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John Cotton Smith papers

Call Number: MS 460

Scope and Contents

The John Cotton Smith Papers consist of five inches of correspondence and other papers of John Cotton Smith (1765-1845; Y. 1783) and other members of his family. Most of the letters are to Smith from men who shared his political and religious interests, principally Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) and John Davenport, Jr. (1752-1830; Y. 1770). But the papers from his governorship are mainly letters of transmittal; his major correspondence from that period is in the Connecticut Historical Society, and some of it has been published in the Society's Collections. The correspondence of other members of the family has two principal components: letters from college officers to William Mather Smith about bills for his sons John C. (1810-79; Y. 1830) and Gilbert L. (1814-37; Y. 1832x) and the misconduct that led to Gilbert's dismissal, 1827-30; and letters from John Cotton Smith (1810-79), U. S. Minister Resident to Bolivia, to his parents, 1858-59. Among the other papers is a copy of a college diary of John Cotton Smith (1765-1845). The original is in the Connecticut Historical Society.

The papers are arranged chronologically.


  • 1768-1924
  • Majority of material found within 1781 - 1865


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from L. I. Twinem, 1942.


2.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence and other documents of John Cotton Smith and his family. Material relating to Simeon Smith, Cotton Mather Smith, and William Mather Smith is also included.

Biographical / Historical

John Cotton Smith, the younger son of the Rev. Cotton Mather Smith (Yale 1751), was born in Sharon, Connecticut, on February 12, 1765. His preparation for College was completed under the Rev. Daniel Brinsmade (Yale 1745), of Judea Society, now Washington, Connecticut.

He graduated from Yale in 1783, and immediately upon graduation he entered on the study of law in the office of the Honorable John Canfield (Yale 1762), in his native village; and the sudden death of his preceptor (in October, 1786), about the time of his admission to the bar, made an opening for his settlement in Sharon from the outset.

He married, on October 29, 1786, Margaret (or Peggy) Evertson, of Amenia, Duchess County, New York, a neighboring town to Sharon.

In May 1793, he was first chosen to represent the town in the General Assembly; and from 1796 to 1800 he was, without interruption, a member of the Lower House. At the fall session in 1799 he was appointed Clerk; and in both sessions of the following year he occupied the Speaker's chair.

In October, 1800, at an election held to supply a vacancy caused by resignation, he was chosen by the Federalists as a Member of Congress; and he served in that capacity for six years, commanding the respect and winning the confidence of the House and of the country in a time of violent party excitement

He resigned his seat in July, 1806 in order to minister to his father's old age; and did not resume practice at the bar, but devoted himself to the management of his farm and to literary pursuits. But he was again sent to the General Assembly in the fall of the same year, when he was chosen Speaker; and he represented his native town without intermission until 1809, when he was elected to the Upper House. In October, 1809, he was appointed an Associate Judge of the Superior Court; and he reluctantly resigned this position in May, 1811, to accept the place of Lieutenant-Governor. The illness of Governor Roger Griswold (Yale 1780) during the summer of 1812 imposed unusual responsibilities on his subordinate; and the Governor's death, in October of that year, made him Acting-Governor. For the four following years, and until the political revolution of 1817 he was elected to the office of Governor, which he filled with eminent ability and faithfulness.

From this date until his death, he lived upon his estate in his native town, wholly retired from politics. Much of his time was given to religious studies, and to duties connected with various Societies in which he was an officer. He was the first President of the Connecticut Bible Society; in 1826 he was chosen President of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions but resigned the office in 1841 on account of his infirmities, especially his deafness; the Presidency of the American Bible Society he retained from 1831 until his death.

In 1814 the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred on him by Yale College.

In 1845 he consented to preside at the Alumni meeting in New Haven, on August 20, the day before Commencement; the fatigue of the journey and the excitement of the occasion affected him unfavorably, and after his return home an illness followed, accompanied by extreme suffering, and terminated by his death, on December 7, 1845, in his 81st year.

A Eulogy pronounced before the Connecticut Historical Society in May, 1846, by the Rev. William W. Andrews (Yale 1831), of Kent, Connecticut, was published in 1847, with selections from his correspondence and Miscellanies. His portrait is preserved in the Connecticut Historical Society, and is engraved in Hollister's History of Connecticut. A profile by Saint-Mémin is engraved in Marion Harland's Some Colonial Homesteads.

Mrs. Smith died on May 10, 1837, aged 72 years.

Their only child was graduated at Yale in 1805.

Governor Smith was a man of spotless purity of character, who dignified and adorned every station to which he was called. His natural endowments were of a superior order, and he was distinguished for the uniform courtesy of his deportment. He was especially happy as a presiding officer over deliberative bodies.

He published: An Oration, pronounced at Sharon, on the Anniversary of American Independence, 4th of July, 1798. Litchfield. 8°, pp. 23. He also contributed to the first volume of Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Sciences, New-Haven, 1810 (pp. 81-82), An Account of the Whitten Plaster. His Address at the Alumni Meeting of Yale College, 1845, was printed in the New Englander, vol. 3, pp. 624-626 (October, 1845).

After his death was published: The Correspondence and Miscellanies of the Hon. John Cotton Smith, LL.D... with an Eulogy before the Connecticut Historical Society at New Haven, May 27th, 1846, by the Rev. William W. Andrews. New York, 1847. 12°, pp. 328. Extracts from his letters to his classmate Daggett in 1800-02 were printed in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 1887, iv, 375-78.

Franklin B. Dexter, Yale College Biographical Sketches, volume 4, pages 307-10.
Guide to the John Cotton Smith Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Staff of Manuscripts and Archives
March 1983
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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