Lydia Hamilton Smith (1815 - 1884) MP

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Gettysburg, Adams, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: Died in Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Occupation: business woman
Managed by: Erica Howton, (c)
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Lydia Hamilton Smith

Lydia Hamilton Smith (1813 - 1884)

Thaddeus Stevens never married though his 23-year relationship (1845-1868) with his widowed quadroon housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith (1813-1884), was well known in Washington, D.C. Carl Sandburg described Smith as "a comely quadroon with Caucasian features and a skin of light-gold tint, a Roman Catholic communicant with Irish eyes ... quiet, discreet, retiring, reputed for poise and personal dignity".[Smith had two sons, William and Isaac, by her late husband, Jacob Smith, and she and Stevens raised the latter's nephews, whom he adopted in the 1840s.

During her time with Stevens—neighbors considered her his common law wife[8], and she was frequently called "Mrs. Stevens" by people who knew her, according to Sandburg[9]—she invested in real estate and other businesses and owned a prosperous boarding house.[4] When Stevens died, Smith was at his bedside, along with his nephews Simon and Thaddeus Stevens Jr., two African-American nuns, and several other individuals.[10] Under Stevens's will, Smith was allowed to choose between a lump sum of $5,000 or a $500 annual allowance; she was also allowed to take any furniture in his house.[11] With the inheritance, she purchased Stevens's house, where she had lived for many years, and the adjoining lot.[12]

As Thaddeus Stevens’ supporter and confidante, Lydia Hamilton Smith played a major role in his life, and he in hers. A widow with two young sons when she became Stevens’ housekeeper in 1847, for 25 years she managed his home and businesses in Lancaster and also accompanied him to Washington, D.C. to run his household and to serve as hostess.

Their partnership afforded her the opportunity to gain the skills and social contacts that helped her later become a successful businesswoman. She eventually owned and managed a number of properties in Lancaster, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. – an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman of that era, particularly a woman of color. Her boarding house in Washington drew some of the most powerful people of the time, including members of Congress and foreign dignitaries.

Despite rumors and innuendos about their relationship, Stevens and Smith courageously continued their remarkable partnership in an era of strict segregation. Correspondence and third-person accounts indicate that theirs was a cordial and respectful friendship. He consistently treated her as an equal and with great deference at a time when most whites considered blacks inferior. In turn, she expertly managed his household and businesses, freeing him to pursue the landmark legislation that transformed American society.

As recent archaeological excavations behind Stevens’ home indicate, it is likely that Stevens and Smith cooperated on another very important venture as well – the Underground Railroad. A number of archaeologists who have visited the underground cistern discovered on the property have confirmed its probable use as a hideaway for runaway slaves. Ample documentation exists that Stevens regularly assisted black fugitives and paid spies to report on slave catchers active in the area. While less definitive information exists on Smith’s role in the Underground Railroad, research is continuing. However, the nature of their partnership, the proximity of her home to the cistern, and her connections in the local African-American community offer tantalizing clues.

See also

http://www.stevensandsmith.org/index.php/blog_post/thaddeus_stevens_lydia_hamilton_smith_historic_site/

http://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/2007/08/lydia-hamilton-smith.html

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Lydia Smith's Timeline

1815
February 14, 1815
Gettysburg, Adams, Pennsylvania, United States
1847
1847
- 1868
Age 31
Lancaster, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States

Thaddeus Stevens, Relationship with Lydia Hamilton Smith (Trefousse, 1997)

Scholarship

And before long, [Thaddeus Stevens] obtained the services of a housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith, a mulatto widow of great respectability with two children, who remained with him and took care of him for the rest of his life. Thad’s relations with Mrs. Smith have given rise to never ending speculation. Widely thought to be his mistress, both at the time and afterward, Mrs. Smith was treated with great respect by Stevens’s family and by himself. He always addressed her as “Madam,” gave her his seat in public conveyances, and included her in social intercourse with his friends.

As William M. Hall remembered, she was regarded as a “virtuous and respectable woman.” “Certainly,” he commented, “whatever may have been the state of affairs at the inception of the relationship it existed for years at Washington in such form as to leave no discredit connected with it in the minds of Mr. Stevens’s acquaintances and friends and of the general public.”…Stevens himself never confirmed or denied it. In a largely noncommittal letter to W. B. Mellius in September 1867, in which he stressed the fact that he seldom responded to the many attacks upon him, he also stated that the libels concerning his domestic history were “totally without foundation.”

Hans L. Trefousse, Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 69-70.

source: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/19743

1860
1860
Age 44
Lancaster, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States

1860 United States Federal Census
Name: Thaddeus Stevens
Age in 1860: 76
Birth Year: abt 1784
Birthplace: Vermont
Home in 1860: Lancaster, South East Ward, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Gender: Male
Post Office: Lancaster
Value of real estate:
Household Members:
Name Age
Thaddeus Stevens
76
Hester Hoover
44
Saml Hoover
19
Francis Hoover
16
John Hoover
13
Mary Frecht
18
Martha Swint
16
Lydia Smith
44
Source Citation: Year: 1860; Census Place: Lancaster, South East Ward, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1126; Page: 997; Image: 168; Family History Library Film: 805126.
Source Information:
Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

1884
February 14, 1884
Age 69
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States

Life SummaryNote CardsImages
Full name
Lydia Hamilton Smith
Place of Birth
Gettysburg, PA
Burial Place
Washington, DC
Death Date Certainty
Estimated
Gender
Female
Race
Mixed (Mulatto)
Origins
Free State
No. of Children
2
Occupation
Businessman
Relation to Slavery
Free black
Church or Religious Denomination
Catholic (Roman or Irish)

source: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/19743

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Washington, DC