Merchant, politician, planter. Smith was born in South Carolina in 1717, the eldest child of the planter and politician Thomas Smith (?–1724) and Sabina Smith. At age eighteen Smith inherited a two-thousand-acre plantation in St. James Goose Creek Parish. Smith’s real interest, however, was in trade. In 1735 he began a twenty-seven-year mercantile career with several partners in both London and Charleston. His heavy involvement in the lucrative trade in slaves and furs made him one of the wealthiest factors in South Carolina by midcentury.
Financially secure and civic-minded, Smith entered public service in 1746 when St. Philip’s Parish elected him to the Commons House of Assembly. He became an active and prominent legislator, serving on important committees and as Speaker of the House from 1755 to 1763. He provided nearly continuous service in the assembly until his death in 1770. But legislative work did not satisfy Smith’s thirst for public service. He also served as an assistant judge, as a justice of the peace, as a fire-master for Charleston, and as a commissioner for sundry public projects. His wealth, prominence, and dedication to public service earned him a recommendation from Lieutenant Governor William Bull in 1760 to a position in the Royal Council. Smith declined the position, perhaps because the council and its members had lost considerable power and prestige during the preceding decade. As rebellion against England increased, Smith generally supported the patriots’ cause. As an assistant judge, for example, he advocated the opening of the courts during the Stamp Act controversy in 1765. After his death his estate lent the South Carolina government nearly £275,000.
Smith was also prominent in Charleston’s active fraternal societies. He served as master of Solomon’s Lodge and provincial grand master of the Masons, and he was a member of the South Carolina Society, the St. Andrew’s Society, and the Charleston Library Society. In 1760 he was elected an American member of the Society for Encouraging Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in London. He owned pews in St. Michael’s Church, which he helped to establish, and St. Philip’s Church, where he served as vestryman and warden. A philanthropic man, Smith donated money to the Ludlam School and to a local school for African Americans, an ironic contribution, considering his deep involvement in the slave trade. Upon his death he left bequests of £1,000 to the Charleston Library Society,£1,000 to Charleston’s poor, £1,000 to the South Carolina Society, £500 to the proposed College of Charleston, and £50 for the purchase of an organ for St. Philip’s Church.
Smith married twice, first in 1740 to Anne Loughton, daughter of William Loughton and Mary Griffith. Their union produced seven children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Anne Loughton Smith died in 1760 from a smallpox inoculation. Eight months later Smith married Mary Wragg, daughter of Joseph Wragg and Judith DuBosc. His second marriage produced six children. Smith died on July 29, 1770, while vacationing with his family in Newport, Rhode Island. He was buried in Trinity Churchyard in Newport, Rhode Island, but was reinterred in St. Philip’s Churchyard in Charleston later that year.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.