Eleanor Armor Smith
Wife of James Smith, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
1721 – 1818 A.D.
Eleanor Armor, of Newcastle, Delaware, ” young woman of many accomplishments and good family connection,” became in 1745 or 1746, the wife of James Smith, of York County, Pennsylvania. Mr. Smith was a land surveyor and lawyer, who had a few months before moved from Shippensburg. He was the first attorney to practice in York and remained at the head of the bar of that county until after the Revolution.
James Smith was born in Ireland and was brought to Pennsylvania as a child, by his father who settled in the Susquehanna. He was educated in Philadelphia under Dr. Allison, provost of the college, who taught him Greek, Latin, and mathematics, including land surveying. He studied law with an elder brother who was established in practice at Lancaster, after which he started in business for himself at Shippensburg, then a thriving town on the frontier.
He prospered greatly, but after a few years decided to remove to York, where his family might have the advantages of a larger and more thickly settled community. He was a rather eccentric character in some ways, one of his eccentricities being, never to tell his age. His biographers have been almost reticent concerning his family, as the dates of his marriage and the births of his children are all uncertain. Smith was endowed with a vein of wit and humour [sic], given to story telling and jovial companionship.
Five children were born to James and Eleanor Smith, three sons and two daughters. Only one of the sons and two of the daughters survived him. The son, James Smith, Jr., died a few months after his father, and the daughter became the wife of James Johnson, a prominent citizen of New York.
Long before the Revolution, Mr. Smith was pronounced in his views on the encroachment of the British ministry on the rights of the Colonies. He was a member of the Provincial Committee of Safety and upon the news from Lexington, organised [sic] a battalion around his own home, which elected him colonel, a position that, because of his age, he was forced to decline. He was in the Continental Congress, in 1775, 1776, 7-1777, and 1778, after which he retired to continue the practice of his profession.
Some of the letters which Colonel Smith wrote to his wife while in Congress have been preserved. Through them all runs a vein of drollery, a confidence in her ability to take care of their home affairs, and an air of affectionate comradeship that afford almost as much of an insight into her character as it does into his. In a letter, written from Philadelphia, in October, 1776, he says:
“…If Mr. Wilson should come through York, give him a flogging, he should have been here a week ago. I expect, however, to be home before election, my three months are nearly up….This morning I put on the red jacket under my shirt. Yesterday I dined at Mr. Morris’s and got wet going home, and my shoulder got troublesome, but by running a hot soothing iron over it three times it got better – this is a new and cheap cure. My respects to all my friends and neighbours [sic], my love to the children. I am your loving husband, James Smith.”
The “Mr. Wilson” referred to above was his brother congressman, James Wilson, who had been attending court duties in Carlisle.
In another letter her wrote, “You, my dear, have been fatigued to death with the plantation affairs; I can only pity but not help….I have not time to finish, but you will have had nonsense enough, Your loving husband, whilest [sic]. James Smith.”
Congressman Smith died in 1806 and his monument says he was ninety-three years old. He was buried in York and his wife sleeps beside him.
Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.