Lydia Hamilton Smith

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Lydia Hamilton Smith

Birthdate: (69)
Birthplace: Gettysburg, Adams, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: February 14, 1884 (69)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Place of Burial: Washington, DC
Immediate Family:

Wife of Jacob Smith
Partner of Thaddeus Stevens
Mother of William Smith and Isaac Smith

Occupation: business woman
Managed by: Erica Howton
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.

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Lydia Hamilton Smith's Timeline

February 14, 1815
Gettysburg, Adams, Pennsylvania, United States
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
Mixed (Mulatto)
Free State
No. of Children
Relation to Slavery
Free black
Church or Religious Denomination
Catholic (Roman or Irish)


Washington, DC