|Name:||James McCune Smith|
|Birth Day:||April 18, 1813|
|Death Date:||Nov 17, 1865 (age 52)|
|Height:||in centimeters - N/A|
|Weight:||in kg - N/A|
As per our current Database, James McCune Smith died on Nov 17, 1865 (age 52).
He was a standout student at the African Free School in Manhattan. The school provided him with the means to travel overseas to attend the University of Glasgow, where he obtained his medical degree in 1837.
Smith was born into slavery in 1813 in New York City and was set free on July 4, 1827, at age 14, by the Emancipation Act of New York. That was the final date when New York officially freed its remaining slaves. His mother was an enslaved woman named Lavinia who achieved her freedom later in life; in 1855, Smith described her as a "self-emancipated woman." She was born into slavery in South Carolina and had been brought to New York as a slave. His father was Samuel Smith, a white merchant and his mother's master, who had brought her with him to New York from South Carolina.
In the course of his studies, Smith was tutored by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., a graduate of the African Free School who had been ordained in 1826 as the second African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. Upon graduation, he applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York State, but was denied admission due to racial discrimination. Williams encouraged Smith to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He and abolitionist benefactors of the AFS provided Smith with money for his trip overseas and his education. Smith kept a journal of his sea voyage that expressed his sense of mission. After arriving in Liverpool and walking along the waterfront, he thought, "I am free!"
Through abolitionist connections, he was welcomed there by members of the London Agency Anti-Slavery Society. According to the historian Thomas M. Morgan, Smith enjoyed the relative racial tolerance in Scotland and England, which officially abolished slavery in 1833. (New York abolished all slavery in 1827.) He studied and graduated at the top of his class. He obtained a bachelor's degree in 1835, a master's degree in 1836, and a medical degree in 1837. He completed an internship in Paris.
While in Scotland, Smith joined the Glasgow Emancipation Society and met people in the Scottish and English abolitionist movement. In 1833, Great Britain abolished slavery. When Smith returned to New York, he quickly joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and worked for the cause in the United States. He worked effectively with both black and white abolitionists, for instance maintaining a friendship and correspondence with Gerrit Smith that spanned the years from 1846-65.
When Smith returned to New York City in 1837 with his degrees, he was greeted as a hero by the black community. He said at a gathering, "I have striven to obtain education, at every sacrifice and every hazard, and to apply such education to the good of our common country." He was the first university-trained African-American physician in the United States. During his practice of 25 years, he was also the first black to have articles published in American medical journals, but he was never admitted to the American Medical Association or to local ones.
In 1839, he followed Samuel Cornish as editor of The Colored American, a New York weekly newspaper owned by Philip Alexander Bell. Among his notable writings was a debate with John Hughes, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, who was known as a racist and anti-abolitionist.
In 1840, Smith wrote the first case report by a black doctor, which his associate John Watson read at a meeting of the New York Medical and Surgical Society. (It acknowledged that Smith was qualified, but would not admit him because of racial discrimination.) Soon after, Smith published an article in the New York Journal of Medicine, the first by a black doctor in the US.
He drew from his medical training to discredit popular ideas about differences among the races. In 1843 he gave a lecture series, Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the Races, to demonstrate the failings of phrenology, which was a so-called scientific practice of the time that was applied in a way to draw racist conclusions and attribute negative characteristics to ethnic Africans. He rejected the practice of homeopathy, an alternative to the scientific medicine being taught in universities. Although he had a successful medical career, Smith was never admitted to the American Medical Association or local associations because of racial discrimination.
In 1846, Smith was appointed as the only doctor of the Colored Orphan Asylum (also known as the Free Negro Orphan Asylum), at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. (Before that time, the directors had depended on pro bono services of doctors.) He worked there for nearly 20 years. The asylum was founded in 1836 by Anna and Hannah Shotwell and Mary Murray, Quaker philanthropists in New York. Trying to protect the children, Smith regularly gave vaccinations for smallpox. Leading causes of death were infectious diseases: measles (for which there was no vaccine), smallpox, and tuberculosis (for which there was no antibiotic at the time). In addition to caring for orphans, the home sometimes boarded children temporarily when their parents were unable to support them, as jobs were scarce for free blacks in New York. Waves of immigration from Ireland and Germany in the 1840s and 1850s meant that many new immigrants were competing for work.
Publishing lectures quickly brought him to the attention of the national abolitionist movement. His "Destiny of the People of Color", "Freedom and Slavery for Africans", and "A lecture on the Haitian Revolution; with a note on Toussaint L'Ouverture", established him as a new force in the field. He directed the Colored People's Educational Movement (to the memory of Abraham Lincoln). In 1850, as a member of the Committee of Thirteen, Smith was one of the key organizers of resistance in New York City to the newly passed Fugitive Slave Act, which required states to aid federal law enforcement in capturing escaped slaves. As did similar groups in Boston, his committee aided fugitive slaves to escape capture and helped connect them to people of the Underground Railroad and other escape routes.
Smith was always working for the asylum. In July 1852, he presented the trustees with 5,000 acres provided by his friend Gerrit Smith, a wealthy white abolitionist. The land was to be held in trust and later sold for benefit of the orphans.
As Smith started publishing, his work was quickly accepted by newer scientific organizations: in 1852 Smith was invited to be a founding member of the New York Statistics Institute. In 1854 he was elected as a member by the American Geographical Society (founded in New York in 1851 by top scientists as well as wealthy amateurs interested in exploration). The Society recognized him by giving him an award for one of his articles. He joined the New-York Historical Society.
In 1859, Smith published an article using scientific findings and analysis to refute the former president Thomas Jefferson's theories of race, as expressed in his well-known Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble, a medical doctor and historian at George Washington University, in 2010 noted, "As early as 1859, Dr. McCune Smith said that race was not biological but was a social category." He commented on the positive ways that ethnic Africans would influence US culture and society, in music, dance, food, and other elements. His collected essays, speeches and letters have been published as The Works of James McCune Smith: Black Intellectual and Abolitionist (2006), edited by John Stauffer.
By 1860, Smith was doing very well; he had moved to Leonard Street within the Fifth Ward and had a mansion built by white workmen. His total real property was worth $25,000. His household included a live-in servant, Catherine Grelis from Ireland. Listed as a separate household at his address were Sara D. Williams, 57, and Mary Hertell (should be Hewlitt, as above), 50. (These were likely the same Sara and Mary as in the 1850 census, although their ages did not change.) No one on this census page had a racial designation. By the conventions of the time, this means that they were classified as white by the census enumerator; totals of white persons only are given at the bottom of the page.
Opposing the emigration of American free blacks to other countries, Smith believed that native-born Americans had the right to live in the United States and a claim by their labor and birth to their land. He gathered supporters to go to Albany to testify to the state legislature against proposed plans to support the American Colonization Society, which had supported sending free blacks to the colony of Liberia in Africa. He contributed money to revive the Weekly Anglo-African in 1861, as an anti-emigrationist newspaper.
After the New York City draft riots in 1863, Smith and his family were among prominent African Americans who left Manhattan and moved to Brooklyn, then still a separate city. He no longer felt safe in their old neighborhood.
In July 1863, during the New York Draft Riots, Irish rioters attacked blacks throughout the city and burned down the orphan asylum. The children were saved by the staff and Union troops in the city. During its nearly 30 years, the orphan asylum had admitted 1310 children, and typically had about 200 in residence at a time.
In 1863 Smith was appointed as professor of anthropology at Wilberforce College, the first African American-owned and operated college in the United States. Smith was too ill to take the position. He died two years later, on November 17, 1865, at the age of 52, from congestive heart failure. This was nineteen days before ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery. He was buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Smith was survived by his widow, Malvina, and five children.
In the 1870 census, Malvina (now a widow) and their four children were living in Ward 15, Brooklyn. All were classified as white. Their son James W. Smith, who had married a white woman, was living in a separate household and working as a teacher; he was also classified as white. The Smith children still at home were Maud, 15; Donald, 12; John, 10; and Guy, 8; all were attending school. These five Smith children survived to adulthood: James, Maud, Donald, John and Guy. The men married white spouses, but Maud never married. All were classified as white from 1860 onward.
They worked as teachers, a lawyer, and business people. Smith's unique achievements as a pioneering African-American doctor were rediscovered by 20th-century historians. They were relearned by his descendants in the twenty-first century, who identified as white and did not know about him with the passage of generations. A three-times-great-granddaughter took a history class and found his name in her grandmother's family bible. In 2010, several Smith descendants commissioned a new tombstone for his grave in Brooklyn. They gathered to honor him and their African-American ancestry.
James and his wife Malvina Barnet were both of mixed African and European ancestry. James had a total of seven children.
Currently, James McCune Smith is 210 years, 1 months and 13 days old. James McCune Smith will celebrate 211th birthday on a Thursday 18th of April 2024. Below we countdown to James McCune Smith upcoming birthday.