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SMITH, MICHAEL, educator and author; b. 1776 in Chester County, Pa, ten miles from Philadelphia; m. “1806, in one of the southern states” and had at least two children; d. in or after 1816.

Compiler or author of a valuable description of Upper Canada in the years just before the War of 1812, Michael Smith is otherwise a rather shadowy figure, the only biographical material for his life coming from the prefaces he wrote to his various publications and one letter to Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*’s secretary, William Halton. After he had travelled extensively for nearly ten years through the United States he decided “to go where land could be obtained on easy terms”; he was unwilling “to live in the south, where slavery abounded” and was unable “to get land in Pennsylvania.” In January 1810 he moved to the province of Upper Canada which was attracting “the attention of many persons in Pennsylvania and New Jersey” and where “200 acres of land could be got by anyone upon the terms of taking an oath of allegiance to George III and paying $37 50 cents for surveying it.” But since he did not wish to go into a new settlement, he bought land, 200 “excellent” acres, near the shore of Lake Erie.

In June 1811 Smith was teaching school three miles from Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). That month he applied for Gore’s permission to print “a Geographical and Pollitical view of the province of Upper Canada.” This request was granted, and he “travelled extensively for that purpose, for about one year.” In the autumn of 1812, after the outbreak of war, he and his family, he states, were constantly harassed and threatened “as a Yankee” by the Indians in the Niagara region, where he was then staying. On 9 Nov. 1812 the administrator, Roger Hale Sheaffe*, ordered “all those who had previously refused to take the oath of allegiance to make application for passports to the United States.” Sheaffe’s action had been prompted by reports from militia officers such as Richard Hatt that some persons had refused to take the oath required by the militia act “for reason their being American Citizens.” In his proclamation Sheaffe specified that those failing to report to alien boards set up at Niagara, York (Toronto), and Kingston by 1 Jan. 1813 “shall be taken to be an alien enemy . . . liable to be treated as a Prisoner of War, or as a Spy, as circumstances may dictate.” Although Smith stated that he had taken the oath, he and his family, “desirous of returning to the States,” travelled to Kingston, where on 26 December he appeared before a board composed of Richard Cartwright, Allan MacLean*, and Lieutenant-Colonel John Vincent* and received passports. Smith’s manuscript was confiscated. The family went on to Prescott and crossed into the United States at Ogdensburg, N.Y. He earned his keep by occasional preaching in Baptist churches as he travelled southward toward New York City and then to Richmond, Va.

On the way, after receiving an offer of financial support for the printing of a “Geographical View of Upper Canada,” he hurriedly put together an account based on his memory, “what loose papers [he had] retained,” and other papers he had left in Buffalo, N.Y. A first edition of 3,000 copies was published in Hartford, Conn., in 1813, and a second printing, of 10,000, soon appeared in the same city. Later there were further printings in New York City, Philadelphia, and Trenton, N.J. A much enlarged edition was published in Baltimore, Md, in 1814 and another in Richmond in 1815. In that year Smith decided to move to Kentucky, arriving in Lexington in March 1816, where yet another edition of his work came out in several printings within the next year or so. In Lexington he became a school teacher, continued to serve as a Baptist minister, and then dropped from sight.

The success of the various editions suggests the intense American interest in Upper Canada during the years when the United States was trying to conquer that province; Joseph Sabin states that “in one of his prefaces [Smith] made the statement that upwards of thirty thousand volumes of his books had been published altogether.” Yet the work would not have made very comfortable reading for American patriots. Smith stresses that at the outbreak of war the people of Upper Canada, predominantly American in background, were generally neutral vis-à-vis both the British and Americans, but as the war went on they came to see the Americans as cruel invaders: “They think it their duty to kill all [the Americans] they can while they are coming over, that they may discourage any more from invading the province.” Later he described the war as “being carried into Canada, among people of our own nation, who were entirely inoffensive.” Apart from the discussion of attitudes toward the war, the work also contains the fullest contemporary account of the geography, population, and customs of the people of Upper Canada in the era of the War of 1812.

G. M. Craig

Three of the main editions of Smith’s work are: A geographical view, of the province of Upper Canada, and promiscuous remarks upon the government . . . (Hartford, Conn., 1813), A geographical view of the British possessions in North America . . . (Baltimore, Md., 1814), and A narrative of the sufferings in Upper Canada, with his family in the late war, and journey to Virginia and Kentucky, of MSmith . . . (3rd ed., Lexington, Ky., 1817). The fullest listing of, and commentary on, the various editions is in Dictionary of books relating to America, from its discovery to the present time, comp. Joseph Sabin (29v., New York, 1868–1936; repr. 29v. in 15, Amsterdam, 1961–62), 20: 433–38. Smith also published On the vanity of human actions; a little sermon, by a big sinner (Hartford, 1813), Human sorrow and divine comfort, or a short narrative of the sufferings, travel, present feelings and situation of MSmith . . . (Richmond, Va., 1814), and Beauties of divine poetry; or, appropriate hymns, and spiritual songs, selected, altered and original (Lexington, 1817).

PAC, RG 5, A1: 5504–5; RG 8, I (C ser.), 688B: 74–76, 87, 105, 127–28, 187. “Proclamations by governors and lieutenant-governors of Quebec and Upper Canada,” AO Report, 1906: 261–62. E. A. Cruikshank, “The county of Norfolk in the War of 1812,” OH, 20 (1923): 9–40.

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Cite This Article

G. M. Craig, “SMITH, MICHAEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_michael_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_michael_5E.html
Author of Article:   G. M. Craig
Title of Article:   SMITH, MICHAEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   May 25, 2024