, which office he held until 1852. In 1846 he was elected secretary of the legislative council, and that same year was chosen a member of the first constitutional convention. In 1849 and 1850 he was chosen attorney-general of the state, and served for the term of two years. In 1854 Gen. Smith was chosen president of the State Historical Society, of which he had been one of the founders in 1849, and before which he delivered the first anjual address. He held this position until 1866, having been annually re-elected. At the request of the State, Gen. Smith collected materials, and prepared a history of Wisconsin from its earliest French exploration to the organization of the Territory in 1836, which was published by the State in 1854, in two octavo volumes.

Gen. Smith has filled . . . prominent positions in the Masonic fraternity from 1822 to 1838 . . . having served as Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, Grand Secretary of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State, and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. . . .

Gen. Smith died at the resident of one of his children, at Quincy, Ill., Aug. 22, 1868, in the eight-first year of his age." [Charles R. Tuttle, An Illustrated History of The State of Wisconsin 733-734 (Boston: B.B. Russell, 1875)] [online text]


William Rudolph Smith, Observations o the Wisconsin Territory: Chiefly on that part called the "Wisconsin Land District" (Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1838)(Arno Press, 1975)

__________________, The History of Wisconsin: In Three Parts, Historical, Documentary, and Descriptive: Completed by Direction of the Legislature of the State (Madison, Wisconsin: Beriah Brown, Printer 1854)(2 vols.) [vol.1 online text]

__________________, Incidents of a Journey from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin Territory, in 1837, being the Journal of Gen. William rudolph Smith, U.S. Commissioner for Treaty with the Chippewa Indians of the Upper Mississippi (Chicago: W. Howes, 1927)(including a brief biographical sketch of Smith by John Goadby Gregory)