|Thomas Buckingham Smith
St. Augustine, Florida
Florida Memory Project
Thomas Buckingham Smith
He was born on Cumberland Island, Georgia on October 31, 1810. His father Josiah and his mother
Hanna were from Taunton, Mass to Litchfield, Conn. and then to Watertown, Conn. He had one
older brother - Jonah and a sister Hannah or Anita. His parents were cousins.
In 1815 Josiah Smith was a new settler and merchant of Amelia Island when he petitioned the
Spanish government for 1,000 acres of land on the St. Mary's River for the purpose of raising cattle.
He claimed that he provided provisions in 1812 for Fernandina. The title to land was granted in 1819
by Governor Jose Coppinger. He had smaller tracts of lands already including land in St. Augustine.
In 1820 Thomas Buckingham Smith moved to St. Augustine with his mother and younger sister
Hannah (also known as Anita Amelia) when his father, Josiah Smith was appointed U. S. Consul to
Mexico. At the age of fourteen in 1824 Buckingham Smith visited his father in Mexico. Josiah died
there in 1825 in Xalapa, Mexico. He was 50 years old.
His mother lived on a large grove property that was bounded on the north by the U. S. property
listed as the Powder House lost, east by Maria Sanchez creek, south by Anderson and west by San
Sebastian. She died in 1858 at the age of 83 years.
After the death of his father he was made the ward of his uncle, Robert Smith, and attended
Washington College (Trinity) in Hartford Conn. He pursued the science course from November 1827
to August 1830. After college he dropped the Thomas from his name. In 1836 Buckingham Smith
graduated from Harvard Law School and for a short time practiced law in Maine where he worked for
General Samuel Fessenden. Fesessnden's son William Pitt Fessenden was his classmate.
Positions Held in Florida
In 1839-40 served as secretary to Gov. Raymond Reid (1839-40) He served on the St. Augustine
City Council in the Florida Territorial Legislature (1841). He was recommended to President Martin
Van Buren for the post of District Attorney for the Southern District of Florida by James D. Westcott,
Jr., of St. Augustine.
In September 20,1844 Buckingham Smith married Miss Julia G. Gardner, of Concord, N. H. She was
the daughter of Reuben G. and Elizabeth M (Stinson) Gardner. Julia died December 26, 1861 in
New York. There were no children. During the war he spent more time in Spain working in the
Buckingham Smith's House
After his marriage he bought 22 acres from Jacob furman in 1844. The area was bounded east by
mil y quinietos Road, west by the San Sebastian Creek north and south by two parallel lines from the
road to the creek, north by Nenancio Sanchez, south by Pomar, Pons and Hernandez and others.
This is the plot for what later became known as the Garnett Orange Grove.
In 1848 he made a report on the Everglades suggesting that the area be drained by deepening the
He was in the foreign service as secretary of the legation in Mexico (1850-52) appointed by
President Zachary Taylor on September 9, 1850. He would be recalled by President Fillmore on
February 2, 1852. In Mexico he met several historians including Don Jose F. Ramerez. In 1851
George W. Riggs, Jr., of Washington D. C. printed Smith's first literary work "Narrative of Alvar
Nunez Cabeca de Vaca. Riggs also helped publish his second book in 1854 and in 1853 Smith
contributed papers on the Pimos and Casas Grande to "Information respecting the History, condition
and Prospects of the Indian Tribes. He did extracts from the diaries of Padres Garces and Font,
from the diary of Monge, and an anonymous work on Sonora.
IOn June 5, 1855 Smith was appointed secretary of the legation to Spain by President Pierce. He
would be recalled by President Buchanan in 1858. There he researched Florida history. His
research went into the works of Prescott, Bancroft, Parkman and Squier. He also worked on his own
History of Florida that he printed at Madrid.
He also published an acount of Sonora and An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Documents. A
Grammatical sketch of the Heve language (1861), Grammar of the Pima or Névome, from ms. of the
18th century (1862), Comparative vocabularies of the Seminole and Mikasuke tongues (1866) and
the Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida (1866).
The Civil War
Smith spent most of the Civil War in New York although there is some evidence that he spent time
also in Spain doing more research.
341 W. FIFTEENTH STREET
February 26, 1862.
Mr. SECRETARY: I have several times been menaced with the seizure of my property in the South,
and yesterday I was warned from a friendly source that my presence there had become necessary
for its safety, all that I have being in the hands of sequestrators for the Government of Davis. In this
last stage of affairs (common, no doubt, to many others), and as it is not my pleasure to go South at
this time, I address myself to you, asking the protection of the United States under the treaty with
Spain, holding property as I do in east Florida by descent from a Spanish subject of the country, and
having myself at the time of the cession been a resident in the province. I beg to state these facts
with emphasis. Since the time that the conspirators took up arms there has in no wise any attempt
been made by the Government to pacify the interior of the Peninsula of Florida or the eastern shore
by even the looking in of a gunboat as high up the St. Johns River as Jacksonville, or in passing the
harbor of St. Augustine. On the average of once a week for a period of nearly four months the Jeff
Davis hovered in the Gulf of Florida within a degree or two of latitude of that town, watching for prey,
and finally it only disappeared by the commander, Coxetter, attempting to enter the port, supposing
himself to be pursued by a United States vessel of war, when he wrecked his vessel. That town is
the undisturbed residence of that privateer man, where he has his family, and has property, as also
have Hardee, Kirby Smith, and Loring, all late of the U. S. Army, now active generals in the cause of
the conspiracy. Through these ports have been received from neutral countries necessaries,
particularly salt, coffee, quinine, opium, in exchange for pitch and cotton. Some passengers are
passing (or have passed until very lately) by these means, and also correspondence The Garibaldi,
schooner, I am inclined to think, still continued to make her trips from Jacksonville. The commerce of
St. Johns River has, in no instance, as I have said, been disturbed, and, in a word, the entire
Peninsula of Florida by sufferance only is in rebellion, and while incapable of self-defense, sends
troops to Richmond and attempts at last, by confiscating the property of contumacious citizens, to
supply means for carrying on the war to the Confederate Government. With great respect, I am, sir,
your obedient servant,
In June, 1865 Buckingham Smith was appointed tax commissioner for Florida.
In the December 26th, 1868 edition of the St. Augustine Examiner it was reported that the "Hon.
Buckingham Smith" was back in town after an absence of several months, and that he had visited
the former residence of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, while he was in Spain.
Smith returned to his home on 42nd Street in New York in 1870. On January 4, 1871, he suffered a
heart attack and was found unconscious on the street by a policeman who thought he was
intoxicated and locked him in a cell in the police station. The next day he was transferred to Bellevu
Hospital, where he died, still unknown, without regaining consciousness. His body was removed to
the morgue and was about to be buried in potter's field, when it was identified by an acquaintance
and sent to St. Augustine for interment in the Protestant cemetery near his mother and sister. He is
buried in St. Augustine’s Huguenot Cemetery in the family plot with his mother Hannah Smith
(died1857) and sister (Hannah) Anita Amelia Porter (died at Fort Moultrie in 1850). (Anita had
married Assistant Surgeon John bliss Porter, U. S. Army in 1842 at Trinity Episcopal Church they
had one sone Francis B. Porter).
Buckingham Smith's will, made in St. Augustine in 1869, was not immediately found, but
was later located, it is said, in the safe of a local merchant. there were no banks or safety
deposit boxes in St. Augustine at that time.
Although he and his mother had both been slave owners, Buckingham Smith sympathized
with the North during the Civil War. He left a life interest to lands in St. Augustine to a Negro
named Jack, once his slave, and $100 each to three other former servants.
After disposing of personal effects to friends and relatives, he left the rest and residue of his
property for the use of the black people of St. Augustine and their successors in all time to
come..."providing first for the aged and invalid of those blacks which have been mine."
The Buckingham Smith Benevolent Association
Dr. Oliver Bronson of St. Augustine was his executor. As soon as it was practicable, in order
to make a more permanent provision for accomplishing the purposes of the testator, Dr.
Bronson determined to create a corporate institution, which was named The Buckingham
Smith Benevolent Association.
In order to carry out the intentions of Mr. Smith, and to put the institution on a permanent
basis, Dr. Bronson purchased at his own expense, had erected a commodious building
completely furnished with everything necessary to make it comfortable, which he deeded to
the Directors. There were ample piazzas on the north and south sides, a large dining room
and sitting room, and an apartment for the matron; an outbuilding for a commodious kitchen
and rooms for the domestics. This was connected to the main building by a room open on
the south designed as a sitting room in pleasant weather.
The lot was on the west shore of Maria Sanchez Creek owned by Mrs. Melanie Bridier, just
south of King Street, where a fine large building was constructed to house the Negro old and
infirm. The home contained sleeping rooms for fifty inmates, as well as a large parlor and
dining room. In the rear was a detached kitchen. A Negro matron ran the hom
Dr. Bronson donated this without cost to the Association, so that the income from Mr.
Smith's estate could be devoted to the maintenance of the inmated of the home.
A "Board of Lady Managers" was formed to aid in this benevolent work, with a membership
composed of some of the most prominent ladies in town. Miss Margaret Worth was the
Secretary, her sister, Mrs. John Sprague, and the Misses Humphreys and Benet were Vice
Presidents, Miss Rebecca Perit was Treasurer, and Miss Sarah Mather, the President.
These ladies immediately began making articles of clothing and other necessities for the
home, and on December 8, 1873, six aged colored women and two colored men took their
first meal in the newly erected Home. Others were admitted from time to time. The institution
was in charge of a matron, assisted by a cook and a house girl.
The first officers of the Association were Oliver Bronson, M.D., President, General John T.
Sprague and Oliver Bronson, Jr., Vice Presidents, Dr. Andrew Anderson, M.D., Physician
and Secretary, and Mr. James W. Allen, Treasurer.
The Colored Home (Unknown newspaper clipping, unknown date but pre-1876)
There are many conjectures as to the condition of the finances of the Colored People's
home, and the cuases for its being closed. Mr. Wilson, who was the first trustee, gives a
statement showing that so long as there were "indigent colored people" willing to enter the
home, that they were cared for, and when none could be found, it was thought best to teach
the young negro girls how to earn a living as house servants, and a school was organized for
that purpose, and continued open until recently, when want of immediate funds necessitated
the closing of the home. The lack of funds was caused by the depreciation of the railway
bonds in which the funds, to a limited amount, were invested. These were bought when the
bonds were at 60, and instructions were given to sell when the par notch was reached. The
opportunity was passed, and the bonds dropped to 50. At the same time, Mr. Wilson says,
there is an income sufficient to support the very few indigent old colored people needing a
home. Also that Dr. Bronson will take some action.
From An Essay towards an Indian Bibliography by Thomas Warren Field
[A Rough Essay, attempt at a Provisional Geographical Description of the Province of
Sonora, its limits and boundaries: or rather, collection of materials to make it by any one
knowing better. Compiled as well from notices acquired by the collector in his journeys
through most all of it, as from statements bv the Fathers Missionaries anil domiciled in the
land, for the purpose of its improvement, by a Friend of the Commonweal.]
As I reach this title in describing the works of this collection, the journals of the day announce
that an unknown person was yesterday found in the streets "of New York in an insensible
condition; was taken by the police to a cell in the nearest station-house; was transferred to
the hospital in a dying condition, and in a few hours, without a word or sign, the active,
intelligent, and learned mind of the stranger, had ceased to animate his mortal part. The
corpse was soon after death recognized as the editor of this work. The scholarlv curiosity of
this learned man, was absolutely insatiable; and his research stretched over an area of
documentary evidence and historical data, which is scarcely less than appalling to
contemplate. The vast storehouses of manuscripts by the early writers of the history of
America, which Spain has so jealously guarded, were, page by page, assiduously
examined by him, for new revelations regarding the country, whose half-told story constantly
fired his brain with the desire to complete. This homage of an humble admirer of his
patience, zeal, and learning, I could not resist the desire to leave on record here. Mr.
Buckingham Smith was the translator and annotator of many works on American history. In
1851, Mr. Riggs printed at Washington his translation of the narrative of Cabcca de Vaca.
William Cullen Bryant
March 18, 1873
One of the sights most worth seeing here is the place of the late Mr. Buckingham Smith.
That gentleman directed it by his will to be sold and the proceeds to be applied to the
support of an hospital for poor and aged colored people. His executor, Dr. Bronson, a
resident of this place, and one of its most public spirited citizens, has already begun the
building. The place is one of the finest things to be seen in East Florida. A lane between
overhanging orange trees, now shining with their golden fruit, forming a fragrant covered
way, leads to the mansion, which is overshadowed by gigantic mulberry trees. All around the
mansion are rows of orange trees now in bloom, yet with their bright yellow fruit, glittering
here and there among the dark green, and scattered about are great gnarled fig trees, and
pomegranate bushes putting forth their young leaves. The dark color of the soil attests the
care which has been taken to enrich it with the dark mould of marshes, and here and there
you have the greateful feeling of treading upon an elastic turf formed by the vigorously
growing grass, a sensation quite rare in Florida, where the grass of our northern region is
almost a stranger.
Negro Year Book
The Tuskegee Institute in the 1920's updated this information in its Negro year book: The
Buckingham Smith Fund.—The Buckingham Smith Benevolent Association is a charitable
corporation under the laws of Florida, incorporated to dispense the proceeds of a fund
established by Buckingham Smith, former resident of St. Augustine, and at one time
Secretary to the legation from the United States to Spain.
The fund had its foundation in the will of Buckingham Smith who died in 1871. By his will he
left his estate to his executor, in trust "for the benefit of the black people of St. Augustine."
The executor, Dr. Oliver Bronson of St. Augustine, formerly of New York, a philanthropist,
took measures to transfer the property to the corporation formed.
The amount of the property divided by Buckingham Smith probably did not exceed $20,000.
Dr. Bronson gave a lot on which a building was constructed, intended to be used as home
for aged people of color. After some years of trial it was found that the old people were
unwilling to enter the home and the building was then used for a training school for girls of
the Negro race. This was later abandoned, and the proceeds of the fund used for the
support and care of the indigent and the aged people of color.
The trustees have liberally construed their powers and use the funds controlled by them in a
broad way for the benefit of people of color, young as well as old. Aid is given the industrial
school established near St. Augustine; a hall for social meetings rented; a district nurse
employed, beside other welfare work paid for out of the fund.
The aid given stands out a striking example of the good which may be done with a small
fund administered wisely.
By wise management the trustees increased the principal of the sum so that the present
income is approximately $4,000 a year, which is expended for the care and support of the
people belonging to the Negro race.
The trustees of the fund are: Dr. Andrew Anderson, President; St. Augustine, Florida; John
T. Dismukes, Vice-President, St. Augustine, Florida; J. D. Puller, St. Augustine, Florida; J.
C. Heartt, Secretary, St. Augustine, Florida; C. M. Fuller, St. Augustine, Florida; Grosvenor
A. Parker, St. Augustine, Florida; and William Whitwell Dewhurst, Treasurer, St. Augustine,
Six monts after I will present my files and vouchers;
to the County Judge, St. John's County, State of
Florida, as Executor of the Last Will and Testament
of Buckingham Smith, late of said County deceased,
and ask for my discharge from said Executorship.
St. Augustine, Fla, May 3, 1873