History - The First Generation of United States Marshals
Marshal of New York: William Smith
William S. Smith- Source: Katharine Metcalf Roof,
Colonel William Smith and Lady (Boston: Riverside Press, 1929).
The First Marshal of New York William S. Smith's biographer described
him as "the pattern of the eighteenth century gentleman, handsome,
brave, urbane, and equally at ease at camp or court." The description is
for in addition to being Marshal of the District of New York, Smith was
soldier, diplomat, congressman, and the son-in-law of President John
Born in New York on November 8, 1755, Smith graduated from the College
of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1774 before entering the practice of law.
But before he could establish himself as a lawyer, the Revolutionary War
interrupted his career. He entered the service in August 1776 as a
major, serving as an aide to General Sullivan. That same month, he
fought at the battle of Long Island.
When the Americans withdrew, he was among the last to leave,
General Washington on the latter's barge across the East River. He was
wounded in the fighting at Harlem Heights, which did not prevent him
from helping destroy a bridge at Throgs Neck, thereby preventing the
British General Howe from out-flanking the American forces.
He fought again at White Plains and accompanied the American retreat
New Jersey. His gallantry at the battle of Trenton earned him a
promotion to the
rank of lieutenant colonel. He also fought at the battles of Monmouth
Courthouse and Newport. Afterwards, he became an inspector and adjutant
in a corps of light infantry under the command of the famous French
general, the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington appointed Smith his aide
in July 1781.
Smith performed valuable services for the Commander-in-Chief at
After the war, he supervised the evacuation of the British from New York
accordance with the treaty of peace.
In 1785, Smith was appointed the secretary of the American legation in
London, where he served under Minister John Adams. A year later, he
his boss's daughter. His diplomatic career included several missions to
Smith and his wife returned to the United States in 1788. The following
year, when Smith was 33, Washington, appointed him Marshal. Since New
City was the nation's capital during the first year of the new
dealt personally with the President in the performance of his duties. He
with Washington on many occasions during 1789-90.
He resigned as Marshal after one year in office to become supervisor of
revenue. Some time later, he took the job of surveyor of the port of New
York. These positions, combined with his private business affairs,
a degree of wealth. In 1786, for example, he owned $3,800 worth of
debt certificates. In addition to these activities, Smith was one of the
of the Society of the Cincinnati.
When Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801, Smith surrendered his
within the federal government and returned to his private pursuits.
the new century, he became involved in the Miranda expedition, a poorly
and illegal filibustering attempt against Venezuela. Although arrested
guilty of the offense, Smith obtained an acquittal. In 1812, he was
Congress as a member of the fading Federalist party. He retained his
his death on June 10, 1816, at the age of 61.