Smith, John Blair, Dd

Smith, John Blair, D.D., an eminent Presbyterian divine and educator, and brother of Samuel Stanhope Smith, D.D., was born in Pequea, Lancaster Co., Pa., June 12, 1756. He very early evinced great thirst for knowledge and uncommon facility in acquiring it received most watchful and faithful parental training, and was converted when fourteen years of age. He graduated at the College of New Jersey in 1773 under Dr. Witherspoon; pursued his theological studies under the direction of his brother, was licensed by the Presbytery of Hanover, April 29, 1778, and ordained by the same presbytery, Oct. 26, 1779. He became successor to his brother as president of Hampden Sidney College in the same year, and in the spring of 1780 also as pastor of the churches of Cumberland and Briery, in Prince Edward Co., Va., where he became very popular, and before he left the state is said to have been "at once more attractive and powerful than any other clergyman in Virginia from the time of Samuel Davies." In 1789 he resigned his position as president of Hampden Sidney College, in 1791 became pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pa.; in 1795 president of Union College, N.Y., and for three years presided over the infant institution with great credit and success. In May, 1799, he returned to his former charge in Philadelphia, where he died, Aug. 22, of the same year, of yellow fever. Dr. Smith was a fervent and eloquent preacher, earnestly devoted to his work, and drew immense congregations, which would hang upon his lips in breathless silence. As a patriot and a citizen he also exerted an important influence in the civil concerns of the state, especially as connected with the interests of religion. When the Legislature, in 1776, abolished the establishment of the Church of England in the state, they at the same time passed an act incorporating the Episcopal clergy, and giving them a right to the glebes and churches which had been procured by a tax upon the inhabitants in general, including Dissenters of every description as well as Episcopalians. Another bill was introduced, but not yet passed, to extend the privileges of the Act of Toleration, as passed by William and Mary, to the State of Virginia. Dr. Smith framed a remonstrance against those acts, which he induced the Presbytery of Hanover to adopt and send to the Legislature, which was a very able State paper and had the desired effect. About this time another great excitement was raised in Virginia by a bill introduced in the Legislature for a general assessment for the support of religion, a scheme which was advocated by Patrick Henry and other popular politicians. An adverse petition was prepared, and it, together with a memorial from the presbytery, was presented to the Legislature by Dr. Smith (whose handwriting the papers show), who was heard for three successive days at the bar of the House in support of them. So decided was the influence of the struggle in Virginia as to procure the withholding from the Federal Constitution of all power to erect a religious establishment of any kind. Dr. Smith's only publication was The Enlargement of Christ's Kingdom, a sermon at Albany in 1797. See Sprague, Annals of the Amer. Pulpit, 3, 397; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Davidson, Hist. of Presb. Ch. in Kentucky, p. 37- 39; Genesis Assemb. Miss. Mag. 1805; Foote, Sketches of Virginia; 1st series; Life of Dr. Ashbel Green; Graham, Lett. 7; Smyth, Eccles. Republicanism, p. 96-103; Baird, Religion in America, p. 109, 110; Lang, Religion and Education in America, p. 94, 115 Rice, Evangel. Mag. 9, 30, 33, 35, 42, 43. (J.L.S.)

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